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Beacon Lights of History, Volume II by John Lord

Part 3 out of 5

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prosperity of his nation. Where would have been the glories of Solomon
but for the genius and deeds of David? But more than any material
greatness are the imperishable lyrics he bequeathed to all ages and
nations, in which are unfolded the varied experiences of a good man in
his warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil,--those priceless
utterances which portray every passion that can move the human soul. He
has left bare to the contemplation of all ages all that a lofty soul can
suffer or enjoy, all that can be learned from folly and sin, all that
can stimulate religious life, all that can console in sorrow and
affliction. These experiences and aspirations he has embodied in lyric
poetry, on the whole the most exquisite in the Hebrew language, creating
a new world of religious thought and feeling, and furnishing the
foundation for Christian psalmody, to be sung from age to age throughout
the world. His kingdom passed away, but his Psalms remain,--a realm
which no civilization can afford to lose. As Moses lives in his
jurisprudence, Solomon in his proverbs, Isaiah in his prophecies, and
Paul in his epistles, so David lives in those poems that are still the
most expressive of all the forms in which the public worship of God is
still continued. Such poetry could not have been written, had not the
author experienced in his own life every variety of suffering and joy.

The literary excellence of the Psalms cannot be measured by the standard
of Greek and Roman lyrics. It is not seen in any of our present forms of
metrical composition. It is the mighty soaring of an exalted soul which
makes the Psalms so dear to us, and not their artificial structure.
They were made to reveal the ways of God to man and the life of the
human soul, not to immortalize heroes or dignify a human love. We may
not be able to appreciate in English form their original metrical skill;
but it is impossible that a people so musical as the Hebrews were
kindled into passionate admiration of them, had they not possessed great
rhythmic beauty. We may not comprehend the force of the melodic forms,
but we can appreciate the tenderness, the pathos, the sublimity, and the
intensity of the sentiments expressed. "In pathetic dirges, in songs of
jubilee, in outbursts of praise, in prophetic announcements, in the
agonies of contrition, in bursts of adoration, in the beatitudes of holy
bliss, in the enchanting calmness of Christian life," no one has ever
surpassed David, so that he was called "the sweet singer of Israel."
There is nothing pathetic in national difficulties, or endearing in
family relations, or profound in inward experience, or triumphant over
the fall of wickedness, or beatific in divine worship, which he does not
intensify. He raises mortals to the skies, though he brings no angels
down. Never does he introduce dogmas, yet his songs are permeated with
fundamental truths, and are a perpetual rebuke to pharisaism,
rationalism, epicureanism, and every form of infidel speculation that
with "the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." As the Psalter
was held to be the most inspiring poetry in the palmy days of the Hebrew
commonwealth, so it proved the most impressive part of the ritual of the
mediaeval Church, and is still the most valued of all the lyrics which
Protestantism has appropriated in the worship of God. And how potent,
how lasting, how valued is a good song! The psalmody of the Church will
last longer than its sermons; and when a song stimulates the loftiest
sentiments of which men are capable, how priceless it is, how
permanently it is embalmed in the heart of the world! "Thus have his
songs become the treasured property of mankind, resounding in the
anthems of different creeds, and carrying into every land that same
voice which on Mount Zion was raised in sorrowful longings or
ecstatic praise."

What a mighty power the songs of the son of Jesse still wield over the
affections of mankind! We lose sight at times of Moses, of Solomon, and
of Isaiah; but we never lose sight of David.

Such is the tribute which all nations bring,
O warrior, prophet, bard, and sainted king,
From distant ages to thy hallowed name,
Transcending far all Greek and Roman fame!
No pagan gods thy sacred songs invoke,
No loves degrading do thy strains provoke.
Thy soul to heaven in holy rapture mounts,
And joys seraphic in its bliss recounts.
O thou sweet singer of a favored race,
What vast results to thy pure songs we trace!
How varied and how rich are all thy lays
On Nature's glories and Jehovah's ways!
In loftiest flight thy kindling soul surveys
The promised glories of the latter days,
When peace and love this fallen world shall bind,
And richest blessings all the race shall find.



ABOUT 993-953 B.C.

We associate with Solomon the culmination of the Jewish monarchy, and a
reign of unexampled prosperity and glory. He not only surpassed all his
predecessors and successors in those things which strike the imagination
as brilliant and imposing, but he had such extraordinary intellectual
gifts that he has passed into history as the wisest of ancient kings,
and one of the most favored of mortals.

Amid the evils which saddened the latter days of his father David, this
remarkable man grew up. His interests were protected by his mother
Bathsheba, an intriguing, ambitious, and beautiful woman, and his
education was directed by the prophet Nathan. He was ten years of age
when his elder brother Absalom rebelled, and a youth of fifteen to
twenty when he was placed upon the throne, during the lifetime of his
father and with his sanction, aided by the cabals of his mother, the
connivance of the high-priest Zadok, the spiritual authority of Nathan,
and the political ascendency of Benaiah, the most valiant of the
captains of Israel after Joab. He became king in a great national
crisis, when unfilial rebellion had undermined the throne of David, and
Adonijah, next in age to Absalom, had sought to steal the royal sceptre,
supported by the veteran Joab and Abiathar, the elder high-priest.

Solomon's first acts as monarch were to remove the great enemies of his
father and the various heads of faction, not sparing even Joab, the most
successful general that ever brought lustre on the Jewish arms. With
Abiathar, who died in exile, expired the last glory of the house of Eli;
and with Shimei, who was slain with Adonijah, passed away the last
representative of the royal family of Saul. Soon after Solomon repaired
to the heights of Gibeon, six miles from Jerusalem,--a lofty eminence
which overlooks Judaea, and where stood the Tabernacle of the
Congregation, the original Tent of the Wanderings, in front of which was
the brazen altar on which the young king, as a royal holocaust, offered
the sacrifice of one thousand victims. It was on the night of that
sacrificial offering that, in a dream, a divine voice offered to the
youthful king whatsoever his heart should crave. He prayed for wisdom,
which was granted,--the first evidence of which was his celebrated
judgment between the two women who claimed the living child, which made
a powerful impression on the whole nation, and doubtless strengthened
his throne.

The kingdom which Solomon inherited was probably at that time the most
powerful in western Asia, the fruit of the conquests of Saul and David,
of Abner and Joab. It was bounded by Lebanon on the north, the Euphrates
on the east, Egypt on the south, and the Mediterranean on the west. Its
territorial extent was small compared with the Assyrian or Persian
empire; but it had already defeated the surrounding nations,--the
Philistines, the Edomites, the Syrians, and the Ammonites. It hemmed in
Phoenicia on the sea-coast, and controlled the great trade-routes to the
East, which made it politic for the King of Tyre to cultivate the
friendship of both David and Solomon. If Palestine was small in extent,
it was then exceedingly fertile, and sustained a large population. Its
hills were crested with fortresses, and covered with cedars and oaks.
The land was favorable to both tillage and pasture, abounding in grapes,
figs, olives, dates, and every species of grain; the numerous springs
and streams favored a perfect system of irrigation, so that the country
presented a picture in striking contrast to its present blasted and
dreary desolation. The nation was also enriched by commerce as well as
by agriculture. Caravans brought from Eastern cities the most valuable
of their manufactures. From Tarshish in Spain ships brought gold and
silver; Egypt sent chariots and fine linen; Syria sold her purple cloths
and robes of varied colors; Arabia furnished horses and costly
trappings. All the luxuries and riches which Tyre had collected in her
warehouses found their way to Jerusalem. Even silver was as plenty as
the stones in the streets. Long voyages to the mouth of the Indus
resulted in a vast accumulation of treasure,--gold, ivory, spices, gums,
perfumes, and precious stones. The nations and tribes subject to Solomon
from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and from Syria to the Red Sea,
paid a fixed tribute, while their kings and princes sent rich
presents,--vessels of gold and silver, costly arms and armor, rich
garments and robes, horses and mules, perfumes and spices.

But the prosperity of the realm was not altogether inherited; it was
firmly and prudently promoted by the young king. Solomon made alliances
with Egypt and Syria, as well as with Phoenicia, and peace and plenty
enriched all classes, so that every man sat under his own vine and
fig-tree in perfect security. Never was such prosperity seen in Israel
before or since. Strong fortresses were built on Lebanon to protect the
caravans, and Tadmor in the wilderness to the east became a great centre
of trade, and ultimately a splendid city under Zenobia. The royal
stables contained forty thousand horses and fourteen hundred chariots.
The royal palace glistened with plates of gold, and the parks and
gardens were watered from immense reservoirs. "When the youthful monarch
repaired to these gardens in his gorgeous chariot, he was attended,"
says Stanley, "by nobles whose robes of purple floated in the wind, and
whose long black hair, powdered with gold dust, glistened in the sun,
while he himself, clothed in white, blazing with jewels, scented with
perfumes, wearing both crown and sceptre, presented a scene of gladness
and glory. When he travelled, he was borne on a splendid litter of
precious woods, inlaid with gold and hung with purple curtains, preceded
by mounted guards, with princes for his companions, and women for his
idolaters, so that all Israel rejoiced in him."

We infer that Solomon reigned for several years in justice and equity,
without striking faults,--a wise and benevolent prince, who feared God
and sought from him wisdom, which was bestowed in such a remarkable
degree that princes came from remote countries to see him, including the
famous Queen of Sheba, who was both dazzled and enchanted.

