"Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, And rulers of the house of Israel, That abhor justice and pervert all equity; That build up Zion with blood, And Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, And the priests thereof teach for hire, And the prophets thereof divine for money; Yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, 'Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil shall come to us.' Therefore shall Zion, for your sake, be plowed as a field, And Jerusalem shall become heaps, And the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest."
Micah, naturally, received opposition from the same clique of false prophets that opposed Isaiah, and made his labors so difficult and, at first, unsuccessful; that misled king and people, "that bite with their teeth and cry, 'Peace,' to make my people to err." To these Micah gave as well as he received:
"The seers shall be put to shame, And the diviners confounded. Yea, they shall all cover their lips, For there is no answer of God. But as for me, I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, And of judgment and of might, To declare unto Jacob his transgression And unto Israel his sin."
For years Micah kept at his task. He was indeed a tribune of the people, the champion of their rights against the vested interests, the great commoner of his day and time, fearlessly and courageously standing out against all opposition, trusting absolutely in God.
At last came the crisis of 704-1 and Hezekiah's memorable change of mind and heart. Micah played no mean part with Isaiah, in Hezekiah's reforms that followed.
Reforms were needed, however, not alone by "the heads of the house of Jacob" and "the rulers of the house of Israel," not alone in the courts of law and among the priests and prophets; they were needed as well in the religious beliefs and practices of the common people, whose cause was Micah's cause.
With the passing of all political danger to the fatherland, Micah retired permanently to his farms in Moresheth. There he devoted the remainder of his peaceful, happy years to teaching the common people, "my people," as he fondly refers to them, the religious, moral and ethical life that God demanded of them.
Micah employed the same vivid, picturesque language in his speeches of peace as he did in his addresses of war. There is extant a remarkable oration in which he pictures a religious controversy between God and his people, and in which he makes a declaration of what true religion is that has not been better phrased in all the thousands of books that have been written on religious subjects since that day.
The address is in the form of a dialogue between God and Israel, and reads as follows:
"Hear ye now what the Lord is saying: 'Arise, contend thou before the mountains, And let the hills hear thy voice. Hear, O ye mountains, the Lord's controversty, And ye enduring rocks, the foundations of the earth: For the Lord hath a controversy with His people, And He will plead with Israel."
Then God is pictured pleading with the people:
"O my people, what harm have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me. Is it because I brought thee out of the land of Egypt, And redeemed thee out of the house of bondage, And sent before thee Moses, Aaron and Miriam? O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, devised, And what Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him; (Remember what took place) from Shittim unto Gilgal, That ye may know the righteous acts of the Lord."
As with the purely religious teachings of the older prophets, the people could not quite understand Micah. They believed that religion consisted in offering the prescribed sacrifices regularly, and that, in having fulfilled this obligation they had performed their religious duties.
The average Judean's idea of religion, of the relationship between man and God, was that of a bargain between man and God; so many sacrifices brought to God, so many favors from God, in return; the more precious and numerous the sacrificial oils and burnt offerings, even to one's children, offered to God, the more precious and numerous would be the blessings from God.
To this false idea Micah replies, with irony that stings, in these words:
"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, And bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, Or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
To which God answers, through Micah, in the world-famed and unparalleled definition of religion:
"It hath been declared unto thee, O man, what is good: Yea, what doth the Lord require of thee, But to do justice, and to love mercy, And to walk humbly with thy God?"
THE PROPHET OF WOE AND HOPE
The entirely unexpected assassination of King Amon, of Judah, in the year 639, surprised and appalled the entire country, as well as Jerusalem, the capital.
King Amon had succeeded his father, Manasseh, to the throne of Judah but two years before. He had had no chance to show the character of man he was and the type of a ruler he would be, and yet, without apparent knowledge on anybody's part that a conspiracy was brewing among the princes of the royal palace itself, Amon's life was snatched away in a most cruel manner.
The evening of the tragedy in the king's household was no different than the many others that had preceded it during the time of Amon's reign. The king and queen had just said good-night to their eight-year-old son Josiah and his little friend Jeremiah, who had spent the day with the young prince, and had sent them to bed, in the wing of the palace occupied by the princes, in care of Ebed-melech, a young Ethiopian slave, of whom both boys were very fond.
Jeremiah, who was the son of the high priest Hilkiah, lived in Anathoth, the exclusive suburb to the north of Jerusalem, where the wealthy, priestly families had their homes.
It was after much begging on the part of Josiah with his royal father, and on the part of Jeremiah with his mother, that permission was given Jeremiah to accompany his father into Jerusalem and to spend the day and night with Josiah in the palace.
The high priest and the king were great friends, though they differed from each other on matters of politics and religion. Hilkiah was a follower of the religious practices and ideals of the prophet Isaiah, while Amon was inclined to follow the religious practices and ideals of his father, King Manasseh.
A very strange thing happened in Jerusalem and Judah when both the good King Hezekiah and the great prophet Isaiah died and young Manasseh came to the throne. The many religious and social reforms that were instituted by Hezekiah under the guidance and inspiration of Isaiah, and which saved the country from the ravages of the Assyrian conqueror, were brought to a sudden halt by King Manasseh.
It seems that the young king was entirely under the influence of the party at court. This party composed mostly of Manasseh's young friends differed with the opinions of the old men who stood by Hezekiah and Isaiah. It was the story of Rehoboam and of Ahaz all over again. The king listened to the advice of his boon companions instead of to the counsel of the sages.
Manasseh had another reason which, in his own mind and in the minds of his advisers, justified the reaction he led against the teachings of "the remnant" founded by Isaiah, and later taken up by Hezekiah.
Assyria, after the death of Sennacherib, had become the great world power at which all the Assyrian kings, from Tiglath-Pileser III down, had aimed. Sennacherib's successors actually conquered Egypt twice, thus extending the sway of Assyria, with its capital at Nineveh, over the whole of the then known world.
During both wars in which Egypt was defeated, the little kingdom of Judah was, by its geographical location, the stamping ground for the Assyrian armies. Judah was called upon during these wars to do more than pay its regular tribute. It was forced to furnish food, supplies, horses, shelter and camps to the Assyrians.
The suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of the Assyrians was greater than ever before, and the court party asked the king whether the nation was better off when following in the footsteps of Isaiah and Hezekiah and worshiping the God of Isaiah and Hezekiah, than it would be if it worshiped the gods of the Assyrians, the worshipers of which were always victorious over their enemies.
While the Assyrian armies were coming and going through Judah, Manasseh was anxious not alone to show his loyalty to the Assyrian throne by the punctual payment of the tribute levied on Judah, but to show also his personal faithfulness to the kings of Assyria by paying homage to their gods.
So Manasseh began a bloody campaign against "the remnant", who were now called the Prophetic Party in opposition to the Court Party. Jerusalem flowed with the blood of the martyrs, who were nowhere safe from the power of Manasseh and the princes.
So great and good a man as the high priest Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father, had to hide his most inward religious beliefs and convictions in order to escape the sword of King Manasseh.
When, after a reign of forty-five years, Manasseh died, the Prophetic Party looked eagerly to Amon, the new king, in the hope that he would change conditions in the land from those established by his father; but Amon permitted all the heathen shrines that were erected everywhere in Judah, and even in the Temple in Jerusalem, to remain.
Just why, therefore, the Court Party assassinated King Amon will never be known. The fact remains that on this particular evening in the year 639, armed men sprang up in the palace as if by magic. The royal family was completely exterminated, with the exception of the boy Josiah, who had retired with Jeremiah, his young guest, to the nursery.
Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father, who, after taking leave of his boy and seeing the two youngsters in the care of Ebed-melech, was preparing for the hour's trip to his home in Anathoth, was as completely dazed by the uprising and as unprepared for it as was the king himself.
The conspirators, however, had no design on Hilkiah's life; and so, in the pandemonium that reigned in the palace, Hilkiah stole quietly up to the nursery.
