Among these were four boys named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The king gave these boys into the care of his chief officer, who set teachers over them and treated them very kindly, while the king sent them each day meat and wine from his own table. The Chaldeans offered these things to idols, and then ate of them themselves; they also used some meats for food that were unclean to an Israelite, so that the four children of Judah determined that they would not touch the king's meat and drink.
Daniel spoke to the chief officer about it, and though he had learned to love Daniel very much, he was afraid to have the boys refuse the king's food.
"I fear my lord the king," he said, "who hath appointed your meat and your drink, for why should he see your faces sadder than the children which are of your sort? Then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king."
But Daniel turned to Melzar, the steward, and begged him to prove them by giving them only vegetables to eat and water to drink for ten days, and "Then," said he "let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants." And he proved them for ten days.
At the end of that time their faces were fatter and fairer than the faces of all the others who ate portions from the King's table, and they were allowed to eat the food they had chosen.
They also grew in wisdom and judgment. Daniel had the gift of understanding visions and dreams, and the gift came from God, and not from the study of magic. Among all the young men these four were most pleasing to the king, and they were called to the palace to stand before him.
Not long after this the king had a dream that seemed very wonderful to him, but he could not remember it. He called all his magicians, and astrologers, and wise men together, and told them that they must tell him what his dream was, and the meaning of it, or he would destroy them. There was no man wise enough to tell him, and he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon should be killed, Daniel and his friends among them.
Daniel asked the captain of the king's guard why the king was so hasty with his decree, and the captain told him.
Then Daniel went to the king and told him that if he would give him a little time he would tell him his dream and its meaning, and he went to his three friends and together they prayed the God of Heaven to show them the dream and its interpretation.
That night Daniel saw in a vision from God the same thing that the king had seen and had forgotten. It was a great image standing before the king, and shining like the sun. The head was of pure gold, the breast and arms of silver, and the rest of the body of brass; while the legs were of iron, and the feet were part of iron and part of clay. As he looked a great stone cut from a mountain by unseen hands was hurled at the image, striking its feet and breaking them. Then the image fell and broke into pieces so fine that the winds blew them away, but the stone grew to be a great mountain that filled the earth.
Then Daniel gave thanks to God for showing him the dream, and went to the king.
He told the king that the God of Heaven alone had revealed the dream, for no man could know it, and he told him what the dream had been. He also told him that God had shown him the meaning; that the head of gold was the king himself, who reigned over the greatest kingdom on earth, but after him new kingdoms would rise, and the silver, the brass, the iron and the clay stood for these; but in the days of the kingdom of iron and clay the God of heaven would set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed, but it would destroy all the kingdoms that had gone before it. This kingdom—the great stone cut without hands from the mountain—meant the Kingdom of Christ.
The king was so astonished at Daniel's wisdom—for it was the dream he had forgotten brought back and interpreted—that he fell on his face before Daniel and reverenced the God of heaven. He made Daniel chief ruler in his realm and gave also great honors to his friends.
Nebuchadnezzar soon forgot God, for he set up a great golden image on the plain of Dura, and called a feast of dedication. He had all his princes and governors there, and his captains, and judges, and rulers. The musicians were there also, with many kinds of instruments, and a herald was there who cried in a loud voice the command of the king. It was a call to worship the golden image. At the first sound of the bands of music all were to fall down before the golden image, or failing to do so, be thrown into a fiery furnace.
Among the rulers were the three friends of Daniel, whose names had been changed by the king to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They did not fall before the golden image, and some jealous Chaldeans who saw them went and told the king. Then the king, who had a fiery temper, was angry, and sent for the three young men. He told them the bands should play again, and if they failed to worship the golden image they should be cast into the furnace, "and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" he asked.
"We are not careful to answer thee in this matter," they said, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king."
Then the king in a great rage called his mighty men to bind the young men, and after the furnace was heated seven times hotter than before, they were thrown in. So great was the heat that the men who threw them in were killed by it in the sight of the king. As he watched the great door of the furnace the king rose up and said,
"Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?"
"True, O king," said his lords and captains.
Then the king with his eyes fixed upon the glowing door of the furnace said,
"Lo I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
Then he went near the door of the furnace and cried,
"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth and come hither!"
Then they came out before the king and all the people, who saw that the fire had no power over their bodies, for no hair of their head was burned, and no smell of fire was upon their garments.
Then the king was very humble, and acknowledged the God of heaven, "because there is no other God" he said "that can deliver after this sort." And he promoted the young men to still higher places in his kingdom.
THE MASTER OF THE MAGICIANS.
The Lord saw that the heart of Nebuchadnezzar was lifted up with pride because he was king of a great people, and had conquered many weaker nations. He was proud of his royal city, Babylon. The walls of Babylon were sixty miles in length, and in them stood one hundred brazen gates. There were wonderful palaces, and statues, and bridges, and gardens. The river Euphrates ran through the city, and near the king's palace was a hill covered with trees and flowering plants from many lands, called the Hanging Gardens.
Babylon was built on a plain, but the king had these gardens made for his wife, who had come from a country of hills.
The king was praised so much by the princes and rulers that he thought only of his own power and riches, and became proud and cruel. So the Lord sent him a dream. He saw a tree great and high, standing in the midst of a wide plain. It grew until it reached the heavens, and its branches spread to the ends of the earth. It was thick with green leaves, and heavy with fruit; the birds lived in it, and the beasts lay in its shadow, and all things living came to it for food. Then he saw an angel coming down from heaven crying,
"Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches; shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit; let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches; nevertheless, leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the grass of the earth; let his heart be changed from a man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him, and let seven times pass over him."
This dream was given that the king might be taught that the Lord alone is King.
Daniel, named by the king Belteshazzar, was called to interpret the dream, and the Lord gave him power to do it.
"The tree that thou sawest," said Daniel, "it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong; for thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth."
Then Daniel told the king that he must be driven from men to dwell with the beasts of the field; to eat grass with the oxen, and be wet with the dews of heaven, until he had learned that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives to whosoever He will. But as the roots of the tree were left in the ground, so his kingdom should be preserved for him until he had learned that the heavens do rule.
At the end of a year the king's heart had not been made humble, for as he walked in his palace he said to himself:
"Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?"
And while he yet spoke there fell a voice from heaven, saying:
"O, King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee."
And within an hour the word of the Lord came true. For seven years he was without reason, and was an outcast from his kingdom. But at the end of that time his eyes were lifted to heaven and his reason returned, and his kingdom was restored to him, for he had learned that God alone is great, and "Those that walk in pride He is able to abase."
Belshazzar was the next king of Babylon. He made a great feast, and a thousand of his lords were bidden to sit around his tables in the great hall of the palace. While he drank the wine he thought of the holy vessels of gold and silver that his father had brought out of the Temple at Jerusalem, and he sent for them, and into these golden bowls that had been consecrated to the worship of God he poured wine and gave it to his princes and to his wives, while they praised the gods of gold, and silver, and wood, and stone.
While they were feasting, and laughing, and singing, there came a man's hand and wrote some strange words on the wall of the great hall where they sat. The king saw the hand as it wrote, and he was so much afraid that he trembled and grew very weak. He called for his wise men and they could not read the writing, but the queen remembered that in the time of Nebuchadnezzar there was a man whom he made master of the magicians because he had power to interpret dreams and make all doubtful things clear.
So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king told him that if he would read the writing on the wall he should be clothed royally and be made the third ruler in the kingdom.
"Let thy gifts be to thyself," said Daniel, "and give thy rewards to another, yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation."
Then Daniel reminded the king of that which fell upon his father Nebuchadnezzar, when he had grown proud and hard-hearted toward God and men, and, though he knew all this, he also had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven, and had defiled the holy vessels of the Temple by drinking from them to gods which could neither see or hear, and because of this the message had been written on the wall. And this was the interpretation of the strange words,—
"God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and the Persians."
The king clothed Daniel in scarlet, and gave him a chain of gold, and proclaimed him third ruler in the kingdom, but the same night Belshazzar was slain, and Darius the Medean took the kingdom.
