"By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Sion."—Psalm cxxxvii, 1.
Babylon, the city which was to be the place of captivity of the Jews, was the home of the Chaldeans, who are believed not to have been the sons of Gush, like the Assyrians whom they had conquered at Nineveh, but to have been at first a wandering tribe of the north, and to have descended from Japhet. They had nearly the same gods as the Ninevites, but thought the special protector of their city was Bel-Merodach, the name by which they called the planet Jupiter. They were such great observers of the courses of the stars, that astronomy is said to have begun with them; but this was chiefly because they fancied that the heavenly bodies would help them to foretel coming events, for they put great faith in soothsayers. They settled upon the bank of the Euphrates, near the ruins of the Tower of Babel, round which a city arose, sometimes free, sometimes under the power of the King of Nineveh.
In the time of the weak and luxurious Saracus, Nabopolassar was governor of Babylon. He joined himself to the Medea, giving his son, Nebuchadnezzar, in marriage to the Median Princess Amytis; and as has already been said, the two nations together destroyed Nineveh, after which, Babylon became the head of the Assyrian Empire, and Nebuchadnezzar was the king.
He made the city exceedingly grand and beautiful. It was fifty five miles in circuit, square, surrounded by a wall eighty-seven feet thick, and three hundred and fifty high, with houses and a street on the top, and an enormous ditch filled with water all round, another lesser wall some way within. There were one hundred brazen gates in the wall, besides two larger gateways upon the Euphrates, which ran through the middle, dividing the city into two parts. It was full of streets and houses, with such fields and vineyards, that it was like a whole country walled in; and the soil was exceedingly rich, being all brought down from the Armenian hills by the Euphrates. As this river rose in the mountains of Armenia, it used to overflow in the spring, when the snows melted and swelled the stream; but to prevent mischief, the country was covered with a network of canals, to draw off the water in safety. The pride of the city was the Temple of Bel, which is thought to have been built on a fragment of the Tower of Babel. It was a pile of enormous height, with seven stages in honour of the seven planets then known, and with a winding ascent leading from one to the other. On the top was the shrine, where stood Bel's golden image, twelve cubits high, and before it a golden table where meats and wine were served up to him. On either side of the river were two palaces, joined together by a bridge, and the nearer one, four miles round, with wonderful grounds, containing what were called the hanging gardens, namely, a hill which Nebuchadnezzar had caused to be raised by heaping up earth, and planted with trees, to please his Median queen, whose eye pined for her native mountains in the flats of Babylon.
There must have been other eyes at Babylon wearying for their own free heights, for there the captives of Judah bore the punishment of their fathers' sins and their own, and repented so completely, that they never returned to their idolatry. When in 606, Nebuchadnezzar carried to Babylon Jehoiachin and the nobles of Judah, he commanded that some of the royal children should be brought up as slaves to serve in his palace, and gave them new names after his gods. Daniel, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, gave their first proof of their obedience to the Law of their God in their exile and slavery, by denying themselves the choice meats set before them, lest they should eat of some forbidden thing, and living only on dry beans and water. So blessed was their abstinence, that they excelled all the other youths both in beauty and in wisdom, and were soon promoted above them. Soon after, Daniel was shown to be a prophet, for God inspired him, not merely with the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's perplexing dream, but revealed to him the dream itself, which the king had forgotten. That dream was the emblematic history of the world. It was an image with a head of gold, shoulders of silver, thighs of brass, legs of iron, feet partly of iron, partly of clay, all overthrown together by a stone cut out without hands from a mountain. Great Babylon was the head, soon to give way to the less splendid Persian power, then again to the Greek dominion, and lastly to the iron rule of Rome, which would grow weak and mixed with miry clay, till at last all would be overthrown and subdued by the Stone which the builders rejected.
After this wonderful interpretation, Daniel became a chief ruler under Nebuchadnezzar, and even in his youth, his name was a very proverb for wisdom and holiness. He judged among the Jews, and confuted the two wicked elders who sought to bring about the death of Susanna; and he probably stood too high to be accused, when, soon after the taking of Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar threw the three other princes into the fiery furnace, for refusing to bow down to the golden image on the plains of Dura. Then the fiery blast was to them as a moist whistling wind, and even the tyrant beheld the Form like the Son of God, walking with them in the midst of the flame, while they sung that hymn which calls every created thing to praise the Lord. The miracle seems not to have been witnessed by a heart hardened against belief Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed the glory of the God who could work such miracles, and whose instrument of vengeance he himself was. Edom was soon after conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, thus fulfilling many prophecies.
Another great work which was set for him to do, was to give the first great overthrow to the Phoenicians, and fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel, by destroying Tyre. The siege lasted thirteen years, and the besiegers suffered as much as the besieged, till, as Ezekiel had foretold, every head was bald, every shoulder peeled with the burdens that were carried; but at last it was taken in the year 573, and so utterly destroyed, that not a trace was left of it. It had been said by Isaiah, that after seventy years Tyre should take her harp and sing again, and return for a time to her former splendour and corruption; and thus it happened, for a new Tyre arose upon a little island at some little distance from the shore.
Ezekiel had promised the Chaldeans that the toils of Tyre should be repaid by the spoil of Egypt, the land that was henceforth to be a slave for ever; and in 574, Nebuchadnezzar marched thither, and conquered it with the utmost ease, there being at that time a quarrel among the Egyptians, which weakened their hands; Hophra, the last of the Pharaohs, was slain by a rebel, and Egypt has never more been free, or under native rulers. The Ammonites too, were put down for ever by Nebuchadnezzar, and he came home puffed up with the pride of conquest. Then came another warning dream, of a tree, great and spreading, the rest and stay of bird and beast, till a watcher and a holy one came down and bade that it should be cut down, and only a stump to be left, to be wet with the dew of Heaven until it should recover. It was no wonder that Daniel was astonished for one hour ere he explained the vision, which bore that the great conqueror should lose his reason, be chased from the haunts of men, and live like the beasts, with hair like eagle's feathers, and nails like eagle's claws. Nebuchadnezzar does not seem to have punished him for thus revealing the will of God; and time went on, while the city grew more magnificent under the builder's hand, till at last, in the pride of his heart, the king made his boast, "Is not this great Babylon that I have builded, for the house of the kingdom, and for the honour of my majesty?"
That moment, the watcher cried from Heaven, and sense and strength fled from the mighty Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from men, and lived seven years among the beasts of the field, till for one year, reason was mercifully restored to him, and he made the best use of it in publishing to all the world the story of his pride and of his fall, and with all his heart honouring the King of Heaven, whose works are truth, and His ways are judgment.
This humbled conqueror died in 563, and was succeeded by his son, Evil-Merodach, who released the captive Jehoiachin, and made him eat at his own table until his death. Two more kings succeeded, each reigning but a few years, and then came Belshazzar, in the first year of whose reign Daniel had a vision, where the like events as were shown by the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, were foreshadowed under the form of animals, typifying the several empires. Four beasts came from the sea: the lion with eagle's wings was his own Assyria, but was set aside by the devouring bear of Persia; then followed the flying four-headed leopard of Greece; and lastly, the dreadful and terrible destroying creature, meaning Rome, which ground with iron teeth, and brake all in pieces. It had ten horns, which are believed to mean the kingdoms into which Rome was divided in later times, and one which destroyed some of the others, and became blasphemous, till all was lost in an awful manifestation of the Ancient of Days coming to judgment. This little horn is thought to mean the spirit of Antichrist, and the great falling away which is to prevail in the latter days, but the end is not yet.
A second vision was sent two years after, likewise of emblematic beasts, and was likewise explained by an angel. A ram, pushing west, north, and southwards, was Persia, whose victory was already nigh, even at the door; but in his full power came from the west the Grecian he-goat, who overthrew the ram, and stamped on him, and waxed great; but then his one great horn was broken, and four others rose up, four lesser kings instead of one great conqueror; and one of these produced a lesser horn, which wrought woe and ruin to the pleasant land. This horn was not meant, like the first, to typify the sinful one of the latter Christian days, but a terrible foe, who was to try the faith of the Jews; and all these visions seem to have been intended to show, that though prophecy, and God's visible dealings with His people, were so nearly over, yet all kingdoms and empires are His, and are founded, flourish, and decay at His will.
"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion, then were we like unto them that dream."—Psalm cxxvi. 1.