At the door he met Ebed-melech on guard. The young Ethiopian always waited just outside the little princes' apartment until he was sure that the boys' every wish was satisfied and that they were asleep, before retiring to the servants' quarters.
Hilkiah did not speak to Ebed-melech. In his excitement he probably did not see him. He opened the door, which was not locked, hurriedly, and entered, followed closely by the Ethiopian, who surmised, from Hilkiah's appearance, that something unusual had happened.
Instead of finding the boys tucked away in bed, asleep, he found them wide awake, at play. Josiah had leaned a tiny chair up against the posts at the foot of the bed, propped it up with pillows, and, with a wand in his hand, was playing at king. Jeremiah, in another part of the room, had bound and laid several toy animals upon a little table and was playing at high priest.
When Hilkiah broke into the nursery the boys stopped suddenly at their play and looked shamefacedly at the priest. They did not notice the flushed face nor the anxious, eager look in his eyes that changed immediately to hope as he snatched both lads in his arms, bade them be silent and started out of the nursery.
Ebed-melech was at his heels, asking what was wrong. Hilkiah told him of the uprising, in a few whispered words. The Ethiopian thereupon took the amazed Josiah in his brawny arms and led the way through the servants' hall to the court yard.
In the tumult that reigned within the palace Hilkiah, Ebed-melech and their burdens were not noticed by the conspirators. Unmolested, they made their way into the royal gardens. There they hid in the shrubbery with the boys, whose cries had been stopped by commands and pleading.
When the noise quieted down in the palace and the conspirators had evidently been satisfied with their work, Hilkiah, carrying Jeremiah, and Ebed-melech, carrying Josiah, quietly stole out of the garden and made their way through a narrow by-way crossing the Mount of Olives to Anathoth.
They arrived at Hilkiah's home at daybreak, both boys asleep. Jeremiah's mother, almost distracted by anxiety, met the four eagerly at the door, and, after a few words of whispered explanation by her husband, she understood what had happened.
Silently and with the help of servants the two boys were brought into Jeremiah's room, where they slept peacefully, being none the wiser for the tragedy in the palace in Jerusalem.
The Boy King.
It was interesting to see, the next morning, the effect upon the two boys when they discovered that instead of being in Josiah's bed in the palace in Jerusalem they were in Jeremiah's, at his home in Anathoth.
Josiah thought it was a great joke and laughed at the miracle, as he called it, that was performed during the night. Jeremiah, however, being two years older than his friend and of a more active mind and imagination, tried quietly to study out what had taken place.
Just as Josiah was figuring the miracle all out, Jeremiah's mother entered the room. The dear woman was choked up with tears and could not say a word. In reply to the volley of questions with which she was greeted, she merely pressed the two boys to her bosom and kissed them.
Her trembling arms made the lads feel that something had gone wrong. They clung to her most affectionately. She told them to dress quickly; that it was already late in the day; that breakfast was waiting for them and, she added smilingly, that if somebody did not reach the breakfast room in a hurry somebody would be scolded.
At breakfast she unfolded the story of the tragedy at the palace very guardedly and with great care, so that the blow should not fall too heavily upon Josiah. When she finally told them that the King and Queen were dead, the boys broke out in loud weeping. It was all she could do to comfort and quiet them.
Just at this time, Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father, who had gone back to the city for news, returned. He related that Jerusalem was in a great uproar. The conspirators in the palace, who had proclaimed one of their number as king, were having a hard time of it with the army and the people.
It seemed that the assassins were not at all well organized and that the assassination was most unpopular. The army proved faithful to the royal house and the people sided with the army.
When Hilkiah had announced to the leaders of the army and the people that the whole of Amon's family was not destroyed, but that young Josiah was safe at Anathoth, there was great public rejoicing amid the mourning for the king. Within a few hours the army laid siege to the palace which was in the possession of the conspirators.
During the three days that followed the palace was besieged by a detachment from the army. Many of the leading men of Jerusalem and many of the army officers came to Hilkiah's home, in the meantime, to see the young prince and to pay homage to him as his father's successor on the throne; but Hilkiah would not permit them to see or speak to Josiah until the siege was successful and the usurpers put out of the way.
When the palace finally fell and the conspirators were put to death, a great concourse of people, headed by the king's guard, marched to Anathoth, gathered before Hilkiah's home and called for the Prince.
Hilkiah brought Josiah to a window in the second story of the house. Upon seeing him a great shout went up from the crowd below:
"The king!" "The king!"
The captains of the host then entered the house and consulted with Hilkiah while the crowd outside carried on happily over the survivor of the ancient dynasty.
After a little while the captains, surrounding Josiah who was sitting on Hilkiah's shoulders, reappeared. A shout of acclaim greeted them. Then began a triumphant march back to Jerusalem.
At the gates the whole city of loyal people greeted them. The royal chariot was waiting. Instead of horses, picked young men drew it to the palace where Josiah was proclaimed king in his father's stead.
So it happened, in the year 639, that a boy eight years old reigned as king in Jerusalem.
Josiah and Jeremiah passed through the first great and vital experience of their lives together and the friendship between these two lads was thereby knit as closely as was that of David and Jonathan.
From the very beginning of Josiah's mounting the throne of Judah, this friendship promised even to outrival that of the king's great ancestor and Saul's son. Every day Hilkiah had to bring Jeremiah to the palace, because the young king was not permitted to leave Jerusalem and go to Anathoth.
One of the very first official acts of the king was to make Ebed-melech a freedman; but the young Ethiopian chose to remain at the palace in Jerusalem, to be at the right hand of his master, even to put the young king to bed, for many years after he was crowned, as he had done the baby prince.
This friendship of Josiah and Jeremiah had an unlooked-for effect upon the former; for, though teachers in all the subjects that pertained to the education of the young king were appointed, Hilkiah, the high priest, practically became the young monarch's guardian and father.
In fact, the older Josiah grew the more he understood the love of Hilkiah for him and the heroic act he had performed in saving him on that terrible night of the conspiracy.
So it happened that while the boy king was instructed by special tutors in the laws and intricacies of government, his religious and moral training came under the influence of Hilkiah. This meant that the moral qualities that make for manhood and character, and the principles of religious belief that were developed in Josiah, were identical with those that Hilkiah taught his own son.
At the suggestion of Hilkiah, a cousin of the young king, named Zephaniah, a member of the Prophetic Party and follower of the teachings of Isaiah, was appointed Josiah's religious instructor. The king, therefore, grew up in total ignorance of the idolatrous religious beliefs and practices introduced by his grandfather, Manasseh, and practiced by his father, Amon.
Josiah was so busy with the many things relating to the government of his kingdom that he had no time to study his religion very deeply, but the moral influence of Zephaniah and Hilkiah was very apparent in his development and showed their effect in his later years.
Jeremiah, on the other hand, received an education on much broader and more general lines. Not burdened with cares of state, he studied first of all the history of his own people and his own religion, and the history and religion of the other peoples with whom his country came in contact. In his religious training he was grounded deeply in the religious history of now almost forgotten Israel as well as of Judah. He paid special attention to the moral and religious condition of his country and of its people and made himself master of his father's ideals, which meant the ideals and hopes of the older prophets.
As Jeremiah advanced in years and Josiah took the reins of government more and more into his own hands, the former's visits to the palace became less and less frequent.
Jeremiah delighted to stay in Anathoth. He spent many hours studying in his own room. He roamed among the barren hills near his village from which, looking down the ravine, a view could be had of the blue waters at the north end of the Dead Sea.
He often came across the many altars that had been erected on the high hills and in thick groves in imitation of the heathen. Even in the city of Jerusalem, the religious legacy left by King Manasseh had not been destroyed. The Temple Courts were desecrated by images and the Temple itself defiled by idolatrous practices.