The new king set one hundred and twenty princes over the kingdom, and over these he set three presidents, the first of which was Daniel. The king loved Daniel for the wise and good spirit that was in him, and this stirred up jealousy in the hearts of the Babylonian princes, and they watched Daniel to see if they could find something against him to tell the king, but they could not, for he was faithful in all his work.
Then they agreed to plot against him, and they went to the king and persuaded him to make a decree that whoever should ask any petition of any god or man for thirty days, except of the king, he should be thrown into the den of lions, and they asked the king to sign the decree, so that it could not be changed, and he signed it.
When Daniel heard of the decree, and knew that the king had signed it, he went into his own house, and to his chamber. There the windows were always open toward Jerusalem, and he kneeled down as he had done every day since he was taken from his own land, and prayed to God with his face toward the Temple in Jerusalem. And the men who were plotting against him watched him.
Then they hurried to the king, saying,
"That Daniel, which is of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O, King, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day."
The king was greatly disturbed at this, and set his heart on the deliverance of Daniel, and labored till sunset to do it. But his princes said it could not be done, because, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no decree made by the king could be changed.
So Daniel was condemned to be cast into the den of lions, but the king said,
"Thy God, whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee."
Then a stone was laid over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with that of his lords, that the purpose might not be changed.
That was a long night for Darius the king. He could neither eat nor sleep, and he would hear no music, but very early in the morning he went to the den of the lions and with a very sorrowful voice cried:
"O Daniel, servant of the living God! is thy God whom thou servest continually able to deliver thee from the lions?"
Then up from the pit came a strong, cheery voice saying:
"O king, live forever! My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me."
Then there was joy in the king's heart and he had Daniel brought up out of the den, and no hurt was found upon him, because he had believed in God, but the men who had accused Daniel were cast into the lions' den and destroyed.
Darius acknowledged the God of Daniel before all his kingdom, and commanded the people to honor Him, so that Daniel and his people suffered no more from their enemies during the reign of Darius. After the death of Darius, Cyrus was made king of Persia, and he also was kind to Daniel. The Lord gave him a tender heart toward the captives of Judah who had been in his land for seventy years, so that he sent them back into their own land and helped them to rebuild their city and their Temple.
THE STORY OF JONAH.
More than eight hundred years before the birth of Christ a prophet named Jonah lived in the land of Israel. He had given the Lord's messages to his own people, and they had listened to them, and a part of their country had been saved by obeying the Word of the Lord as it was brought to them by Jonah.
But when the Lord wished to send Jonah to warn a great city in Assyria to repent of their sins, he did not wish to go. Nineveh was a very old and a very great city. It was built soon after the flood, but was still at a high point of glory and wealth in the time of Jonah.
It was a heathen city, but God is the Father of all who live, and cares for all His children, though they may not know or care for Him.
Perhaps Jonah was afraid, for the people were strong and warlike, and they would not wish to hear about their wickedness. So Jonah ran away to the sea shore and took a ship from Joppa to go to Tarshish. He had not gone far from shore when a storm of wind rose, and the wind tossed the ship on the great angry waves until it was very nearly wrecked.
The men were afraid, and each prayed to his God, and threw out the goods they were carrying in order to make the ship lighter.
Where was Jonah? He was below the decks asleep. When the captain found him he cried out,
"What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not."
Then they began to wonder if the storm had not been sent upon them for the wickedness of some one in the ship, and they cast lots to see who it could be. The lot fell upon Jonah. Then they asked Jonah his name and country, and of his journey. He told them all about it. Then the men were more afraid, for they knew that he had tried to run away from the Lord, and they said,
"What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?"
"Take me up and cast me forth into the sea," he said, "so shall the sea be calm unto you, for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you."
It was not easy for the men, who were kind-hearted, to throw into the sea a man so honest and so willing to die, so they rowed very hard, and tried their best to reach the shore, but they could not. So they prayed to Jonah's God to forgive them, and then threw Jonah into the sea.
But the Lord meant not only to teach Jonah a lesson, but to teach, through Jonah, a lesson to His children who should live in the ages to come. He was to make him also a sign of the coming Christ.
When Jonah believed he was sinking down into the green depths of the sea to die, a great fish, prepared by the Lord, opened his mouth and took him in. We cannot understand all the ways of God, but we know that "nothing is impossible with God," and that he was able to keep his servant alive even in such a strange place as this.
For three days and three nights he was kept in his living prison, and was able to pray to God, and to know where he was.
"The waters compassed me about," he said, "even to the soul; the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me forever."
Then he praised and thanked God, for he knew that he meant to save him. And when the Lord spoke to the fish, it threw Jonah out upon the dry land.
The second time Jonah heard the voice of the Lord telling him to go to Nineveh and preach the words that should be given him to say, and this time he obeyed.
It was a long journey to Nineveh, and when Jonah reached it he found that the city was so great that it would take three days to walk around the walls.
The walls were a hundred feet high. And so broad that three chariots could be driven on them side by side. The walls had fifteen hundred towers, each two hundred feet high. Inside the walls lived hundreds of thousands of people, many of them rich merchants or princes and nobles who lived in palaces, and thought only of their own pleasure and glory. They had grown very selfish and wicked.
When Jonah had walked a day's journey into the city, he began to cry in the streets the message God had given him,
"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
The people began to tremble and be afraid of the strange voice that went up and down the long streets crying out these terrible words. They began to believe in Jonah's God, and to repent.
They repented in the eastern way, by putting on a garment of coarse sack-cloth, and sitting in ashes. All did this, even to the king, who took off his beautiful robes and sat down in ashes before the Lord. He also proclaimed a fast to all the people, and urged them to "turn every one from their evil way."
When the Lord saw that they turned away from their sins, for He could look into their hearts, and read all their thoughts, He was satisfied, and said he would not destroy Nineveh.
But Jonah, who could not read the hearts of men, was not satisfied. He was very angry. He wanted to have the Ninevites see that he was a true prophet, for if no destruction came upon them he feared that they might call him a false prophet. So he complained to God, and said,
"Now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me, for it is better to die than to live!"
The Lord's gentle word to Jonah was,
"Doest thou well to be angry?"
Jonah went outside the city walls, and made for himself a little house of the branches of trees and waited to see if the city would be destroyed. It was very hot and Jonah was deeply troubled, and the Lord, who is full of love and pity for His children, caused a gourd vine with large leaves to spring up and grow over the dried branches of the little house that sheltered Jonah, and he was very glad and grateful. But the Lord, who always looks upon the heart, saw that the heart of Jonah was not yet wholly right, and the next morning he allowed a worm to eat the gourd until it withered. Then the sun beat down upon Jonah's head until he fainted and wished to die, saying, as he had said before,
"It is better for me to die than live!"
But the Lord was patient with him, and said,
"Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?"
And Jonah replied ungraciously,
"I do well to be angry, even unto death."
Then the Lord in his love and pity answered,
"Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night and perished in a night; and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and then left hand, and also much cattle?"
Jonah did not know all that was in the mind of the Lord, though he was a prophet. He did not know that he was one of the signs of the Lord's first coming, for Jesus spoke of Jonah as a "sign," that as he was three days and three nights within the great fish "so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
ESTHER, THE QUEEN.
About five hundred years before Christ King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) reigned over Persia. In the third year of his reign he gave a royal feast to all the princes and nobles of Persia and Medea, in Shushan, the royal city. It lasted one hundred and eighty days, and was very costly, for the king wished to show the great men from all his provinces the riches and glory of his kingdom and of his palace.
At the end of these days he made another feast to all who were in Shushan, a feast of seven days, and which included great and small. The palace garden was hung with awnings of white and green and violet, fastened with cords and silver rings to pillars of marble.
Wine was given to the guests in golden cups as they sat on couches of gold and silver, and the pavement of the court was of many colored marbles.
In another part of the palace Vashti, the queen, also made a feast for the women.
On the seventh day the king sent his seven chamberlains to bring Queen Vashti before him, wearing her royal crown. He wished to show to his people and princes the beauty of the queen, for she was very fair to look upon.
But the queen refused to obey the king's command, and he was angry. He asked the seven princes who stood next to him in the kingdom what he should do, and what the laws of the Medes and Persians (which could not be broken) would say in such a case.