The Persian power, prefigured by the silver shoulders, the bear and the ram, was indeed nigh. The ram had two horns, because two nations were joined together, the Medes, who had revolted from Nineveh, and the Persians. The Medes lived in the slopes towards the Tigris, and had learnt to be luxurious and indolent from their Assyrian neighbours; but the Persians, who lived in the mountains to the eastward, were much more spirited and simpler, and purer in life. They are thought to be sons of Japhet, and their religion had not lost all remains of truth, for they believed in but one God, and had no idols, except that they adored the sun as the emblem of divine power, and kept horses in his honour, because they thought he drove his car of light round the sky. They worshipped fire likewise as the sign of the light-giving and consuming Godhead; and this notion is not entirely gone yet, so that there are many Parsees, or fireworshippers, still in the East. Their priests were called Magi, and their faith was therefore termed Magian. Though it went astray in adoring these created things, yet it did not teach wickedness, as did the religions of the sons of Ham; and the Persians were a brave, upright race, who loved hardy, simple ways, and said the chief things their sons ought to learn were, to ride, to draw the bow, and speak the truth.
Cyrus was the son of a Persian king and Median princess, and had been so well brought up at home, that when as a little boy he visited his grandfather at Echatana, in Media, he was very much shocked to see the court drinking to intoxication, and said wine must be poison, since it made people lose their senses; and he was much puzzled by the hosts of slaves who would not let people do anything for themselves. He thought only those who were old and helpless could like being waited on, and he kept these hardy, simple ways, even after he was a great king over both nations.
When he was about forty years old one of the kings in Asia Minor made war on him, and he not only overthrew this monarch, but won that whole country, which was kept by the Persians for many years. Afterwards, in the year 540, he marched against Assyria, which had insulted him in the time of Evil-Merodach. He beat Belshazzar in battle, and then besieged him in his city; but the Babylonians had no fears; they trusted to their walls and brazen gates, and knew that he could not starve them out, as they had so much corn growing within the walls. For two years they remained in security, and laughed at the Persian army outside; but at last Cyrus devised a new plan, and set his men to dig trenches to draw off the water of the Euphrates, and leave the bed of the river dry. Still there were the great gates upon the river, which he expected to have to break down; but on the very day his trenches were ready, Belshazzar was giving a great feast in his palace, and drinking wine out of the golden vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had brought from the Temple.
Full in the midst of his revelry appeared a strange sight. Near the seven-branched Candlestick that once had burnt in the Holy Place, came forth a bodiless hand, and the fingers wrote upon the wall in characters such as no man knew. The hearts of the revellers failed them for fear, and the king's knees smote together! Then Nitocris, his mother, a brave and wise woman, bethought her of all that Daniel had done in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and at her advice he was called for. He knew the words; they were in the Hebrew tongue, the language of his own Scriptures, the same in which the Finger of God revealed the Commandments. He read them, and they signified, "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians!"
At that moment Cyrus and his Persians were entering by the river gates, which had been left open in that time of careless festivity. One end of the city knew not that the other was taken; and ere the night was past Belshazzar lay dead in his palace, and the Assyrian empire was over for ever.
It was 170 years since, by the mouth of Isaiah, God had called Cyrus by name, had said He would give the nations as dust to his sword, and stubble to his bow; had said of him that he was His anointed and His shepherd, and that he would build up the Holy City and Temple, and let the captives go free without money or price. Moreover, it was seventy years since Daniel himself had been carried away from the pleasant land, and well had he counted the weary days prophesied of by Jeremiah; till now he hoped the time was come, and most earnestly did he pray, looking towards Jerusalem, as Solomon had entreated, when his people should turn to God in the land of their captivity, pleading God's goodness and mercy, though owning that Judah had done wickedly. Even while he was yet speaking came the answer by the mouth of the Angel Gabriel; and not only was it the present deliverance that it announced, but that from the building of the street and wall in troublous times, seventy weeks of years were appointed to bring the Anointed, so long promised, the real Deliverer.
Daniel's prayers had won, and in the first year of Cyrus, 536, forth went the joyful decree that Judah should return, build up the city and Temple, and receive back their sacred vessels and treasure from the king, to aid them in their work. Daniel being nearly ninety years old, did not go with them, but remained to protect them at the court of Babylon. Cyrus set up his uncle, who is commonly called Darius, to be king in Babylon, while he returned to Persia; and Daniel, though so old a man, was made one of the chief rulers under him, one of the three presidents over the hundred and twenty satraps or princes over the provinces of the great Persian empire. The envy of the Medes caused them to persuade Darius by foolish flattery to say that whoever for a month should make request of god or man, save of the king, should be cast into a den of lions, and Daniel, who was not likely in his old age to cease from prayer to his God for any terror of man, endured the penalty, much against the king's will; but only that again God's power might be known among the heathen, and His glory proclaimed by the shutting the mouths of the hungry lions. About the same time he seems to have shown Darius, who, though not an idolater himself, was puzzled by seeing that the victuals daily spread on Bel's golden table always disappeared, that after all, the idol was not the consumer. He spread ashes on the floor at night, and in the morning showed the king the tell-tale footmarks of men, women, and children, the priests and their families, the true devourers of the feast. No wonder that after this, the Persians ruined the Temple of Bel, while decay began in Babylon, and the river never being turned back into its proper bed, spread into unwholesome marshes. Daniel, when at Susa, a Median city on the river Ulai, beheld his last vision, when the Angel Gabriel prophesied to him in detail all the wars of the Persians, and afterwards of the Greek kings of Egypt and Syria, who should make Judea their battlefield, and the afflictions of the Jews under the great Syrian persecutor. He ended with a sure promise to Daniel himself, that he should "stand in his lot" when the end of all things should come; and some time after this blessed assurance, died this "man greatly beloved," a prince, a slave, an exile, and a statesman, perhaps the most wonderful of all the sons of David, except the great Anointed One of whom he spoke. His tomb is still deeply reverenced, and no one is allowed to fish near the part of the river where he is said to have seen his vision.
Cyrus died about seven years after Daniel, much loved by his people, who, for many years, would not believe him dead, but trusted he would yet return to rule over them.
THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE.
"The Lord doth build up Jerusalem, and gather together the outcasts of Israel."—Psalm clxxvii. 2.
42,360 was the number of Jews who returned to their own land by the permission of Cyrus. They were under the keeping of Joshua the High Priest, and of Zerubbabel, son of Salathiel, who was either by birth, son of King Jehoiachin, or else had been adopted by him from the line of Nathan, son of David. In either way, he was head of the house of David, and would have been king, had not the crown been taken away because of the sin of his fathers. He had, it is said, won favour at the court of Darius the Mede by his cleverness in a contention of wits, where each man was asked what was the strongest thing in existence. One said it was wine, because it made men lose their senses; another said it was the king, because of his great power; but Zerubbabel said it was woman, and so ingeniously proved how women could sway the minds of men, that the king was delighted, and promised to give him whatever he would ask. What Zerubbabel requested was, that the decree of Cyrus might at once be put in force, so that his people might go home to their own country. Darius consented, and put into his hands orders that the vessels of the Temple, and all the other sacred things, together with a large sum of money, should be given to him; and thus he went forth, praising and blessing God. Some of the dispersed of Israel joined the returning Jews, and were thenceforth counted among them; but so many of Judah itself had become settled in the place of their exile, that they never returned, though they sent gifts to assist in rebuilding Jerusalem. It used to be said that only the bran, or coarse sort of people, returned, the fine flour remained; but it must have in truth been in general the lovers of ease who stayed, the faithful who loved poverty in the Promised Land better than wealth at Babylon.
Zerubbabel was called Tirshatha, or governor. His kingdom was gone, but his right remained to the fields of Boaz and Jesse at Bethlehem; and thence should "He come forth Whose goings are from everlasting." The true birthright was not lost by this son of Solomon, whom God blessed by the lips of Zechariah for having laid the foundation of His Temple, and not having despised the day of small things. The blessings to the Priest, Joshua, were foreshadowings of Him Whose Name he bore, and Whose office he represented.
All was ruin and desolation; heaps of stones lay where beauteous buildings had been, and the fields and vineyards lay waste; but glad promises came by the mouth of Zechariah, that these empty streets should yet be filled with merry children at play, and with aged men leaning on their staves, at peace and at ease.