The teachings of his father and the religious influence of his home were great factors in turning Jeremiah's mind to view these abominations with alarm for his people. Idolatry and heathen worship led the people to practice vice and commit crimes that were abhorrent to the religious ideas and ideals taught by such men as Amos, Hosea and Isaiah in the days gone by, and by Zephaniah and Hilkiah in Jeremiah's time.
Now Jeremiah knew very well that when Josiah reached the age of manhood the influence of Zephaniah and Hilkiah upon him would tell. He felt quite sure that, in due time, religious and moral reforms would be introduced into the country by the king. He was convinced, nevertheless, that a movement for reform of some kind must come from the people at large as well as from the king.
Sometimes he thought that the people ought to be prepared for the reforms that Josiah would surely introduce. Often, therefore, he felt the voice of God speaking within him, urging him on to go down into the city and there speak to the people of the living God, of His love for them and of His religious and moral demands upon them.
One day, in the early spring, while roaming among the hills, meditating upon the thoughts that consumed all his waking hours, he stopped before an almond tree. It was just beginning to shoot its earliest leaves. He contemplated this wonderful miracle of nature. He saw the hand of God working through that tree; he saw that God must be very watchful over the things He created; he saw in that tree a symbol—God's message to him that the immoral and ungodly people of Jerusalem and Judah could be awakened to a new life, even as the almond tree was blooming into new life.
At another time he was watching carelessly a boiling caldron. A wind unexpectedly came up from the north, so strong that Jeremiah thought the caldron would turn over and empty its contents upon the ground. In this, too, Jeremiah saw a symbol—a call from God to warn the people of Judah against the oncoming of the Scythian hordes that were roaming at large over the once great Assyrian empire, even reaching the little states along the Mediterranean.
One night, in his room, Jeremiah was thinking over these and similar incidents that had been happening to him quite frequently of late. Though ready to retire, he knew that he could not sleep, because a terrible restlessness was consuming his mind and heart.
Noiselessly, he stole out of the house into the open. It was one of those wonderful full-moon, spring nights, when the sky is clear blue, unclouded and studded with myriads of stars, stars, stars.
Jeremiah breathed in deeply and tramped out into the hills. He walked lightly, as on air, without fatigue. A strange feeling, as if he wished to get away from himself, drove him on. Finally, he reached a point from which he could discern the most northerly corner of the Dead Sea. For awhile he stood in his favorite spot and meditated, though he could not, for the world of him, say what was passing through his mind.
He pressed his temples with his open palms, hoping in that way to clear up the jumble of thoughts tumbling about in his head. He clenched his fists. He beat the palm of his left hand with the fist of his right. He raised his arms to heaven, as if pleading for advice and guidance. He was, evidently, passing through a great, inward struggle.
Then he heard a voice, clearly and distinctly, saying over and over again:
Before I formed thee, I knew thee; Before thou camest forth, I sanctified thee. I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.
and he knew that God was speaking to him.
A stifled groan escaped his lips. The muscles of his face and body, tense up to this moment, relaxed. He dropped to his knees and gave up the fight. He buried his face in his arms and cried, in a muffled voice:
Alas, O Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak; I am only a youth.
This plea showed clearly what inward agonies Jeremiah had been through. Timid by nature, he shrank from God's call to him to go out and prophesy to the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and he struggled against it. Although he was now a young man of twenty-four or five, he feared to undertake this great task and to answer the call. He felt that he was yet too young and unprepared to deliver the message of God to his people.
But God answered him, saying:
Do not say, "I am only a youth"; For to all to whom I shall send thee, thou shalt go, And whatever I command thee, thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of them, For I am with thee to deliver thee.
And Jeremiah tells us that God, having stretched out His hand toward him and touched his lips to purify them, spoke to him further:—
Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth; See, I have set thee this day over the nations and kingdoms, To tear up, to break down and to destroy, to build up and to plant.
Now that God had selected him for a distinct and set purpose in life, no matter how incapable and unworthy he deemed himself, and being assured of His help and protection, Jeremiah walked slowly homeward. For the first time he noticed that the sun had risen big and bright and warm. His mind was calm and at rest, but his heart was filled with woe because of what the future held out for him and his people.
The Seething Caldron.
An old Hebrew proverb says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he shall not depart from it." If one should say that the man who wrote this proverb must have thought of King Josiah, the statement could not be entirely denied. For the religious training he received at the hands of Zephaniah and Hilkiah soon showed itself in the way he began to revolutionize the religious life of Judah.
When he was only eighteen years old he began to uproot the heathen worship that had been reintroduced by his grandfather, after the death of Hezekiah and Isaiah. His aim was to cleanse the land entirely of the foreign altars and sanctuaries that Manasseh had erected to the gods of Babylonia and Assyria.
In the twelfth year of his reign, that is, in the year 627, the old chronicler tells us, Josiah
"brake down the altars of the Baalim in his presence; and the sun-images that were on high above them he hewed down; and the Asherim, and the graven images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them, and purged Judah, and Jerusalem."
It was at this time that the decline in the fortunes of Assyria set in. Esarhaddon and his successor, Ashurbanipal, preserved a semblance of holding the empire together; but it was not for long. Built up by mercenaries, whose fighting was for pay and not for their country, the weak rulers who followed Ashurbanipal on the throne in Nineveh hurled the empire quickly to its fall.
Even in the last days of the cultured and illustrious Ashurbanipal the outlying provinces of Assyria became independent. The Assyrian governors were slowly withdrawn from the tributaries along the Mediterranean Sea, and Judah, always ready to resist a foreign yoke, began to feel its independence.
Josiah added to his territory most of what had been the kingdom of Israel and reigned over a country that nearly equalled in size that of David and Solomon. This good fortune of Judah, perhaps more than anything else, convinced the king that God was again favoring his nation, and that, therefore, it was time to remove from his dominions all those things that were abominations in the sight of God.
Now, it is one thing to cleanse a land of its outward show of idolatrous worship and abominable practices and another to purge the hearts and minds of a people that have been sotted with these for more than two generations. To do the latter never entered into Josiah's calculations. He didn't even give it a thought. But the uselessness of outward reforms, without inward chastening, did not escape the deep-thinking Jeremiah.
It was evident to him that Josiah was only scratching the surface and he wanted to come to the well-meaning king's help. Notwithstanding his call and his conviction that his life work as a prophet had been determined upon even before his birth, Jeremiah was yet too timid to take up his burden among the people until the word of God came to him a second time, saying:
"Gird up thy loins and arise, Speak to them all that I command thee, Do not be terrified before them, lest I terrify thee in their presence; For behold, I myself make thee this day a fortified city, And a brazen wall against the kings of Judah, its princes, and the common people. And they shall fight against thee, but they will not overcome thee, For I am with thee to deliver thee."
So Jeremiah's course was not to be smooth and easy! He would encounter opposition from the common people, the princes, the king himself! But there was no turning back for him now! Though his heart was heavy, it was determined. Jeremiah went down to Jerusalem to preach.
His first pleadings were in line with Josiah's reforms:
"A voice is heard upon the bare heights, the weeping and the supplications of the children of Israel; because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the Lord their God. Return ye backsliding children; I will heal your backsliding."
Jeremiah began his eventful career with the old cry of Amos and Hosea, against the widespread evil, the seething caldron of idolatry and wrongdoing that threatened the destruction of the nation. It was far more serious, however, than in the days of the earlier prophets. Then the people worshiped idols and seemed to know no better; now the people employed all the ancient idolatrous practices for worshiping the idols and the heavenly bodies and God at the same time.
Therefore, Jeremiah heard from the people at the idols' shrines, in reply to his pleadings, practically the same answer that greeted Amos at Bethel:
"Behold, we have come unto thee, For thou art the Lord our God."