The princes did not speak of any law, but one of them told the king that the conduct of Vashti would do them great harm through all the kingdom, for women hearing of the act of the queen, would despise and disobey their husbands. They advised, therefore, that a commandment should go forth from the king and be written among the laws of the Medes and Persians, that Vashti should no more come before the king, and that her royal estate should be given to another better than she.
This pleased the king, and he did as Memucan, the prince, had advised, and he sent letters into all parts of his empire to people of various languages, that every man should rule in his own house.
Then the king's servants, the nobles, advised the king to send officers to every part of his kingdom to find some one worthy to take the place of Queen Vashti, and the plan pleased the king, and he did so.
There was in Shushan a Jew named Mordecai, who had been brought away from Jerusalem with the captives when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city. He had an adopted daughter named Hadassah. This was her true name, although the Persians called her Esther. She was the daughter of Mordecai's uncle, and when her father and mother died, Mordecai took her for his own. She was very beautiful, and as good as she was beautiful, for Mordecai had taught her to be faithful to the true God, though living among a strange people.
When Mordecai heard that the king was seeking for a maiden worthy to be a queen through all his provinces, he brought Esther and placed her in care of Hegai, who had the care of that part of the king's house where the women lived. Hegai was very kind to her, and gave her seven maids to serve her, and the best place in the house for her own.
Mordecai had told Esther not to speak of her Jewish family, but every day he walked before the court of the women's house to ask how she did and what had become of her.
Out of all the maidens brought from the city and the kingdom Esther was chosen by the king to be queen in the place of Vashti, and he placed the royal crown upon her head, and proclaimed a great feast that he called Esther's feast, when he gave gifts and made a holiday for all the people to rest and be happy in all his provinces.
Mordecai sat daily at the king's gate, and once while there he heard of a plot to kill the king by two of his chamberlains, and he sent word secretly to Esther, and she told the king in Mordecai's name, so that these two men were hanged, and the account of it was written in the king's book of records.
About this time the king gave great honors to a man named Haman. He set him above all his princes, and when the king's servants who were at his gate knew it they all bowed down and gave great honor to Haman, whenever he passed, for the king had so commanded them; but Mordecai would not bow to Haman. When Haman saw this he was full of anger toward Mordecai the Jew, and he made a wicked plan to destroy not only Mordecai, but all his people.
So he came with wily ways and cunning speech to the king, saying,
"There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom, and their laws are diverse from all people, neither keep they the king's laws, therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them. If it please the king let it be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries."
Then the king gave his ring to Haman as a sign that he would pledge his word to do what he asked, and said,
"The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee."
Then Haman had letters written and sealed with the king's seal ring, saying to the rulers of every province in the kingdom that all Jews, both young and old, throughout the kingdom, must be destroyed in one day, and their goods, and money, and lands be taken for a prey, and the thirteenth day of the twelfth month was set in which to destroy them.
After the messengers were sent out the king and Haman sat down to drink wine, but the city was troubled.
Then Mordecai rent his clothes in sign of mourning, and went out into the streets of the city clothed in sack-cloth uttering a loud and bitter cry. He cried even before the king's gate.
All through the kingdom there was great mourning among the Jews, and they fasted and wept in sack-cloth and ashes.
When Esther heard that Mordecai was clothed in sack-cloth she was deeply grieved, and sent some garments to clothe him, but he would not receive them. Then she sent for the king's chamberlain Hatach, and gave him a command to Mordecai to tell what caused his grief.
Hatach found him at the king's gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and of the great sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasuries for the Jews to destroy them. He also gave him a copy of the decree to show Esther, and told Hatach to charge her that she go before the king and make request for her people.
Hatach took these words to Esther, and Esther sent a reply by Hatach, saying that it was known in all the king's palace that no man or woman could come into the king's presence in the inner court who had not been called, and for any who so entered there was but one law, and that was that they be put to death, unless the king hold out to them the golden sceptre. She had not been called to see the king, she said, in thirty days.
Hatach gave this message to Mordecai, and he again sent word to Esther that she could not hope to escape the decree, as she too was of the Jews. He told her that deliverance must come to the Jews in some other way, but she and her family would be destroyed, and then he added,
"Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Then Esther made her resolve, and sent word to Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Shushan together to fast night and day, while she and her maidens fasted also.
"And so I will go in unto the king," she said, "which is not according to the law, and if I perish, I perish."
And Mordecai went his way and did as Esther had commanded.
It was the third day when Esther arose from her fast before the Lord and put on her beautiful royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's house in sight of the royal throne.
When the king saw Esther standing in the inner court he was not displeased, but his heart was turned toward her, and he held out to her the golden sceptre that was in his hand.
"What wilt thou, Queen Esther?" he said, "and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom."
"If it seem good unto the king," said Esther, "let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him."
So the king commanded Haman, and they came to the queen's banquet. The king knew that Esther had a favor to ask of him, so he said again:
"What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee; and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed."
But Esther was wise. She begged as her petition and request that the king and Haman would come to the banquet she should prepare the next day also, and she would then do as the king had said.
Haman went home very happy and proud that he had been so honored by the queen, and told his wife and his friends of all the glory and honor that had come to him.
"Yet all this availeth me nothing," he said, "so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."
Then his wife and his friends urged him to build a high gallows and ask the king on the next day to hang Mordecai upon it. "Then go thou merrily with the king unto the banquet," they added.
This pleased Haman, and he ordered the gallows to be made.
That night the king was restless, and he could not sleep, and he commanded that the book of records be brought and read aloud to him. Then he found that it was written that Mordecai had saved the king's life when it was threatened by his two chamberlains.
"What honor and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?" he asked, and his servants replied:
"There is nothing done for him."
"Who is in the court?" cried the king. Now Haman had come in to speak to the king to have Mordecai hanged.
"Haman standeth in the court," said the king's servants, and the king said,
"Let him come in."
As Haman came in the king said,
"What shall be done to the man that the king delighteth to honor?"
Haman thought in his heart, "To whom would the king delight to do honor more than to myself," and then he replied, thinking all the time of himself.
"For the man whom the king delighteth to honor let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head, and let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the men withal whom the king delighteth to honor, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, 'Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor.'"
Then the king said, "Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai, the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate; let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken."
Haman did as he was commanded, for he could do nothing else, and after it was all over Mordecai took his place again at the king's gate, but Haman hastened home mourning, and with his head covered.
The next day he came to the queen's banquet with the king, and again the king said,
"What is thy petition, Queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee; and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of my kingdom."
Then the queen made her request, saying,
"If I have found favor in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request; for we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage."
"Who is he, and where is he," cried the king, "That durst presume in his heart to do so?"
Then Esther said, "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman."
Haman was overcome with fear at this, and the king was so angry that he rose up and went out into the palace garden. Haman stood up to make a plea for his life, and when the king came in he found Haman fallen at the queen's feet.
One of the king's chamberlains who knew what the king wished told him of the gallows at Haman's house that had been made for Mordecai, and the king said, "Hang him thereon," and they did so, and the king's anger was pacified.
That day the king gave Haman's house to the queen. Mordecai came before the king that day also, for Esther had told him how he was related to her, and the King gave to Mordecai the ring that he had once given to Haman. Esther's petition was not yet finished, so she fell down at the king's feet and asked for the life of her people, and that the decree might be changed.
Then the king held out his golden sceptre to Esther, and she arose. She spoke noble words of petition for her people, and the king told Mordecai to write in the king's name and seal with the king's seal letters that should make the decree void.
So the scribes were called in and the letters were written and sealed with the king's ring, and sent out to every province in the kingdom.
Mordecai went out of the palace that day clothed in royal garments of violet and white, fine linen and purple, and a great crown of gold upon his head, and there was joy in Shushan, and there was joy among the Jews all over the land. They hanged the ten sons of Haman, and destroyed their enemies by the king's permission, so that they had rest from persecution. They also set apart two days for a feast of thanksgiving through all time, and the feast of Purim is kept by all Jews to this day, as it was first confirmed by the decree of Esther.
And Mordecai was next to the king and honored by his brethren the Jews as long as he lived, for he always sought their peace, and was as a father to them.