The first thing done by these faithful men, was to set up an Altar among the ruins, where they might offer the daily sacrifice once more. Then they began the Temple, in the second year after their return; the trumpeters blew with silver trumpets, the Levites sang, and the people shouted; but what was joy to the young, whose hope was fulfilled, was grief to the old, who had seen Solomon's Temple in its glory. Where was the Ark? where the manna? where the Urim and Thummim? where the Light upon the Mercy-seat? Gone for ever, and heaps of ruins around! The old men wept as the youths cried out for joy, and the shout of rejoicing could barely be heard for the sound of wailing. But Haggai was sent to console them with the promise, that though this House was as nothing in their eyes, its glory should exceed that of the former one, for the Desire of all nations should come and fill this House with glory. Haggai had likewise to rebuke the people for their slackness in the work, and for building their own houses instead of the Temple, and soon they fell into trouble. The men of Samaria, children of those whom Esarhaddon had planted there, came, saying that they worshipped the God of the Jews, and wished to be one with them; but these half idolaters would soon have corrupted the Jews, so Zerubbabel and Joshua refused their offers. This made them bitter foes to the Jewish nation, and they wrote to the Persian court, saying that these newly returned exiles were no better than a set of rebels, who would destroy the king's power, if they were allowed to rebuild their city. Cyrus was dead, and his son, Cambyses, (called also Ahasuerus) who was a cruel selfish tyrant, at once forbade the work to go on, so that it was at a standstill for many years.
The wealth and luxury of Babylon were fast spoiling the Persians, who were losing their hardy ways, and with them their honour, mercy, and truth; and Cambyses was a very savage wretch, almost mad. He made war on Egypt, where he gained a battle by putting a number of cows, dogs, and cats, in front of his army, and as the Egyptians thought these creatures sacred, they dared not throw their darts at them, and so fled away. He won the whole country; and he afterwards marched into Ethiopia, where he nearly lost his whole army by thirst in a desert. The Egyptians hated him because he struck his sword into their sacred bull Apis, in his anger at their feasting in honour of this creature, when he himself had just met with such misfortunes. He had but one brother, named Smerdis, whom he caused to be secretly put to death; and when his sister wept for him, he kicked her so that she died. No one grieved when he was killed by a chance wound from his own sword, in the year 522; but a young Magian priest, pretending to be Smerdis, whose death was not generally known, became king. However, some of the nobles suspected the deceit; and one of them, whose daughter was among the many wives of the king, sent word to her to find out whether the king were the real Smerdis. She could not tell, having never seen the Prince Smerdis; but her father, who knew that the young Magian had had his ears cut off for some offence, told her to examine. She Answered that the king was earless; and the fraud being thus detected, seven of the great lords combined and slew him. One daughter of Cyrus still remained and the seven agreed that one of them should marry her and reign. The rest should have the right of visiting him whenever they pleased, and wearing the same sort of tiara, or high cap, with the point upright, instead of having it turned back like the rest of the Persians. The choice was to be settled by Heaven, as they thought; namely, by seeing whose horse would first neigh at the rise of their god, the sun. Darius Hystaspes, who thus became king in 521, was a good and upright man, in whose reign the Jews ventured to go on with the Temple. When the Samaritans came and stopped them, they wrote to beg that search might be made among the records of the kingdom for Cyrus's decree in their favour, which no one could change, because the laws of the Medes and Persians could not be altered. The decree was found, and Darius gave the Jews farther help, and forbade anyone to molest them; but they were very poor, and the restoration went on but feebly.
In Darius's reign Babylon revolted, and he laid siege to it. So determined were the inhabitants to hold out, that they killed their wives and children in order that the provisions might last longer, and thus they fulfilled what Isaiah had foretold—that in one day the loss of children and widowhood would come on them. The place was at last betrayed by a friend of Darius, who cut off his own nose and ears, and showed himself bleeding, at the gates, pretending the king had done him this cruel injury. The Babylonians received and trusted him, and he soon opened the gates to his master, who terribly punished the rebels, destroyed as much as he could of the Temple of Bel, and left the city to go to decay, so that she never again was the Lady of Kingdoms. Darius was a great King, and records of his history are still to be read, cut out in the face of the rocks; but he tried two conquests that were far beyond his strength. He led an army into the bare and dreary country of the Scythians, the wild sons of Japhet, near the mouth of the Danube, and there would have been almost starved to death, but that a faithful camel loaded with provisions kept close to him. He also sent a large fleet and army to subdue the brave and wise Greeks, who lived in the isles and peninsulas opposite to Asia Minor, thinking he should easily bring them under his dominion, but they met his troops at Marathon, and gained a great victory, driving the Persians home with great loss.
Darius died in 485, and his son, Xerxes, who Daniel had said should stir up all the east against Grecia, led a huge army to conquer that brave little country. All the nations of the east were there, and Xerxes made a bridge of boats chained together over the Hellespont, for them to cross over. So proud and hasty was he, that when a storm destroyed his works, he caused the waves to be scourged, and fetters to be thrown into the sea, to punish it for having dared to resist him. He sat on his throne to see the army pass over the bridge, and as he saw the multitudes, he wept to think how soon they must all be dead, but he did not cease from sending them to their death. Though they were so many, the Greeks were much braver, and though they overran all the north part of the country, after they had killed the few brave defenders of the little pass of Thermopylae, they could not keep what they had taken; they were beaten both by land and sea, and a very small remnant came home to Persia in a wretched state. Xerxes was a weak vain boaster, and was very angry; he wanted to make another attempt, but never did so; he stayed at home feasting with his wives and living in luxury, till he was murdered, in the year 464.
THE WALL REBUILT.
"They that be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shall raise up the foundations of many generations, and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach."—Isaiah, lviii. 12.
There is great difficulty as to what the Persian kings were called; their real names were very hard to pronounce, and they are commonly known by words that mean a king, instead of by their real names. This makes people uncertain whether the king who is called Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther be the same with him whom the Greeks call Xerxes, or with Artaxerxes the Long-armed, his son. It was one or other of these kings who made a great banquet at his palace at Shuahan or Susa, where the remains of the pillars that supported the many-coloured hangings of his palace are still to be seen. After seven days' feasting, he sent in his pride for Vashti, his queen, to show her beauty to his companions. It was, as it is still in Persia and most eastern countries, a shame and disgrace for a woman's face to be seen by any man save her husband; and Vashti refused this insulting command of the king. He was persuaded by the satraps that her example would teach all other ladies to think for themselves, which did not suit these selfish men, who did not care to have a wife for a help-meet, but only for a slave and toy; so that poor Vashti was set aside and degraded for being a modest woman; and the tyrant sent and swept away every beautiful girl from her home, to be brought to his palace on trial, and if she did not become queen, to be a slave for ever. Thus the young Benjamite orphan, Esther, whom her kinsman, Mordecai, had tenderly trained in the right way, was taken away, never to see his face again, but to live in the multitude of slavish heathen women, who were taught no kind of employment, and thought even spinning and embroidery unworthy of a queen. But even the king's passion was made to serve God's ends. It was for no vain purpose that the noble beauty of the family of Saul had come down to Esther, and though she alone demanded no ornaments to set her off to advantage, she was the only maiden who took the king's fancy. Mordecai, her cousin, soon after found out a plot against the king's life, and sending her warning, she told the king, and he was thus saved. Mordecai daily sat at the palace gate to hear of his beloved cousin, and there daily saw the king's new counsellor pass by—Haman, an Agagite, descended from that hateful Amalekite nation, whom Saul ought to have totally destroyed. Mordecai would not bow before the man whom his law had taught him to loathe; and Haman, taking offence, and remembering the old enmity between the two nations, that had begun at the battle of Rephidim, promised the king 10,000 talents of silver for permission to let their enemies loose upon the Jews in their still unwalled city, and destroy them everywhere by a general slaughter. The king actually granted this horrible request, though without taking the bribe; and Haman, setting the royal seal to his decree, made it one of the unalterable Persian laws. The day was fixed for the massacre, and Haman prepared an enormous gallows on which to hang Mordecai, or as is supposed, to nail him up alive. But Mordecai contrived to warn Esther, and order her to persuade the king to save their lives. She was in a great strait, for it was death to enter the king's presence unbidden, unless he were in the mood to show mercy, and should hold out his golden sceptre; but in her extremity she took courage, arrayed herself royally, and came before him, fainting with fear. The Power above stirred his heart, and he held out the sceptre; but she dared not accuse his favourite, and only asked him and Haman together to a banquet in her apartments. Twice she received them before she took courage to speak; but at last she told the king that she and her people were sold to utter destruction. He demanded in anger who had dared to do this. "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman," she said: and when the king found how horrible a decree had been surprised from him, and that the gallows had been made ready for the queen's cousin, the man who had saved his life, he flew into such a rage, that he caused Haman to be hung on his own gallows at once, and all his sons to be slain with him. Still the order to destroy the Jews had gone forth, and could not be repealed, but Mordecai obtained that the Jews should be allowed to arm themselves; and having due notice, they defended themselves so well that they killed 800 of their enemies at Susa, and 75,000 of the spiteful Samaritans and other foes who had come upon them at Jerusalem.