Yet while he was, on the whole, loyal to the God of his fathers, and was
the pride and admiration of his subjects, especially for his wisdom and
knowledge, Solomon was not exempted from grave mistakes. He was
scarcely seated on his throne before he married an Egyptian princess,
doubtless with the view of strengthening his political power. But while
this splendid alliance brought wealth and influence, and secured
chariots and horses, it violated one of the settled principles of the
Jewish commonwealth, and prevented that isolation which was so necessary
to keep uncorrupted the manners and habits of the people. The alliance
doubtless favored commerce, and in one sense enlarged the minds of his
subjects, removing from them many prejudices; but the nation was not
intended by the divine founder to be politically or commercially great,
but rather to preserve the worship of Jehovah. Moreover, the daughter of
Pharaoh was an idolater, and her influence, so far as it went, tended to
wean the king from his religious duties,--at least to make him tolerant
of false gods.

The enlargement of the king's harem was another mistake, for although
polygamy was not condemned, and was practised even by David, it made
Solomon prominent among Eastern monarchs for an absurd ostentation,
allied with enervating effeminacy, and thus gradually undermined the
healthy tone of his character. It may have prepared the way for the
apostasy of his later years, and certainly led to a great increase of
the royal expenses. The support of seven hundred wives and three
hundred concubines must have been a scandal and a burden for which the
nation was not prepared. The pomp in which he lived presupposes a change
in the government itself, even to an absolute monarchy and a grinding
despotism, fatal to the liberties which the Israelites had enjoyed under
Saul and David. The predictions and warnings of Samuel were realized for
the first time in the reign of Solomon, so that wealth, prosperity, and
luxury were but a poor exchange for that ancient religious ardor and
intense patriotism which had led the Hebrew nation to victory over
surrounding idolatrous nations. The heroic ages of Jewish history passed
away when ships navigated by Phoenician sailors brought gold from Ophir
and silver from Tarshish, and did not return until the Maccabees rallied
the hunted and decimated tribes of Israel against the armies of the
Syrian kings.

Solomon's peaceful and prosperous reign of forty years was, however,
favorable to one grand enterprise which David had longed to accomplish,
but to whom it was denied. This was the building of the Temple, for so
long a time identified with the glory of Jerusalem, and common interest
in which might have bound the twelve tribes together but for the
excessive taxation which the extravagance and ostentation of the monarch
had rendered necessary.

We can form but an inadequate idea of the magnificence of this Temple
from its description in the sacred annals. An edifice which taxed the
mighty resources of Solomon and consumed the spoils of forty years'
successful warfare, must have been in that age without a parallel in
splendor and beauty. If the figures are not exaggerated, it required the
constant labors of ten thousand men in the mountains of Lebanon alone to
cut down and hew the timber, and this for a period of eleven years. Of
ordinary laborers there were seventy thousand; and of those who worked
in the quarries and squared the stones there were eighty thousand more,
besides overseers. It took three years to prepare the foundations. As
Mount Moriah, on which the Temple was built, did not furnish level space
enough, a wall of solid masonry was erected on the eastern and southern
sides nearly three hundred feet in height, the stones of which, in some
instances, were more than twenty feet long and six feet thick, so
perfectly squared that no mortar was required. The buried foundations
for the courts of the Temple and the vast treasure-houses still remain
to attest the strength and solidity of the work, seemingly as
indestructible as are the pyramids of Egypt, and only paralleled by the
uncovered ruins of the palaces of the Caesars on the Palatine Hill at
Rome, which fill all travellers with astonishment. Vast cisterns also
had to be hewn in the rocks to supply water for the sacrifices, capable
of holding ten millions of gallons. The Temple proper was small compared
with the Egyptian temples, or with mediaeval cathedrals; but the courts
which surrounded it were vast, enclosing a quadrangle larger than the
area on which St. Peter's Church at Rome is built. It was, however, the
richness of the decorations and of the sacred vessels and the altars for
sacrifice, which consumed immense quantities of gold, silver, and brass,
that made the Temple especially remarkable. The treasures alone which
David collected were so enormous that we think there must be errors in
the calculation,--thirteen million pounds Troy of gold, and one hundred
and twenty-seven million pounds of silver,--an amount not easy to
estimate. But the plates of gold which overlaid the building, and the
cherubim or symbolical winged figures, the precious woods, the rich
hangings and curtains of crimson and purple, the brazen altars, the
lamps, the sacred vessels of solid gold and silver, the elaborate
carvings and castings, the rare gems,--these all together must have
required a greater expenditure than is seen in the most famous temples
of Greece or Asia Minor, whose value and beauty chiefly consisted in
their exquisite proportions and their marble pillars and figures of men
or animals. But no representation of man, no statue to the Deity, was
seen in the Temple of Solomon; no idol or sacred animal profaned it.
There was no symbol to indicate even the presence of Jehovah, whose
dwelling-place was in the heavens, and whom the heaven of heavens could
not contain. There were rites and sacrifices, but these were offered to
an unseen divinity, whose presence was everywhere, and who alone reigned
as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, forever and forever. The Temple,
however, with its courts and porticos, its vast foundations of stones
squared in distant quarries, and the immense treasures everywhere
displayed, impressed both the senses and the imagination of a people
never distinguished for art or science. And not only so, but Fergusson
says: "The whole Mohammedan world look to it as the foundation of all
architectural knowledge, and the Jews still recall its glories, and sigh
over their loss with a constant tenacity unmatched by that of any other
people to any other building of the ancient world." Whether or not we
are able to explain the architecture of the Temple, or are in error
respecting its size, or the amount of gold and silver expended, or the
number of men employed, we know that it was the pride and glory of that
age, and was large enough, with its enclosures, to contain a
representation of five millions of people, the heads of all the families
and tribes of the nation, such as were collected together at its

As the great event of David's reign was the removal of the Ark to
Jerusalem, so the culminating glory of Solomon was the dedication of the
Temple he had built to the worship of Jehovah. The ceremony equalled in
brilliancy the glories of a Roman triumph, and infinitely surpassed them
in popular enthusiasm. The whole population of the kingdom,--some four
or five millions,--or their picked representatives, came to Jerusalem to
witness or to take part in it. "And as the long array of dignitaries,
with thousands of musicians clothed in white, and the monarch himself
arrayed in pontifical robes, and the royal household in embroidered
mantles, and the guards with their golden shields, and the priests
bearing the sacred but tattered tabernacle, with the ark and the
cherubim, and the altar of sacrifice, and the golden candlesticks and
table of shew bread, and the brazen serpent of the wilderness and the
venerated tables of stone on which were engraved by the hand of God
himself the ten commandments,"--as this splendid procession swept along
the road, strewed with flowers and fragrant with incense, how must the
hearts of the people have been lifted up! Then the royal pontiff arose
from the brazen scaffold on which he had seated himself, and amid clouds
of incense and the smoke of burning sacrifice offered unto God the
tribute of national praise, and implored His divine protection. And
then, rising from his knees, with hands outstretched to heaven, he
blessed the congregation, saying with a loud voice, "Let the Lord our
God be with us as he was with our fathers, so that all the earth may
know that Jehovah is God and that there is none else!"

Then followed the sacrifices for this grand occasion,--twenty thousand
oxen and one hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats were offered up
on successive days. Only a portion of these animals was actually
consumed on the altar by the officiating priests: the greater part
furnished meat for the assembled multitude. The Festival of the
Dedication lasted a week, and this was succeeded by the Feast of the
Tabernacles; and from that time the Temple became the pride and glory of
the nation. To see it periodically and worship in its courts became the
intensest desire of every Hebrew. Three times a year some great festival
was held, attended by a vast concourse of the people. The command was
that every male Israelite should "appear before the Lord" and make his
offering; but this of course had its necessary exceptions, as multitudes
of women and children could not go, and had to be cared for at home. We
cannot easily understand how on any other supposition they were all
accommodated, spacious as were the various courts of the Temple; and we
conclude that only a large representation of the tribes and families
took place, for how could four or five millions of people assemble
together at any festival?

Contemporaneous with the building of the Temple, or immediately after it
was dedicated, were other gigantic works, including the royal palace,
which it took thirteen years to complete, and upon which, as upon the
Sacred House, Syrian artists and workmen were employed. The principal
building was only one hundred and fifty feet long, seventy-five broad,
and forty-five feet high, in three stories, with a grand porch supported
on lofty pillars; but connected with the palace were other edifices to
support the magnificence in which the king lived with his court and his
harem. Around the tower of the House of David were hung the famous
golden shields, one thousand in number, which had been made for the
body-guard, with other glittering ornaments, which were likened by the
poets to the neck of a bride decked with rays of golden coins. In the
great Judgment Hall, built of cedar and squared stone, was the throne of
the monarch, made of ivory, inlaid with gold. A special mansion was
erected for Solomon's Egyptian queen, of squared stones twelve to
fifteen feet in length. Connected with these various palaces were
extensive gardens constructed at great expense, filled with all the
triumphs of horticultural art, and watered by streams from vast
reservoirs. In these the luxurious king and court could wander among
beds of spices and flowers and fruits. But these did not content the
royal family. A summer palace was erected on the heights of Mount
Lebanon, having gardens filled with everything which could delight the
eye or captivate the senses. Here, surrounded with learned men, women,
and courtiers, with bands of music, costly litters, horses and chariots,
and every luxury which unbounded means could command, the magnificent
monarch beguiled his leisure hours, abandoned equally to pleasure and
study,--for his inquiring mind sought to master all the knowledge that
was known, especially in the realm of natural history, since "he was
wiser than all men, and spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is on
Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall." We can get
some idea of the expenses of his household, in the fact that it daily
consumed sixty measures of flour and meal and thirty oxen and one
hundred sheep, besides venison, game, and fatted fowls. The king never
appeared in public except with crown and sceptre, in royal robes
redolent of the richest perfumes of India and Arabia, and sparkling with
gold and gems. He lived in a constant blaze of splendor, whether
travelling in his gorgeous litter, surrounded with his guards, or seated
on his throne to dispense justice and equity, or feasting with his
nobles to the sound of joyous music.

