"Terrible words, surely, from mighty swordsmen!" said Apgomer, smiling. "Is it any wonder I tremble beneath your gaze? Even from the days of your childhood your courage and valor have been proverbial. My cousin Scribbo, at the early age of ten years, would, without fear, push headlong into the water little girls years younger than himself; while the brave Shagoth, at the early age of twelve, could find no more pleasing recreation than to scourge his poor relatives of eight years old and under. Then ye were heroes in embryo; and now, having grown up, is it any wonder that the whole realm quakes beneath your tread? Hail! all hail, ye mighty sons of Skerbood! This is the day in which ye look for the full realization of your guilty hope, in the death of three of the choicest noblemen that ever adorned the Chaldean realm. Be not too sure of your prey. Strange things have appeared in those young men's histories, and more strange manifestations may yet appear."
"Too long already have we listened to thy insolent and silly harangue," said Scribbo. "Right glad are we that these foreign pets, who have so long been dandled on the lap of royalty, are at last brought to the test. We only hope that their fanaticism may lead them to disobedience. In that event, we would ask for no greater pleasure than to be permitted to throw them into yon blazing furnace."
"Ye are surely well adapted for such an undertaking. By all means, volunteer your services; and remember that, in the midst of your burning patriotism, these young foreigners hold responsible offices, that must be filled by some competent personages."
"Away, Scribbo, from the sound of this barking dog!" said Shagoth. And the two office-seekers hurried away in search of the doomed Hebrews.
They had gone but a little distance when they saw the three brothers together, a few rods on the left from the throne. The two Chaldeans, unobserved, stationed themselves close behind them, and there waited for the grand result.
Soon, a signal was given for the throng to come to silence and order. This was not easily accomplished. At length, however, order was fully gained, and breathless silence reigned over half a million of idolaters. This silence was broken by the loud accents of heralds, who passed through all parts of the assembly, crying at the top of their voices:
"To you it is commanded, O people of all nations and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the flute or harp, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up. And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into a burning fiery furnace."
The heralds returned to their places, and their voices were no longer heard.
The grand signal was given! The musical instruments poured forth their loud strains, and the great mass fell prostrate before the glittering idol. But, yonder, behold those champions of moral integrity! Only three among five hundred thousand! While all besides have bowed the knee, there they stand! Their figures are heroic, their forms are erect, their arms folded, while an involuntary smile of contempt plays on their lips.
"By the gods, we have them!" whispered Shagoth, in ecstasies. "Behold, Scribbo, how erect their posture!"
"Hold thy peace!" whispered Scribbo, in return, "or they will hear us. When we rise, then we will confront them to good advantage. Thanks to the gods, they have well favored us."
The signal for the vast throng to arise from their worshiping attitude was given. No sooner was it heard, than Scribbo and Shagoth walked with an air of conscious triumph and stood before the three Hebrews.
"And who are these presumptuous and rash mortals," said Shagoth, "who thus dare to set the laws of the king at defiance? Tremble, ye daring wretches! for who are ye to withstand the vengeance of our sovereign?"
"To the king, then, we are accountable; and not to thee, thou crawling reptile," answered Hananiah. "So haste thee away; and if thou hast any authority, let it be displayed within its own sphere."
"Ah!" cried Shagoth, "ye are doomed to die! See ye not the heated smoke of the fiery furnace? Your guilty and rash conduct shall be made known to the king without delay. Your guilty career is well-nigh run; and Chaldea shall soon be delivered from the curse of foreign office-holders."
"But not from the curse of a groveling, envious, unprincipled horde of office-seekers," said Azariah, casting a withering glance on the two brothers.
"Away, brother!" cried Scribbo. "For why should we hear the abusive harangue of these overfed demagogues?"
And away the patriots hurried with their complaint to the king.
The monarch was surrounded by a large number of his nobles, who were loud in their congratulations at the complete success that had crowned the day.
An officer in uniform came forward, and bowed low in the presence of the king.
"What is thy pleasure, Arioch!" asked Nebuchadnezzar.
"Two men have approached the guard, O king, greatly desiring to be admitted into thy presence."
"Let them be admitted!" was the answer.
With anything but ease of manner, Scribbo and Shagoth walked into the royal presence.
"And what have ye to communicate?" inquired his majesty, eying them as if not quite satisfied with their appearance.
"O king, live forever!" replied the Chaldeans. "Thou, O king, hast made a decree that every man shall fall down and worship the golden image; and whoso falleth not down and worshipeth should be cast into a fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—these men, O king, have not regarded thee; they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
Then was the king full of wrath and fury. "What!" said he, "is my royal decree to be thus set at defiance? Is this the return they make to the king for their high promotion in the government? By all the gods, I will bend their stubborn wills, or they will suffer my vengeance to the uttermost! Let them be summoned into my presence without further delay!" And officers were soon on their march to bring the offenders.
The king, from his elevation, saw them approaching. An innocent smile rested on each countenance; and in spite of his haughty arrogance, the king's heart was touched, and his better feelings for a while triumphed. They stood in his presence, and respectfully, as usual, made their obeisance.
"Am I rightly informed, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego," said the king, "when I hear that ye do not serve my gods, nor worship the golden image that I have set up? It may be true; yet for your sakes, I will give you one more trial: but beware that ye further provoke not my displeasure! The king's command is not to be trifled with!"
Without the least betrayal of fear, Hananiah, in a firm tone of voice, addressed the monarch:
"O king, it requireth no careful deliberation in this matter. In so plain a case the answer is ready at hand. Thy servants, as thou well knowest, are natives of Judah, and we worship no god but the God of our fathers. As foreigners, we have at all times been careful to use no disrespectful language in regard to the gods of Chaldea, or those who pay them homage; and hitherto, unmolested, have we paid our simple adoration to the Lord God of Israel. The law of our God, with us, is regarded as infinitely superior to all human edicts. In all things pertaining to the government, we have faithfully endeavored to do thy will, and obey the directions of our sovereign. But not until this day have we been required to deny our religion, and insult our God. To thee, O king, we are much indebted. For many years have we been the objects of thy kind regard. But be it known to Nebuchadnezzar, that the continuance of his favor is not to be purchased by a base betrayal of our principles, or a denial of our God. We cannot serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. We bow the knee to God Most High alone! To us thy fiery furnace has no terrors! Jehovah, in whom we trust, is able to deliver us. That God who divided the Red Sea in two parts and made Israel to pass through the midst of it, and who parted the waves of the swelling Jordan, is able to preserve thy servants alive in the midst of the devouring flames! Yea, he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king! But, if in this we are mistaken, be it known unto thee, that toe can never obey any law of man that requireth a violation of the law of God. Therefore, we refuse to serve thy gods, or worship this golden image which thou hast set up."
"Seize the ungrateful wretches!" cried the king, in a rage, while paleness spread over his countenance. "Seize all who set my authority at naught, and who thus insult their king! By the gods, now shall they feel the weight of my displeasure, and reap the reward of their daring insolence! Let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Let the worthless dogs be thrown in, and let their God, if he be able, prove himself superior to the gods of Chaldea! Bind them now, in my presence!"
The three brothers were seized on the spot by several strong men, and bound hand and foot with cords. When this was done, they were conveyed in the direction of the fiery furnace. The news soon spread throughout the assemblage, and pressing thousands urged their way towards the place of execution. The fire raged with fury. Fagot after fagot was thrown in. The flames leaped high above the top of the black walls that surrounded them. The executioners were strong men of the royal guard. To these were added a number of others, who, to show the strength of their patriotism, volunteered their services. Foremost among these were Scribbo and Shagoth. With what triumphant malignity they gazed on the bound Hebrews! How complete they considered their own victory!