To this false idea that God-worship and idol-worship are the same thing, Jeremiah gave answer patiently and kindly, as if reasoning with children, recalling what God had accomplished for Israel in the past and the duty of obedience to His voice by Israel's descendants in the present:
"Truly in vain is the help that is looked for from the hills, the tumult of the mountains; truly the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel. But the shameful thing (idolatry) hath devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our confusion cover us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God."
Then Jeremiah delivered a message of hope, of God's promise to the people, in case they should return from their backsliding:
"If thou wilt return, O Israel," saith the Lord, "if thou wilt return to me and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight; then shalt thou not be removed; and thou shalt swear, 'As the Lord liveth,' in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory."
Jeremiah aimed at first merely to arouse the people to a knowledge of their false point of view toward God; but he soon discovered that he was on the wrong track. Pleading, persuasion, promises and prophecies of hope had no more effect upon the daily life of the people than did Josiah's destruction of the shrines and sanctuaries upon their religious practices.
It was at this time that evil days came upon the Empire of Assyria. It was crumbling to pieces. From north of the Black Sea and from east of the Carpathian Mountains savage hordes of Scythians were swarming over Assyria. Nomads, without any settled country whatever, they were sweeping eastward and southward, down across the shores of the Mediterranean, creating devastation everywhere. They were not only eager for the far-famed riches of Assyria, but looked toward the south, even as far as Egypt.
And the little kingdom of Judah lay directly in their path, as it did during former attempted conquests of Egypt.
Jeremiah once more recalled the vision of the seething caldron, with the strong wind from the north, threatening to pour out the hot contents over the land.
Poor Judah! The country was seething with destructive idolatry within, and the seething hordes of Scythians were endangering its life from without.
Poor Jeremiah! What was there for him to do now? A double calamity was hanging over his people and his beloved country. Even if he stood alone he must try to save them both.
So he began a campaign, the burden of which was two-fold. He undertook to warn the people against the danger which even King Josiah had recognized and of the new danger that was threatening from the north.
He felt sure, as had the other prophets before him, that unless the people turned from their backsliding they would lack the moral courage to withstand the foreign foe and could never gain God's help and protection in fighting their enemies.
Once more he returned to his early methods of pleading with the people. He appealed to them to restore the relationship of children and father that had existed between them and God from the earliest days. He recounted their history from the slavery of Egypt to his own day. He pointed to the wonderful things that God had performed for them, but it all seemed of no avail.
Then he turned to the people with the threats of the danger from the north. He tried to impress them with the idea that God was sending the Scythians as an instrument with which to punish the idolatrous and immoral Judeans.
"Behold a people is coming from the northland, And a great nation is arousing itself from the uttermost parts of the earth. They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel and merciless. Their din is like the roaring of the sea, and they ride upon horses. Everyone is arrayed as a man for battle against thee, O daughter of Zion.
"We have heard the report of it, our hands become feeble; Anguish taketh hold upon us; Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the highway, For there is the sword of the enemy, terror on every side. O, my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and sprinkle thyself with ashes; Take up mourning as for an only son, bitter lamentation; For the destroyer shall suddenly come upon us."
From Dan and Mount Ephraim in the north the evil tidings announcing the approach of the Scythians had already been brought to Jerusalem. These savages were approaching Judea like a destructive hot wind and a whirlwind from the wilderness, like a lion gone up from his lair "to lay waste the earth."
"Announce in Jerusalem, 'There they are!' Robber bands are coming from a far distant land; Yea, they are raising their cry against the cities of Judah, Lying in wait in the field over against her on every side, Because she hath rebelled against me, saith the Lord."
The farmers were deserting their lands and the villagers in the outlying parts of the country their homes, rushing south to the protecting walls of Jerusalem. The roads were filled with frightened men, women and children. They were not the happy pilgrims who went down to Jerusalem for the great holidays. In their fear they jostled each other and even fought to get ahead of each other. They cared nothing for their fellows. Everyone aimed to reach the capital first.
Jeremiah saw all this, and knew exactly what the result would be when the robber bands came to besiege the city. Already the farthest outlying sections had been ravaged, towns destroyed, fields laid waste, and the inhabitants driven in all directions.
No wonder that Jeremiah was filled with woe. He tried very hard to restrain himself, not to pronounce the doom of his people. But a great force within him urged him to speak:
"My anguish, my anguish! I am pained to the depths of my heart. My heart is in a tumult within me, I cannot keep silent, For I have heard the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war! Destruction succeeds destruction, for the whole land is laid waste. How long must I see the signal, hear the sound of the trumpet! For my people are senseless, they know me not, They are foolish children, and they have no understanding; They are skilled! in doing evil, but they know not how to do right!"
In Jerusalem there were many who believed that they were innocent of any wrong-doing because they were worshiping God the only way they knew; but what they knew was the same old heathen way. There were many, indeed, who continued their wicked practices secretly even in places where, by King Josiah's orders, the idolatrous shrines and sanctuaries had been destroyed.
What brought pain and sorrow to Jeremiah more than anything else was the fact that the people insisted that they were not sinning, that they were living in accordance with the laws of God.
To them Jeremiah answered:
"Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem and see and know, And seek in its open spaces, if ye can find a man, If there is any who does right and seeks after the truth! And though they say, 'As the Lord liveth,' surely they swear to a falsehood. O Lord, do not thine eyes look upon truth?"
Always wanting to be fair and honest in his condemnation of the people, Jeremiah bethought himself that perhaps only the common people who "know not the way of the Lord and the law of their God" were at fault. Therefore he turned himself to the nobles, to the princes of the realm, to the wealthy and exalted, saying to himself, they "know the way of the Lord and the law of their God." But to his great dismay he found that these, too, "have all broken the yoke and burst the bonds" that made them the beloved of God in the ways of their righteousness.
"Therefore I am full of the wrath of the Lord; I am weary of restraining myself. I must pour it out upon the children in the street and upon the assembly of young men, For both the husband and the wife shall be taken, the aged and him that is advanced in years. And their houses shall be turned over to others, their fields to robbers. For from the least even to the greatest of them, each greedily robs, And from the prophet even to the priest, each deals deceitfully. They heal the hurt of my people as though it were slight, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace."
This condition was reason enough for Jeremiah to point out, regretfully,
"Thy conduct and thy acts have procured these things for thee! This is the cause of thy calamity; verily it is bitter, for it toucheth thy heart."
Yet hopefully he pleaded,
"Cleanse thy heart, O Jerusalem, from wickedness, that thou mayest be delivered. How long shall thy evil thoughts stay within thee?"
This preaching, pleading, threatening, in which Jeremiah was assisted greatly by Zephaniah, King Josiah's teacher, and the little crowd of men, "the remnant" of Isaiah's days, whom Hilkiah had gathered about him, now known as the Prophetic Party was not a matter of days or months, but of years.
Josiah, standing practically single-handed among the nobles and the Court Party, the legacy fron his grandfather Manasseh, continued his reforms to the best of his ability.
At last the work was having its effect. The constant hammering away began to tell. Great progress was actually being made in the religious and moral awakening of the people.
And now came the joyous news that Psammetich I., Pharaoh of Egypt, had sent an embassy to meet the invading Scythians in the north, before they approached Egyptian territory; that he bought the savages off by means of gifts and large sums of money; that the danger of an invasion of Egypt, and therefore of Judah, was past.
The Prophetic Party pointed to the sparing of Judah from the ravages of the Scythian scourge as God's way of showing his approval, not alone of the king's outward reforms, but of the people's inner awakening to lives of righteousness.
And soon after, the most important event in the whole history of Israel up to that time, an event that had a lasting influence, not alone upon the Jews but upon the whole world, occurred in the temple in Jerusalem.
The Great Discovery.
The great deliverance from the Scythian invasion strengthened Josiah and the Prophetic Party in their work of reform. They felt that their God had spared them because much of the idolatrous worship had already been stopped in Jerusalem and many of the pagan shrines destroyed.