Esther's power with the king seems to have done more for the Jews, and a new gift was sent from the treasury to Jerusalem, under the care of Ezra, a man of the seed of Aaron, and very learned in the Law. He gave himself up to the work, which had sadly languished since Zerubbabel's time; and he began in the right way, for ere entering the Glorious Land, he halted all the companions of his pilgrimage, and fasted three days, entreating the Lord for forgiveness, and protection from their enemies. It is from this time, about 458, that the seventy weeks of years, mentioned by Daniel, began to be counted, perhaps because till this time the work hardly proceeded in earnest. Another great helper soon followed Ezra, namely Nehemiah, one of the palace slaves, who, hearing of the miserable state of Jerusalem, prayed with all his heart, weeping so bitterly that when he went to wait upon the king and Queen Esther at their meal, they remarked his trouble; and on their asking the cause, he told them, with secret prayers, how his heart was grieved that his city and his fathers' sepulchres lay waste, and begged for permission to go with authority to Jerusalem, to assist in the rebuilding. His request was granted, authority was given to him, and he set off with a train of servants and guards, for he was a very rich man; but when he came near, he left them all, and rode on by night to examine the state of the city. Most sad was the sight; the gates broken and burnt, and the walls lying in ruins, the streets blocked up so that no one could pass! Nehemiah at once encouraged the Jews to set to work, and build up the breaches; and they heartily began, while he kept open house at his own expense for all his poor brethren. Down upon them came the Samaritans again, scoffing at those "feeble Jews," saying that a fox could break down their wall, and then attacking them; so that Nehemiah was forced to set a constant watch, and the workmen built with their swords ever ready for use. When the walls once more girded around the city built upon the hill, the inhabitants were no longer easily molested by their foes; and a great assembly was held, when Ezra read and explained the Law, for seven days, at the feast of the Tabernacles, after which there was a great fast and confession of sin, and the Covenant was solemnly renewed. Still a great purification was needed; the Sabbath had become ill observed, many of the people, even priests and Levites, had married heathen wives, and one of the sons of the High Priest was son-in-law to Sanballat, the worst enemy of the Jews. Ezra and Nehemiah brought many to a sense of their sin: no burdens were allowed to be touched on the Sabbath, and the heathen wives were put away; but this priest refusing to part with his wife, was thrust out from the priesthood, and was received by the Samaritans, who afterwards built a schismatical temple upon Gerizim, the Mount of Blessing.
At this time lived Malachi, the last of the prophets, who left the promise of the coming of the Prophet Elijah, as the forerunner of the Messiah, and of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Ezra is believed to have composed the Books of Kings from older writings, under the guidance of inspiration, to have collected the latter part of the book of Psalms, and to have been taught to discern which histories, and which books of the Prophets to keep, and which to cast aside. The Scriptures were all put under the keeping of scribes, who wrote the copies out with the utmost care, and were held guilty if the smallest point or mark failed; and a roll was placed under the care of the priests, besides many others which were dispersed through the country, that they might never be forgotten again. Ezra likewise arranged, that in places too far from Jerusalem for people to come weekly to worship at the Temple, there should be synagogues, or places of meeting for prayer, though of course not for sacrifice. There, every Sabbath day, eighteen prayers were appointed to be said, and lessons from the Scripture were read aloud and explained. In their exile, the Jews had forgotten their Hebrew tongue, and learnt to speak Chaldean, so that after the Law was read in their own language, a scribe stood up to translate and explain it, and thus they were saved from forgetting the Scripture, as they had done in the time of Josiah, and from resorting to groves and high places for worship. Idolatry was so thoroughly purged out of them, that they never returned to it; and their hope of the Messiah was kept alive, though they had no new prophets.
They enjoyed quiet and peace for many years; and most of the Jews who were settled in other countries—in Persia, Babylon, and Egypt—came from time to time to keep the feasts, and make offerings; while those settled near enough kept the three yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem, singing, as it is believed, the beautiful psalms called in the Bible the Songs of Degrees, as the parties from towns and villages went up together in procession towards the Hill of Sion.
In the meantime, their masters, the Persian kings, grew worse and worse; brother killed brother, son rose against father, and the women even committed horrible crimes. They invented tortures too horrid to mention, and lived between savage cruelty and vain luxury, till there was no strength nor courage in them, and in less than 200 years from the time that Cyrus had conquered Babylon, their realm was rotten, and their time of ruin was come. All through this time, the Jews were chiefly ruled by the high priests, though paying tribute to the Persian king, and sometimes visited by the Satrap of the Province of Syria, to which Palestine belonged.
"Ships shall come from Chittim, and shall afflict Eber, and shall afflict Assur."—Num. xxiv. 24.
Mountain lands, small islets, and peninsulas broken into by deep bays and gulfs, rise to the northward of the east end of the Mediterranean, and were known to the Jews as the Isles of the Gentiles. The people who dwelt in them have been named Greeks; they were sons of Japhet, and were the race whom God endowed, above all others, with gifts of the body and mind, though without bestowing on them the light of His truth. They had many idols, of whom Zeus, the Thunderer, was the chief; but they did not worship them with cruel rites like the Phoenicians, and some of their beautiful stories about them were full of traces of better things. Their best and wisest men were always straining their minds to feel after more satisfying knowledge of Him, Who, they felt sure, must rule and govern all things; and sometimes these philosophers, as they were called, came very near the truth. Every work of the Greeks was well done, whether poems, history, speeches, buildings, statues, or painting; and the remains have served for patterns ever since. At first there were many separate little states, but all held together as one nation, and used to meet for great feasts, especially for games. There were the Olympian games, by which they reckoned the years, and the Isthmean, which were held at the Isthmus of Corinth. Everyone came to see the wrestling, boxing, racing, and throwing heavy weights, and to hear the poems sung or recited; and the men who excelled all the rest were carried high in air with shouts of joy, and crowned with wreaths of laurel, bay, oak, or parsley, one of the greatest honours a Greek could obtain. Of all the cities, Athens had the ablest men, and Sparta the most hardy; and these two had been the foremost in beating and turning back the great Persian armies of Darius and Xerxes; but since that time there had been quarrels between these two powers, and they grew weak, so that Philip, King of Macedon, who had a kingdom to the north of them, and was but half a real Greek, contrived to conquer them all, and make them his subjects.
The ensign of Macedon was a he-goat, the rough goat that Daniel had seen in his vision; and the time was come for the fall of the Ram of Persia. Philip's son, Alexander, set his heart on conquering the old enemy of Greece; and as soon as he came to the crown, in the year 333, though he was but twenty years of age, he led his army across the Hellespont into Asia Minor. His army was very brave, and excellently trained by his father, and he himself was one of the most highly-gifted men who ever lived, brave and prudent, seldom cruel, and trying to do good to all who fell under his power. The poor weak luxurious Persian King, Darius, could do little against such a man, and indeed did not come out to battle in the way to conquer; for he carried with him all the luxuries of his palace, his mother, and all his wives and slaves. Before his army marched a number of men carrying silver altars, on which burnt the sacred fire; then came three hundred and sixty-five youths in scarlet dresses, to represent the days of the year; then the Magi, and the gilded chariot and white horses of the Sun; and next, the king's favourite soldiers, called the Immortal Band, whose robes were white, their breastplates set with jewels, and the handles of their spears golden. They had small chance with the bold active Greeks; and at the Battle of the Issus they were routed, and Darius fled away, leaving all his women to the mercy of the conqueror. The poor old Persian Queen, his mother, had never met with such gentle respect and courtesy as Alexander showed to her old age; he always called her mother, never sat down before her but at her request, and never grieved her but once, and that was by showing her a robe that his mother and sisters had spun, woven, and embroidered for him, and offering to have her grandchildren taught the like works. She fancied this meant that he was treating them like slaves, and he could hardly make her understand that the Greeks deemed such works an honour to the highest ladies, and indeed thought their goddess of wisdom presided over them.
While Darius fled away, Alexander came south to Palestine, and laid siege to Tyre upon the little isle, to which he began to build a causeway across the water. The Tyrians had an image of the Greek god Apollo, which they had stolen from a temple in Greece, and they chained this up to the statue of Moloch, their own god, to hinder Apollo from going over to help the Greeks; but neither this precaution nor their bravery could prevent them from being overcome, as the prophet Zechariah had foretold, "The Lord will cast her out, and will smite her power in the sea, and she shall be devoured with fire."