The word of command was given, and the victims were dragged up the massive steps that led to the upper edge of the burning pit. In this the volunteers showed more than an ordinary degree of patriotism. The Hebrews were laid side by side, ready for their awful doom. The stout hearts of the soldiers were touched with pity as they gazed on the noble forms of their victims, of whom they had never heard aught but good; and they felt loath to perform the awful deed. But not so the patriotic sons of Skerbood.
"Why not throw the guilty rebels in?" cried Shagoth, with an air of importance.
"As ye appear to take far more pleasure in this transaction than we do, we are very willing to bestow the honor of throwing them in on yourselves. So proceed with your delightful performance," said an officer, at the same time giving way, while his companions followed him some two or three steps downward.
"With all pleasure!" answered Scribbo, while, with fiendish eagerness, they both turned to perform the foul deed. With a firm grasp they first laid hold on Azariah, and he was thrown into the midst of the flames. The same was done to Mishael; and, finally, as Hananiah dropped to the burning depth below, the ascending flames became doubly fierce; at the same moment the wind shifted and became strong, and, as sudden as a flash of lightning, the flames poured their awful vengeance on the guilty heads of Scribbo and Shagoth. For a moment they whirled in the midst of God's avenging scourges, crying loudly for help; but no help could be administered! In another instant they became bewildered, and soon their blackened forms fell on the edge of the furnace, where a few moments before had lain the sons of Judah!
The king had not accompanied the prisoners to the fatal spot, but continued, in a surly mood, to sit on his elevated throne. He was far from being satisfied, and he inwardly regretted his severity toward the best of his officers.
The furnace was a roofless inclosure, twenty feet square, built of very thick walls in solid masonry. At the height of about twenty-five feet from the ground, on the inside, there were ponderous bars of iron, which were made to cross each other at right angles, and which fastened in the walls, forming the bottom of the furnace into which the victims were thrown from above. Below, in different parts, were appropriate places for fagots and light combustibles wherewith to heat the furnace. To the lower story there were eight doors or openings, two on each square, through which easy access was obtained to the fireplaces. On the outside there was but one entrance to the top. This was by means of massive stone steps. The depth from the edge of the furnace to the crossbars below was fifteen feet, making the whole height, from the ground, forty feet. From above also, there were steps to descend into the bottom. To spectators, on the ground, the victims were not visible after they had been thrown over the edge.
The king unwillingly turned his eyes towards the fiery furnace, and from his elevation he could see its interior. He suddenly sprang to his feet, lifted his hands on high, and exclaimed, in affrightened tone:
"O ye gods, what do I behold! What do I behold, O ye gods!" Then, turning to his nobles, he exclaimed: "Do I fancy, or is it real? Turn your eyes on yonder flames! In their midst what behold ye? Speak!"
The nobles tremblingly replied:
"We see men walking unhurt in the midst of the fire, O king!"
"It is even so!" cried the monarch, in deep agitation. "It is not a delusion! It is a marvelous reality! But did we not cast in three men bound? And I see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt! And the form of the fourth is like unto a son of the gods! Arise, let us hasten to the spot!"
The king, attended by a number of his nobles, and surrounded by the royal guard, was soon on his way towards the furnace. The thronging masses divided to give way to their sovereign. There were but few there that knew the cause of the king's agitation. Those who witnessed his countenance attributed it to the awful death of Scribbo and Shagoth.
All eyes are fastened on the king. With a hurried pace he ascends the steps of the furnace. He has nearly reached the top. He stops. Now the vast assembly eagerly listen for a royal address. But why turns he not his face toward the throng? Regardless of the swaying masses, he lifts his hand on high—he speaks! Hark! "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth and come hither!"
At the conclusion of this, which seemed to the multitude an incomprehensible speech, there were but few present who did not inwardly pronounce the king to be laboring under a sudden fit of insanity.
While all is still and solemn, behold, arm in arm, the forms of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! A heavenly smile rests on their countenances. Already they have reached the top, and they stand in the presence of the wondering thousands. For a moment they cast a smiling glance on the throng below; then, with that ease of manner which always characterized them, they approach the king, and make their obeisance, with as much apparent good feeling as if nothing of an unkind nature had ever transpired. The king grasps them by the hand, and a mighty shout of good feeling and gladness resounds from thrice ten thousand tongues. The king then, turning to the multitude, in a loud voice exclaims:
"Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces; because there is no other god that can deliver after this sort. And now, by the command of the king, let that image be taken down, and let it be carried to the temple of Belus, and there, in a secluded part, let it remain."
The assembly was now disbanded and broken up by royal authority. The masses began to move homeward with deep astonishment. The golden image was lost sight of, and the miraculous deliverance of the three Hebrews was the all-absorbing theme. The priests of Belus were utterly confounded. This mighty demonstration of the power of Jehovah soon spread throughout the land. The numerous Hebrew captives were treated with much more kindness; thousands of Chaldeans lost all confidence in their gods, and learned to pay their homage at the shrine of Jehovah.
Daniel returned from the court of Pharaoh, after having arranged all things to the satisfaction of his sovereign, in whose estimation he now stood higher than ever. The three brothers were held in awe and reverence by all, and the king communed with them freely on all subjects. Their lives were rendered comfortable, and, according to the late decree of the king, whosoever dared to speak disrespectfully of their God did so at his imminent peril.
The priests of Belus kept much within their temple, and whenever they appeared in public, it was with far greater modesty and much less arrogance. They were fast losing the confidence of the populace, and the worship of the gods was greatly disregarded. The great Rab Mag was universally admired, and his three companions stood above reproach.
FOR some years after that wonderful display of Divine power, as exhibited before vast thousands on the plains of Dura, Chaldea was comparatively free from wars.
The king contented himself with adding to the already magnificent grandeur of the seat of his empire. Thousands were continually employed in carrying out the schemes developed by his inventive mind, and no sooner was one mighty enterprise completed, than another project was brought forward. But the monarch's vast ambition was not to be satisfied by the erection of massive walls and costly edifices. The fire of war and the love of conquest were not yet quenched in his soul. He had a strong passion for the din of battle.
Tyre was a strong and opulent city on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. It was one of the most celebrated maritime cities of antiquity, and remarkable for its power and grandeur. Hitherto, it had never been subject to any foreign power. It was built by the Sidonians, two hundred and forty years before the Temple of Jerusalem. For Sidon being taken by the Philistines of Askelon, many of its inhabitants made their escape in ships, and founded the city of Tyre; and for this reason we find it called in Isaiah, the "Daughter of Sidon." But the daughter soon surpassed the mother in grandeur, riches, and power.
Toward this proud city of Syria, the King of Babylon, in the twenty-first year of his reign, led his conquering legions, with full confidence of a speedy surrender. With a powerful army he encamped before the city, and soon commenced his attack, which was vigorously repelled. It became evident to the Chaldeans that the subduing of Tyre was not the work of a few days, or even a few months. His troops suffered incredible hardships, so that, according to the Prophet's expression, "every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled." Not until after a protracted siege of thirteen years was the city conquered, and even then Nebuchadnezzar found nothing to recompense him for the suffering of his army and the expense of the campaign.
Soon after the surrender of Tyre, the King of Babylon led his forces into Egypt, where he was much more successful than on the shores of the Mediterranean. A large number of provinces were brought to subjection, and thousands of captives were carried to Chaldea and distributed along the shores of the Euphrates.
The king of Babylon "was at rest in his own house, and flourishing in his own palace." The thoughts of the past, present, and future deeply occupied his mind. The past of his own history had been crowned with unparalleled success. The present was all that his heart could wish. He found himself surrounded with glory and magnificence that completely eclipsed the splendor of all other nations combined. The future—ah, the future! Who could penetrate its darkness? Could it be possible that the predictions of Belteshazzar, in regard to the future, were true? Was the glory of Chaldea to be trampled in the dust? Was the kingly line of Nebuchadnezzar to be broken? Was not the kingdom at last established on an immovable foundation? But, had he not, at different times, been convinced that Belteshazzar had been instructed by the God of heaven in regard to the future? Tea, truly! But many years had passed since then, and his greatness had been daily increasing. The king would have gladly persuaded himself that all was clear in the future, but it was beyond his power, and under a degree of perplexity he threw himself upon his couch. A few wandering thoughts, and the king was asleep.