To keep up this regal splendor, to support seven hundred wives and
three hundred concubines on the fattest of the land, and deck them all
in robes of purple and gold; to build magnificent palaces, to dig
canals, and construct gigantic reservoirs for parks and gardens; to
maintain a large standing army in time of peace; to erect strong
fortresses wherever caravans were in danger of pillage; to found cities
in the wilderness; to level mountains and fill up valleys,--to
accomplish all this even the resources of Solomon were insufficient.
What were six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, yearly received
(thirty-five million dollars), besides the taxes on all merchants and
travellers, and the vast gifts which flowed from kings and princes, when
that constant drain on the royal treasury is considered! Even a Louis
XIV. was impoverished by his court and palace building, though he
controlled the fortunes of twenty-five millions of people. King Solomon,
in all his glory, became embarrassed, and was obliged to make forced
contributions,--to levy a heavy tribute on his own subjects from Dan to
Beersheba, and make bondmen of all the people that were left of the
Amorites, Hittites, Perizites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The people were
virtually enslaved to aggrandize a single person. The burdens laid on
all classes and the excessive taxation at last alienated the nation.
"The division of the whole country into twelve revenue districts was a
serious grievance,--especially as the high official over each could make
large profits from the excess of contributions demanded." A poll-tax,
from which the nation in the olden times was freed, was levied on
Israelite and Canaanite alike. The virtual slave-labor by which the
great public improvements were made, sapped the loyalty of the people
and produced discontent. This forced labor was as fatal as war to the
real property of the nation, for wealth is ever based on private
industry, on farms and vineyards, rather than on the palaces of kings.
Moreover, the friendly relations which Solomon established with the
neighboring heathen nations disgusted the old religious leaders, while
the tendency to Oriental luxury which outward prosperity favored alarmed
the more thoughtful. It was not a pleasant sight for the princes of
Israel to see the whole land overrun with Phoenicians, Arabs,
Babylonians, Egyptians, caravan drivers, strangers and travellers,
camels and dromedaries from Midian and Sheba, traders to the fairs,
pedlers with their foreign cloths and trinkets, all spreading immorality
and heresy, and filling the cities with strange customs and
degrading dances.

Nor was there, in that absolute monarchy which Solomon centralized
around his throne, any remedy for all this, save assassination or
revolution. The king had become debauched and effeminate. The love of
pomp and extravagance was followed by worldliness, luxury, and folly.
From agricultural pursuits the people had passed to commercial; the
Israelites had become merchants and traders, and the foul idolatries of
Phoenicians and Syrians had overspread the land. The king having lost
the respect and affection of the nation, the rebellion of Jeroboam was a
logical sequence.

I have not read of any king who so belied the promises of his early
days, and on whom prosperity produced so fatal an apostasy as Solomon.
With all his wisdom and early piety, he became an egotist, a sensualist,
and a tyrant. What vanity he displayed before the Queen of Sheba! What a
slave he became to wicked women! How disgraceful was his toleration of
the gods of Phoenicia and Egypt! How hard was the bondage to which he
subjected his subjects! How different was his ordinary life from that of
his illustrious father, with no repentance, no remorse, no
self-abasement! He was a Nebuchadnezzar and a Sardanapalus combined,
going from bad to worse. And he was not only a sensualist and a tyrant,
an egotist, and to some extent an idolater, but he was a cynic,
sceptical of all good, and of the very attainments which had made him
famous. We read of no illustrious name whose glory passed through so
dark an eclipse. The satiated, disenchanted, disappointed monarch,
prematurely old, and worn out by self-indulgence, passed away without
honor or regret, at the age of sixty, and was buried in the City of
David; and Rehoboam, his son, reigned in his stead.

The Christian fathers and many subsequent theological writers have
puzzled their brains with unsatisfactory speculations whether Solomon
finally repented or not; but the Scriptures are silent on that point. We
have no means of knowing at what period of his life his heart was weaned
from the religion of David, or when he entered upon a life of pleasure.
There are some passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes which lead us to
suppose that before he died he came to himself, and was a preacher of
righteousness. This is the more charitable and humane view to take; yet
even so, his moral teachings and warnings are not imbued with the
personal contrition that endeared David's soul to God; they are
unimpassioned, cold-hearted, intellectual, impersonal. Moreover, it may
be that even in the midst of his follies he retained the perception of
moral distinctions. His will was probably enslaved, so that he had not
the power to restrain his passions, and his head may have become giddy
in his high elevation. How few men could have resisted such powerful
temptations as assailed Solomon on every side! The heart of the
Christian world cannot but feel that so gifted a man, endowed with every
intellectual attraction, who reigned for a time with so much wisdom,
who recognized Jehovah as the guide and Lord of Israel, as especially
appears at the dedication of the Temple, and who wrote such profound
lessons of moral wisdom, would not be suffered to descend to the grave
without the divine forgiveness. All that we know is that he was wise,
and favored beyond all precedent, but that he adopted the habits and
fell in with the vices of Oriental kings, and lost the affections of his
people. He was exalted to the highest pinnacle of glory; he descended to
an abyss of shame,--a sad example of the infirmity of human nature which
all ages will lament.

In one sense Solomon left nothing to his nation but monuments of
despotic power, and trophies of a material civilization which implied
the decay of primitive virtues. He did not perpetuate his greatness; he
did not even enlarge the boundaries of his kingdom. Like Louis XIV. he
simply squandered a great inheritance. He did not leave his kingdom
morally so strong as it was under David; it was even dismembered under
his legitimate successor. The grand Temple indeed remained the pride of
every Jew, but David had bequeathed the treasures to build it. The
national resources had been wasted in palaces and in court festivities;
and although these had contributed to a material civilization,
especially the sums expended on fortresses, aqueducts, reservoirs, and
roads for the caravans, this civilization, so highly and justly prized
in our age, may--under the peculiar circumstances of the Jews, and the
end for which, by the Mosaic dispensation, they were intended to be kept
isolated--have weakened those simpler habits and sentiments which
favored the establishment of their religion. It must never be lost sight
of that the isolation of the Hebrew race, unfavorable to such
developments of civilization as commerce and the arts, was
providentially designed (as is evidenced by the fact of accomplishment
in spite of all obstacles) to keep alive the worship of Jehovah until
the fulness of time should come,--until the Messiah should appear to
establish a new dispensation. The glory and grandeur of Solomon did not
contribute to this end, but on the other hand favored idolatrous rites
and corrupting foreign customs; and this is proved by the rapid decline
of the Jews in religious life, patriotic ardor, and primitive virtues
under the succeeding kings, both of Judah and Israel, which led
ultimately to their captivity. Politically, Solomon may have added to
the temporary power of the nation, but spiritually, and so
fundamentally, he caused an eclipse of glory. And this is why his
kingdom departed from his house, and he left a sullied name.

Nevertheless, in many important respects Solomon rendered great services
to humanity, which redeemed his memory from shame and made him a truly
immortal man, and even a great benefactor. He left writings which are
still among the most treasured inheritances of his nation and of
mankind. It is recorded that he spoke three thousand proverbs, and his
songs were a thousand and five. Only a small portion of these have
descended to us in the sacred writings, but they doubtless entered into
the literature of the Jews. Enough remains, whenever they were compiled
and collected, to establish his fame as one of the wisest and most
gifted of mortals. And these writings, whatever may have been his
backslidings, are pervaded with moral wisdom. Whether written in youth
or in old age, on the summit of human glory or in the depths of despair,
they are generally accepted as among the most precious gems of the Old
Testament. His profound experience, conveyed to us in proverbs and
songs, remains as a guide in life through all generations. The dignity
of intellect shines triumphantly through all the obscuration of virtues.
Thus do poets live even when buried in ignominious graves; thus do
philosophers instruct the world even though, like Seneca, and possibly
Bacon, their lives present a sad contrast to their precepts. Great
thoughts emancipate the soul, from age to age, while he who uttered them
may have been enslaved by vices. Who knows what the private life of
Shakspeare and Goethe may have been, but who would part with the
writings they have left us? How soon the personal peculiarities of
Coleridge and Carlyle will be forgotten, yet how permanent and healthy
their utterances! It is truth, rather than man, that lives and conquers
and triumphs. Man is nothing, except as the instrument of
almighty power.

Of the writings ascribed to Solomon, there are three books, each of
which corresponds to the different periods of his life,--to his pious
youth, to his prosperous manhood, and to his later years of cynicism and
despair. They all alike blaze with moral truth, and appeal to universal
experience. They present different features of human life, at different
periods, and suggest sentiments which most people have realized at some
time or another. And if in some cases they are apparently contradictory,
like the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, they are equally striking and
convincing, and are not more inconsistent than the man himself. Who does
not change, and yet remain individually the same? Is there not a change
between youth and old age? Do not most great men utter sentiments hard
to be reconciled with one another, yet with equal sincerity? Webster
enforces free-trade at one time and a high tariff at another, as light
or circumstances change. Gladstone was in youth and middle age a pillar
of the aristocracy; later he was the oracle of the masses, yet a lofty
realism underlay all his utterances. The writings of Solomon present
life in different aspects, and yet they are alike true. They are not
divine revelations, like the commandments given to Moses amid the
lightnings of Sinai, or like the visions of the prophets respecting the
future glories of the Church. They do not exalt the soul into inspiring
ecstasies like the psalms of David, or kindle a holy awe like the lofty
meditations of Job; but they are yet such impressive truths pertaining
to human life that we invest them with more than human wisdom.