"Gaza also shall see it, and shall be very sorrowful." Alexander took this brave Philistine city after a siege of two months, and behaved more cruelly there than was his wont. It was the turn of Jerusalem next; but the Lord had promised to "encamp about His House, because of him that passeth by;" and in answer to the prayers and sacrifices offered up by the Jews, God appeared to the High Priest, Jaddua, in a dream, and bade him adorn the city, and go out to meet the conqueror in his beautiful garments, with all his priests in their ephods. They obeyed, and as Alexander came up the hill Sapha, in front of the city, be beheld the long ranks of priests and Levites in their white array, headed by the High Priest with his robes bordered with bells and pomegranates, and the fair mitre on his head, inscribed with the words "Holiness unto the Lord." One moment, and Alexander was down from his horse, adoring upon his knees. His friends were amazed, but he told them he adored not the man, but Him who had given him the priesthood, and that just before he had left home, the same figure had stood by his bed, and told him that he should cross the sea, and win all the chief lands of Asia. He then took Jaddua by the hand, and was led by him into the Temple, where he attended a sacrifice, and was shown Daniel's prophecies of him as the brazen thighs, the he-goat and the leopard; he was much pleased, and promised all Jaddua asked, that the Jews might follow their own laws, and pay no tribute on the Sabbath years, when the land lay fallow.
Alexander next passed on to Egypt, where he built, at the mouth of the Nile, the famous city that still is called by his name, Alexandria; indeed he founded cities everywhere, and made more lasting changes than ever did conqueror in the short space of twelve years. He then hunted Darius into the mountain parts of the north of Persia, and after two more victories, the Greeks found the poor Persian king dying on the ground, from wounds given by his own subjects. So the soft silver of Persia yielded to the brazen might of Greece. After this, Alexander called himself King of Persia, and wore the tiara like an eastern king. He took his men on to the borders of India, but they thought they were getting beyond the end of the world, and grew so frightened that he had to turn back. All that the Medes and Persians had possessed now belonged to him, and he wanted to make Babylon his capital; he made his court there, and received messengers who paid him honour from all quarters; but he was hurt by so much success; he grew proud and passionate; he feasted and drank too much, and did violent and hasty things, but worst of all, he fancied himself a god, and insisted that at home, in Greece, sacrifices should be offered to him. He tried to restore Babylon to what it had been, and set multitudes to work to clear away the rubbish, and build up the Temple of Bel; but when he ordered the Jews to share in the work, they answered that it was contrary to their Law to labour at an idol temple, and he listened to them, releasing them from the command. He wished to turn the waters of the Euphrates back into their stream, and drain the swamps into which they had spread; but Babylon was under the curse of God, and was never to recover. Alexander caught a fever while going about surveying the unwholesome swamps, and after trying to hold out against it for nine days, his strength gave way. He said there would be a mighty strife at his funeral, perhaps recollecting how the prophecy had said that his kingdom should not continue; and instead of trying to choose an heir, he put his ring on the finger of his friend, and very soon died. He was but thirty-two, and had not reigned quite twelve years; but perhaps no one ever did greater things in so short a time. He died in the year 323; and so the great horn of the goat was broken when it was at the strongest. No one hated him; for though sometimes violent, he had generally been kind; he was frank, open, and free-handed, warm-hearted to his friends, and seldom harsh to his enemies, and he had done his best to educate and improve all the people whom he conquered. It was owing to him that Greek manners and habits prevailed, and the Greek tongue was spoken everywhere around the eastern end of the Mediterranean, though Persia itself soon fell back into the old eastern ways. Babylon became almost deserted after his death; the swamps grew worse, till no one could live there, and at last, the only use of the great walls was to serve as an enclosure for a hunting ground, where the wild beasts had their home, and kept court for ever.
THE GREEK KINGS OF EGYPT.
"Why hast Thou then broken down her hedge, that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?"—Ps. lxxx. 12.
The leopard of Daniel's vision had four heads—the great horn of the rough goat gave place to four horns; so when Alexander was taken away so suddenly from the midst of his conquests, leaving no one in his room, his great officers divided them between themselves; and after much violence and bloodshed, four Greek kingdoms were formed out of the fragments of his conquests, Thrace, Macedon, Egypt, and Syria. It is only the two last of which we have to speak. The angel who spake to Daniel called their princes the Kings of the North and South. The north, or second kingdom of Syria, was very large, and went from Asia Minor to the borders of India, and it had two great capital cities, Antioch in Syria, and Seleucia upon the Tigris, where the Babylonians went to live when their city became deserted and uninhabitable. Both these places were named after the Greek Kings of Syria, who were by turns called Seleucus and Antiochus.
It would have seemed natural for Palestine to have belonged to Syria, but the Greek King of Egypt, whose name was Ptolemy Lagos, contrived to secure it. He entered Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day, when the Jews thought it wrong to fight, and so he gained the city without a blow; but this was no great misfortune to them, for the first Ptolemies were milder masters than the Seleucidae, and did not oppress their subjects. Ptolemy, however, brought a colony of Jews and Samaritans to live in Lybia and Cyrene, parts of Egypt, and so fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy, that five cities in Egypt should speak the language of Canaan. They were treated with much favour, for he saw that they were the most trustworthy of all his people. Indeed, the Greeks respected them much; and one of Ptolemy's soldiers tells this story: he says that while travelling in a large company by the Red Sea, he fell in with a very brave strong Jew, called Masollam. Presently the whole company came to a halt. Masollam asked why; and a soothsayer, pointing to a bird, told him that if the bird stopped, it would be lucky for them to stop; if it flew on, they might go on; if it went back, so must they. All the answer Masollam made, was to fit an arrow to his bow-string, and shoot the bird dead; and when the Greeks cried out at him, he rebuked them for thinking the poor bird could know their future, when he could not even save himself from the arrow.
At this time the High Priest was Simon the Just, son of Onias, the same who is so highly praised in the fiftieth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, and compared to the morning star, and to a young cedar of Libanus, when he stood before the Altar in his beautiful robes, and turned round and blessed the people. He was the last of the hundred and twenty great prophets, or wise men, whom the Jews called the great Synagogue; and it was he who sealed up the Old Testament, adding to the former collection the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi; and it is thought, compiling the books of Chronicles from older writings, for the genealogy of the house of David there given, comes down to about the year 300, when he was alive, since he died in 292. The Jews thought nothing went so well with them after his time, and were alarmed when the scape-goat, with the band of scarlet wool on his brow, instead of rushing down a precipice, as usual, and being killed at once, ran off into the desert, and was eaten by the Arabs. They enjoyed tolerable peace for the whole of the time they were under the Greeks of Egypt. Ptolemy Lagos wanted to make his new city of Alexandria as much famed for learning as Athens; and for this purpose he founded a great library there, collecting, from every quarter, books written either on parchment, or on the paper rush of Egypt. When he died, in the year 284, his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, or lover of his brethren, went on still more eagerly seeking for curious writings; and among those for which he wished were the Holy Scriptures. As they were in Hebrew, he caused them to be translated into Greek; and the Jews believe that this was done by seventy-two elders, who were shut up all day, two and two, in thirty-six little cells in a palace on a little island in the Nile, each pair taking one book of the Bible, and going back every evening to sup with the king. This history does not seem likely to be true, but it is quite certain that a version of the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Greek was made about this time, and is called the Septuagint, from this tradition about the seventy. It came more and more into use, as Greek was considered the language of all learned men in the east. Most of the quotations in the New Testament are taken from it, and it is of great value in helping to show the exact meaning of the old Hebrew.
But if Ptolemy did desire to have the Scriptures in his own tongue, it was only for curiosity, not for edification, for he was a great idolater; and when his wife died he tried to build a temple to her at Alexandria, which was to have a loadstone arch, with a steel statue of her in the middle, where he hoped the equal attraction would keep it as if flying in the air; but of course the fancy could not be carried out. He had a quarrel with Antiochus Theos, King of Syria, but it was made up by his giving his daughter Berenice in marriage to the Syrian, as Daniel had foretold: "The king's daughter of the South, came to make an agreement with the King of the North." But Antiochus had another wife before, whom he loved better; so when, in 246, Ptolemy Philadelphus died, he put Berenice away, and took her back. She requited him by poisoning him for fear her favour should not last, and her son, Seleucus, became king, and taking Berenice prisoner, put her to death.