. . . . . . .
"Another dream of troubles!" cried the king, while his countenance bespoke alarm. "Do the gods, indeed, delight in my misery? Why must I be thus tormented? Aye! a dream big with meaning! A vision surcharged with great events! But who will show me the interpretation thereof? Where is Belteshazzar! But why may not my Chaldean wise men answer the purpose? Yea! Let them have the first trial. Why do I thus tremble? Whom shall I fear? 'Hew down the tree!' O, ye gods, how that voice sounded! 'Let his portion be with the beasts, in the grass of the earth!' What meaneth it? Why do I fear to call Belteshazzar first? Is it not best at once to know the worst? But let my Chaldeans have the first trial;" and the king called a young page into his presence.
"Young man, where is thy father?"
"My father is in the adjoining chamber, O king."
"Call him hither without delay."
The page hastened from the presence of the king, and presently a venerable-looking person walked into the apartment, and bowed in reverence before the king.
"Arioch, it is my desire to see the wise men of Babylon as soon as possible at this apartment. Go! Haste thee! for the command of the king is urgent. Let them be native Chaldeans who appear before me at this time; trouble not Belteshazzar. If I need his services I shall call for him hereafter."
The officer, faithful to his charge, was soon on his way to summon the wise men to appear before the king.
It was not long before a number of the Chaldeans stood in the presence of the king, ready to learn his will and do his pleasure.
"Are ye able to give me the correct interpretation of a wonderful dream?" asked the king, in a doubtful tone.
"We surely can, O king!" replied the chief of the wise men; "we derive our knowledge from the gods, and the interpretation of the dream must be sure."
"But what proof do your gods give of their own existence?" asked the king, looking sternly on the chief.
"Our gods made the world, O king!"
"Some gods, or God, made the world; but why not the God of Israel? Can you point to any miraculous interference of your gods in the affairs of mortals? If I have forgotten my dream, can ye, through your gods, restore it? And if, in case ye fail, I should cast you all into a fiery furnace, would your gods preserve you unhurt in the midst of the fire? Answer me!"
"Thy servants," said the trembling magician, "from their youth up have been taught to reverence and adore the gods of Chaldea. That there is a God in Israel, we are ready to admit; and far be it from us to hide from the king our convictions that this God has given us infallible proofs of his power. This we do not admit before the populace: but why should we dissemble before our king? Since the issuing of thy decree on the plains of Dura, we have never said aught against the God of the Hebrews. Let thy servants, I pray thee, find favor in thy sight, and deal not with us harshly!"
"At this time," said the king, "ye are not required to restore a lost dream. I have the vision in all its parts, and, if ye are able, ye may give me the interpretation. If ye are not able, confess your ignorance, or, by the God of Israel, I will pour my vengeance on every head!"
The king then carefully rehearsed his dream in their presence. When he had finished he arose, and, approaching the head magician, with a look that made him tremble, he asked:
"Canst thou or thy comrades give me the interpretation of this wonderful dream?"
"The king's dreams are at all times of a very peculiar nature, and far different from ordinary dreams," replied the prince of the magicians. "The king demands honesty at our hands, and may the gods forbid that we should be otherwise. We are not able to give thee the interpretation of thy wonderful dream. We fall on thy mercy! Oh, deal not harshly with thy servants!"
"Thy simple honesty hath at this time saved thy life and the lives of thy companions! Go your way, and bear in mind that ye are a band of hypocritical pretenders. I have demanded your service for the last time!"
The magicians hurried away from the palace, thankful that they had escaped so well; and nevermore were their services required in the presence of the king.
"Much as I expected! The vile, deceitful race! The gods! Much they know about the gods. Have we any gods? I have no proof of any god but the God of the Hebrews. Belteshazzar must at last explain the vision! Why do I dread the knowledge of it? Is this trembling the result of fear? The day is damp and cold. 'Hew down the tree!' That voice was solemn! Why must I remain in this suspense? I will know the worst! If the God of the Hebrews has a quarrel with the King of Babylon, let me know it! Without delay I'll send for Belteshazzar."
The prime minister, always obedient to the demands of his sovereign, hastened into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, where he was received with the most profound respect.
"O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. Thus were the visions of my head on my bed: I saw a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth; the leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. I saw in the vision of my head upon my bed, and behold a watcher, and a holy one came down from heaven! He cried aloud, and said thus, 'Hew down the tree and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit; let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches. Nevertheless, leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones, to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.' This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation; but thou art able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee."
Daniel was astonished, and his thoughts greatly troubled him.
"Belteshazzar," said the king, "let not the dream or the interpretation thereof give thee pain or uneasiness."
"My lord," said Daniel, "the dream is to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies. The tree that thou sawest, which grew and was strong, whose height reached into the heavens, and the sight thereof to all the earth, it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong; for thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth. And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, 'Hew down the tree and destroy it, yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with the band of iron and brass in the tender grass of the field, and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field till seven times pass over him,' this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High which is come upon my lord the king: that they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven; and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth to whomsoever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots, thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility."
The king, conscious that the Hebrew was under peculiar inspiration, bowed in solemn reverence, dismissed him in the most respectful manner, and then threw himself on his couch, in the deepest agony of mind.
"The fates are against me! What shall I do? Shall I weep like a woman, and sob like a corrected child? Shall the King of Babylon, the great conqueror of nations, turn at last to be a coward? Shall the great sovereign of Chaldea say he is sorry, beg pardon of the gods, and thus reduce himself to the level of a common subject? Never! Let all the gods hear it! Never! 'Driven from among men!' Who shall be able to drive Nebuchadnezzar? 'Eat grass as oxen!' O, ye gods, is not that laughable? And yet I cannot laugh! Let it come! I fear not the gods! Ah, do I not? I fear not the gods, but still I have a dread of that one God. I destroyed his temple, I plundered his sanctuary, I carried his vessels to the house of my god, in the land of Shinar. Is he about to retaliate? I shall see. Shall I humble myself before a strange god? Shall I now, after having reached the very pinnacle of fame and glory, dishonor myself in the eyes of my nobles? Nay! Sooner than this, I will brave the vengeance of all the gods and nobly perish in the unequal conflict!"
. . . . . . .
Twelve months passed after the King of Babylon was troubled by his wonderful dream. His grief was not of long duration, and this period had been one of more than usual gayety and hilarity in the great city. The king gave entertainments on a magnificent scale; and, in the midst of his dazzling splendor, the mournful predictions of Belteshazzar were well-nigh forgotten. Occasionally they would rush to the monarch's mind, but with a desperate effort they would be banished as troublesome intruders and unwelcome guests.
. . . . . . .
The day was beautifully clear. The king, about the ninth hour of the day, walked upon the roof of his high palace. Babylon, in all its glory, stood before him, its massive walls bidding defiance to all the surrounding nations. The temple of Belus, with its famous tower, stood forth in majestic grandeur, together with the hanging gardens, decorated with all that was beautiful and lovely in nature. The city's famous buildings he could count by thousands, and its rich palaces by tens of thousands. The predictions of Daniel found way to the monarch's mind; but they were expelled by a proud spirit and stubborn will. His soul laughed to scorn the dark prophecy.
"What!" said the proud monarch, "does this look like 'eating grass like an ox'? Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? Who shall—" Hark! A voice speaks from the heavens! "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee, and they shall drive thee from among men; and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field; they shall make thee eat grass as oxen; and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou knowest that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men."
The voice ceased. The king uttered a loud, hysterical laugh, descended from his palace, and ran into the park, a raving maniac.
. . . . . . .