The Song of Songs, long ascribed to King Solomon, has been attended with
some difficulty of explanation. It is a poem liable to be perverted by
an unsanctified soul, since it is foreign to our modes of expression.
For two hundred years it has been variously interpreted. It was the
delight of Saint Bernard the ascetic, and a stumbling-block to Ewald the
critic. To many German scholars, who have rendered great services by
their learning and genius, it is only the expression of physical love,
like the amatory songs of Greece. To others of more piety yet equal
scholarship, like Origen, Grotius, and Bossuet, it is symbolic of the
love which exists between Christ and the Church. It seems, at least, to
be a contrast with the impure love of the heathen world. But whether it
describes the ardent affection which Solomon bore to his young Egyptian
bride; or the still more beautiful love of the innocent Shulamite
maiden for her betrothed shepherd feeding his flock among the lilies,
unseduced by all the influences of the royal court, and triumphant over
the seductions of rank and power; or whether it is the rapt soul of the
believer bursting out in holy transports of joy, like a Saint Theresa in
the anticipated union with her divine Spouse,--it is still a noble
tribute to what is most enchanting of the great certitudes on earth or
in heaven; and it is expressed in language of exquisite and incomparable
elegance. "Arise, my fair one, and come away! for the winter is past and
gone, and the flowers appear upon the earth, and the voice of the turtle
is heard in the land. Make haste, my beloved! Be thou like a roe on the
mountains of spices, for many waters cannot quench love, nor the floods
drown it; yea, were a man to offer all that he hath for it, it would be
utterly despised." How tender, how innocent, how fervent, how beautiful,
is this description of a lofty love, at rest in its happiness, in the
society of the charmer, exultant in the certainty of that glorious
sentiment which nothing can corrupt and nothing can destroy!

If this unique and beautiful Song was the work of Solomon in his early
days of innocence and piety, the book of Proverbs seems to be the result
of his profound observations when he was still uncorrupted by
prosperity, ruling his kingdom with sagacity and amazing the world with
his wisdom. How many of those acute sayings were uttered by Solomon we
know not, but probably most of them are his, collected, it is supposed,
during the reign of Hezekiah. They are written on almost every subject
pertaining to ethics, to nature, to science, and to society. Some are
allusions to God, and others to the duties between man and man. Many are
devoted to the duties of women, applicable to the sex in all times. They
are not on a level of the Psalms in piety, nor of the Prophecies in
grandeur, but they recognize the immutable principles of moral
obligation. In some cases they seem to be worldly-wise,--such as we
might suppose to fall from the mouth of Benjamin Franklin or
Cobbett,--recognizing worldly prosperity as the greatest of blessings.
Sometimes they are witty, again ironical, but always forcible. In some
of them there is awful solemnity.

There are no more terrific warnings and exhortations in the sacred
writings than are found in the Proverbs of Solomon. The sins of
idleness, of anger, of covetousness, of gossip, of falsehood, of
oppression, of injustice, of intemperance, of unchastity, are uniformly
denounced as leading to destruction; while prudence, temperance,
chastity, obedience to parents, and loyalty to truth are enjoined with
the earnestness of a man who believes in personal accountability to God.
The ethics of the Proverbs are based on everlasting righteousness, and
are imbued with the spirit of divine philosophy; their great peculiarity
is the constant exhortation to wisdom and knowledge, to which young men
are especially exhorted. Like Socrates, Solomon never separates wisdom
from virtue, but makes one the foundation of the other. He shows the
connection between virtue and happiness, vice and misery. The Proverbs
are inexhaustible in moral force, and have universal application. There
is nothing cynical or gloomy in them. They form a fitting study for
youth and old age, an incentive to virtue and a terror to evil-doers, a
thesaurus of moral wisdom; they speak in every line a lofty and
comprehensive intellect, acquainted with all the experiences of life.
Such moral wisdom would be imperishable in any literature. Such
utterances go far to redeem all personal defects; they show how
unclouded is a mind trained in equity, even when the will is enslaved by
iniquity. What is still more remarkable, the Proverbs never apologize
for the force of temptation, and never blend error with truth; they
uniformly exalt wisdom, and declare that the beginning of it is the fear
of the Lord. There is not one of them which seeks to cover up vice with
sophistical excuses; they show that the author or authors of them love
moral beauty and truth, and exalt the same,--as many great men, with
questionable morals, give their testimony to the truths of
Christianity, and utterly abhor those who poison the soul by plausible
sophistries,--as Lord Brougham detested Rousseau. The famous writings of
our modern times which nearest approach the Proverbs in love of truth
and moral wisdom are those of Bacon and Shakspeare.

In striking contrast with the praises of knowledge which permeate the
Proverbs, is the book of Ecclesiastes, supposed to have been written in
the decline of Solomon's life, when the pleasures of sin had saddened
his soul, and filled his mind with cynicism. Unless the book of
Ecclesiastes is to be interpreted as ironical, nothing can be more
dreary than many of its declarations. It even seems to pour contempt on
all knowledge and all enjoyments. "In much knowledge is much grief, and
he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.... What profit hath a
man of all his labor?... There is no remembrance of the wise more than
of the fool.... There is nothing better for a man than that he should
eat and drink.... A man hath no pre-eminence over a beast; all go to the
same place.... What hath the wise man more than the fool?... There is a
just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man
that prolongeth his life in wickedness.... One man among a thousand have
I found, but a woman among all those have I not found.... The race is
not to the swift, the battle to the strong; neither bread to the wise,
nor riches to the man of understanding.... On all things is written
vanity." Such are some of the dismal and cynical utterances of Solomon
in his old age. The Ecclesiastes contrasted with the Proverbs is
discouraging and sad, although there is great seriousness and even
loftiness in many of its sayings. It seems to be the record of a
disenchanted old man, to whom all things are a folly and vanity. There
is a suppressed contempt expressed for what young men and the worldly
regard as desirable, equalled only by a sort of proud disdain of success
and fame. There is great bitterness in reference to women. Some of the
sayings are as mournful jeremiads as any uttered by Carlyle, showing
great scorn of what ninety-nine in one hundred are vain of, and pursue
after, as all ending in vanity and vexation of spirit. We can understand
how riches may prove a snare, how pleasure-seeking ends in
disappointment, how the smiles of a deceitful woman may lead to the
chamber of death, how little the treasures of wickedness profit, how
sins will find out the transgressor, how the heart may be sad in the
midst of laughter, how wine is a mocker, how ambition is Babel-building,
how he who pursueth evil pursueth it to his death; we can understand how
abundance will produce satiety, and satiety lead to disgust,--how
disappointment attends our most cherished plans, and how all mortal
pursuits fail to satisfy the cravings of an immortal soul. But why does
the favored and princely Solomon, in sadness and bitterness, pronounce
knowledge also to be a vanity like power and riches, especially when in
his earlier writings he so highly commends it? Is it true that in much
wisdom is much grief, and that the increase of knowledge is the increase
of sorrow? Can it be that the book of Ecclesiastes is the mere record of
the miserable experiences of an embittered and disappointed sensualist,
or is it the profound and searching exposition of the vanities of this
world as they appear to a lofty searcher after truth and God, measured
by the realities of a future and endless life, which the soul
emancipated from pollution pants and aspires after with all the
intensity of a renovated nature? When I bear in mind the impressive
lessons that are declared at the close of this remarkable book, the
earnest exhortation to remember God before the dust shall return to the
earth as it was, I cannot but feel that there are great moral truths
underlying the sarcasm and irony in which the writer indulged. And these
come with increased force from the mouth of a man who had tasted every
mortal good, and found it all, when not properly used, a confirmation of
the impossibility of earth to satisfy the soul of man. The writer calls
himself "the preacher," and surely a great preacher he was,--not to a
throng of "fashionable worshippers" or a crowd of listless
pleasure-seekers, but to all ages and nations. And if he really was a
living speaker to the young men who caught the inspiration of his voice,
how terribly eloquent he must have been!

I fancy that I can see that unhappy old man, worn out, saddened,
embittered, yet at last rising above the decrepitude of age and the
infirmities which sin had hastened, and speaking in tones that could
never be forgotten. "Behold, ye young men! I have tasted every enjoyment
of this earth; I have indulged in every pleasure forbidden or permitted.
I have explored the world of thought and the realm of nature. I have
been favored beyond any mortal that ever lived; I have been flattered
and honored beyond all precedent; I have consumed the treasures of kings
and princes. I builded me houses, I planted me vineyards; I made me
gardens and orchards, I made me pools of water; I got me servants and
maidens, I gathered me also silver and gold; I got me men-singers and
women-singers and musical instruments; whatsoever my eyes desired I kept
not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy,--and now, lo! I
solemnly declare unto you, with my fading strength and my eyes suffused
with tears and my knees trembling with weakness, and in view of that
future and higher life which I neglected to seek amid the dazzling
glories of my throne, and the bewilderment of fascinating joys,--I now
most earnestly declare unto you that all these things which men seek and
prize are a vanity, a delusion, and a snare; that there is no wisdom but
in the fear of God."

So this saddest of books closes with lofty exhortations, and recognizes
moral obligations which are in harmony with the great principle enforced
in the Proverbs,--that there is no escape from the penalty of sin and
folly; that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. The last
recorded words of the preacher are concerning the vanity of life,--that
is, the hopeless failure of worldly pleasures and egotistical pursuits
in themselves alone to secure happiness; the impossibility of lasting
good disconnected with righteousness; the fact that even knowledge, the
greatest possession and the highest joy which a man can have, does not
satisfy the soul.