"But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate, which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the King of the North." This was the brother of Berenice, Ptolemy Euergetes, or the Benefactor, who came out of Egypt, overran Syria, and killed the murderess, carrying home much spoil and many of the Egyptian gods, which had been taken from the temples there in the time of Cambyses. Ptolemy Euergetes himself came to Jerusalem, and attended a sacrifice in the Temple; but Greek learning was doing the Jews no good, and some began to reason like the heathen philosophers. A man named Joseph taught that people ought to be holy for the love of goodness, and not for the sake of a reward after death; and his follower, Zadok, or Sadoc, went still farther, saying that there was no promise of any reward. His disciples, who were called Sadducees, declared that the soul was not separate from the body, but died with it; that there were no angels, nor spirits, and that only the five books of Moses were the real Word of God, thus casting aside all the prophecies. Such Jews as abhorred this falling away, kept themselves apart, and were called Pharisees, from a word meaning separate; and these grew the more strict in the observance of all that had come down to them from their fathers, adding to it much that had gradually been put into the explanations and interpretations of the Law which were read on the Sabbath in the Synagogue.
Ptolemy the Benefactor was the last brave man of his family; his son, Ptolemy Philopator, or lover of his father, was weak and violent, and had a disastrous war with Antiochus the Great of Syria. In the course of the conflict he came to Jerusalem, and tried to force his way into the Holy of Holies, though the High Priest and all the priests and Levites withstood him, and prayed aloud that the profanation might be hindered. When he came to the court of the priests, such a strange horror and terror fell on him, that he reeled and fell, and was carried out half dead; but he was only hardened by this great wonder, and on his return revenged himself by collecting the Jews at Alexandria, and insisting that they should be marked with the ivy leaf, the sign of the Greek god of wine, or else be made slaves, or put to death. Out of many thousands, only three hundred submitted to this disgraceful badge; so in his rage, he collected all the others in the theatre, and caused elephants to be made drunken with wine and frankincense, so that when driven in on them, they might trample them to death. But for two days following the king was too drunk himself to be present at the horrible spectacle, and the Jews had all that time for prayer; and when, on the third day, the execution was to take place, the beasts ran upon the spectators instead of upon the martyrs, so that though numbers of Greeks were killed, not one Jew was hurt, and Ptolemy gave up his attempt; though he did afterwards commit one savage massacre on his Jewish subjects. He died when only thirty-seven years of age, worn out by drunkenness; and the Jews, who had learnt to hate the Egyptian dominion, gladly received the soldiers of his enemy, Antiochus the Great, into Jerusalem, deserting his young son, who was only five years old; and thus, in the year 197, Jerusalem came to belong to the Seleucidae of Syria, instead of to the Ptolemies of Egypt. The history of Ptolemy Philopator in predicted from the 10th to the 13th verse of the 11th chapter of Daniel's prophecy. The Jews suffered terribly all through these wars, which were usually fought out on their soil. Each sovereign robbed them in turn, while they were too few to guard themselves, and could do no otherwise than fall to the strongest.
THE SYRIAN PERSECUTION.
"The dead bodies of Thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the air, and the flesh of Thy saints unto the beasts of the land."—Ps. lxxix. 2.
The history of Antiochus the Great is foretold in the 11th chapter of the prophet Daniel, from the 14th to the 19th verse. On the death of Ptolemy Philopator, this king entered Palestine with a great army, and easily obtained from the time-serving Jews the surrender of Jerusalem. Some of them who had forsaken their Law to gain the favour of Ptolemy, were punished by Antiochus, because he knew that no trust could be placed in men who cared for their own profit more than for their God. He then laid siege to Gaza and to Sidon, and won great victories, ravaging and consuming the adjoining lands with his armies; and afterwards made peace with young Ptolemy Epiphanes, giving him his daughter in marriage, hoping that she would betray her husband to him. She, however, entirely forsook him, and made common cause with her husband. "After this," the prophecy declared that he would "turn his face to the isles and take many." This meant that he should make an expedition to Greece, where he gained a good deal of land; but here he came in contact with the iron power, shadowed out by the great and terrible beast of Daniel's second vision.
Some four hundred years before this time, the city of Rome had begun to grow up on some of the seven hills on the banks of the Tiber in Italy. The inhabitants were a stern, earnest, brave, honest set of men; not great thinkers like the Greeks, but great doers, and caring for nothing so much as for their city and her honour. They thought their own lives and happiness as nothing in comparison with Rome; and all the free citizens had a share in the government, so that their city's concerns were their own. Their religion seems in early times to have been more solemn and grave than that of the Greeks. Jupiter was their chief god, the King of gods and men, who held thunderbolts in his hand, and they had eleven other principal gods; but by the time they had learnt to write books, they had begun to think these were the same gods as the Greeks worshipped under other names; they said Jupiter was the same as Zeus, and told of him all the foolish stories which the worse sort of Greeks had invented of Zeus, and as their religion grew worse, they became more selfish, proud, and cruel. At first, their neighbours in Italy were always fighting with them, and their wars were for life or death; but after nearly three hundred years of hard struggling, without one year's peace, the Romans had conquered them all, and had safety at home. But they had grown too fond of war to rest quietly, so they built ships and attacked countries farther off, beginning with the great Phoenician city of Carthage in Africa, which it is said was settled by Canaanites who fled away from Joshua, and whose first queen was Dido, Jezebel's niece. A great Carthaginian general, named Hannibal, who had been banished from home, came to Antiochus, and offered to help him in his war upon Greece. This Hannibal did chiefly out of hatred to the Romans, who were pretending to assist the Greeks, only that they might become their masters. If Antiochus had taken the advice of Hannibal, he might have succeeded better, but he was self-willed; the Romans gave him a terrible defeat, and he was obliged to promise to pay a great sum of money, and a heavy tribute afterwards; to keep no elephants to be used in war, and to give up his younger son, Antiochus, as security for his performance of the conditions. The tribute he had to pay to Rome quite ruined him; and while he was trying to rob an idol temple at Elymais, the people rose on him and slew him, in the year 187.
His son, Seleucus, called by. Daniel "a raiser of taxes," was very poor in consequence of the tribute, and therefore greedy. He tried to raise money by sending his servant, Heliodorus, to rob the temple at Jerusalem Onias, the High Priest, and all the people, were in great distress, and made most earnest entreaties to God to deliver them from such profanation. Heliodorus came, however, to the temple, and was pressing on to the treasury, when suddenly a horse, with a terrible rider, appeared in armour like gold, and cast the spoiler to the ground, while two young men, of marvellous beauty, scourged him on either side, so that when the heavenly champions had vanished, he lay as one dead. Onias prayed for him, and he was restored; the same beings who had struck him down coming to reveal to him that his life was granted at the intercession of the High Priest. When he returned to his master, and was consulted as to who might be a fit man to send to Jerusalem, he answered, "If thou hast any enemy or traitor, send him thither, and thou shalt receive him well scourged." So little impression did such a revelation of glory make on that hard selfish heart! The man who had been smitten by a visible angel could jest about it, and soon went on to greater crime. He poisoned his master in the hope of becoming king, as Seleucus's son was a hostage at Rome, that is, he had been given as a pledge that the tribute should be paid; but Seleucus's brother, Antiochus, who was on his way home from captivity at Rome, flattered the adjoining kings into helping him, drove Heliodorus away, and became king in 178. He was the little horn of the Grecian goat, "the vile person to whom they should not give the honour of the kingdom," so much was it fallen since the time of his father, Antiochus the Great. Vile indeed he was, nearly mad with violence and excess, going drunk about the streets of Antioch crowned with roses, and pelting with stones those who followed him, so that the Greeks laughed at him for calling himself Antiochus Epiphanes, or the Illustrious, and said he was really Antiochus the madman. He cared little for the old Greek gods; but the Roman Jupiter, "a god whom his fathers knew not," was his chief object of devotion, and in his honour, he instituted games like those of Greece. Some of the Jews had begun to weary of their perfect Law, and fancy it narrow and vulgar, and the brothers of the good Onias were among the worst; Joshua, the next in age, changed his glorious prophetic name to the Greek Jason, and going to Antioch, offered a great sum of money to be made High Priest, and for leave to set up at Jerusalem a place for the practice of the heathenish games of strength, where men fought naked. Antiochus was but too glad of the offer; so the good High Priest was carried off to die a prisoner at Antioch, and the apostate was set up in his room in order to pervert the Jewish youth to idolatry. However, he was soon overthrown by his apostate brother, Menelaus, whom he had sent to pay the tribute at Antioch, and who, when there, promised the king a larger revenue, and to bring all the Jews to embrace the heathen worship. Jason fled to the Ammonites, and Menelaus and his brother sold the gold vessels of the Temple to the Phoenicians. The Jews sent complaints to the king at Tyre, but instead of attending, he murdered the messengers, so much to the horror of the Tyrians, that they gave them honourable burial.