Stillness reigns in the home of Joram. No merry voices fall on the ear of the passer-by. The few that move around the premises tread carefully and silently, while solemnity settles on each countenance. The voice of song is hushed; the loud peals of melody are no longer heard; and for many a day the "Harp of Judah" has remained in its corner, and no delicate hand has swept its well-tuned strings. Inside of that mansion to-day you witness not that joy which is wont to pervade it. You perceive cheeks wet with tears, and bosoms heaving with sighs. The inmates converse together in whispers, and tread lightly. In an apartment richly furnished, into which the beams of the sun are not permitted to enter, we find assembled a large company of relatives and near friends. It is not an occasion of small import that calls them thus together. There we find Mathias, Perreeza, and their children. The amiable Jupheena is there, with her husband and sons and daughters. Venerable men and women are seen here and there.
But where to-night is Joram? Where is that benign countenance? Hush! Speak low, tread lightly! Disturb not the last moments of the dying Israelite! Joram is at the banks of Jordan. Already his feet are touching the cold waters.
The sick man turns on his pillow and faintly
"Mathias, why comes he not? Shall I not once more see my most excellent friend?"
"My dear father, he will ere long be here. The messenger is trustworthy, and will soon return."
"The journey of life is near its close. The holy hill is in sight. I pass through the vale of death on my way to the better land. Yonder is the home of the faithful. Sorrow and mourning shall flee away."
"He is here! He is here!" cried Jupheena.
"Has he arrived?" asked the sick man, in faint accents.
"Yea, father," replied Mathias, in soothing tones, "he has arrived."
"Thanks be to Jehovah!"
Presently, a man of venerable appearance, his hair silvered over with age, apparently a Chaldean, walked into the apartment. Jupheena was the first to greet him.
"Jehovah bless my lovely daughter!" whispered the aged man, as the tears coursed down his furrowed cheeks. For a moment he looked around upon the company with an earnestness of affection not easily described; then looking up to heaven, in trembling accents he broke forth:
"Oh, Jehovah, let the smiles of Thy countenance rest on these Thy chosen ones!"
The venerable man was then gently led by Mathias to the bedside.
A smile passed over the pale countenance of Joram, the fountain of his tears overflowed; he looked up to the face of his old friend, reached out his trembling hand, and cried:
"Ah! my good Barzello! thou hast come once more to see thy friend Joram, before he leaves for the spirit land."
"If thou art to go first," replied the old soldier, "we shall not long be separated; with me, also, the battle of life will soon be closed."
"I find, Barzello, that my race is well-nigh run! I am fast passing away. I have a strong impression that this day I shall join the society of immortals; therefore I thought fit to send for my best friend, to be with me in my dying moments. I am spared to see a good old age. For the last forty years my cup of joy has been often filled and running over. Jehovah has dealt with his servant in great kindness. The iniquities of my youth are forgiven—I am at peace with the God of Israel."
The sick man desired to be raised a little higher on his pillow.
"That is better. Now I can see you all. We must soon part; my sun is fast sinking, and in a few hours Joram will be gone. The chariot will soon call. I chide you not for your tears, for here on earth I know too well their value. In that bright world above where Jehovah dwells, and where angels spread their wings, no tears are found."
Joram, quite exhausted, closed his eyes, and deep silence for a while prevailed. He soon revived, and called for Perreeza.
"What can I do for my ever-dear uncle?" whispered Perreeza.
"One more little song, accompanied by the harp of Judah," said Joram, with a smile, "and I ask no more."
"Perreeza greatly fears that it will disturb thee."
"Nay, my sweet child, thy Uncle Esrom was never yet disturbed by the sound of melody. Sing to me that little song thy aunt so dearly loved."
"Oh, my dear uncle," whispered the weeping Perreeza, "I fear it is beyond my power to sing. I am filled with weeping. Yet, at thy request, I will make the effort. Oh, God of my fathers, help me!"
"He will, my child," faintly answered the old Israelite; "get thy harp and sing."
Once again the old harp was brought from its corner. Perreeza wiped away her tears, and succeeded in conquering her emotions. She took the familiar instrument in her arms, and sat at a little distance from the dying man. Joram cast one look on the old harp, smiled, and gently closed his eyes. Perreeza softly touched the chords and sang:
"Father, send Thy heavenly chariot, Call Thy weeping child away; Long I've waited for Thy coming, Why, O why, this long delay? Of this earth my soul is weary, Yonder lies the better land; Fain my soul would leave its prison, Glad to join the glorious band.
"Thrice ten thousand happy spirits Sing Thy praise in heaven above; All arrayed in robes of glory. Crowned with righteousness and love; Old companions wait to greet me, Smilingly they bid me come. Father, send Thy heavenly chariot, Call Thy weary pilgrim home.
"Earth is fading from my vision; Brightness gathers o'er my head: Thrilling strains from heavenly harpers Sound around my dying bed. Blessed land of saints and angels! Here I can no longer stay; Yonder comes my Father's chariot; Rise, my soul, and haste away!"
The song was ended. The harp was laid aside.
"Did my father enjoy the song?" soothingly inquired Mathias. Joram made no reply. The "chariot" had arrived, and Joram had departed! As the last vibrations of the "harp of Judah" died on the ear, his soul was wafted on angelic pinions, and introduced to the melody around the throne of God.
AFTER the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, his son, acted as regent. The misfortune of the Chaldean monarch cast a deep gloom over the vast empire. He fell at the zenith of his popularity, and the government throughout felt the shock. Evil-Merodach was far from being a favorite, and among all classes in the nation there seemed to be a growing dissatisfaction. This feeling would have been immeasurably greater had it not been for the wisdom and vigilance of Belteshazzar, his prime minister. Of Daniel's wisdom the regent had no doubt. From his father he had learned all the particulars in regard to Daniel's interpretation of the dream; and, seeing before his eyes daily a literal fulfillment of its awful predictions, he could not but hold the interpreter in much reverence.
Nearly seven years passed without witnessing events of special importance in the empire. During most of this time Nebuchadnezzar exhibited all the signs of a maniac. As he showed no disposition to injure those around him, he was permitted to go at large, within royal inclosures. His treatment was much according to the direction of Daniel, who was the only person at the palace of whom the maniac king appeared to have the least recognition. He carefully shunned the presence of every one, and the only thing that appeared to give him satisfaction and check his raving was the permission to be a companion of his oxen, that quietly fed in the palace park. Here it may be well to remark that the peculiar feature of the king's insanity was the strange conviction that he was an ox; and, under this conviction, he would endeavor to imitate that animal in all its motions and voices. He was never confined or bound with chains, but permitted to enjoy himself as his maniac fancies might dictate. This was not the result of indifference, but quite the contrary. The king was held in much respect at the palace, even in his deplorable insanity; and there was much faith placed in the opinion of Daniel in regard to the king's final restoration to his reason and the kingdom. Among many of Daniel's Chaldean friends at the court the opinion was becoming prevalent that the interesting occasion was not far distant.
. . . . . . .
The afternoon was fair and beautiful. It was about the ninth hour of the day. Daniel, weary with his arduous duties within, thought fit, in order to invigorate both his body and mind, to take a walk in the beautiful groves of the palace park. So he laid his papers aside, and was soon under the refreshing breezes of the open skies. The scene was truly delightful. The sun was gradually losing the intensity of its heat, and slowly sinking toward the western hills. Nature was adorned in beauty and innocence. The sweet choristers of the trees chanted their melodious sonnets on the high branches, and the parks rang with the sound of praise from the feathered tribe. The river rolled majestically along, while its shores were strewed with the choicest roses and flowers. On the banks of "proud Euphrates' stream," the Rab Mag sat down and gave freedom to his thoughts.