These final utterances of Solomon are not dogmas nor speculations, they
are experiences,--the experiences of one of the most favored mortals who
has lived upon our earth, and one of the wisest. If, measured by the
eternal standards, his glory was less than that of the flower which
withers in a day, what hope have ordinary men in the pursuit of
pleasure, or gain, or honor? Utter vanity and vexation of spirit!
Nothing brings a true reward but virtue,--unselfish labors for others,
supreme loyalty to conscience, obedience to God. Hence, such profound
experience so frankly published, such sad confessions uttered from the
depths of the heart, and the summing up of the whole question of human
life, enforced with the earnestness and eloquence of an old man soon to
die, have peculiar force, and are among the greatest treasures of the
Old Testament.

The fundamental truth to be deduced from the book of Ecclesiastes is
that whatsoever is born of vanity must end in vanity. If vanity is the
seed, so vanity is the fruit. It is, in fact, one of the most impressive
of all the truths that appeal either to consciousness or experience. If
a man builds a house from vanity, or makes a party from vanity, or gives
a present from vanity, or writes a book from vanity, or seeks an office
from vanity,--then, as certainly as the bite of an asp will poison the
body, will the expected good be turned into a bitter disappointment.
Self-love cannot be the basis of human action without alienation from
God, without weariness, disgust, and ultimate sorrow. The soul can be
fed only by divine certitudes; it can be enlarged only by walking
according to the divine commandments.

Confucius, Socrates, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius declared the same
truths, but not so impressively. Not for one's self, not for friends,
not even for children alone must one live. There is a higher law still
which speaks to the universal conscience, asking, What is your duty?
With this is identified all that is precious in life, on earth or in
heaven, for time and eternity. Anything in this world which is sought
as a good, whose end is selfish, is an impressive failure; so that
self-aggrandizement becomes as absurd and fatal as self-indulgence. One
can no more escape from the operation of this law than he can take the
wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea. The
commonest experiences of every-day life confirm the wisdom which Solomon
uttered out of his lonely and saddened soul. If ye will not hear him, be
instructed by your own broken friendships, your own dispelled illusions,
your own fallen idols; by the heartlessness which too often lurks in the
smiles of beauty, by the poison concealed in polished flatteries, by the
deceitfulness hidden, beneath the warmest praises, by the demons of
envy, jealousy, and pride which take from success itself its
promised joys.

Who is happy with any amount of wealth? Who is free from corroding
cares? Who can escape anxiety and fear? How hard to shake off the
burdens which even a rich man is compelled to bear? There is a fly in
every ointment, a skeleton in every closet, solitude in the midst of
crowds, isolation in the joy of festivals. The wrecks of happiness are
strewn in every path that the world has envied.

Read the lives of illustrious men; how melancholy often are the latter
days of those who have climbed the highest! Caesar is stabbed when he
has conquered the world. Diocletian retires in disgust from the
government of an empire. Godfrey languishes in grief when he has taken
Jerusalem. Charles V. shuts himself up in a convent. Galileo, whose
spirit has roamed the heavens, is a prisoner of the Inquisition.
Napoleon masters a continent, and expires on a rock in the ocean.
Mirabeau dies of despair when he has kindled the torch of revolution.
The poetic soul of Burns passes away in poverty and moral eclipse.
Madness overtakes the cool satirist Swift, and mental degeneracy is the
final condition of the fertile-minded Scott. The high-souled Hamilton
perishes in a petty quarrel, and curses overwhelm Webster in the halls
of his early triumphs. What a confirmation of the experience of Solomon!
"Vanity of vanities" write on all walls, in all the chambers of
pleasure, in all the palaces of pride!

This is the burden of the preaching of Solomon; but it is also the
lesson which is taught by all the records of the past, and all the
experiences of mankind. Yet it is not sad when one considers the dignity
of the soul and its immortal destinies. It is sad only when the
disenchantment of illusions is not followed by that holy fear which is
the beginning of wisdom,--that exalted realism which we believe at last
sustained the soul of the Preacher as he was hastening to that country
from whose bourn no traveller returns.




Evil days fell upon the Israelites after the death of Solomon. In the
first place their country was rent by political divisions, disorders,
and civil wars. Ten of the tribes, or three quarters of the population,
revolted from Rehoboam, Solomon's son and successor, and took for their
king Jeroboam,--a valiant man, who had been living for several years at
the court of Shishak, king of Egypt, exiled by Solomon for his too great
ambition. Jeroboam had been an industrious, active-minded,
strong-natured youth, whom Solomon had promoted and made much of. The
prophet Ahijah had privately foretold to him that, on account of the
idolatries tolerated by Solomon, ten of the tribes should be rent away
from, the royal house and given to him. The Lord promised him the
kingdom of Israel, and (if he would be loyal to the faith) the
establishment of a dynasty,--"a sure house." Jeroboam made choice of
Shechem for his capital; and from political reasons,--for fear that the
people should, according to their custom, go up to Jerusalem to worship
at the great festivals of the nation, and perhaps return to their
allegiance to the house of David, while perhaps also to compromise with
their already corrupted and unspiritualized religious sense,--he made
two golden calves and set them up for religious worship: one in Bethel,
at the southern end of the kingdom; the other in Dan, at the far north.

It does not appear that the people of Israel as yet ignored Jehovah as
God; but they worshipped him in the form of the same Egyptian symbol
that Aaron had set up in the wilderness,--a grave offence, although not
an utter apostasy. Moreover, this was the act of the king rather than of
the priests or his own subjects.

Stanley makes a significant comment on this act of the new king, which
the sacred narrative refers to as "the sin of Jeroboam, the son of
Nebat, who made Israel to sin." He says: "The Golden Image was doubtless
intended as a likeness of the One True God. But the mere fact of setting
up such a likeness broke down the sacred awe which had hitherto marked
the Divine Presence, and accustomed the minds of the Israelites to the
very sin against which the new form was intended to be a safeguard. From
worshipping God under a false and unauthorized form they gradually
learned to worship other gods altogether.... 'The sin of Jeroboam, the
son of Nebat,' is the sin again and again repeated in the
policy--half-worldly, half-religious--which has prevailed through large
tracts of ecclesiastical history.... For the sake of supporting the
faith of the multitude, lest they should fall away to rival sects, ...
false arguments have been used in support of religious truths, false
miracles promulgated or tolerated, false readings in the sacred text
defended. And so the faith of mankind has been undermined by the very
means intended to preserve it."

For priests, Jeroboam selected the lowest of the people,--whoever could
be induced to offer idolatrous sacrifices in the high places,--since the
old priests and Levites remained with the tribe of Judah at Jerusalem.

These abominations and political rivalries caused incessant war between
the two kingdoms for several reigns. The northern kingdom, including the
great tribe of Ephraim or Joseph, was the richest, most fertile, and
most powerful; but the southern kingdom was the most strongly fortified.
And yet even in the fifth year of the reign of Rehoboam, the king of
Egypt, probably incited by Jeroboam, invaded Judah with an immense army,
including sixty thousand cavalry and twelve hundred chariots, and
invested Jerusalem. The city escaped capture only by submitting to the
most humiliating conditions. The vast wealth which was stored in the
Temple,--the famous gold shields which David had taken from the Syrians,
and those also made by Solomon for his body-guard, together with the
treasures of the royal palace,--became spoil for the Egyptians. This
disaster happened when Solomon had been dead but five years. The
solitary tribe left to his son, despoiled by Egypt and overrun by other
enemies, became of but little account politically for several
generations, although it still possessed the Temple and was proud of its
traditions. After this great humiliation, the proud king of Judah, it
seems, became a better man; and his descendants for a hundred years
were, on the whole, worthy sovereigns, and did good in the sight of
the Lord.

Political interest now centres in the larger kingdom, called Israel.
Judah for a time passes out of sight, but is gradually enriched under
the reigns of virtuous princes, who preserved the worship of the true
God at Jerusalem. Nations, like individuals, seldom grow in real
strength except in adversity. The prosperity of Solomon undermined his
throne. The little kingdom of Judah lasted one hundred and fifty years
after the ten tribes were carried into captivity.

Yet what remained of power and wealth among the Jews after the rebellion
under Jeroboam, was to be found in the northern kingdom. It was still
exceedingly fertile, and was well watered. It was "a land of brooks of
water, of fountains, of barley and wheat, of vines and fig-trees, of
olives and honey." It boasted of numerous fortified cities, and had a
population as dense as that in Belgium at the present time. The nobles
were powerful and warlike; while the army was well organized, and
included chariots and horses. The monarchy was purely military, and was
surrounded by powerful nations, whom it was necessary to conciliate.
Among these were the Phoenicians on the west, and the Syrians on the
north. From the first the army was the great power of the state, its
chief being more powerful than Joab was in the undivided kingdom of
David. He stood next after the king, and was the channel of royal favor.

The history of the northern kingdom which has come down to us is very
meagre. From Jeroboam to Ahab--a period of sixty-six years--there were
six kings, three of whom were assassinated. There was a succession of
usurpers, who destroyed all the members of the preceding reigning
family. They were all idolaters, violent and bloodthirsty men, whom the
army had raised to the throne. No one of them was marked by signal
ability, unless it were Omri, who built the city of Samaria on a high
hill, and so strongly fortified it that it remained the capital until
the fall of the kingdom. He also made a close alliance with Tyre, the
great centre of commerce in that age, and one of the wealthiest cities
of antiquity. To cement this political alliance, Omri married his son
Ahab--the heir-apparent to the throne--to a daughter of the Tyrian king,
afterward so infamous as a religious fanatic and persecutor, under the
name of Jezebel,--one of the worst women in history.