The king also determined to repair and rebuild certain parts of the Temple. The great building that Solomon erected now looked like a hodge-podge of architecture. No repairs whatever had been made on it since the days of King Joash, about two hundred years before, while many additions in the interior and in the courts had been made by Ahaz and Manasseh.
Josiah determined to clear out everything foreign connected with the Temple; inside and out he was going to restore it as it was in the days of Solomon, and to beautify it. Walls were cracked and foundations had settled at different points. The alterations and repairs planned, accordingly, were very extensive and were to be done immediately.
But the Temple treasury and the coffers of the royal house were empty. The enormous tributes that the predecessors of Josiah were forced to pay to Assyria had greatly reduced the financial resources of both king and Temple.
Josiah, therefore, introduced a new method of collecting funds for the proposed work. He placed great collection boxes at the Temple gates. All who visited Jerusalem and the Temple were expected to make some contribution. Money came in fast, especially when, under the supervision of Hilkiah, the masons and the artisans and the workmen of all kinds had actually started operation.
In addition, Josiah caused collections to be made for this purpose all through his kingdom, including the old kingdom of Israel, where a remnant of the people still remained. With theis money, the hewn stone and the timber necessary for the repairs were bought and the workmen paid.
It is recorded that everyone did his work faithfully and efficiently and that the building, for that reason, was being restored in exceptionally quick time.
On a certain day, in the year 621, Josiah sent Shaphan, his minister of foreign affairs, to the Temple to empty the collection boxes and to report back to him on the progress of the repairs.
When Shaphan came to the Temple, Hilkiah approached him carrying a parchment statement, "I have found the Book of the Law in the House of God;" and Hilkiah handed the book to Shaphan.
Being questioned, Hilkiah explained that the book was discovered in one of the corner-stones of the Temple. It had probably been placed there by King Solomon himself, he explained, at the time when the Temple was built. But after Solomon's death, during the constant war between Israel and Judah and the inroads that idolatry had made in both countries, the real, genuine "Book of the Law" that was to have been the basis for government, the constitution of both Israel and Judah, had evidently been lost sight of and forgotten. Now, by the merest accident, it was found again.
When Shaphan glanced through it he immediately saw what a wonderful discovery had been made. So he took the book to the king. He reported to Josiah first, that the money was collected, material paid for and workmen satisfied; then, that the King's orders regarding the repairs of the Temple had been faithfully carried out; finally, that Hilkiah had discovered a book and that he had delivered it to him. The king, having heard the whole story of the discovery, ordered Shaphan to read the book to him, aloud.
What Shaphan read amazed Josiah and the few advisers whom he had called in to listen to the reading. Everything in it seemed to be the exact opposite of conditions as they existed in Judah. The laws for sacrifices and ceremonies in the Temple; the statutes regarding the priesthood in the Temple; the observances of the holidays; the commandments regarding duties of officers of the law and the administration of justice; the humane laws between man and man, all were different from, actually opposed to, the practice of priest, judge and people in Josiah's entire kingdom.
During the reading of the book Josiah recognized how little real headway his reforms thus far had made. When he heard Shaphan read:
"The judges shall judge the people with righteous judgment. Thou shalt not pervert justice; thou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a bribe, for a bribe blindeth the eyes of the wise and perverteth the words of the righteous. Justice and only justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee",
he understood how far from this ideal his people had strayed.
When he heard the great declaration of God's unity,
"Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might",
he understood how little he had accomplished throughout his reign, in attempted suppression of the worship of many gods.
When he heard the scribe read aloud that it is God's will to be worshiped only in that "place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there," he determined, more than ever before, to pull down every shrine and pagan sanctuary and to center the worship of the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem alone.
At the end of the book, Shaphan read a series of wonderful blessings that were promised king and people, if they would live in accordance with the commandments contained in the Book of the Law—and Josiah saw visions of peace and prosperity for his kingdom. But the reading of the last lines cast a heavy gloom upon the little party, for the book concluded with the enumeration of a series of evils upon evils that would surely befall king and people should they not live in accordance with these commandments:
"All these curses shall come upon thee and follow thee and overtake thee until thou art destroyed, because thou hast not hearkened unto the Lord thy God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded thee."
Upon hearing this very dramatic conclusion, Josiah came down from his throne and bowed himself to the ground. He rent his clothes and wept aloud, as if he were mourning for one who had died and whom he had loved best of all in the world.
Then, restraining himself and collecting all his strength, he turned to Shaphan and Hilkiah and the others, who had been listening to the reading, and said:
"Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according unto all that is written in this book."
Leaving the King's presence, Hilkiah and his companions held a short council to determine what to do next. The Book of the Law was so extraordinary that they needed the wisdom of some sage to explain to them how to proceed.
Those of the Prophetic Party understood well enough what this book was. They considered that it was a copy of the law which Moses was ordered to "put by the side of the Ark" and which Solomon probably placed in the corner-stone of the Temple when he built it. They who had been trained by the descendants of the little party of faithful Judeans whom Isaiah had gathered about him, knew that this law had been continually violated since the days of Hezekiah and practically forgotten. Therefore they wanted someone who was an authority, one who would be trusted by all the people, to interpret this book and to declare it to be the genuine Law of Moses.
First, someone suggested that Jeremiah be called in to interpret the book, but Hilkiah objected on the ground that Jeremiah was still a young man and that his opinion probably would not be heeded by all the people. Shaphan then suggested that the book be taken to Huldah, the Prophetess, a wise and aged mother in Israel, then living in Jerusalem.
This suggestion was agreeable to all. With Hilkiah as leader of the delegation, they came to Huldah, bringing the request from the King. Her face lighted up benignly when she had read the book, but when she thought of the reply she had to send back, her brows knitted and wrinkles of care and pain showed in her face. Returning the scroll to Shaphan, Huldah said:
"Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Tell ye the man that sent you unto me: Thus saith the Lord, 'Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their bands; therefore is my wrath poured out upon this place and it shall not be quenched.'
"But unto the King of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall ye say to him: 'Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel: As touching the words which thou hast heard, because thy heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place and against the inhabitants thereof, and hast humbled thyself before me and hast rent thy clothes and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place and upon the inhabitants thereof.'"
The good prophetess knew that what happens to individuals must happen to whole nations. Here was a people that had been adding evil to evil and transgression to transgression for many generations. Just as a person who keeps on sinning and sinning, without reforming in his heart and in his deeds, arrives at a time when, no matter how anxious he is to turn from his evil ways, it is too late and he must finally pay the penalty for his misspent life, so this nation of Judah, into the very heart of which the cancer of wrongdoing had long been eating, could not, at this late date, escape its final destruction.
But it is different, as the Prophetess Huldah expressed it, with individuals who turn from their evil paths while they are young, or who, like Josiah, attempt to do the right thing in the very midst of evil.
Therefore, she could send back the message to the king, that he, because of the tenderness of his heart, because of his humility before God, because of his unquestioned effort to act in accordance with God's commandments, would return unto the God who sent him here before the evil days were to come upon the land, before the doom that awaited his people would encompass them.
The king had been anxiously awaiting the return of his messengers, when they arrived at the palace from the house of the Prophetess. They were quickly ushered into the throne room.
It was with great hesitation that Hilkiah finally made up his mind to report the words of the prophetess, exactly as she had spoken them. When the priest had finished, a deep, deathlike silence hung over the room, as if some catastrophe were impending.
Josiah turned away from the little group, rested his arm heavily upon the throne and leaned his head upon it. Hilkiah, Shaphan and the others saw and felt the emotion that surged through the young king and caused his whole frame to tremble. A soft, gentle sound escaped him, as if he were weeping.
Suddenly, however, Josiah's attitude changed. He ran the back of his hand over his eyes, straightened up and faced his friends. He was calm, composed, determined. He had concluded that he, himself, was the least to be considered in this matter. He needed advice from more older and more experienced men. Consequently, before the counselors present left him, Josiah ordered Shaphan to call an assembly of the elders of the entire people to meet in Jerusalem before the coming Passover.