"His paths are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out! He reigns in heaven above, and on earth beneath. Jehovah is God alone. By him kings rule and princes govern. He taketh down one and setteth up another. O Lord, thou art very great, and highly exalted above all gods. In thy hands are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is thine also. I adore thee, O my God! I praise thee, O Jehovah! From my youth the God of Israel has been my help. He has brought me through ways I have not known. How terrible is his wrath toward those who rebel against him! How great his love to all that fear him! He bringeth down the proud look, and causeth his enemies to be ashamed. The scepters of kings are broken in pieces. Jehovah is King of kings! Babylon, with all her glory, shall become a desolation. Her lofty towers shall fall, her walls shall be destroyed, her palaces shall become heaps of ruin, and her idol temples shall be no more!"
Such were the meditations of Daniel, when his attention was called to a rustling noise in the foliage, on his right, a short distance from the spot on which he sat. He looked, and beheld the uncouth form of the maniac king slowly approaching him. The sight affected the Hebrew's heart. His eyes became moistened with tears. The punishment was just, he knew; but in the history of that degraded monarch, he could find many things to admire. In other days he had a heart that throbbed with kind and warm emotions. Had he not in the main been kind to him and his three companions? And, in the midst of envy and jealousy, had he not kept them, foreigners as they were, in the highest offices in the gift of the government? He had. And Daniel's heart throbbed with pity as he beheld the brutish antics of one who was once so powerful and intelligent. The king gradually approached the spot where Daniel sat, without observing him, sometimes standing erect, other times running on all fours, sometimes uttering incoherent expressions, other times bellowing like an ox.
"God of my fathers," silently cried Daniel, "let this suffice! According to thy promise restore the unhappy king to his reason, and let his courtiers know that there is no God like unto thee."
By this time the maniac stood close by the side of his courtier, but as yet he had not observed him.
"Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon!" cried Daniel, with a loud voice.
The maniac was startled, looked up to the face of the minister for a moment, and cried, in loud accents, "Belteshazzar! Belteshazzar!" and, as if greatly terrified, ran. He soon stopped and stood at a distance, with his wild, flashing eyes steadfastly fixed on the form of the Rab Mag.
Daniel arose, and slowly directed his footsteps towards the spot. He was glad to find that the king remained stationary. He approached within a respectful distance of the maniac, uncovered his head, made his humble obeisance as in days of yore, and cried:
"O king, live forever!"
The king, in silence, continued to gaze on Daniel, with a wild, vacant stare.
"Jehovah, the God of Israel!" cried Daniel, pointing with his finger to the skies.
"J-e-h-o-v-a-h!" slowly whispered the king, gazing upward.
The Hebrew now ventured nearer the king, fell upon his knees, and "with his face toward Jerusalem," sent his urgent, silent petition to the God of Israel, in behalf of his unfortunate sovereign. Daniel had not been long in prayer before the king, with restored reason, fell down by his side and loudly rejoiced and praised the God of heaven. The set time had come; the prayer of the man of God had, indeed, prevailed; the lost was found, the maniac was restored.
The restoration of reason to the king was brought about by the same miraculous power that had deprived him of it, and it was accomplished in the same sudden manner. He was not only restored to the right use of his faculties, but also to a perfect recollection of the past. The dream, its interpretation, with all subsequent transactions up to the very day of his insanity, were brought clearly to his mind; but since that moment all was one dark void. In mercy, not a vestige was permitted to remain to embitter his after years.
The most important thing that now appeared to occupy the monarch's mind was the life and health of his family, and the length of the period of his insanity.
"Tell me, O Belteshazzar, how long has the king of Babylon remained in this degraded condition?"
"Seven years of deep calamity, O king, have passed over thy head!"
"Seven years!" cried the king, with a trembling voice, while his tears were fast falling. "O thou God of heaven, thou art just in all thy ways! But are the members of my family spared to see the restoration of the king?"
"They are all spared and in good health, O king, and will be overjoyed to see thee restored to thy throne."
"Jehovah is the only God! He ruleth among the armies of the heavens, and the inhabitants of the earth. Let all nations praise the God of Israel! But come, Belteshazzar, let us bend our footsteps towards the palace."
Daniel threw one of his loose garments over the almost naked form of the king, side by side, they started towards the palace royal. On their way thither, they were met by the captain of the guard. The old soldier was overwhelmed with joy to hear once more the familiar voice of his beloved king. He fell before him, and would have embraced his feet if permitted. He begged of the king to remain where he was with Belteshazzar, and permit him to hasten to the palace to herald the joyful news, and return with the king's old guard to escort him home. The measure struck the king favorably, and Arioch, with a bounding heart, was on his way. The regent, Evil-Merodach, was first apprised of the fact, which he received with demonstrations of joy.
The news was quickly learned by hundreds, and the palace rang with shouts of rejoicing. The regent, with the guard, was soon on the march for the place where Arioch had left the king. When they reached the spot, the monarch arose and gently bowed. His son now ran up to his father, fell on his neck, and they warmly embraced each other. The old royal guard, as soon as their emotions were partially subsided, approached as near their sovereign as they could, and, at a given signal from their captain, they broke forth in one grand shout that made the forest ring. The king was deeply moved; he endeavored to speak, but was not able.
The procession was on its way. The king with his son and the prime minister, was drawn in the royal chariot. Shouts of joy echoed on the high turrets of the royal mansion as the restored monarch entered once more through its massive portals, to sit on the throne of his empire. Heralds were hurried into every part of the city to acquaint officials with the king's restoration, and on that night the great metropolis of Chaldea was brilliantly illuminated, and loud shouts of rejoicing burst forth from thousands of gladdened hearts.
The king resumed the responsible duties of his government amid the warm congratulations and the best wishes of his courtiers and subjects. New life was infused into every department of state, and the metropolis once more appeared to breathe the breath of former years.
Belteshazzar was now to the king a constant and confiding friend. They conversed together freely on all points, and no measure was put forth without the consent and approbation of the Rab Mag.
In regard to the God of Israel no doubt remained longer in the mind of the king. At last he was wholly saved from idolatry. The process of his conversion had been a severe one, but in the hands of Jehovah it had proved successful. His vanity was conquered, his haughtiness slain, the pride of his heart subdued; he was a meek and lowly worshiper at the shrine of the God of Israel.
The king was getting well stricken in years, and he was conscious that he was not long for earth. Therefore, like a wise man, he bestowed much thought on that world into which he was fast hastening. His worldly ambition was at an end, he appeared but seldom in public, and was much given to retirement and meditation. He had at last learned to see the things of earth in their true light, and the enthusiasm of his younger friends was viewed with a smile and a sigh. He clearly saw in the distance the glory of Babylon brought to the dust, and its majestic halls resounding with the voice of revelry from the sons and daughters of strangers. Of this the reformed king could not think without painful emotions; but with resignation he bowed to the Will divine.
ON THE death of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach took the throne. Of this man we have said but little. He acted as regent during his father's Insanity. He was a person of a low, groveling mind, and no sooner was he established on his throne than he began to give signs that the scepter was in the hands of a profligate tyrant. Contrary to the request of his dying father, he neglected the weighty matters of the empire, and plunged into dissipation and gluttonous revelry.
As with the commencement of Nebuchadnezzar's reign began the real glory of Chaldea, so with his death the glory departed, and the empire was soon in a rapid decline. No feature in the character of the new king was in the least calculated to command either the love or the admiration of his subjects. He was inwardly cursed by the nation, and feared only on account of his cruelty. Of Daniel he had some dread, and over him the Hebrew had some control. He was well convinced, from what he had seen in his father's history, that Daniel was not to be slighted, and that among all the wise men of the realm, there was none like him. And, moreover, he was well aware that his superior wisdom had had much to do in elevating the empire to its present high position. Through the influence of this man of God, the wicked king dealt with comparative mildness toward the captive Hebrews so numerous within the realm.
The reign of this monarch was of short duration. Some of his own relatives, conspiring against him, put an end to his existence; and so died Evil-Merodach, unwept by the nation, and Nerriglisser, one of the chief conspirators, reigned in his stead.