Antiochus now began a war with Egypt, (Dan. xi. 25,) and while he was there, Jason came back from the Ammonites and regained Jerusalem; but the news brought the king back in the utmost rage, Jason fled to Greece, and Antiochus, coming to Jerusalem, cruelly treated the people, robbed the treasury, himself went into the holy place, led by that horrible traitor, Menelaus; and uttering blasphemy, he sacrificed a hog upon the altar, and boiling the flesh, sprinkled the Temple with the broth, carried off the candlestick and all the rest of the gold, and when he went away to continue his wars, he left a captain and garrison to oppress the Jews, and an old man to teach them the worship of Jupiter. A little altar for sacrifice to Jupiter was raised on the true altar, the Temple was dedicated to Jupiter, as was also that of the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, the Sabbath was abolished, so was circumcision, and on the day of the king's birth, in each month, the Jews were forced to eat swine's flesh, and partake of idol sacrifices, and, at the feast of the god of wine, to carry ivy in the mad drunken processions in his honour.
It was the most utter misery that had yet befallen the Jews. Temple, Priesthood, all gone! "We see not our tokens; there is not one prophet more;" and yet that was the great time of glorious Jewish martyrdoms. Numbers of the faithful were burnt to death together in a cave, where they had met to keep the Sabbath day; two women who had circumcised their babes, had them hung round their necks, and were then pitched from the highest part of the wall of Jerusalem; and the aged scribe, Eleazar, who was ninety years old, when swine's flesh was forced into his mouth, spat it out again, and was scourged to death, saying with his last breath that he bore all this suffering because he feared the Lord. A mother and her seven sons were taken, and as each refused to share in the idol rite and break the Law, they were put to death, one by one, with horrible tortures, each before the eyes of his remaining brethren; but the parting words of all were full of high hope and constancy. "The Lord looketh on us, and hath comfort in us," said one. "The King of the world shall raise us up who have died for His laws unto everlasting life," was spoken by another. "Think not our nation is forsaken of God, but abide awhile and behold His great power, how He will torment thee and thy seed," said another, (for they were as yet only faithful Jews, hope and forgiveness for their persecutors was for the Christian.) The mother stood firmly by while each son's limbs were cut off, and he was roasted to death over a fire; and all her words were to exhort them to be stedfast, and to assure them their Creator could raise them if they died for Him. When the turn of the last son came, the persecutors, pitying his youth, entreated him to change his resolution, promising him riches and prosperity if he would adore the idol, and even calling his mother to plead with him. Then the noble woman laughed the tyrant to scorn. "Have pity on me, my son," she began; but it was not by saving his life, but by losing it, that she bade him show pity on her, so that she might receive him again with his brethren. He made a still fuller confession than the rest—he was slain by a still more savage torture; and then his mother, blessing God, died gloriously like her sons. Others fled, and lived in the mountains, lurking in caves, and feeding on wild roots and herbs. Of such St. Paul says, "They were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented: of whom the world was not worthy."
"In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people; all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces."—Zechariah, xii. 3.
Never was there a time when God left Himself without a witness; and in these darkest times of the Jewish history, He raised up a defender of His Name. There was a small town, named Modin, near the sea shore, whither a Greek officer called Apelles was sent to force the people into idolatry. He set up an altar to one of his gods, and having ordered all the inhabitants to assemble, insisted on their doing sacrifice. Among them came a family of priests, who, from their ancestor, Hasmon, were known as the Asmoneans. The father, Mattathias, declared with a loud voice that he would permit no such dishonour to his God, and the first Jew who approached to offer incense, was by him struck down and slain. Then with his five brave sons, and others emboldened by his example, he fell upon Apelles, drove him away, and pulled down the idolatrous altar. He then fled away to the hills, where so many people joined him, that he had a force sufficient to defend themselves from their enemies; and he went round Judea, circumcising the children, and rescuing the copies of the Law which the Greeks had seized from the synagogues. Some of these holy books, which had been defiled by paintings of the heathen idols, were destroyed, by order of Mattathias, after the writing had been carefully copied. It was at this time that the Jews began to read Lessons from the Prophets in the synagogue, because Antiochus had only forbidden reading the Law, without specifying the prophetic books. Mattathias, who was already an old man, soon fell sick; and gathering his sons about him, reminded them of the deeds that God had wrought by the holy men of old, and exhorting them to do boldly in defence of His Covenant. He appointed as their leader his third son, Judas, who for his warlike might was called Maccabaeus, or the Hammerer; and the second, Simon, surnamed Thassi, (one who increases,) was to be his chief adviser.
In the year 166, Judas Maccabaeus set up his standard, with the motto, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods?" the first letters of which words in Hebrew made his surname, Maccabee. He went through the land, enforcing the Law, and putting the cities in a state of defence. Antiochus, meantime, was holding a mad and hateful festival at Daphne; but on hearing of the revolt of the Jews, he went into a great rage, and sent a huge army to punish them. Maccabaeus defeated this force, drove it back to Antioch, and then marched to Jerusalem, and forced the Greek garrison to take refuge in a fortress called Akra, on Mount Zion. The courts of the Temple were overgrown with shrubs which stood like a forest, the priests' chambers had been pulled down, and the Sanctuary lay desolate. These brave men rent their clothes and wept at the sight; and then set at once to repair the holy place, their priest-leader choosing out the most spotless among them for the work. They pulled down the Altar that had been defiled, and setting aside its stones, built a new one, and out of the spoil that was in their hands, renewed the Candlestick, the shewbread table, and the Altar of incense; and then they newly dedicated the Temple, after three years of desolation. The anniversary was ever after kept with gladness, and was called the winter feast of dedication. Still Judas was not strong enough to take the castle on Mount Zion; but he built strong walls round the Temple, so that it too became a fortress, and he then went to Bethshan to defend the south border of Judea against the Edomites.
These tidings terribly enraged Antiochus, who was gone on an expedition to Persia, and he designed to form a league with his neighbours for the utter destruction of the Jews; but "he came to his end, and none could help him," for an overturn of his chariot so much increased an inward disease that had already begun, that he fell into most horrible tortures, and was in such a state of decay that scarcely anyone could bear to come near him. Horrible fears tormented him, and in his remorse he repented of all the evil he had done to the Jews, and sent them a letter assuring them of his favour; but it was now too late, and he died in great misery in 164. His son, Antiochus Eupator, was only nine years old, and his affairs were managed by a governor named Lysias, who continued the persecution, and led an army to the relief of the garrison in Mount Zion. Judas marched out to meet him, but was repulsed with the loss of six hundred men, and of his younger brother, Eleazar, who seeing an elephant of huge size, with a tower of unusual height on its back, thought the king himself must be there, and running beneath it, stabbed it so as to be crushed himself in its fall. Lysias then advanced upon Jerusalem, and laid close siege to it, placing the Jews in extreme peril. Just then another regent rose up against Lysias, and he made a hasty peace with Maccabaeus, and was admitted into the city; but when he saw its strength, he broke his promises, and overthrew the wall. On his return to Antioch, he punished the apostate high-priest, Menelaus, as the author of all these misfortunes, by smothering him in a tower filled with ashes. "Woe to the idol shepherd who had left his flock!" Another half heathen, named Alcimus, was appointed in his place, and when the Jews would not receive him, brought down their enemies upon them again. Judas gained a victory, and wrote to entreat the alliance and protection of the Romans; but ere the answer to his letter arrived, he had, with only 800 men, fallen on a whole army of the Syrians, and was killed in the battle, B.C. 161. His brothers, Jonathan and Simon, took up his body, and buried it at Modin, in the tomb of their fathers; and they continued to lead the faithful Jews, while Alcimus held Jerusalem, and there began to alter the Temple, taking down the wall of separation between the courts of the Jews and that of the Gentiles; but in the midst of the work he was smitten with palsy, and died.
It was the plan of the Romans to take the part of a weak nation against a strong one, because it afforded them an excuse for conquering the mightier of the two, so they gave notice that the quarrels of the Jews were their own; and after much fighting, Jonathan obtained two years of peace, and became high-priest. Onias, the son of the good Onias, whom Jason had set aside, went to Egypt, and ministered in a temple built by the Jews, who had settled there.