CHILD'S STORY OF THE BIBLE.
THE NEW TESTAMENT.
THE ANGELS OF THE ADVENT.
There was an old priest named Zacharias, who lived in the hill country of Hebron, where Abraham the father of the Jewish people used to live. He went to Jerusalem when it was his turn to serve in the temple, and once while he was offering the incense of sweet spices on the golden altar, he saw through the rising smoke an angel standing on the right side of the altar. The good priest was frightened, but the angel said,
"Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard," and he promised that to him and his wife Elizabeth should be born a little son, whose name should be John. He was coming to prepare the way for the Messiah, and must not drink wine or strong drink, for he was to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
It was too wonderful for Zacharias to believe, and when he went out of the temple he was dumb, and all the people who waited for him knew that he had seen a vision. He did not speak while he stayed to minister in the temple, and when his time of service was ended he went to his home in Hebron.
A few months later the angel Gabriel went to the little town of Nazareth, high up among the hills of Galilee, and spoke to a young girl named Mary. She had never seen an angel, and she also was afraid when he said to her,
"Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women. Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God." And then he told her that she should become the mother of a Holy Child, who should also be the Son of the Highest, and a King whose kingdom should have no end, and His name should be Jesus. He also told her of her cousin Elizabeth away in Hebron, to whom a little son was promised.
Then Mary said these beautiful words to the angel:
"Behold the hand-maid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word," and the angel went away into heaven.
Mary was so full of wonder at the angel's words that she set out on a journey to see Elizabeth. It was eighty miles to Hebron, but it was early summer, and as Mary went through the green valleys and fruitful plains, and along by the flowing Jordan, she thought about the angel's words, and prayed to God to make her good and wise. She was not afraid, though the journey was four days long, for she knew God was with her.
On the fourth day she passed Jerusalem, the Holy City, and went on and up into the Hebron Hills to the house of Elizabeth. When they told to each other the wonderful words of the angel Gabriel they were full of joy, for they knew that the coming of the Christ was near, and that the Lord had trusted them with the heavenly secret. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and Mary broke out into a beautiful song of praise.
Mary stayed three months with her cousin Elizabeth, and learned many things, for the old priest and his wife were wise and good. When she went back to Nazareth she told no one of her vision, not even her mother or Joseph, the good carpenter, whose promised wife she was. But the angel came one night to Joseph and spoke to him through a dream of the Holy Child that was to be born.
Now Joseph and Mary were of the family of King David, and they knew that the prophets had long ago talked of a King who was to come and restore the kingdom, and reign on the throne of David. They even told where he was to be born, in Bethlehem, the "City of David." And though the Jews had become the servants of the Romans, yet it was time, according to the promise, that the new King should come and set them free, and many were looking for His coming.
Perhaps Joseph and Mary thought of these things when the time came for them to go to Bethlehem, for the Emperor of Rome had made a decree that all Jews should be enrolled, that he might know how many were in his empire. So all Jews, who had gone to live in other parts, returned to their own tribe and city to be enrolled among their own people.
When Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem they found it full of people who had also come home to write their names for the Emperor, and there was no room for them in the inn. It was winter, and while Joseph wondered what he should do the keeper of the inn showed them the stable where the gentle oxen and asses were kept, and where it was much quieter than in the noisy yard and crowded rooms of the inn.
It was here in a humble stable that the Lord of Heaven was born upon earth, and cradled in a manger. He chose the stable instead of a palace, and a bed of straw instead of a bed of down, for He had come to be the Brother of the poor and the Saviour of the world.
Out in the fields near by were some shepherds watching their flocks. It has been said that the flocks kept in the Bethlehem fields were for the sacrifices in the temple, and were watched night and day the year long, while other flocks were kept in their folds in winter.
While they sat on the rocks, wrapped in their cloaks and sheepskin jackets, with a fire of brushwood to keep the beasts away, perhaps they thought of young David, who once kept his sheep there, and killed a lion and a bear to defend his flock; or they watched the stars and wondered at their beauty.
But suddenly an angel stood by them, and a great light shone round about them, and they were terrified. But the angel spoke kindly to them saying:—
"Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord." And the angel told them how they would know it to be the Holy Child—because it lay in a manger. Then, in a moment the air was full of angel faces, and heavenly voices sang this song of praise to God and promise to all people:—
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!" And they went away into heaven.
The shepherds looked at one another and then one said; "Let us go to Bethlehem." And they went in great haste. There they found Mary and Joseph with the Holy Child lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. They told the people of Bethlehem about the angels they had seen and the words they had heard, and they were very much astonished. But Mary was silent, and kept all these things in her heart to think about and to pray about.
As for the shepherds they went back to their flocks praising God.
When the Holy Child was eight days old his parents called His name Jesus, as the angel had commanded, and they dedicated him to the Lord. Later they took him up to the Temple at Jerusalem to make the offering that all Jewish mothers made, some money, if it was the first boy-child, and a lamb, or a pair of doves. Joseph bought for Mary a pair of doves, and they went up the white steps of the beautiful porch of the Temple, and passed the long rows of marble pillars into the court of the Gentiles where they could look up and see the Temple itself with its white marble pillars and golden roof shining in the sun.
Mary gave her doves to the Priest at the gate of the Court of the Women, and he took them away to be offered on the altar, while Joseph took the Holy Child into the Men's Court for the Priest to bless as he dedicated Him to the Lord. When all was done and they were going away, an old man named Simeon saw them, and begged to hold the child. He was a good man who had longed to see the Christ who was to come, and now the Spirit of God told him that this was He. He thanked God, and said:
"Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."
He also spoke as a prophet of the days to come, and just then a very old woman who lived in the Temple, Anna, the prophetess, came and gave thanks to God, and told the people that the Redeemer had come to Israel. All these things Mary kept in her heart, as she had kept the words of the angel, and wondered why she had been chosen to be the mother of the Holy Child.
Seven months before this time a little son had been born to Zacharias and Elizabeth. The neighbors wished to name him for his father, but Elizabeth said, "Not so; but he shall be called John." When they asked his father what it should be, he wrote an answer (for he had been dumb ever since he talked with the angel in the Temple) and they read, "His name shall be called John." Then his mouth was opened, and he began to speak and to praise God, and his friends wondered what the child would be when he grew to manhood. His father became a prophet for a time, and said some strange things about him that were written down. He said that John should be called a prophet of the Highest, and go before the Lord to prepare His ways.
John grew, and he also grew strong in spirit, and while he was yet young he went to live in the deserts where he was taught of God to be a prophet and a preacher.
FOLLOWING THE STAR.
While Joseph and Mary and the Holy Child were still staying in Bethlehem, some Wise Men came from an Eastern country to Jerusalem, asking,
"Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His Star in the East, and are come to worship Him."
No one knows who these men were, but it may be that they were Jews who lived in Persia, as David had done long before, and were learned in all the wisdom of the Chaldeans, who studied the stars, and believed that they had much to do with the lives of people on the earth. These wise men were called Magi. They had heard that a great One would be born about this time, and that He would be the King of the Jews.
When they saw a strange and beautiful Star near the earth away toward Jerusalem they prepared to go and see if it would lead them to the King. Their servants loaded the camels with food and water and some costly gifts, for they were rich men, and mounted on beautiful saddles covered with blue and crimson cloth they rode away toward Jerusalem. They had deserts of yellow sand to cross, and they were tired at the end of the hot day, but at night they saw the beautiful Star shining before them low in the sky, and watched it from their tents on the sand where they rested for the night, and rose to follow it before it faded in the morning. They were glad when they came to the fresh green mountain country of the Jews, and rode through the flowery valleys till they came to the gates of Jerusalem. Perhaps they expected to hear all about the new King, and to find the people feasting and rejoicing, but they did not.
When they asked, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" the people were surprised, and only wondered who these men were who looked liked princes from a foreign court, for they had armed servants, and from their camels hung tinkling silver bells, and swinging tassels of silk and gold.