On the accession of Ahab, nine hundred and nineteen years before Christ,
the kingdom of Israel was rapidly tending to idolatry. Jeroboam had set
up golden calves chiefly for a political end, but Ahab built a temple to
Baal, the sun-god, the chief divinity of the Phoenicians, and erected an
altar therein for pagan sacrifices, thus abjuring Jehovah as the Supreme
and only God. The established religion was now idolatry in its worst
form; it was simply the worship of the powers of Nature, under the
auspices of a foreign woman stained with every vice, who controlled her
husband. For Ahab himself was bad enough, but he was not the wickedest
of the monarchs of Israel, nor was he insignificant as a man. It was his
misfortune to be completely under the influence of his Phoenician bride,
as many stronger men than he have been enslaved by women before and
since his day. Ahab, bad as he was, was brave in battle, patriotic in
his aims, and magnificent in his tastes. To please his wife he added to
his royal residences a summer retreat called Jezreel, which was of
great beauty, and contained within its grounds an ivory palace of great
splendor. Amid its gardens and parks and all the luxuries then known,
the youthful monarch with his queen and attendant nobles abandoned
themselves to pleasure and folly, as Oriental monarchs are wont to do.
It would seem that he was unusually licentious in his habits, since he
left seventy children,--afterward to be massacred.

The ascendency of a wicked woman over this luxurious monarch has made
her infamous. She was an incarnation of pride, sensuality, and cruelty;
and with all her other vices she was a religious persecutor who has had
no equal. We may perhaps give to her, as to many other tiger-like
persecutors in the cause of what they call their "religion," the meagre
credit of conscientious devotion in their cruelty; for she feasted at
her own table at Jezreel four hundred priests of Baal, besides four
hundred and fifty others at Samaria, while she erected two great
sanctuaries for the Phoenician deities, at which the officiating priests
were clad in splendid vestments. The few remaining prophets of Jehovah
in the kingdom hid themselves in caves and deserts to escape the
murderous fury of the idolatrous queen. We infer that she was
distinguished for her beauty, and was bewitching in her manners like
Catherine de' Medici, that Italian bigot whom her courtiers likened
both to Aurora and Venus. Jezebel, like the Florentine princess, is an
illustration of the wickedness which is so often concealed by enchanting
smiles, especially when armed with power. The priests of Baal
undoubtedly regarded their great protectress as one of the most
fascinating women that ever adorned a royal palace, and in the blaze of
her beauty and the magnificence of her bounty were blind to her
innumerable sorceries and the wild license of her life.

The fearful apostasy of Israel, which had been increasing for sixty
years under wicked kings, had now reached a point which called for
special divine intervention. There were only seven thousand men in the
whole kingdom who had not bowed the knee to Baal, and God sent a
prophet,--a prophet such as had not appeared in Israel since Samuel;
more august, more terrible even than he; indeed, the most unique and
imposing character in Jewish history.

Almost nothing is known of the early history of Elijah. The Bible simply
speaks of him as "the Tishbite,"--one of the inhabitants of Gilead, at
the east of the Jordan. He evidently was a man accustomed to a wild and
solitary life. His stature was large, and his features were fierce and
stern. His long hair flowed upon his brawny shoulders, and he was
clothed with a mantle of sheepskin or hair-cloth, and carried in his
hand a rugged staff. He was probably unlearned, being rude and rough in
both manners and speech. His first appearance was marked and
extraordinary. He suddenly and unannounced stood before Ahab, and
abruptly delivered his awful message. He was an apparition calculated to
strike with terror the boldest of kings in that superstitious age. He
makes no set speech, he offers no apology, he disdains all forms and
ceremonies; he does not even render the customary homage. He utters only
a few words, preceded by an oath: "As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth,
there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word."
What arrogance before a king! Elijah, an utterly unknown man, in a
sheepskin mantle, apparently a peasant, dares to utter a curse on the
land without even deigning to give a reason, although the conscience of
Ahab must have told him that he could not with impunity introduce
idolatry into Israel.

Elijah doubtless attacked the king in the presence of his wife and
court. To the cynical and haughty queen, born in idolatry, he probably
seemed a madman of the desert,--shaggy, unwashed, fierce, repulsive. To
the Israelitish king, however, with better knowledge of the ways of God,
the prophet appeared armed with supernal powers, whom he both feared and
hated, and desired to put out of the way. But Elijah mysteriously
disappears from the royal presence as suddenly as he had entered it, and
no one knows whither he has fled. He cannot be found. The royal
emissaries go into every land, but are utterly baffled in their search.
The whole power of the realm was doubtless put forth to discover his
retreat, and had he been found, no mercy would have been shown him; he
would have been summarily executed, not only as a prophet of the
detested religion, but as one who had insulted the royal station. He was
forced to flee and hide after delivering his unwelcome message.

And whither did the prophet fly? He fled with the swiftness of a
Bedouin, accustomed to traverse barren rocks and scorching sands, to a
retired valley of one of the streams that emptied into the Jordan near
Samaria. Amid the clefts of the rocks which marked the deep valley, did
the man of God hide himself from his furious and numerous persecutors.
He does not escape to his native deserts, where he would most probably
have been hunted like a wild beast, but remains near the capital in
which Ahab reigns, in a deeply secluded spot, where he quenches his
thirst from the waters of the brook, and eats the food which the ravens
deposit amid the steep cliffs he knows how to climb.

The bravest and most undaunted man in Israel, shielded and protected by
God, was probably warned by the divine voice to make his escape, since
his life was needful to the execution of Providential purposes. He was
the only one of all the prophets of his day who dared to give utterance
to his convictions. Some four or five hundred there were in the kingdom,
all believers in Jehovah; but all sought to please the reigning power,
or timidly concealed themselves. They had been trained in the schools
which Samuel had established, and were probably teachers of the people
on theological subjects, and hence an antagonistic force to idolatrous
kings. Their great defect in the time of Ahab was timidity. There was
needed some one who under all circumstances would be undaunted, and
would not hesitate to tell the truth even to the king and queen, however
unpleasant it might be. So this rough, fierce, unlettered man of few
words was sent by God, armed with terrible powers.

It was now the rainy season, when rain was confidently expected by the
people throughout Palestine. Yet strangely no rain fell, though sixty
inches were the usual quantity in the course of the year. The streams
from the mountains were dried up; the land, long parched by the summer
sun, became like dust and ashes; the hills presented a blasted and
dreary desolation; the very trees were withered and discolored. At last
even the sheltered brook failed from which Elijah drank, and it became
necessary for the man of God to seek another retreat. The Lord therefore
sent him to the last place in which his enemies would naturally search
for him, even to a city of Phoenicia, where the worship of Baal was the
only religion of the land. As in his tattered and strange apparel he
approached Sarepta, or Zarephath, a town between Tyre and Sidon, worn
out with fatigue, parched with thirst, and overcome with
hunger,--everything around him being depressed and forlorn, the rivers
and brooks showing only beds of stone, the trees and grass withered, the
sky lurid, and of unnatural brightness like that of brass, and the sun
burning and scorching every remnant of vegetation,--he beheld a woman
issuing from the town to gather sticks, in order to cook what she
supposed would be her last meal. To this sad and discouraged woman,
doubtless a worshipper of Baal, the prophet thus spoke: "Fetch me, I
pray you, a little water in a vessel that I may drink;" and as she
turned sympathetically to look upon him, he added, "Bring me, I pray
thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand."

This was no small request to make of a woman who was herself on the
borders of starvation, and of a pagan woman too. But there was a
mysterious affinity between these two suffering souls. A common woman
would not have appreciated the greatness of the beggar and vagrant
before her. Only a discerning and sympathetic woman would have seen in
the tones of his voice, and in his lofty bearing, despite all his rags
and dirt, an unusual and marked character. She probably belonged to a
respectable class, reduced to poverty by the famine, and her keen
intelligence recognized at once in the hungry and needy stranger a
superior person,--even as the humble friar of Palos saw in Columbus a
nobleman by nature, when, wearied and disappointed, he sought food and
shelter. She took the prophet by the hand, conducted him to her home,
gave him the best chamber in her house, and in a strange devotion of
generosity divided with him the last remnant of her meal and oil.

It is probable that a lasting friendship sprang up between the pagan
woman and the solemn man of God, such as bound together the no less
austere Jerome and his disciple Paula. For two or three years the
prophet dwelt in peace and safety in the heathen town, protected by an
admiring woman,--for his soul was great, if his body was emaciated and
his dress repulsive. In return for her hospitality he miraculously
caused her meal and oil to be daily renewed; and more than this, he
restored her only son to life, when he had succumbed to a dangerous
illness,--the first recorded instance of such a miracle.

The German critics would probably say that the boy was only seemingly
dead, even as they would deny the miracle of the meal and oil. It is not
my purpose to discuss this matter, but to narrate the recorded incidents
that filled the soul of the woman of Sarepta with gratitude, with
wonder, and with boundless devotion. "Verily, I say unto you," said a
greater than Elijah, "whosoever shall give a cup of cold water in the
name of a prophet, shall in no way lose his reward." Her reward was
immeasurably greater than she had dared to hope. She received both
spiritual and temporal blessings, and doubtless became a convert to the
true faith. Tradition asserts that her boy, whom Elijah saved,--whether
by natural or supernatural means, it is alike indifferent,--became in
after years the prophet Jonah, who was sent to Nineveh. In all great
friendships the favors are reciprocal. A noble-hearted woman was saved
from starvation, and the life of a great man was preserved for future
usefulness. Austerity and tenderness met together and became a cord of
love; and when the land was perishing from famine, the favored members
of a retired household were shielded from harm, and had all that was
necessary for comfort.