Ever since the Syrian kings had begun to misuse the Jews, they had grown weak and miserable. Antiochus Eupator was dethroned and murdered by his cousin Demetrius; but shortly after, a man named Balas came forward, calling himself the son of Antiochus Epiphanes, and begging Jonathan to take his part, sending him a golden crown and purple robe, and naming him commander of the Jewish force. In a battle in the year 153, Demetrius was slain; and Balas became king. Both Balas and his son Antiochus treated Jonathan with great favour, and he fortified Jerusalem, got possession of many other towns, and considerably strengthened the rightful cause: but a wicked rebel named Trypho, who designed the murder of his young master, Antiochus, began his conspiracy by treacherously assassinating Jonathan in the land of Gilead, B.C. 143, and soon after succeeded in killing the young king.
Simon Thassi was the only survivor of the brave Maccabaean brothers, but he finished their work, and obtained from Rome, Egypt, and Syria, an acknowledgment that the Jews were a free people, and that he was their prince and priest. He took the castle on Mount Zion from the Syrians, and so fortified the Temple, that it became like another citadel, and he was honoured by all his neighbours. He built a noble tomb for all his family at Modin, consisting of seven pyramids, in honour of his father and mother, and their five sons; all covered in by a portico, supported on seven pillars, the whole of white marble, and the pediment so high that it served for a mark for sailors at sea. He died, like his brave brethren, by a bloody death, being murdered at Jericho, B.C. 135, by his own son-in-law, who hoped to usurp the government; but his eldest son, John Hyrcanus, was able to punish the murderer, and to obtain the full authority, by giving large presents both to the Romans and Syrians. It is said that he found, laid up in the sepulchre of David, 3000 talents of silver, which he used for this purpose. Hyrcanus was a very powerful and mighty prince, and not only reigned over all Judea, but conquered Edom, with all the curious dwellings in the rocky caves of Petra; he brought the country under subjection, circumcised the inhabitants, and brought them under the Mosaic Law. From that time Idumea decayed, and now has become an utter wilderness, the carved faces of the rocks still witnessing to the truth of prophecy, as they stand forth, lonely and deserted in their grandeur, though glowing freshly with the rosy marblings of the rocks of Seir.
THE ROMAN POWER.
And He shall put a yoke of iron on thy neck until He have destroyed thee.—Deut. xxviii.48.
Aristobulus, the son of Hyrcanus, was called King, as well as High Priest of the Jews; but the mixture of worldly policy with the sacred office did not suit well, and the Asmonean Kings were not like their fathers, the Maccabees. Still their courage and steadiness made the Jews much respected; and the Greeks and Romans around them began to read their books, and there were some few who perceived that the religion, there taught, was purer than idolatry, and wiser than the beat philosophy. The kings were assisted in government by what was called the Sanhedrim, a council of a hundred and twenty of the Scribes and of the chief priests, namely, the heads of the courses of priests. This council met daily in a hall near the great gate of the Temple, and heard cases brought before them for judgment, after the example of the seventy elders appointed by Moses. Alexander Janneus, the son of Aristobulus, reigned from B.C. 104 to B.C. 77, and left his kingdom to his wife, Alexandra, who trusted much to the Pharisees, and raised them to great power. Her eldest son, Hyrcanus, was High Priest, and she left the kingdom to him at her death, B.C. 69; but his brother, Aristobulus, rebelling, with the help of the Sadducees, defeated him, and drove him from his throne.
Hyrcanua was indolent, and was rather glad to be relieved from the trouble of reigning; but his friend, Antipas, an Edomite by birth, and of the Jewish religion, persuaded him that his life would not be safe in Judea, and stirred him up to ask help, first from the Arabs, and when they were beaten, from the Romans, to whom however, Aristobulus had already sent a present of a golden vine, in hopes of winning their support.
The great awfulness of the Roman power was in the sureness of its conquests. It did not fly onward without touching the earth, like the great eastern conquerors; but let it set one claw on a nation, and the doom of that nation was fixed. First the help of the Romans was asked and readily given; then in return a tribute was demanded and paid; then the Romans would meddle with the government, till their interference became intolerable, and there was a rising against it, which they called rebellion; then they sent an army, and ruined the nation for ever. The king, queen, generals, and all the riches, were carried to Rome, where the conqueror came in to enjoy what was called a triumph. He was seated in a chariot drawn by white horses, a laurel wreath round his head, and all his captives and spoils displayed behind him; the senate or council coming out to meet him, and the people shouting for joy as they led him to the Temple of Jupiter to give thanks. The captives were afterwards slain; and, as a farther festival, the people were entertained with shows of gladiators, namely, slaves trained to fight, even to death, with each other or with wild beasts. Then the conquered land became a Roman province. After the magistrates had served a year at Rome, they were allowed to choose which province they would govern; and there they did as they pleased, and laid heavy burthens on the poor inhabitants, for all men, not of Roman birth, they called barbarian, and used like slaves; nor was there any hope of breaking this heavy bondage, for each city was a station of Roman soldiers, who were the bravest and best disciplined in the world. The army was divided into legions, each about 6,000 men strong, with a silver eagle for the standard; these were again subdivided into cohorts, and again into hundreds, each commanded by a centurion, whose helmet had some mark by which his men might know him. No soldier could miss his place, either in battle, on a march, or in the perfect square camps which they set up wherever they halted; they obeyed the least word, and feared nothing; and nothing could hold out against their steady skill, perseverance, and progress. Wherever they went they built fortresses, and made wonderful straight solid roads, some of which remain to this day; and their ships and messengers going for ever from one province to another, made their empire all like one country; where the stern Roman was the lord, and the native was crushed down under his feet,
They had just at this time put down the kingdom of Syria, and conquered nearly all Asia Minor. Their great general, Pompey, was holding a court at Damascus, whither, among ten other suppliant princes, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus came to lay their cause before him, thus asking a heathen who should be the Priest of the Most High. Pompey took the part of the elder, as the rightful heir, and led an army against Jerusalem. The siege lasted three months, and so strong was the place, that it would have held out much longer, but that the Jews would not defend themselves on the Sabbath, at least no more than enough to protect their own lives. They would not disturb any of the operations of the siege, nor keep the engines from the walls on that day; and thus, B.C. 63, the Gentiles again entered Jerusalem on the very day observed as a fast in memory of Nebuchadnezzar's conquest.
Pompey spared the city from plunder, and touched none of the treasure in the Temple; but he would not be withheld from going into every part, even into the Holy of Holies; and though no immediate judgment followed, it was remarked that from that time his prosperity left him. He set up Hyrcanus as High Priest, but not as King—made him pay a tribute, put him under the control of Antipas, and forbade him to extend his domains. Aristobulus and his sons were carried off to appear in Pompey's triumph, but their lives were spared. Thus Judea, by her own fault, fell under the dominion of the fourth power with the teeth of iron.
Rome had hitherto been ruled by two consuls, who were chosen every year, and after their rule at home was over, went to make war in the provinces; but of late this plan had been wearing our, and the great general, Julius Caesar, who had conquered France, then called Gaul, and had visited Britain, was making himself over-powerful. Pompey stood up for the old laws, but Caesar was too strong for him, and at last hunted him to Egypt, where he was murdered by the last of the Ptolemies. Julius Caesar, who was one of the greatest warriors and most able men who ever lived, managed Rome as he chose, and coming to Syria, confirmed Hyrcanus in his rank, and finding him careless and indolent, made Antipas procurator, or governor for the Romans; and thus Antipas and his son, Herod, held all the real power in their hands, though still under the Romans. Going back to Rome, Julius Caesar became so powerful, that it was thought he would make himself king, and after four years, some of the friends of the old laws killed him with their daggers in the Senate House, B. C. 44. After this, there was great confusion; and while Augustus Caesar, the nephew of Julius, gained power in the west, Mark Antony, another Roman general, came to Egypt to attend to the affairs of the East. He was a selfish licentious man, who cared more for Cleopatra, the beautiful sister of the last Ptolemy, and Queen of Egypt, than for Rome or for his duty; and he took bribes from Herod to support his power over the old prince, Hyrcanus, to whose daughter, Mariamne, Herod was betrothed.
The son of the deposed Aristobulus, Antigonus by name, made friends with the Parthians, the descendants of the old Persians, and bursting into Judaea when the nation was unprepared, carried off poor old Hyrcanus as a prisoner, and cut off his ears that such a blemish might prevent him from ministering again as High Priest. Herod escaping, went to Rome, where he represented his case so ably, that Augustus and Antony gave him men and money that he might drive out Antigonus, and promised that he should himself be king under them. The Roman army helped him to win back the country; and as the caves in the hills were full of robbers, he let down soldiers in boxes over the face of the precipices, and thus contrived to destroy them all. After a siege of six months he took Jerusalem, and Antigonus surrendered to the Romans, who kept him prisoner for some time, and then, at Herod's entreaty, put him to death.