They searched Jerusalem for the king, and Herod heard of it and was troubled. He wished always to be king himself. He set the scribes to searching for the prophecies of the Messiah's birth. They knew very well where to find them, and they read to the king these words from the prophet Micah:—
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, which art little among the families of Judah, out of thee shall One come forth unto me that is to be the ruler of Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days."
Then the king sent for the wise men, for he had a secret plan. They came in their best robes, hoping perhaps, to find the newly born King in the beautiful palace of Herod on Mount Zion, but they found only the gloomy old King Herod waiting for them. He asked them when they first saw the Star, and when they had told him, he sent them to Bethlehem and said,
"Go and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also."
They were very glad to hear about Bethlehem, and as they came down the marble steps of Herod's palace it was evening, and there, low down before them in the sky was the Star! They went out through the Bethlehem gate toward the south, and followed the Star again over the hills until the white walls of Bethlehem shown in the moonlight before them, and they saw the Star standing still and shining down upon a little house within the walls. Then they rejoiced with exceeding great joy, for they had come to the end of their long journey, and they had found the King! When they came to the house where Mary and Joseph were staying they told their servants to unpack the presents of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, and they went in. Then they found the lovely young mother and the Holy Child, and they fell down before Him and offered their gifts.
They did not go away at once. They slept in Bethlehem that night, and the Lord showed them in a dream that they must not go back to tell King Herod that they had found the Christ. They told Joseph of their dream, and went away by another road that led past Hebron to their own country.
THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.
It seems very strange that in a few hours after the wise men had gone over the hills to their own country, that Mary and Joseph and the Holy Child should be swiftly following the same road. The night after the wise men had been warned in a dream to go to their own country, Joseph was warned also in a dream to take the young Child and His mother and go into Egypt. He was told to stay until he had orders to return, for Herod would seek to take the Child's life. Their flight was in the night, and Mary's heart beat fast as she held her baby close and rode down the steep path from Bethlehem with Joseph walking beside her. They did not rest until they were far on their way. It was nearly a week before they reached the river that was the border of Egypt, but when they crossed it King Herod's soldiers could not harm them.
They had gold that the wise men had given them, and Joseph knew how to make many things of wood, so they lived quietly in Egypt waiting until the Lord should call them back.
Herod was very angry when he heard that the Magi had gone away without telling him anything about the young King; so angry that he ordered his soldiers to destroy every baby boy in Bethlehem. So all the little boys of Bethlehem under two years of age were killed by the order of this wicked king, and the Holy Child whom Herod believed would be destroyed with them was safely borne in His mother's arms along the road to Egypt, while Joseph walked beside them and led the patient ass, and angels went with them unseen to be their guard by night and by day.
They lived in Egypt about a year, and then the sick and unhappy old king died, and an angel came to Joseph one night in a dream, and said,
"Arise and take the young Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel, for they are dead which sought the young Child's life."
They were glad to know that they could come home again, and they came, perhaps with a company of merchants, into their own land. Joseph would have settled in Judea, the part of the land of Israel in which stands Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, the city of his ancestors, but Herod's son had been made king over Judea, and Joseph was told in a dream to go into Galilee.
In Galilee was Nazareth, where both Joseph and Mary lived when they were married, and there they went and were at home again, and there Jesus grew to manhood.
THE BOY OF NAZARETH.
Nazareth was a little town high among the hills of Galilee. It still stands there, but it is not so large a town as it was when Mary and Joseph and the Child Jesus lived there. Then Galilee was full of cities and villages, and men and women were busy among its fields, and vineyards, and gardens, and the shores of the beautiful Lake of Galilee were lined with the boats of fishermen.
Nazareth was more quiet than the crowded cities by the Lake. A great green plain lay below it, and a narrow road winding among the limestone rocks led up to it. Its streets were narrow and steep, and steps of stone led from house to house. A fountain of pure water breaking out of a rock was the meeting place of the women of Nazareth, who came with their tall pitchers for water and bore them away upon their heads. Here Mary often came tenderly leading the Holy Child. Perhaps He gathered the bright wild flowers that grew thick around the fountain and along the stream flowing from it. When he grew a little older He could climb the rocks around His home, or go with His mother and Joseph to the top of the hill from which they could see the snowy peak of Hermon, or the long line of shining blue sea beyond the hills on the west, or they would point out a slowly moving caravan of heavy-laden camels from Tyre and Sidon by the sea on their way to Damascus.
Sometimes He would go with Joseph to the woods when a certain piece of wood was needed, for Joseph was a carpenter, and in a lower room of his humble house of rough white stone there was a long bench and the tools of a wood-worker. Here, perhaps, the Holy Child played with the curled shavings that fell from the bench, and watched the making of the plows, the yokes, the doors, and the lattices until He was old enough to help in the making of them.
He learned to read and write while a young child at home, as Jewish children did, and His reading book was the Old Testament, which was the Jews' Bible. Then He went to school at the Synagogue, which was the Jews' Church, and there, we may be sure, He was a gentle, obedient pupil, and a loving, unselfish playmate. While he read He may have had many strange thoughts about the prophecies in the Book that were promises of the Messiah, the King that was to reign in righteousness.
When He was twelve years old His parents took Him with them to the Feast of the Passover at Jerusalem. Great companies of people went from all parts of the Jews' country, and from every country in which they had settled, to keep the feast that the Lord had commanded when they were led out of Egypt. The very journey to Jerusalem was a festival, for their friends joined the company from almost every house in Nazareth, and on horses, and camels, and asses, the men walking beside them, a happy group set forth from home to keep the Passover week in the city of the great King. It was the first visit of the boy Jesus to Jerusalem, and as He walked strong and beautiful beside Joseph, what tender and holy thoughts, what questions about the future must have filled the mind of Mary. He was going to see His Father's House, the beautiful Temple where the thousands of Israel gathered every year for worship and of which He had read in the Book of the Law, for He was now old enough to be called a "Son of the Law," and verses from the Bible folded in little boxes, had been tied upon his arm and his forehead by the village Rabbi, as a sign that He was old enough to think for Himself and go to the religious Feasts at Jerusalem.
When they reached the great public roads they found other companies of pilgrims going up to the Holy City, and by their banners they knew the tribe and city from which they came. There was music, also, of timbrel and pipe and drum as the songs of Zion were sung along the way, or at evening when they camped in the fields.
When they had climbed the steep Jericho road and the Mount of Olives, a glorious sight opened before them. There lay the City of David shining in the sun, its thick walls set with towers; its marble palaces, and castles, and gardens, and, most wonderful of all, the Temple with its hundreds of white marble pillars, its beautiful porches and arches, and, rising within its richly-paved courts, the Holy Place with the sun like fire upon its roof of gold. The people shouted and sang a song of joy. Perhaps they sang that song of David beginning:
"I was glad when they said unto me 'Let us go into the house of the Lord,' Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!"
Like thousands of others they pitched their tents outside of the walls, perhaps on the slopes of Olivet, and after eating the Passover supper together went daily into the Temple. To the Boy of Nazareth this must have been the one charmed spot in all Jerusalem. Other boys loved to watch the strange people from far countries, and wander among the bazars, but Jesus stayed in the Temple. He saw the white-robed priests, the altars, and the sacrifices; He saw the great curtains of purple and gold that hid the Holy place, and He heard the Temple choirs answer each other in song; He also saw the old Rabbis who taught and answered questions daily in the outer courts, and stood long among the listeners.
When the company from Nazareth began the Journey home, and had gone as far as the plains of Jericho, Mary looked for her boy. She had not been troubled about him, for she thought He was walking with the other children, or with relatives, but when Joseph found that he was not with them they went back over the long, steep road full of fear and anxiety. They searched Jerusalem through, asking everybody they knew if they had seen the Boy Jesus.
When they had been searching for three days, and Mary's heart was almost broken, they went again to the Temple, and looking through a crowd gathered around the Rabbis, Mary saw her Boy. She pressed through to speak to Him, but He was speaking. She listened, and her heart must have stood still to hear His simple, yet wonderful words. Sometimes he asked questions which the old teachers could not answer, and when he replied to the questions of the learned teachers His wisdom astonished all who heard Him, for it was not like the wisdom of the Rabbis, who used many words to explain the Word of God.
When Jesus saw His mother and came to her, she said,
"Son, why hast Thou so dealt with us? Behold thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing."