A New Covenant.
Josiah was determined not to give up so easily. He would not admit to himself that his country and his people were beyond hope. He figured that perhaps the prophetess had exaggerated purposely in order to recall the people to their duty to their God and to the country, more quickly and more conscientiously.
He was not at all happy over the fact that he himself would escape the threatened destruction of his people. What he wanted was to discover some possible way, and to make every attempt, to save all his people.
At the council of the Elders, as a first step, he suggested that the coming Passover be celebrated faithfully in accordance with the commandments in the rediscovered law book.
Messengers were therefore sent throughout Judah, and even up into Israel, to announce a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover, by order of the king and the Elders.
Great and happy throngs came to the Capital for the festival. It was a multitude of people far different in mien and behavior from that same multitude that had rushed to the protection of the fortified city when the Scythian invaders had threatened the country a few years before.
Now, when the Passover eve, that is the fourteenth day of the first month, was at hand, it was found that the great majority of the people did not bring with them the prescribed sacrifices, either because they did not know of the custom or because they were too poor.
Such a condition, however, did not dismay Josiah and his officers. He, himself, out of his own treasury, distributed the means for making the sacrifices to over thirty-three thousand people. Hilkiah and the heads of the Temple service, out of their own means, did the same for the Priests and the Levites. So that everyone present in Jerusalem that day observed the Passover properly and happily.
On the following morning, that is, on the first day of the festival, an assembly of all the people present, both great and small, was called in the Temple courts.
The King and his advisers sat on a platform especially erected for the purpose. When order was secured, the King arose and stood in his place and "read of the words of the Book of the Covenant that was found in the House of God, before all the people."
The impression made upon the assembly was wonderful. As Josiah proceeded with his reading the murmurs and low exclamations of surprise changed into a deep and impressive silence that was not broken even when the King had finished and had laid aside the Book of the Law.
Reverently and with bowed head, Josiah raised a prayer unto God:
"Look down from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, O Lord, and bless Thy people Israel."
And with one voice the whole assembly answered, softly:
"Amen, Oh Lord, Amen."
Then Josiah addressed the people. He pleaded with all the fervor and sincerity of his soul for them to re-establish, on that day, the ancient covenant between them and their God. This they did with a great shout of acclamation. Josiah continued:
"This day the Lord thy God commandeth thee to do these statutes and ordinances; thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and that thou wouldest walk in his ways, and keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his ordinances, and hearken unto his voice; and the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be a people for his own possession, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations that he hath made in praise, and in name, and in honor; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken."
When the King had finished and sat down, a great murmur welled up from the assembled people, until it grew into one great shout from the multitude:
"We have heard and shall do accordingly."
Thus the people of Judah and Israel once more took upon themselves the duty and burden to be a holy people unto the Lord their God, as they had done at Sinai in the days of Moses.
There was one man in the assembly, however, who not entirely carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment. It was Jeremiah. He knew well enough how a people, excited by a new and novel situation, would make promises which perhaps later they would be disinclined to keep. The mere acceptance of the covenant did not already mean the carrying out of its statutes in their daily life.
Therefore, Jeremiah arose in the midst of the assembly, and, before the people were dispersed, struck one note of warning:
"Cursed be the man that heareth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron furnace, saying, 'Obey my voice, and do them according to all which I command you; so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God; that I may establish the oath which I sware unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.'"
In conclusion, Jeremiah bowed his head and expressed the hope of the realization of the new covenant with the words:
"Amen, Oh Lord."
And all the assembly once more responded:
"Amen, Oh Lord."
Great feasting and rejoicing throughout the entire city by all the people followed during the whole festival. It was the greatest Passover in the history of Judah and Jerusalem, and of it is recorded:
"And the children of Israel that were present kept the Passover at that time, and the feast of unleavened bread seven days. And there was no Passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did any of the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah kept, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was this Passover kept."
When the festival and the celebration were over, the spirit thereof did not die with the departure of the people from Jerusalem to their homes in all parts of the country. Josiah went to work in earnest to accomplish his share of the keeping of the new covenant. He dismissed every idolatrous priest in the land and destroyed every vestige of their worship in Jerusalem, in every town and village and on every high place.
Up in Israel he carried on this work under his personal direction, and at Bethel, with his own hands, he destroyed the altar erected by Jereboam I. at the time of the division of the kingdom.
It was while in northern Israel, where he ordered the dead bones of the idolatrous priests to be burned upon the very altars at which they worshiped, that Josiah espied two sepulchers, of a type that he had not met before. They were so unlike the sepulchers of the idolators that he marked them especially and talked about them. One of the monuments, he was told, "is the sepulcher of the Man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar at Bethel;" and when he found that the other ancient monument was the last bed on earth of "the Prophet that came out of Samaria," he ordered that neither one should be touched. The memory of those early prophets was sacred and hallowed to the king.
Within a few years, all this work undertaken by Josiah was accomplished. Genuine love of God and genuine living in accordance with His commandments seemed to have been restored everywhere among the people. In addition, the political changes that were taking place in Assyria, Babylonia and Egypt, left Josiah entirely at peace to work out the destiny of his own people and kingdom.
In the year 608, however, in the thirty-ninth year of Josiah's reign, he entered upon a political campaign that proved to be the first and greatest mistake of his life and resulted not alone in his death, but in a great religious and moral decline that eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah.
To the Fore Again.
The mystery of the Scythian invasion of Asia has not yet been clearly solved. The results of that invasion, however, shook thrones and shattered kingdoms and changed the face of the then known civilized world.
Assyria was the greatest sufferer, for the Scythian ravages had so weakened the great empire that it never recovered. Incidentally, this same cause reawakened the spirit of conquest in the Medes, led to the re-establishment of the independent Babylonian kingdom and brought about, indirectly and unnecessarily, the death of the good King Josiah.
During the last years of Ashurbanipal's long and brilliant reign over Assyria, the Medes, under their king, Phraortes, turned the tables on Assyria and invaded the empire. Ashurbanipal's army defeated the ambitious Mede and drove him back into his own territory. But his son and successor, Cyaxerxes, having made certain changes in the organization of the Median army, again invaded Assyria and actually besieged Nineveh.
At the same time the Scythians began to swarm over Media, and Cyaxerxes was forced to return to his own country and defend it.
Cyaxerxes, being a wise as well as a great king, managed to buy off the barbarian Scythians and later actually trained them for service in his army, both as teachers of archery and as mercenaries.
In the meantime, the Assyrian successor of Ashurbanipal made the mistake that cost him his life and his empire. He appointed Nabopolassar, a Chaldean of ancient lineage and of enthusiastic patriotism for his age-old country. Nabopolassar immediately entered into an alliance with Cyaxerxes that had for its purpose the overthrow of Nineveh and the establishment of Babylonia as an independent state.
Nabopolassar declared himself king of Babylonia, to the great dismay of the Assyrian court. To seal his alliance with the Medes, a marriage was arranged between Amytis, Cyaxerxes' daughter, and Nebuchadrezzar, his son and Crown Prince.
Nineveh was attacked at the same time by the Babylonians and Medians in the year 608. The great capital was besieged for two years. So fierce was the vengeance wrought upon the city and its inhabitants by the united armies that when the capture was finally made both were completely blotted out. For many centuries not even the location of Nineveh could be found.
This occurred in the year 606. The end of Nineveh brought to a close the history of the great Assyrian power that had ruled so masterfully over the then known entire world. It also brought about a situation that had its direct effect upon the beginning of the end of the Kingdom of Judah.
In Egypt history was in the making. Psammetich I, a Libyan soldier, recognizing in the crumbling of Assyrian power his own opportunity, made himself master of the country and established a new dynasty in Egypt. His son and successor, Pharaoh Necho, grasped the chance given him by Nabopolassar's attack on Nineveh to win back the provinces along the Mediterranean, that had been Egyptian before they were conquered by Assyria.