The three brothers, since the death of Nebuchadnezzar, had seen best to retire from public life. In Babylon they were greatly beloved, and considered as the peculiarly favored of the gods, and over whom no mortal had control.
Nerriglisser, immediately on his accession to the throne, made great preparations for war against the Medes, which preparations lasted for three years. Cyaxeres, king of the Medes, seeing the hostile attitude of the Babylonians, sent to Persia, imploring the help of his young nephew, Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, king of Persia, who had married his sister Mandana. Now Cyrus was beautiful in person, and still more lovely in the qualities of his mind; was of sweet disposition, full of good nature and humanity, and always had a great desire to learn and a noble ardor for glory. He was never afraid of danger nor discouraged by any hardship or difficulty. He was brought up according to the laws and customs of the Persians, which were excellent in those days with respect to education. With the consent of his father, he readily complied with the wish of his uncle, and, at the head of 30,000 well-trained Persians, he marched into Media and thence to Assyria, to meet the forces of Nerriglisser, king of Babylon, and the forces of Croesus, king of the Lydians. The armies met. The Chaldeans were routed. Croesus fled, and Nerriglisser, the king of Babylon, was slain in the action. His son, Loboros-barchod, succeeded to the throne.
This was a very wicked prince. Being naturally of the most vicious inclinations, he now indulged them without restraint, as if he had been invested with sovereign power only to have the privilege of committing with impunity the most infamous and barbarous actions. He reigned but five months; his own subjects, conspiring against him, put him to death, and Belshazzar, the son of Evil-Merodach, reigned in his place.
Since the death of Evil-Merodach, and during the reign of his two successors, Daniel had retired to private life, and was but little spoken of at public places. This king, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, led a life of dissipation and profligacy.
In the meantime, the fame of the Persian prince was spreading far and wide. His armies proved victorious on every shore; and, to the faithful Hebrews, who discerned the signs of the times, his conquests were hailed with inward joy. Cyrus for some years had tarried in Asia Minor, and had reduced all the nations that inhabited it to subjection, from the AEgean Sea to the River Euphrates. Then he proceeded to Syria and Arabia, which he also subdued.
The fortifications of Babylon, since the death of Nebuchadnezzar, had been strengthened, and now the work of fortifying was carried on with great vigor. Belshazzar, if from no other motive than fear, gave all encouragement to this kind of improvement, and during his reign prodigious works of this nature were completed. He was well aware that the famous Persian had his eye upon him, and that the besieging of the city was but a question of time. He therefore made all preparations for a formidable attack. Provisions of all kinds, from all parts of the country, were stored within the city in great abundance, and everything was put in readiness to withstand a protracted siege.
Cyrus, whom divine Providence was to make use of, was mentioned in the Scriptures by his name one hundred and fifty years before he was born in these words:
"Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron; and I will give thee the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places; that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isa. 45: 1-4).
THE army of Cyrus had already reached the capital of Chaldea. The vast plain before the city swarmed with moving thousands of Medes and Persians. At this time no warriors were finer in appearance than the battlemen of the Persian prince. Their discipline had reached to an almost inconceivable degree of perfection. The wishes and desires of their great commander had become their law; and each one vied with the other in rendering obedience to his orders. Their fame had spread throughout lower Asia, and through many parts of Assyria.
But the Babylonians thought themselves so well prepared for this emergency that the numerous legions of Cyrus failed to alarm them. Their walls they considered proof against any attack, and they had a sufficient amount of provision in the city for twenty years. They laughed to scorn the demand of the Persians, and loudly ridiculed them from the city walls. Belshazzar and his counselors, considering themselves secure, gave way to their depraved appetites. The palace was one scene of debauchery and revelry by day and by night.
The Persian general soon saw that an assault on such formidable defenses would be useless. A project was conceived in his mind. He made the inhabitants believe that he intended to reduce the city by famine. To this end he caused a line of circumvallation to be drawn quite around the city with a large and deep ditch; and, that his troops might not be over-fatigued, he divided his army into twelve bodies, and assigned to each of them its month of guarding the trenches. The great ditch was completed, but the reveling Babylonians little thought of its real design.
Belshazzar, the king, made a feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. This feast was one of great splendor. The most spacious and magnificent rooms in the richest city in the world were crowded with rank and beauty. Learning, aristocracy and royalty were there. Precious stones and costly perfumery filled the salon with dazzling luster and sweet fragrance. Wit sparkled with the sparkling of the cups, and reason flowed with the flowing of the wine. They drank toasts of enthusiastic patriotism; they sang songs of unbounded loyalty, and shouted defiance to every foe. Strains of melody poured forth from an hundred instruments, and hilarity and excessive mirth beamed forth from every countenance. The high praises of the gods of Chaldea, with rapturous shouts in honor to their king, mingled together and broke forth from a thousand tongues. The besieging army and its commander, together with the God of the Hebrews, were made the subjects of their keenest sarcasm.
This feast was given in honor of Belshazzar's birth; and we may easily judge that flattery without measure was poured into his willing ear. On this occasion, from the very nature of the festival, much was expected from the monarch himself, and it was very evident that he was fully determined that in this they should not be disappointed. He spoke in this vein:
"All hail, brave Babylonians! Welcome! Thrice welcome to the presence of your king! Before me on this night I behold the pride and glory of Babylon. Here are my nobles who have at all times distinguished themselves by their valor and great bravery. Let us banish gloom, and let our hearts overflow with mirth! We may well congratulate ourselves on the perfect safety of Babylon. Our walls are impregnable and our possessions are abundant. We laugh to scorn the silly movements of the Persians that parade before the city. Dark predictions there are, I know, in regard to the future of Chaldea, but these Hebrew delusions have well-nigh vanished. I am sorry to confess that my royal grandsire gave too much countenance to these groundless delusions, in the preferment of the Hebrew Belteshazzar with his three companions to high offices within the province of Babylon. This, my lords, was a great mistake of the past, for which we have already too dearly paid. Since I came to the throne, this intermeddling of foreigners with the affairs of the nation has received no countenance; and happy am I to know that to-day all offices under the government are entrusted to none but native Chaldeans. In this I do not wish to cast a shade on the memories of the illustrious dead, for truly no monarch ever distinguished himself more than my lamented grandfather. The trophies of his victories are to-day visible throughout the empire. To him, indeed, the gods of Chaldea were propitious, and unmistakable proof they gave of their superiority to the gods of other nations. We have heard much of the renowned God of the Hebrews! But, under the protection of our own, we bid defiance to all other gods! Who is the God of Israel that I should fear him? Did not my grandfather, under the guidance of the gods of Chaldea, enter into his territory, destroy his city and burn his temple? Why did he not then vindicate his power and glory? Why permit the vessels of his temple to be carried into Babylon, and there deposited in the temple of Belus? Ah, my lords, those vessels were worthy of a more trusty god! They are beautiful to behold, and would well become an occasion like the present. Surely this is well thought! Let the vessels of the temple of the God of Israel be brought hither, and from them let us drink wine in honor of the gods of Chaldea! Bring them hither in haste! My thirst increases with the thought! All praise to our matchless gods! Again I say, let us banish gloom, and let us be filled with mirth! But here, indeed, come the temple vessels of the God of Israel! Bring them hither. Look ye here, Babylonians! Saw ye ever anything more beautiful? Such fine specimens of art as these must be rendered serviceable in the employ of more worthy gods! Let them be filled with wine! Let us drink to the gods of the empire; and, if there is a God in Israel, let him come to the rescue! We defy his power, Chaldeans! These Hebrews among us must be limited in their privileges. The worship of their imaginary God, if at all permitted, must be on a more private scale. They are corrupting in their influence, and their liberties must be restricted. This I have accomplished in a measure, and, by the gods, I swear that in this my pleasure must be realized to the full! These foreigners have too long lived in ease, and many of them have been unwisely elevated to fill the most responsible offices in the gift of the government, to the exclusion of Chaldeans and more worthy men. Of this We shall hear no more complaint. I have cut short the work, and not one Hebrew remains in office within the empire. Babylonians, in this has not the king met your wishes? Your joyous looks and merry countenances answer 'yea!' Let this then be our motto, 'Chaldeans to rule Chaldea!' Drink! Drink freely! Drink to the gods! Is there a God in Israel? Let him come and claim the vessels of his sanctuary! Oh, the wine tastes delicious from these thy golden goblets! Oh, thou God of Israel! Ha! ha! ha! More wine! Let us rejoice and be glad, and drink defiance to all gods save the gods of Chaldea! Who shall Belshazzar fear? What god can alarm the king of Bab—"
The vessel fell from the monarch's hand! Paleness gathered on his brow! A sudden trembling shook his whole frame! A cry of terror broke from his lips!