"How is it that ye sought me?" He said, "wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?"
They did not quite understand how He could so easily forget them, and yet Mary, perhaps, remembered that the angel had told her that He should "be called the Son of God," and that He was at home in His Father's house.
But He was content to go home and be subject to His parents, so that through all the world children may learn how He lived, and try to live like Him.
He found that His Father's house was greater than the Temple, and under its starry roof, and wandering over its wide courts paved with grass and flowers, He learned more than the Rabbis could teach Him. And every day He grew in wisdom as He grew in stature, and "in favor with God and man."
THE YOUNG CARPENTER.
There are many years of the life of Jesus of which the Gospel story tells us nothing. He lived with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, and was preparing for the great work for which He came. He learned easily all that other boys were taught in the synagogue school, and no doubt caused His teacher to wonder at such wisdom coming from a boy. He was so humble and teachable that no one could accuse Him of setting Himself above His companions, and so winning and unselfish that He was loved by all. The school days ended, perhaps, when He was fourteen, and He was asked, as every Jewish boy was asked, to choose what trade He would learn, for every boy had to learn a trade. He chose to learn the trade of His father, and began to work with him making the many things that were then used by the people. Few houses, if any, were made of wood, for the white limestone was then, as now, used in making the houses of Nazareth, but they were finished with wood, and wood was used not only for boats, tables, benches, yokes and carts, but also for plows, saddles, and many things we now make of other material. Can you make a picture in your mind of this tall, beautiful youth standing near His father ready to serve in any humble way in the work they were doing?
There was no service so small that He did not willingly do it, and no labor so rough and common that He did not make it noble and beautiful by the doing. But He was always thinking—thinking. The world around Him was full of pictures and stories through which heavenly truths shone, and they formed themselves in His mind, and when He began to teach He used them to help others with. We call them parables. Wherever He saw the flowers, the grape vines, the olive and the fig trees, the wheat fields, the shepherds and their flocks, the fishermen and their nets, He read high and holy lessons that were much more simple, and true, and beautiful than those taught by the Rabbis.
The more He thought about the teaching of the Rabbis, the more He saw how false and hard it was. The Law given by Moses was full of the good thoughts of God, but the Jewish teachers had only taught the outward form, and had not given the people the inward spirit. It was like bringing to the hungry a beautiful dish with no food in it, or to the thirsty a costly cup with no water in it.
As He grew older He would sit sometimes long into the night on some hillside watching the stars, and with his great heart going out beyond the hills to the people of the world in longing love and in desire for their salvation. He wanted to show them how God loved the world. He wanted to take the empty forms of the Law and fill them full of the Spirit—the real thought and love of God. He wanted to take away the burdens on the minds of the people, which were heavier than those that Pharoah laid upon their bodies long before, and give them the rest and peace of God. He wanted to take away their endless rules and give them one rule—to do by others as they would have others do to them. And He wanted to add a new Commandment to the Law—that they love one another.
In this way, by living with His mind in heaven and His body on earth He came to know that He was the Christ of God, and that He must go out from Nazareth to be a Teacher of Truth, and begin to build The Kingdom of Heaven among men. But His friends thought that He was fitted to be a Rabbi and teach in the Temple with the Doctors of the Law. He waited many years, caring for His mother and His younger brothers and sisters after the death of Joseph, and then He left Nazareth.
THE VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS.
Jesus was thirty years of age when He left Nazareth to begin His work as a Teacher of the Truth. It was the age set by the older teachers for a young man to begin his work.
His cousin John, the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, was six months older than Jesus, and he had begun his ministry on the lower Jordan. While Jesus had been living quietly at Nazareth preparing for his work, John had been away in the wilderness beyond the Dead Sea alone with the Spirit of God. He was a prophet who could be taught by God only. When his time to speak came he came out of the wilderness to a place on the banks of the Jordan, just above Jericho, called The Fords. Many people crossed at this place, and he stood on a bank above the river crying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
Like those who had made a vow to the Lord, John had never cut his hair, he wore a coarse garment woven of camel's hair, and lived on the simple food of the wilderness—locusts and wild honey. He seemed never to think of himself, but always of One who was coming. He said that he was only a "Voice," preparing the way for the Messiah, as Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, and the "Messenger" that had been promised through Malachi.
"Behold I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me."
He did something which seemed new and strange to the people. He called them to a change of mind—a turning away from sin, and, as a sign that they had done so, he baptized them in the river Jordan. He was getting the people ready for the coming of Christ, who was to begin the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Thousands were flocking down to the river to hear the new prophet. They went from all parts of Palestine, and Jesus, knowing that his hour had come, went also. He wore a white tunic gathered at the neck and reaching to his feet, and on it the large blue mantle of thick stuff that was worn in cold weather, for it was in the winter of the year 31.
We cannot know all about His parting with His mother, and the three days' journey to the Fords of Jordan, but we know that He came and stood with others on the banks while John preached.
On this day John's words were different He had said that the Christ was coming, but to-day he said,
"There standeth One among you whom ye know not, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."
After this Jesus came down to the water's edge to be baptized, and John, though he had not seen Jesus since he was a young boy, knew Him. Ready to fall at His feet, John cried,
"I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?"
Jesus replied in a low voice,
"Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness," and so reverently John baptized his Master.
As Jesus stepped from the water's edge to the river bank a strange and beautiful thing happened. Out of the warm, blue sky a white dove came circling down around the head of Jesus, who stood silent in prayer. With eyes lifted to heaven He saw the dove, which was the form in which the Spirit of God descended upon Him, and John saw it also, and both heard a voice from heaven saying,
"Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
This was the answer to Jesus' prayer. Only Jesus and John understood the meaning of these words, for they heard with the spirit. To others it seemed like thunder out of a clear sky, and they were full of wonder about the strange young man who had been baptized with such a beautiful and singular sign following. They also remembered what John had said, that the Christ was now standing among them, and perhaps this was he! And they wondered what John meant when he said that though he baptized with water, the coming Christ would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
It was of little use to wonder about the Messiah, however, unless they could remember and do all that John had said to them about being honest and true in their hearts, for that was the only way to prepare for the kingdom that was near at hand. He told the rich to share with the poor; the people who handled money to be honest, and the soldiers to harm no one with word or hand, and to be contented with their wages.
When they were willing to give up the sins that John showed them they took the sign of baptism from John, which meant that they wished to be washed from their sins, and begin life in a new way.
JESUS IN THE DESERT.
The people were looking for the promised Messiah, and would have welcomed John as the Christ if John had not always said "One mightier than I cometh." "I am not the Christ." The sign of the Dove filled them with new thoughts.
While they were thinking Jesus went up the river bank alone. The power of the spirit was upon Him, and His great work before Him, and He wished to go for a time as far as possible from every human being. He went into the wilderness—a wild desert country beyond the Dead Sea—not even wishing to talk with John, whose home was in the wilderness. Perhaps John looked after Him and longed to see and talk with Him, but Jesus had one great desire, to know Himself, and what His work was to be. He felt two natures within Him, the human and the divine, and before He began to teach He wanted to hear the voice of the Divine within Him as clear and strong as He had heard it that day from the skies.
The desert to which He went was not a waste of flat sand, like the African desert, but masses of rock with sand and dry grasses between, great cliffs of chalk and limestone rise a thousand feet above the gloomy gulfs of rock through which torrents run in the rainy season, but which are dry and oven-like in summer. One great cliff called Quarantana is now full of caves cut out of the face of the rock by men who have hoped to win heaven by suffering as Jesus did.
Jesus was thinking—thinking, His human nature being full of hopes, fears, and prayers; His divine nature being full of strength, promise, comfort. He did not think of food when He came, and there was none to be found. So resting at night in a cave, and wandering farther among the mountains by day, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness of Judea. While there He was tried by the spirit of evil in every way known to human nature, and when all was over, and He had not yielded to sin, His mind was calm and ready for His work, for He knew He was the Son of God.
When He was hungry the tempter said, "If thou be the Son of God command this stone that it be made bread."