Without further ado, therefore, Necho, with a great army, started north, to conquer all of Assyria that he could and add it to his own Empire. This meant an invasion of Judah.
King Josiah was by no means ready to sit still and fall helplessly from the frying pan into the fire, as it were. Once entirely free from Assyria, he intended to maintain his independence. At least, he was not going to allow Pharaoh Necho to slip the noose around his neck without a struggle. Josiah, therefore, organized his armies and went out to meet Necho. This was when the campaign against Nineveh began.
To the Pharaoh's great surprise, when he reached the plain of Megiddo, he was confronted by Josiah. Necho sent him word that he had no quarrel with Judah whatever; but Josiah could see nothing in the future but the sovereignty of Egypt over his dominions and was determined to retain his independence at all costs. So, the war was on.
It did not last long, however. It seems that not even a single pitched battle was fought. Josiah was picked off by a Libyan archer in the very first skirmish and wounded mortally, to the dismay of his entire army.
His old and devoted servant, Ebed-melech, was with the king in his chariot. The faithful Ethiopian carried the wounded Josiah from the royal chariot to another one. Protected by a detachment of the body guard, as if in mockery, Josiah was taken back to Jerusalem, dying. Before he reached the capital he was dead, and Necho declared himself master over Judah without the least resistance. He made it, at once, an Egyptian province.
The mourning for the dead King in Jerusalem and Judah was sincere and widespread. It is recorded that many odes by the poets and musicians of that day were written in his memory and that Jeremiah lamented for his friend in accents more woeful than did David for Jonathan. Ebed-melech hung around the sepulcher of his beloved master for many days. It was months before he returned to the palace to resume his duties.
"Like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him."
To indicate the force and power of Josiah's life with the people of Judah, and the genuine value in their own lives of the late king's reforms, the people at large passed over Eliakim, Josiah's eldest son, and raised his second son, Jehoahaz, to the throne of Judah.
Eliakim was a weakling, who loved ease and luxury above everything else. The people feared that he would not continue the life and work of his father. Jehoahaz, on the other hand, was a true son of his father, and would have made a splendid successor to the throne of Josiah, had not Pharaoh Necho interfered with the will of the people of Judah.
In the third month of the young king's reign (he was only twenty-three years old) Necho ordered him to appear before him at Riblah, on the Orontes. Arrived there, Jehoahaz was immediately thrown into chains and sent a prisoner to Egypt.
Necho then proclaimed Eliakim King of Judah and to show his complete mastery over king, land and people, he changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim.
The mourning in Jerusalem and Judah was now twofold. The people wept for their beloved king who was dead and for his beloved son who was a prisoner beyond hope.
A few men like Hilkiah and Jeremiah, and the others of the Prophetic Party, saw in Jehoahaz's successor the coming of more evil days for Judah. To those who hoped that there might again be a political change and that Jehoahaz would return from Egypt, to reign in his father's stead, Jeremiah held out no hope:
"Weep not for him who is dead, nor wail for him; weep rather for him who is gone, for he shall not return, and never again shall he see the land of his birth. For thus saith the Lord, concerning Shallum (Jehoahaz), the son of Josiah, who was king instead of Josiah his father, who went forth from this place: 'He shall not return thither again, but in the place whither they have led him away captive he shall die, and this land shall not see him again.'"
Soon after Jehoiakim came to the throne, word came from Egypt that Jehoahaz had died. It was then that Jeremiah, who with Shaphan and Hilkiah had quietly aided the king in his policy of reform, but had retired to his home in Anathoth when these reforms began to bear fruit, heard again the call to go out and prophesy to the people of Judah. Danger was threatening from the throne and this danger brought Jeremiah out of his seclusion, to the fore again.
The Shadow of a King.
Pharaoh Necho's ambitions were short-lived.
The child's-play conquest of Judah was not to be repeated in dealing with the conquerors of Nineveh.
Nebuchadrezzar really had no thought of extending the sway of his reborn Babylonia to Egypt; but he would not countenance for a moment Necho's encroachment upon Assyrian territory.
In dividing up the Assyrian Empire, Cyaxerxes was perfectly satisfied with the absolute independence of Media and such Assyrian possessions as adjoined his country. The rest, to the west and south, including ancient Syria and Judah, was apportioned to his son-in-law. There was no quarrel about the division.
Syria and Judah being his, Nebuchadrezzar swore by all his gods that Necho should be made to suffer for his audacity.
Necho encamped at Riblah, after the victory over Josiah. Riblah, situated in the broad valley between the Lebanon and Hermon ranges, was destined to be the scene of several tragedies in Judean history. It was here that Necho awaited the outcome of the struggle at Nineveh.
He did not have long to wait. Nineveh gasped her last in the year 606. Nebuchadrezzar left his father-in-law to complete the destruction of the glory of Assyria, and, flushed with victory, marched at once against the Egyptian invader.
Necho was prepared for this. He broke camp at Riblah and proceeded to meet Nebuchadrezzar. The Babylonian and Egyptian armies faced each other at Carchemish by the Euphrates, in 605; and the result once more cast Judah into the political balance.
In the meantime, Jeremiah was forced back to his labors by the conditions at Jerusalem. Necho knew what he wanted when he substituted Jehoiakim for Jehoahaz on the throne of Judah. Jehoiakim was weak, pliable, incapable of big things. Jeremiah knew that, too. Therefore, he had to go to work again.
Jeremiah raised no false hopes, based on anything Jehoiakim would do for himself or for Judah. Even while Josiah lived, the crown prince showed the type of man he was. Instead of applying himself to the work of succeeding to the throne, he spent his time in riotous pleasure, and his father's money in lavish extravagance.
As crown prince, he built himself a sumptuous new palace. Unlike Josiah, when the Temple was repaired, Jehoiakim did not pay fair wages, and oppressed his artisans and mechanics. When he sat in judgment, he did not judge righteously.
Therefore, at Josiah's unexpected death, Jeremiah approved the action of the people in raising the unfortunate Jehoahaz to the throne. Necho's substitution of Jehoiakim filled the prophet with alarm. The happy years of Josiah's reign vanished like a mist; and, with a heart that was heavy-laden, Jeremiah left Anathoth, where he had been living quietly with his relatives and friends, and went down to the turmoil in Jerusalem.
Satisfying himself that he had not exaggerated the situation in the capital, and, seeing now that the calamity of Josiah's death was more far-reaching than he had at first supposed, Jeremiah addressed himself to Jehoiakim with the following warning:
"Woe to him who buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by injustice; Who causeth his neighbor to labor without wages, and giveth him not his pay; Who saith, 'I will build me a vast palace with spacious chambers; Provided with deep-cut windows, ceiled with cedar and painted with vermillion.' Dost thou call thyself king because thou excellest in cedar? Thy father—did he not eat and drink and execute law and justice? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. 'Was not this to know me?' saith the Lord. But thine eyes and heart are bent only on thy dishonest gain, And on the shedding of innocent blood and on oppression and violence!"
Nor did Jeremiah hesitate to point out that such a state of affairs could not exist long and that such a king could not reign long over Israel.
He even foretold the fate of Jehoiakim. He knew that the political situation, as it would develop when Nineveh was conquered, would once more embroil Judah. Jehoiakim, he was sure, could not stand the test.
Therefore, he could see nothing but the fall and untimely death of Jehoiakim, and he added, "They shall not lament over him, saying one to another, 'Oh, my brother!' or 'Oh, my sister!' They shall not wail for him, saying, 'Oh, Lord!' or 'Oh, his glory!' but shall be glad when he is 'buried as an ass is buried, drawn out and cast forth.'"