On the wall, over against the candlestick, there appeared the fingers of a man's hand, which wrote on the plaster. This was the mysterious sight that gave terror to the king and alarmed the merry throng.
"Haste ye!" cried the terrified king, "and bring hither my wise men, and let them give me the signification of the writing. Go in haste!"
Messengers were speedily hurried to summon the magicians and wise men into the presence of the monarch, and within a short period the whole "college" stood before the agitated sovereign in the midst of the banqueting hall.
"Look ye yonder!" said the king, with a trembling voice, pointing to the mysterious writing. "Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom."
The wise men gazed in silent astonishment on the writing, cast solemn glances at one another, and at last frankly confessed that it was written in a language with which they had no acquaintance—peradventure, understood only by the gods.
"What shall I do?" cried the king, in deep agony. "I fear some awful calamity is about to befall me! A curse upon you pretenders' Depart from my presence! O ye gods, what shall I do?"
The great fear of the king had been made known to the queen-mother, the famous Nitocris, wife of Nebuchadnezzar. She hastened to the banquet chamber, where she found all in the greatest consternation, especially the king.
"O king, live forever!" cried the queen-mother. "Let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor thy countenance thus be changed in the presence of thy mighty lords, lest hereafter they despise thy fear. There is a man in thy kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and, in the days of thy grandfather, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him, whom the king, Nebuchadnezzar, thy grandfather—I say the king himself—made master of the magicians, astrologers and soothsayers; and this was a sure sign of his superior wisdom. This great man is not found among thy nobles. Since in thy great wisdom thou didst see fit to deprive all Hebrews of office, this mighty Daniel, whom thy grandfather called Belteshazzar, has been seen but seldom. But be it known to thee, O king, that he is not utterly forgotten."
Without delay messengers were sent to the house of Daniel, and in a short time a venerable person, with his hair silvered over, slowly marched into the banqueting hall, and, without the least embarrassment, stood in the presence of the pale and trembling Belshazzar.
"Art thou that Daniel who art of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my grandfather brought from Judah? I have even heard of thee that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellence are found in thee. And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known unto me the interpretation thereof; but they could not show the interpretation of the thing. Now, if thou canst read the writing and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom."
Then Daniel answered and said before the king:
"Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another. Yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known unto him the interpretation.
"O thou king! the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor. All people, nations and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne and his glory was taken from him; and he was driven from the sons of men, and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. And thou, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thy heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou and thy lords, thy wives and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood and stone, which see not, nor bear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, thou hast not glorified.
"This is the interpretation of the thing. Mene—God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it; Tekel—thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres—thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
. . . . . . .
As soon as Cyrus saw that the ditches, which they had long worked upon, were finished, he began to plan for the execution of his vast design, which as yet he had communicated to no one. He was informed that, in the city, on a certain day, a great festival was to be celebrated, and that the Babylonians, on occasions of that solemnity, were accustomed to pass the whole night in drunkenness and debauchery. Of this impious feast we have already spoken. Thus Providence furnished him with as fit an opportunity as he could desire. He therefore posted a part of his troops on that side where the river entered the city, and another part on that side where it went out, and commanded them to enter the city that very night by marching along the channel of the river as soon as ever they found it fordable. Having given all necessary orders, he exhorted his officers to follow him—that he was under the direction of the gods. In the evening he gave orders to open the great receptacles, or ditches, on both sides of the town, above and below, that the waters of the rivers might run into them. By this means the Euphrates was quickly emptied and its channel became dry. Then the two bodies of troops, according to their orders, went into the channels, the one commanded by Gobryas and the other by Gadates, and advanced toward each other without meeting any impediment.
Thus did these two bodies of troops penetrate into the very heart of the city without opposition. According to agreement, they met together at the royal palace, surprised the guard, and slew them. The company, hearing the tumult without, opened the door. The Persian soldiers rushed in. They were met by the king with his sword in hand. He was slain, and hundreds of his drunken associates shared the same fate. Thus terminated the great banquet of Belshazzar, where the God of heaven was wickedly blasphemed; and thus terminated the Babylonian empire, after a duration of two hundred and ten years from the first of Nabonassar's reign, who was the founder thereof.
IMMEDIATELY after the taking of Babylon, Cyrus ordered a day of public thanksgiving to the gods, for their wonderful favors and their kind interposition; and then, having assembled his principal officers, he publicly applauded their courage and prudence, their zeal and attachment to his person, and distributed rewards to his whole army. He also reviewed his forces, which were in a spirited condition. He found they consisted of 120,000 horse, 2,000 chariots armed with scythes, and 600,000 foot.
When Cyrus judged he had sufficiently regulated his affairs at Babylon, he thought proper to take a journey into Persia. On his way thither he went through Media, to visit Darius, to whom he carried many presents, telling him at the same time that he would find a noble palace at Babylon ready prepared for him whenever he should please to go thither. After a brief stay in Persia, he returned to Babylon, accompanied by his uncle, where they counseled together a scheme of government for the whole empire.
The fame of Daniel, as one who had served under so many kings in Babylon, and also as one to whom the gods had imparted a miraculous degree of wisdom, was spread throughout the city and provinces of Babylon; and, since his appearance before the king as the interpreter of the mysterious handwriting on the night of the fatal banquet, his name was held in great reverence by all the dignitaries of that city.
In a magnificent apartment of the king's palace in the conquered city of Babylon, sat together, in earnest conversation, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the hero of Persia.
"Thou well sayest that he is neither a Mede nor a Persian," said Cyrus, "neither is he a Chaldean. He was brought from the land of Judah, a captive, about the commencement of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. From what I can learn of his history, he was soon placed under tutors, and outstripped all his companions and became a great favorite of the, king. He was soon elevated to posts of honor, and, with the exception of short intervals, he has been the first officer in the kingdom for more than threescore years. He receives wonderful revelations from the gods, and the fall of Babylon came to pass according to his predictions. Now, uncle, to me it appears far more important to secure the services of an individual, be he even a foreigner, whose head is filled with wisdom and his heart with charity, than to place far inferior personages to fill important offices because they are Medes or Persians. We have many wise men among us, but among this people, whose manners and customs are so different from our own, I fear we have none that can rule with that profound wisdom which has always marked the course of this Hebrew sage. I consider him by far the safest man to appoint as the chief president."
"In this most surely the illustrious son of my brother shall be gratified," replied the Mede. "But why may we not have a short interview with this wonderful man, who appears to have more the attributes of a god than a mortal? Wouldst thou not be pleased to see him?"
"Then I shall send for him without delay."
A messenger was, therefore, hurried to the house of the ex-Prime Minister of the Babylonian empire.
The Hebrew soon made his appearance, and such was the calm dignity of his bearing, as he slowly walked into the presence of his superiors, that both the Mede and the Persian unconsciously found themselves on their feet to receive him.
"Our distinguished friend has readily complied with our request," said the Persian, beckoning Daniel to a seat on his right.
"Throughout the days of my pilgrimage it has been my great pleasure to render strict obedience to the will of my superiors in all things consistent with the law of my God."