It would have been easy for Him to try His power, but He knew that He did not come into the world to use it for Himself, but for others, and so He answered in the words of the Bible,
"Thou shalt not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."
Then in a vision He seemed to be in the Holy City upon a tower of the Temple that stood over a deep valley, and the tempter speaking within Him, said,
"If Thou be the Son of God cast Thyself down, for it is written, 'He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.'"
But Jesus knew that though the words were the words of God, the voice was the voice of the tempter, and He answered,
"Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
Then in a vision again He seemed to see, from the top of a very high mountain, all the kingdoms of the world spread out before Him with their kings, and armies, and cities; their beautiful homes and lovely women, and great men with their gold, and jewels, and precious works of art, and the tempter said,
"All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me."
Then all the Divine power in Jesus rose up against this evil whisper, and He said,
"Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.'"
We shall never know all that Jesus suffered during this long time when He was away from His home in Nazareth, and away from every human being, tempted by evil, surrounded by wild beasts, and faint from hunger, but we know He won a great victory over evil for us. So he became the Elder Brother and Friend of all who are tempted.
After His long fast and struggle with the powers of evil, angels came and cared for Him, bringing heavenly strength and comfort, and He rose in that strength and came again into the valley of Jordan, and found that spring had come while he had been in the desert, and the willows were green by the river side. John was still preaching and baptizing, but was a little farther up the river at Bethabara.
As Jesus came near John pointed to Him and said to the people,
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is He. . . . And I knew Him not, but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, 'Upon whom thou shalt see the spirit descending and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.'"
THE FIRST DISCIPLES.
The next day while two men named John and Andrew were talking with John the Baptist, Jesus passed by, and again John said, "Behold the Lamb of God." These two men had been priests and disciples of John, but they turned and followed Jesus, and John was content to have them do so, for he sought no honor for himself. Jesus when he saw them following said,
"What seek ye?"
And they, hardly knowing what to say, and wishing very much to know Him, said,
"Rabbi, where dwellest thou?"
He did not reprove them for giving Him the honored name of Master, but said,
"Come and see."
How gladly they went! No one knows where or how He lived, but whether in a house, or in such a little tent as the people of that region now carry with them when they travel, it was a quiet place where these two men who were looking eagerly for the Kingdom of God could sit at the feet of Jesus and talk with Him. He was a young man like themselves, but there was a wonderful spirit in Him that made them feel like worshipping Him.
The first thing that Andrew did was to go and find his brother, Simon Peter. They were both fishermen from Bethsaida on Lake Galilee, and had come down to hear the new prophet John.
"We have found the Messiah!" said Andrew, and they both went back to Jesus.
When the Lord—for this He had been always—saw Simon Peter He saw his heart, and knew that he would be one of the founders of the kingdom with Him, and so He, looking straight through him, said,
"Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation Peter." (A stone.)
So John, the loving; Andrew, the obedient, and Peter, the believing began to follow Jesus. And Peter's strong faith was like a foundation of stone in the beginning of the building of the kingdom.
There was another man from Bethsaida who had come down to hear John. His name was Philip. Jesus found him and said, "Follow Me." And he not only followed Jesus, but he went joyfully to find his friend, Nathanael, and tell him that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
Nathanael could not believe that the Messiah would be a man of Nazareth, because the prophets had said that He would come from Bethlehem.
So he said, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
"Come and see," said Philip, urgently, and he went.
As he came to Jesus he met the deep, kind look that had searched Peter's heart and heard Jesus say,
"Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!" He saw innocence in the heart of Nathanael, but Nathanael wondered how Jesus could know him.
"Before that Philip called thee when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee," said Jesus.
Then Nathanael's whole heart went over to Jesus, and he cried, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel!"
He needed nothing more to prove that Jesus was the Christ, but Jesus told him that he should see greater things, angels out of the open heaven ascending and descending upon Him.
Nathanael became the fifth disciple. His name was afterward called Bartholomew.
THE FIRST MIRACLE.
Jesus and the five who had become His constant friends and disciples, turned their faces toward home, for they were all from Galilee. It was Spring, and the land was beautiful with the fresh green of the trees and the breaking forth of wild flowers among the grass. On the Journey the disciples scarcely saw the beauty around them, or felt weary from the journey, for they were hearing the gracious words of their new Friend concerning the coming in of the kingdom.
There was to be a marriage feast near Nazareth in the home of a friend. Mary and her family were invited, and also the friends who had come with Jesus. It was at Cana, a village between Nazareth and the lake, and they walked over the hills early to see the bride, crowned with flowers and a white veil, married to the man to whom she had given herself. Then followed a feast at the house of the father of the bridegroom. There were joyful greetings, and garlands of flowers, and wine—for Palestine was the land of vineyards, and they knew how to prepare a harmless wine. Before the feast was over they found that the wine had given out, and those who served the feast were distressed. It was thought a disgrace to fail in hospitality at a wedding feast, and so Mary came to Jesus for advice, saying,
"They have no wine."
"Woman," He said—and among the Jews this was a respectful manner of speaking to a woman—"what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come."
He meant that He must act from the Divine Nature, and not from the human nature that He had received from His mother.
"Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it," said Mary to the servants.
He told them to fill with water the six large water-pots of stone that stood near, and they filled them to the brim.
"Draw out now, and bear to the governor of the feast," He said, and it was served at the table, and the master of the feast called to the bridegroom,
"Thou hast saved the good wine until now."
This was the beginning of miracles.
These were happy days for Mary, for she had her Son back again. From the wedding Jesus and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples went down to Capernaum by the lake for a few days.
Here Peter lived by the blue, beautiful lake that is walled by high hills on one side, while on the other lies what once was the "garden of Gennesaret" watered by streams, and rich with fruits, and grains, and flowers.
IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE.
The feeling that Jesus had when a boy, that He must be about His Father's business was now satisfied. He had begun the work of His ministry, though He had been doing all those silent years the tremendous work of overcoming evil for us. He met it in His own human nature, and overcame it step by step without yielding to sin. He was to do this work until it should be finished upon the cross, but for three years He was to teach the people the truths of the new kingdom, and show by His life, and at last by the laying down of His life, that love had come into the world to fill the old forms of the law full of the new Spirit of Life. He was to take away the sins of the world, and in place of them give to the world eternal life.
It was time for the Passover Feast again, and Jesus with his disciples joined the Capernaum company and started on the pleasant journey to Jerusalem. They sang the songs of Zion, and rejoiced when the towers of Jerusalem and the Golden Temple came into view, and as they came down the road over Olivet they probably made their camp there where they could look across the valley to the Temple. Everything was moving. Flocks of sheep and herds of oxen were being driven toward the Temple, and crowds of people from near and far were filling the streets, and also moving toward the Holy House.
When Jesus came into the Temple Court He saw something that stirred his whole soul with sorrow and wrath. The sellers of sheep, and oxen, and doves, and the money-changers had brought their things into the great court inside the marble pillars, and on the pavement of many-colored marbles, and were buying and selling noisily, and turning the courts of the Lord into a market. The voices of men and animals must have disturbed those who worshipped in the inner courts. The priests allowed it, perhaps they were paid for doing so, and Jesus, as a Son in His Father's house where the servants had been unfaithful, began clearing the court of all these things, and finding some cord on the pavement He folded it into a short scourge of many strands and used it to drive the cattle and sheep and their keepers out of court. The money-changers would not easily yield, but he poured out their money and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandise."
And the people wondered why they should obey this strange young man, but they did.
It was the Divine light in the face of Jesus, and not the bit of cord that drove them out. They saw that He had a right to clear the Temple courts.
Then the Jews wondered who had given Him this right, and they said to Him,
"What sign showest Thou unto us, seeing Thou doest these things?"
And this was the sign He gave them: "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
He knew that they would not understand this, but they would remember it after they had crucified Him and He had risen from the dead, for He spoke of His body.
The Jews turned scornfully away. The Temple had been forty-six years in building, and they thought His promise an idle boast, but they did not forget it. Three years after they helped to bring Him to the cross, accusing Him in the High priests palace of saying these things.
A TALK ABOUT THE BREATH OF GOD.