Meanwhile the abnormal drought and consequent famine continued. The
northern kingdom was reduced to despair. So dried up were the wells and
exhausted the cisterns and reservoirs that even the king's household
began to suffer, and it was feared that the horses of the royal stables
would perish. In this dire extremity the king himself set forth from his
palace to seek patches of vegetation and pools of water in the valleys,
while his prime minister Obadiah--a secret worshipper of Jehovah--was
sent in an opposite direction for a like purpose. On his way, in the
almost hopeless search for grass and water, Obadiah met Elijah, who had
been sent from his retreat once more to confront Ahab, and this time to
promise rain. As the most diligent search had been made in every
direction, but in vain, to find Elijah, with a view to his destruction
as the man who "troubled Israel," Obadiah did not believe that the
hunted prophet would voluntarily put himself again in the power of an
angry and hostile tyrant. Yet the prime minister, having encountered the
prophet, was desirous that he should keep his word to appear before the
king, and promise to remove the calamity which even in a pagan land was
felt to be a divine judgment. Elijah having reassured him of his
sincerity, the minister informed his master that the man he sought to
destroy was near at hand, and demanded an interview. The wrathful and
puzzled king went out to meet the prophet, not to take vengeance, but to
secure relief from a sore calamity,--for Ahab reasoned that if Elijah
had power, as the messenger of Omnipotence, to send a drought, he also
had the power to remove it. Moreover, had he not said that there should
be neither rain nor dew but according to his word? So Ahab addressed the
prophet as the author of national calamities, but without threats or
insults. "Art thou he who troubleth Israel?" Elijah loftily,
fearlessly, and reproachfully replied: "I have not troubled Israel, but
thou and thy father's house, in that thou hast forsaken the commandments
of Jehovah, and hast followed Baalim." He then assumes the haughty
attitude of a messenger of divine omnipotence, and orders the king to
assemble all his people, together with the eight hundred and fifty
priests of Baal, at Mount Carmel,--a beautiful hill sixteen hundred feet
high, near the Mediterranean, usually covered with oaks and flowering
shrubs and fragrant herbs. He gives no reasons,--he sternly commands;
and the king obeys, being evidently awed by the imperious voice of the
divine ambassador.

The representatives of the whole nation are now assembled at Mount
Carmel, with their idolatrous priests. The prophet appears in their
midst as a preacher armed with irresistible power. He addresses the
people, who seemed to have no firm convictions, but were swayed to and
fro by changing circumstances, being not yet hopelessly sunk into the
idolatry of their rulers. "How long," cried the preacher, with a loud
voice and fierce aspect, "halt ye between two opinions? If Jehovah be
God, _follow_ him; but if Baal be God, then follow _him_." The
undecided, crestfallen, intimidated people did not answer a word.

Then Elijah stoops to argument. He reminds the people, among whom
probably were many influential men, that he stood alone in opposition
to eight hundred and fifty idolatrous priests protected by the king and
queen. He proposes to test their claims in comparison with his as
ministers of the true God. This seems reasonable, and the king makes no
objection. The test is to be supernatural, even to bring down fire from
heaven to consume the sacrificial bullock on the altar. The priests of
Baal select their bullock, cut it in pieces, put it on the wood, and
invoke their supreme deity to send fire to consume the sacrifice. With
all their arts and incantations and magical sorceries, the fire does not
descend. They then perform their wild and fantastic dances, screaming
aloud, from early morn to noon, "O Baal, hear us!" We do not read
whether Ahab was present or not, but if he were he must have quaked with
blended sentiments of curiosity and fear. His anxiety must have been
terrible. Elijah alone is calm; but he is also stern. He mocks them with
provoking irony, and ridicules their want of success. His grim sarcasms
become more and more bitter. "Cry with a loud voice!" said he, "yea,
louder and yet louder! for ye cry to a god; either he is talking, or he
is hunting, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must
be awakened." And they cried aloud, and cut themselves, after their
manner, with knives and spears, till the blood gushed out upon them.

Then Elijah, when midday was past, and the priests continued to call
unto their god until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice,
and there was neither voice nor answer, assembled the people around him,
as he stood alone by the ruins of an ancient altar. With his own hands
he gathered twelve stones, piled them together to represent the twelve
tribes, cut a bullock in pieces, laid it on the wood, made a trench
around the rude altar, which he filled with water from an adjacent well,
and then offered up this prayer to the God of his fathers: "O Jehovah,
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear me! and let all the people know
that thou art the God of Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I
have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, Jehovah, hear me! that
this people may know that thou, Jehovah, art God, and that thou hast
turned their hearts back again." Then immediately the fire of Jehovah
fell and consumed the bullock and the wood, even melted the very stones,
and licked up the water in the trench. And when the people saw it, they
fell on their faces, and cried aloud, "Jehovah, he is the God! Jehovah,
he is the God!"

Elijah then commanded to take the prophets of Baal, all of them, so that
not even one of them should escape. And they took them, by the direction
of Elijah, down the mountain side to the brook Kishon, and slew them
there. His triumph was complete. He had asserted the majesty and proved
the power of Jehovah.

The prophet then turned to the king, who seems to have been completely
subjected by this tremendous proof of the prophetic authority, and said:
"Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of abundance of
rain." And Ahab ascended the hill, to eat and drink with his nobles at
the sacrificial feast,--a venerable symbol by which, from the most
primitive antiquity to our own day, by so universal an impulse that it
would seem to be divinely imparted, every form of religion known to man
has sought to typify the human desire to commune with Deity.

Elijah also went to the top of Carmel, not to the symbolic feast, but in
spirit and in truth to commune with God, reverentially hiding his face
between his knees. He felt the approach of the coming storm, even when
the sky was clear, and not a cloud was to be seen over the blue waters
of the Mediterranean. So he said to his servant: "Go up now, and look
toward the sea." And the servant went to still higher ground and looked,
and reported that nothing was to be seen. Six times the order was
impatiently repeated and obeyed; but at the seventh time, the youthful
servant--as some think, the very boy he had saved--reported a cloud in
the distant horizon, no bigger seemingly than a man's hand. At once
Elijah sent word to Ahab to prepare for the coming tempest; and both he
and the king began to descend the hill, for the clouds rapidly gathered
in the heavens, and that mighty wind arose which in Eastern countries
precedes a furious storm. With incredible rapidity the tempest spread,
and the king hastened for his life to his chariot at the foot of the
hill, to cross the brook before it became a flood; and Elijah,
remembering that he was king, ran before his chariot more rapidly than
the Arab steeds. As the servant of Jehovah, he performs his mission with
dignity and without fear; as a subject, he renders due respect to rank
and power.

Ahab has now witnessed with his own eyes the impotency of the prophets
of Baal, and the marvellous power of the messenger of Jehovah. The
desire of the nation was to be gratified; the rains were falling, the
cisterns and reservoirs were filling, and the fields once more would
soon rejoice in their wonted beauty, and the famine would soon be at an
end. In view of the great deliverance, and awe-stricken by the
supernatural gifts of the prophet, one would suppose that the king would
have taken Elijah to his confidence and loaded him with favors, and been
guided by his counsels. But, no. He had been subjected to deep
humiliation before his own people; his religion had been brought into
contempt, and he was afraid of his cruel and inexorable wife, who had
incited him to debasing idolatries. So he hastens to his palace in
Jezreel and acquaints Jezebel of the wonderful things he had seen, and
which he could not prevent. She was transported with fury and vengeance,
and vowing a tremendous oath, she sent a messenger to the prophet with
these terrible words: "As surely as thou art Elijah and I am Jezebel, so
may God do to me and more also, if I make not thy life to-morrow, about
this time, as the life of one of them." In her unbounded rage she forgot
all policy, for she should have struck the blow without giving her enemy
time to escape. It may also be noted that she is no atheist, but
believes in God according to Phoenician notions. She reflects that eight
hundred and fifty of Baal's prophets had been slain, and that the nation
might return to their allegiance to the god of their fathers, who had
wrought the greatest calamity her proud heart could endure. Unlike her
husband, she knows no fear, and is as unscrupulous as she is fanatical.
Elijah, she resolved, should surely die.

And how did the prophet receive her message? He had not feared to
encounter Ahab and all the priests of Baal, yet he quailed before the
wrath of this terrible woman,--this incarnate fiend, who cared neither
for Jehovah nor his prophet. Even such a hero as Elijah felt that he
must now flee for his life, and, attended only by his boy-servant, he
did not halt until he had crossed the kingdom of Judah, and reached the
utmost southern bounds of the Holy Land. At Beersheba he left his
faithful attendant, and sought refuge in the desert,--the ancient
wilderness of Sinai, with its rocky wastes. Under the shade of a
solitary tree, exhausted and faint, he lay down to die. "It is enough, O
Jehovah! now take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers." He
had outstripped all pursuers, and was apparently safe, yet he wished to
die. It was the reaction of a mighty excitement, the lassitude produced
by a rapid and weary flight. He was physically exhausted, and with this
exhaustion came despondency. He was a strong man unnerved, and his will
succumbed to unspeakable weariness. He lay down and slept, and when he
awoke he was fed and comforted by an angelic visitor, who commanded him
to arise and penetrate still farther into the dreary wilderness. For
forty days and nights he journeyed, until he reached the awful solitudes
of Sinai and Horeb, and sought shelter in a cave. Enclosed between
granite rocks, he entered upon a new crisis of his career.