"Then thou considerest the law of thy God as having stronger claims on thy obedience than the laws of thy king?"
"The law of Jehovah is supreme! By that law my life has been shaped; and now, at its close, it is surely my joy and consolation."
"Precious sentiments from a noble Hebrew!" cried Cyrus, with feeling. "And how long hast thou been a resident of Babylon?"
"Threescore and six years have passed away since thy servant bade adieu to his native hills in the land of Judah, and came to this great city of Babylon. The companions of my early days have mostly passed away, and soon thy servant shall follow them."
"I trust that such a life shall be precious in the sight of the gods for many years to come. Such is thy deep experience in the affairs of state, that we have purposed in our hearts to appoint thee first president of the provinces. Is Belteshazzar willing to serve the king in this capacity, and shed honor upon the joint reign of the Medes and Persians?"
"My life, for the short period I may tarry among mortals, if ye consider me worthy, will be consecrated to your service."
"Then, O Belteshazzar," answered Darius, "thou art, by our united power and authority, appointed chief of the presidents. May the gods be thy support!"
Soon after his appointment, Daniel, in humble reverence, left the presence of the royal dignitaries, and slowly directed his footsteps towards his own mansion.
"The praises of this man have not yet reached his real merits, Cyrus," said Darius. "Thou well sayest. There is a striking peculiarity in all his movements that convinces the beholder that he is one among ten thousand."
"Thy stay in Babylon must be of short duration. Thou art soon off to the wars. I also must soon return to Media; therefore, this appointing of the presidents must be attended to without delay. On thee, I pray, let this business rest; and whomsoever, in thy wisdom, thou shalt appoint, be assured the appointment will receive my cordial approbation."
"In this I will strive to do the will of my kind uncle. I will call together my council, and the thing shall soon be accomplished."
. . . . . . .
In the mansion of one of the presidents, in a delightful part of the city of Babylon, sat together two men in deep and earnest conversation. One of these, whose name was Kinggron, was the owner of the superb mansion. The other, whose name was Fraggood, was his fellow president, under Daniel. On some point of great moment they appeared to be well agreed; while envy, mingled with anger, rested on each countenance.
"The king will soon be again in Babylon," said Kinggron, "and there is no time to be lost. Whatever measure we resort to in order to replace this old Hebrew, whose eye is upon us continually, must be attended to without delay, for the king's stay among us will be of short duration."
"As soon as our companions come, I trust we shall be able to contrive some measure that will remove this ever-watchful old Israelite far out of our way. Does it not ill become the wisdom of Cyrus the Persian to place over our heads this exacting old stranger, who is neither a Persian, Mede, nor even a Chaldean, but a Hebrew, brought to the country as a captive of war—and behold, surely he stands next to the king! One year has gone. We have borne our grief in painful silence. The time for action has arrived—he must be removed. Our combined wisdom must be brought to bear on this one point, and no rest must we find until it is fully accomplished."
The door opened and four persons silently walked into the apartment. They were of middle age, and appeared to be on familiar terms with the two presidents. They were all Medes, and appeared to be princes of the provinces, and it was very soon evident that with the two superior officers they were favorites.
"Let it be well understood," said Kinggron, "that this Daniel is greatly in the favor of Cyrus; and, moreover, that he stands high in the estimation of the king. Of Cyrus we have no present fear, seeing he is out in the wars. This is well, for before him we would not dare to complain. The king is in possession of far less power of discernment than he, and with him, I trust, we must be successful."
"But," answered Bimbokrak, "we must have some cause—something specific to offer as a ground of complaint against him before the king, or the movement will utterly fail, and prove disastrous to ourselves."
"Thou art right, my good friend," answered the president, "perfectly right. There must be a ground of complaint, and I trust we shall be able to find it. We must find it!"
AGAIN the great city of Babylon was all excitement, and expectation was raised to its highest pitch. The long-expected day had arrived, and the grand entry of Darius the Mede was momentarily expected by an enthusiastic and curious throng. By the Babylonians generally, their new king was regarded in a favorable light. Such had been the profligacy and tyranny of their late kings, that any change was hailed with gratitude; and, moreover, the mildness of Darius toward them on a previous visitation, when accompanied by Cyrus the Persian, had won their regard and affection. Thousands of the people had gone without the walls to meet him, and tens of thousands were seen thronging the public grounds in the vicinity of the royal palaces. At last the monarch's triumphal train appeared in the distance, the shining spears and bright armor of his guard glittering in the clear sunbeams. Nearer and nearer they approached, and entered the city; and, amid enthusiastic shouts, the monarch was escorted to the royal palace.
Darius the Mede was far from being a man of stern moral worth and true decision of character. He was rather weak in mind and easily flattered. Nevertheless he was a man of tender feelings, and cruelty was no part of his nature. He was greatly elated with the warm reception he had received at the hands of the Babylonians, and now or never was the time for the foul conspirators to try their power with the king.
The two presidents, accompanied by the four princes, soon made their appearance in the presence of the king.
"Welcome into the presence of your sovereign!" said the king in a pleasant mood. "Let the full desires of your hearts be made known to the king, and with pleasure he will grant your every wish."
"O king, live forever!" replied President Fraggood. "Thou art a mighty ruler. Thy dominions are unbounded. Thy rich possessions are found in every clime. The name of Darius falls on the ears of the kings of the earth, and they tremble. In thy wisdom thou hast set over the provinces of Babylon an hundred and twenty princes, and over these thou hast set three presidents, the first of whom is Daniel, a man mighty in wisdom and understanding. Now, O king, thou knowest that these provinces are united, and may the gods forbid that anything should ever transpire to dissolve this glorious union. Thy servants have some reason to fear that among some of the inhabitants of these northern provinces there is a disposition to think that the commands of the king are not absolute, and that in certain cases they may be disregarded. Far be it from us to think that this feeling prevails to any serious extent. We are happy to know that, in all the southern provinces, they are abundantly loyal; and, indeed, in the northern provinces this rebellious and dangerous disposition is confined to a few mischievous fanatics; but it is a poisonous plant, O king, that must be destroyed in the bud. If such looseness is permitted to go unpunished, how long will it be before our beloved union is shivered to ruined fragments? We have had this subject under our most serious consideration. We have thought over it with throbbing hearts. Some measure must be resorted to that will impress the inhabitants with the matchless greatness of our king, and convince them that, when he commands, he intends to be obeyed. Therefore, O king, with nothing but the good of the nation at heart, thy servants the three presidents, with all the princes, have enacted this law, and it is now presented to thee for thy royal signature and seal:
"'It is hereby enacted, for the safety of the Union: Let no person offer any prayer or petition to any god or man, except the king, for the space of thirty days; and whosoever shall violate this decree shall be taken and thrown into the den of lions.
"'Given under my hand, at the city of Babylon, on this twelfth day of the ninth month, and sealed with the seal of the Medes and Persians, which changeth not.'"
"In this, surely, there is nothing unreasonable," said the easily flattered king. "My wise presidents and faithful princes could never propose and advocate a measure that was not highly beneficial in its results. That which has any tendency to weaken the glorious bond of our union must be put down, and the safety of the united provinces must be placed on an immovable basis. If, in your superior wisdom, ye have judged that this law is called for, may the gods forbid that I should refuse to give it countenance."
"The measure shall be hailed with universal joy, O king, among all thy loyal subjects, and let those who dare disobey suffer the consequence! From this day the name of Darius the Mede shall be a terror to every evil doer, and all his enemies shall be put to shame."
"Let the king have the writing."
The writing was delivered over to the monarch by a hand that trembled with excitement.
"It is surely a peculiar enactment," said the king, as he took the pen in his hand. "I fail to see its strong points, but at this stage of my reign I am not prepared to oppose a measure that is the offspring of the combined wisdom of the realm. If my Persian nephew were present, I would deem it advisable to have his opinion; but, as he is out in the wars, I cannot avail myself of that."