Jesus was in the Temple most of the time during the Passover Feast. He taught the people standing among the marble pillars of the outer court. He also did miracles among them, and many believed on Him because of the miracles, but He, knowing their hearts, saw not one among them whom He would call to be with Him in His work, for He could not wholly trust them. The Pharisees and Doctors of the Law also stood and listened to Him, and among them was one whose heart turned toward Jesus. He was one of the highest of the Pharisees, but his heart was not so proud and full of self-love as the hearts of most of the Pharisees. His name was Nicodemus. He longed to talk with Jesus, but he was afraid of what the other Pharisees would say.
He found out where the camp of the Galilean company was, and one night went out of the city gate, across the Kedron bridge and up the slope of the Mount of Olives and found Jesus. There was no place to talk quietly in the crowded tents, so they must have gone out under the shadowy olive trees to talk.
"Master," he said—and it was much for the wise Pharisee to speak so humbly to the young carpenter of Galilee—"Master, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him."
Jesus looked through the heart of Nicodemus, though it was night, and saw what he needed most, and so He made no reply about Himself or His miracles, but said,
"Verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
Nicodemus could not understand how a man could be born when he is old, so Jesus explained that it was a spiritual birth. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." And as the wind softly stirred the leaves of the olive trees above their heads He said,
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it bloweth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus had always thought that religion was the keeping of the law as all Jews were taught by the priests, so he was astonished, and said,
"How can these things be?"
"Art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things?" said Jesus, and then He spoke to the soul of Nicodemus of the things of the Spirit of Heaven—The Heaven in which He already lived,—and of the new kingdom that had begun on earth.
If you will find what Jesus said to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John's Gospel you will find among other things these beautiful words,—
"For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Nicodemus found out that life was the breath of God in man, and that by it man lives. Perhaps he felt it within him as he went down the valley under the trees and heard the wind among the leaves; and as he came up the steep way and through the city gate in the silence of the night, perhaps he resolved to be a disciple of Jesus.
A TALK ABOUT THE WATER OF LIFE.
After the Passover there were many who had believed in Jesus who wished to be baptized, and so they went down to Jordan with Jesus and the disciples, and then the disciples baptized them.
John, who was also baptizing at another point by the river, was told that Jesus was baptizing and that all men were going to Him. John was rejoiced at this.
"This my joy therefore is fulfilled," he said. "He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from heaven is above all."
After this Jesus went back to Galilee, and as He and His disciples went through the country of Samaria, which lay between Judea and Galilee, they came at noon near to the little village of Sychar among the hills. It was the most difficult road to Galilee, and most persons followed the Jordan road when going back and forth, for the Judeans and Samaritans were not friendly, but it is written that Jesus "must needs go through Samaria."
While the disciples went up into the village to buy some bread, Jesus sat down by a deep well in the valley. It was built round with stone, and covered from the sun, for the people prized the well not only for the clear, cold water, but because Jacob, the father of all the tribes of Israel dug the well for his family and cattle and flocks hundreds of years before.
While Jesus rested by the well a woman came down the path from the town to draw water. She drew the water with a strong cord that she fastened around her earthen water-jar and was going to put it on her shoulder and carry it away when Jesus asked her for a drink of water. She had not offered Him any for she thought a Jew would not ask even a drink of water from a Samaritan, but Jesus said,
"If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee 'Give me to drink' thou wouldst have asked of Him and he would have given thee living water."
The woman did not understand His words about water any more than Nicodemus did about the blowing of the wind. Jesus was talking about life always and everywhere, but the people were slow to understand Him.
The woman wondered where Jesus could get better water than this from Jacob's well.
"Whosoever shall drink of this water," He said, "shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. But the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
When the woman heard this she asked for it, that she might not be thirsty and come to the well for water, but Jesus, seeing that she could not understand His words began to speak of her life, and so truly that she was amazed and said,
"Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." She talked of the mountain near by which had been the place of worship of the Samaritans, and of the Temple at Jerusalem where the Jews worshipped, for she did not want to talk of her own life, which was not good.
Jesus then showed her that "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth," and that the hour had come when He wished people to worship him so in every place.
"I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ," she said,
"I that speak unto thee am He," He said. Then the woman left her water-jar and hurried away without a word to tell the people of the town.
While she was away His disciples came and begged Jesus to eat, but His spirit was filled with the thought of life, and he said,
"I have meat to eat that ye know not of."
And when they did not understand He said,
"My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and finish His work," and when he thought how great the work was that was before Him, it was as if the harvest-time of gathering the people into the kingdom had come.
As they looked out along the valley men were ploughing the fields to sow wheat.
"Say ye not there are four months," He said, "and then cometh harvest? Behold I say unto you, 'Lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.'"
While He stayed two days in Sychar many believed on him there.
"Now we believe," they said to the woman, "not because of thy saying for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
JESUS IN THE SYNAGOGUE.
Jesus came back to Galilee through the Valley of Jenin and across the plain of Jezreel to Cana, where His disciple Nathanael lived, and where He had wrought His first miracle. While He was in Cana a nobleman who lived at Capernaum came riding into the little town in great haste to asked Jesus to come down and heal his son who was near death. To try him, Jesus said,
"Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe."
The nobleman would not stop to talk of this, but besought Jesus, saying,
"Sir, come down ere my child die."
Jesus was glad to see his faith, and ready to meet it.
"Go thy way," He said, "thy son liveth," and the man went away believing what Jesus had said. On the way down to Capernaum by the Lake, some glad-faced servants came hastening to meet him.
"Thy son liveth!" They cried—the very words that Jesus had used. When he asked them when the boy had taken a turn for the better they said,
"Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."
Then the happy father knew that it was at the seventh hour—one o'clock—that Jesus had said, "Thy son liveth."
There was joy in the house of the nobleman when the father and mother and all the household gathered around the boy who had been healed, and talked of the wonderful power of Jesus in speaking the word of healing.
From Cana Jesus went to Nazareth. John the Baptist had been thrown into a gloomy prison down by the Dead Sea by Herod Antipas because he had rebuked the wickedness of that king, and Jesus knew that His own work was now fully begun, since the prophet, who had come to prepare His way, was laid aside.
While Jesus was at home with His mother and brothers and sisters He went one Sabbath to the village church or synagogue, as He had always done through His childhood and youth. Perhaps His brothers and some of His disciples were with Him, while His mother and sisters parted from Him and entered by another door, as was the Jewish custom. There were many there who hoped that the young carpenter, who had become a teacher, and as many believed, a prophet, would read from the Book of the Law.
After the singing, and the prayers, and the reciting of the creeds, the time came for the reading and teaching. The first lesson had been read, and the ruler of the synagogue took from the sacred place where it was kept another parchment roll, and coming down the steps he handed it to Jesus. It was the roll of Isaiah, and as Jesus went up to the reader's desk He opened and unrolled it until He came to these words,
"The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
When he had finished he rolled the book again and handed it to the minister and sat down. It was the custom of those who were teachers of the people to sit down to teach, while the people all rose and stood until he had finished.
"This day," said Jesus "is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
The people were looking and listening so earnestly that it was very still, and as Jesus told them simply that He was the very One whom Isaiah had spoken of seven hundred years before, that He had brought the good tidings, and had come to do the work the prophet had spoken of, they looked at each other in amazement. To be sure they had never heard such words of grace and wisdom, but how could this be true?
"Is not this Joseph's son?" they asked each other. Joseph had been their neighbor and Jesus had grown up among them and played with their children. They thought some evil thing had entered into Him disturbing His mind. But when He began to tell them that no prophet was accepted in his own country, and that the Lord was obliged to send them to strangers, as He sent Elijah and Elisha, they were angry with Him. Some of the men wished to teach Him a lesson, and they took Him by force to the edge of a cliff, for Nazareth was built high up among the hills, and were about to cast Him over among the limestone rocks below, but turning away from them, Jesus walked quietly down the hill to the path that led into the valley—and no one was able to lay a hand upon Him to harm Him. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not," and He went away to preach the good tidings in other towns. The heart of Mary must have been full of sorrow when she saw her Son "despised and rejected of men" as Isaiah prophesied, but she hid her sorrow, and remembered the words of the Lord brought to her by the angel before her Son was born.