On that very day came the news of the Battle of Carchemish. It was one of the epoch-making struggles of ancient history. Victory perched proudly on the banner of Nebuchadrezzar and Necho was utterly routed, fleeing toward Egypt, the Babylonians in hot pursuit.
Within that very year all signs of Egyptian rule in Syria and Palestine were wiped out. "The king of Babylon had taken from the brook of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt." Judah became a Babylonian province and Jehoiakim but the shadow of a king.
The Temple of the Lord.
Nebuchadrezzar had taken up his headquarters where Pharaoh-Necho had encamped at Riblah, and there received the homage of the little Syrian and Palestinian states that he had wrested from Egypt.
To Jeremiah's great surprise, Jehoiakim sent a secret embassy to Nebuchadrezzar vowing allegiance to Babylon.
Jehoiakim's submission pleased Jeremiah. He saw in it a splendid opportunity for Judah. All that was needed now was to keep the people in the path of right. Their future, he felt, could be worked out well enough as long as the country was at peace, free from the ravages of war.
But here Jeremiah was met by a new difficulty. Josiah's reformation, followed by his death and the quick changes in the country's political fortunes, had not worked out very satisfactorily. People began to doubt the wisdom of the whole proceeding.
In the first place, some said that God was displeased at Josiah's overriding the traditional forms of worship. The opportunity for God to show that displeasure was at Megiddo, and, therefore, Josiah lost his life there. All the people, it was plain, had not yet arrived at the conception of God held by a Jeremiah or Josiah.
Again, there were others who fell back into the old reasoning that the gods of the other nations were mightier than Judah's God, and, therefore, they fell back into the old idolatrous ways. They were merely awaiting the opportunity to worship the other gods publicly as some of them were already doing privately.
Then, again, there were many who believed that the new Book of the Law and the new order of things prohibiting sacrifices in any place except the Temple in Jerusalem, did not permit of enough sacrificing to God, and, therefore, was He again visiting the land with the rod of Egypt and Babylonia.
And, opposing all these, Jeremiah and his followers were positive in their hearts and souls that sacrifices were by no means the all-important feature of the worship of God, but, as Jeremiah had reminded the people on the day of the Great Passover, God asked them only to obey His voice and to live in accordance with the moral law that He had commanded them.
"So shall ye be my people, and I will be your God; that I may establish the oath which I sware unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey."
King Jehoiakim had no interest whatever in these differing religious opinions among the people.
As long as he could pay his tribute to Nebuchadrezzar and live luxuriously and voluptuously in his newly built palace, he cared not further. Religiously and morally he permitted things to take their own course, as if morals and religion had no part to play in the strength and safety of his people and in their national welfare.
Jeremiah was now convinced that it was his duty once more to take up the brave fight for God and His law. The opportunity came during the Feast of the Ingathering, in the year 604.
Many thousands had come from all parts of the country to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. All brought with them many heads of cattle and bags of grain and flour for the prescribed sacrifices.
They were a happy company. When the Temple came into view, rising majestically in the distance, they shouted to each other, "The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!" out of sheer joy in beholding the sacred structure that meant so much to them.
"The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!" they cried, and pointed to the magnificent edifice which some of them had never seen before.
Jeremiah listened to these joyous shouts and observed sorrowfully the self-satisfaction of those who had come to offer their sacrifices. He was much alone these days. His parents had been dead some years and a new Priest was in charge of the Temple. Shaphan and all Josiah's old counsellors were either gone to their reward or had been dismissed from service by Jehoiakim. Shaphan's two sons, Ahikam and Gemariah, were indeed high in the counsels of the king, but they bothered little about Jeremiah and his teachings.
So Jeremiah stood alone, on the first day of the festival, at the Temple gates. A multitude of people passed him, taking their turn at bringing their offerings. From within the Temple he heard the sounds of cattle being slaughtered and smelt the odor of burning flesh. The noise deafened him; the odors choked him. Here were king, priest and people leading unrighteous lives and believing that this wholesale slaughtering and burning was what God demanded of them! Here were elaborate form and ritual, but no justice and love!
Jeremiah fairly gasped for breath when the full meaning of this came to him. Turning upon a great crowd that was jammed at the gates, waiting their turn to enter the Temple, he cried:
"Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel:
"'Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices.
"'But this thing I commanded them, saying: Hearken unto my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you that it may be well with you.
"'Yet they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart. This is the nation that hath not hearkened to the voice of the Lord their God, nor received instruction. Truth is perished and is cut off from their mouth.'"
What an amazing outburst! God did not command them concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices! The man is ridiculous!
Religious discussions and controversies had often taken place in the Temple courts. Here was the Forum of the People, in fact, and several men who had often proclaimed themselves as prophets, speaking the word of God, joined issue with Jeremiah, whom they now recognized.
"Here is the Temple—the Temple of the Lord," they exclaimed. "What was it built for, if not for sacrifices?" they wanted to know. "What other way is there for men to worship God than to bring their offerings to him?"
Jeremiah replied that sacrifices were instituted by men, by the priesthood, not by God, and continued, making plain once for all his understanding of the way God wanted men to show their religion:
"Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, 'The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!
"'For, if you really amend your ways and your deeds, if ye faithfully execute justice between a man and his neighbor, if ye oppress not the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, and do not go after other gods to your hurt; then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, forever and ever.'"
Here was a very amazing accusation! What does he mean by saying that the people are trusting in "lying words?" Jeremiah insisted:
"But now ye are trusting in lying words that cannot profit."
Then he hastened to explain fully and without reserve:
"Will ye steal, murder and commit adultery; swear falsely and offer sacrifices to Baal, and go after other gods whom ye have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this House which is called after My name and say 'We are free to do all these abominations?'
"Is this, My house, which is called by my name, a den of robbers in your eyes?
"Behold: I, indeed, have seen it, saith the Lord."
The crowds stood there, mouths agape. They had never heard anything so outspoken and fearless before. Several so-called prophets were prepared to go on with the argument, but a number of assistant priests, who were marshalling the people with their sacrificial offerings into the Temple in proper order and to their appointed places, put a halt to the debate.
Word had come from the interior of the Temple that the chief priests were waiting for the sacrifices. The assistants wanted the people to move on. So it was arranged that, on the day following, Jeremiah should meet a chosen few of the Jerusalem prophets to discuss their differences of opinion publicly, in the Temple courts.
Jeremiah's acceptance of this challenge nearly cost him his life.
A Narrow Escape.
The issue was squarely drawn.
Either the Temple Prophets were the true spokesmen of the God of Judah and Jeremiah was an impostor, or Jeremiah spoke the truth that had been "cut off from their mouth" and the Temple Prophets were feeding the people on "lying words."
A great concourse of citizens of Jerusalem and pilgrims to the city gathered for the debate. Jeremiah, much older looking than his years, was the center of attraction. He was tall and erect. His face was somewhat drawn and showed wrinkles of worriment. He was dressed in an unadorned brown mantle that singled him out among the holiday-attired priests and prophets with whom he was conversing.
Evidently this was to be a friendly argument, without ill-feeling on either side.
Jeremiah was the first to speak. As soon as he began it was plain to be seen that his worry was not fear of the arguments with which his opponents were about to attack him, but that it was deeper-seated. He started by informing his hearers that he was well acquainted with the things that were being preached in Jerusalem as the word of God.
"I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright. No man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turneth to his course as a horse that rusheth headlong into battle.
"Yea, the stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed time; the turtle dove and the swallow and the crane observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the law of the Lord."
"Is that so?" queried one of the Jerusalem prophets, with a sneer. In his reply, he pointed out that both the laws of the religion and the laws of the State were known to the priests and prophets, in whose charge were the Temple and the government, and were obeyed by them and the people. With sweeping gestures he emphasized the prosperity of the people and the peace of the country. "Thou art the disturber of the peace," he concluded hotly. "Leave the Temple and the State to the wise men, the scribes, the priests and prophets in Jerusalem, and all will be well."