It does not appear that the future destinies of Samaria and Jerusalem
were revealed to Elijah, nor the fate of the surrounding nations, as
seen by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel. He was not called to foretell the
retribution which would surely be inflicted on degenerate and idolatrous
nations, nor even to declare those impressive truths which should
instruct all future generations. He therefore does not soar in his
dreary solitude to those lofty regions of thought which marked the
meditations of Moses. He is not a man of genius; he is no poet; he has
no eloquence or learning; he commits no precious truths to writing for
the instruction of distant generations. He is a man of intensely earnest
convictions, gifted with extraordinary powers resulting from that
peculiar combination of physical and spiritual qualities known as the
prophetic temperament. The instruments of the Divine Will on earth are
selected with unerring judgment. Elijah was sent by the Almighty to
deliver special messages of reproof and correction to wicked rulers; he
was a reformer. But his character was august, his person was weird and
remarkable, his words were earnest and delivered with an indomitable
courage, a terrific force. He was just the man to make a strong
impression on a superstitious and weak king; but he had done more than
that,--he had roused a whole nation from their foul debasement, and left
them quaking in terror before their offended Deity.

But the phase of exaltation and potent energy had passed for the time,
and we now see him faint and despondent, yet, with the sure instinct of
mighty spiritual natures, seeking recuperation in solitary companionship
with the all-present Spirit.

We do not know how long Elijah remained in his dismal cavern,--long
enough, however, to recover his physical energies and his moral courage.
As he wanders to and fro amid the hoary rocks and impenetrable solitudes
of Horeb, he seeks to commune with God. He listens for some
manifestation of the deity; he is ready to do His bidding. He hears the
sound of a rushing hurricane; but God is not in the wind. The mountain
then is shaken by a fearful earthquake; but Jehovah is not in the
earthquake. Again the mountain seems to flash with fire; but the signs
he seeks are not in the fire. At last, after the uproar of contending
physical forces had died away, in the profound silence of the solitude
he hears the whisper of a still small voice in gentle accents; and by
this voice in the soul Jehovah speaks: "What doest thou here, Elijah?"
Was this voice reproachful? Had the prophet been told to flee? Had he
acted with the courage of a man sure of divine protection? Had he not
been faint-hearted when he wished to die? How does he reply to the
mysterious voice? He justifies himself. But strengthened, comforted,
uplifted by the exaltation of the consciousness of God's presence,
Elijah feels his resilient powers again upspringing. His courage
returns; his perceptions grow sharp again; the inspiration of a new line
of action opens up to him. He hears the word of the Lord: "Go, return on
thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint
Hazael to be king over Syria, and Jehu the son of Nimshi to be king over
Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat to be prophet in thy room. And it
shall come to pass that him who escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu
destroy, and him that escapeth the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet
I have left me seven thousand in Israel, who have not bowed the knee
unto Baal."

Elijah still knows that his life is in peril, but is ready,
nevertheless, to obey his master's call. He is not designated as the
power to effect the great revolution which should root out idolatry and
destroy the house of Omri; but Jehu, an unscrupulous yet jealous
warrior, was to found a new dynasty, and the king of Syria was to punish
and afflict the ten tribes, and Elisha was to be the mouth-piece of the
Almighty in the court of kings. It would appear that Elijah did not
himself anoint either the general of Benhadad or of Ahab as future
kings,--instruments of punishment on idolatrous Israel,--but on Elisha
did his mantle fall.

Elisha was the son of a farmer, and, according to Ewald, when Elijah
selected him for his companion and servant, had just been ploughing his
twelve yoke of land (not of oxen), and was at work on the twelfth and
last. Passing by the place, Elijah, without stopping, took off his
shaggy mantle of skins, and cast it upon Elisha. The young man, who
doubtless was familiar with the appearance of the great prophet,
recognized and accepted this significant call, and without remonstrance,
even as others in later days devoted themselves to a greater Prophet,
"left all and followed" the one who had chosen him. He became Elijah's
constant companion and pupil and ministrant, until the great man's
departure. He belonged to "the sons of the prophets," among whom Elijah
sojourned in his latter days,--a community of young men, for the most
part poor, and compelled to combine manual labor with theological
studies. Very few of these prophets seem to have been favored with
especial gifts or messages from God, in the sense that Samuel and Elijah
were. They were teachers and preachers rather than prophets, performing
duties not dissimilar to those of Franciscan friars in the Middle Ages.
They were ascetics like the monks, abstaining from wine and luxuries, as
Samson and the Nazarites and Rechabites did. Religious asceticism goes
back to a period that we cannot trace.

After Elijah had gone from the scenes of his earthly labors, Elisha
became a man of the city, and had a house in Samaria. His dress was that
of ordinary life, and he was bland in manners. His nature, unlike that
of Elijah, was gentle and affectionate. He became a man of great
influence, and was the friend of three kings. Jehoshaphat consulted him
in war; Joram sought his advice, and Benhadad in sickness sent to him to
be healed, for he exercised miraculous powers. He cured Naaman of
leprosy and performed many wonderful deeds, chiefly beneficent in

Elisha took no part in the revolutions of the palace, but he anointed
Jehu to be king over Israel, and predicted to Hazael his future
elevation. His chief business was as president of a school of the
prophets. His career as prophet lasted fifty-five years. He lived to a
good old age, and when he died, was buried with great pomp as a man of
rank, in favor with the court, for it was through him that Jehu
subsequently reigned. During the life of Elijah, however, Elisha was his
companion and coadjutor. More is said in Jewish history of Elisha than
of Elijah, though the former was not so lofty and original a character
as the latter. We are told that though Elisha inherited the mantle of
his master, he received only two-thirds of his master's spirit. But he
was regarded as a great prophet for over fifty years, even beyond the
limits of Israel. Unlike Elijah, Elisha preferred the companionship of
men rather than life in a desert. He fixed his residence in Samaria, and
was highly honored and revered by all classes; he exercised a great
influence on the king of Israel, and carried on the work which Elijah
began. He was statesman as well as prophet, and the trusted adviser of
the king; but his distinguished career did not begin till after Elijah
had ascended to heaven.

After the consecration of Elisha there is nothing said about Elijah for
some years, during which Ahab was involved in war with Benhadad, king of
Damascus. After that unfortunate contest it would seem that Ahab had
resigned himself to pleasure, and amused himself with his gardens at
Jezreel. During this time Elijah had probably lived in retirement; but
was again summoned to declare the judgment of God on Ahab for a most
atrocious murder.

In his desire to improve his grounds Ahab cast his eyes on a fertile
vineyard belonging to a distinguished and wealthy citizen named Naboth,
which had been in the possession of his family even since the conquest.
The king at first offered a large price for this vineyard, which he
wished to convert into a garden of flowers, but Naboth refused to sell
it for any price. "God forbid," said he, with religious scruples blended
with the pride of ancestry, "that I should give to thee the inheritance
of my fathers." Powerful and despotic as was the king, he knew he could
not obtain this coveted vineyard except by gross injustice and an act of
violence, which even he dared not commit. It would be an open violation
of the Jewish Constitution. By the laws of Moses the lands of the
Israelites, from the conquest, were inalienable. Even if they were sold
for debt, after fifty years they would return to the family. The pride
of ownership in real estate was one of the peculiarities of the Hebrews
until after their final dispersion. After the fall of Jerusalem by
Titus, personal property came to be more valued than real estate, and
the Jews became the money lenders and the bankers of the world. They
might be oppressed and robbed, but they could hide away their treasures.
A scrap of paper, they soon discovered, was enough to transfer in safety
the largest sums. A Jew had only to give a letter of credit on another
Jewish house, and a king could find ready money, if he gave sufficient
security, for any enterprise. Thus rare jewels pledged for gold
accumulated among the Hebrew merchants at an early date.

Ahab, disappointed in not being able without a crime to get possession
of Naboth's vineyard, abandoned himself to melancholy. In his deep
chagrin he laid himself down on his bed, turned his face to the wall,
and refused to eat. This seems strange to us, since he had more than
enough, and there was no check on his ordinary pleasures. But covetous
men never are satisfied. Ahab was miserable with all his possessions so
long as Naboth was resolved to retain his paternal acres. It seems that
it did not occur even to this unprincipled king that he could get
possession of the coveted vineyard if he resorted to craft
and violence.

But his clever and unscrupulous wife came to his assistance. In her
active brain she devised the means of success. She saw only the end; she
cared nothing for the means. It is probable, indeed, that Jezebel
hankered even more than Ahab for a garden of flowers. Yet even she dared
not openly seize the vineyard. Such an outrage might have caused a
rebellion; it would, at least, have created a great scandal and injured
her popularity, of which this artful woman was as tenacious as the Jew
was of his property. Moreover, Naboth was a very influential and wealthy
citizen, and had friends to support him. How could she remove the
grievous eye-sore? She pondered and consulted the doctors of the law, as
Henry VIII. made use of Cranmer when he wished to marry Anne Boleyn.
They told her that if it could be proved that any one, however high his
rank, had blasphemed God and the king, he could legally be executed, and
that his property would revert to the Crown. So she suborned false
witnesses, who swore at the trial of Naboth, already seized for high
treason, that he had blasphemed God and the king. Sentence, according to
law, was passed upon the innocent man, and according to law he was
stoned to death, and the vineyard according to law became the property
of the Crown. Jezebel, who had managed the whole affair, did not
undertake the prosecution in her own name; as a woman, she had not the
legal power. So she stole the king's ring, and sealed the indictment
with the royal seal.

Thus by force and fraud under skilful technicalities, and by usurpation
of the royal authority, the crime was consummated, and had the sanction
of the law. Oh, what crimes have been perpetrated in every age and
country under cover of the law! The Holy Inquisition was according to
law; the early Christian persecutions were according to law; usurpers
and murderers have reigned according to law; the Quakers were put in
prison, and witches were burned according to law. Slavery was sustained
by legal enactments; the rum shops are all under the protection of the
law. There is scarcely a public scandal and wrong in any civilized
country which the law does not somehow countenance or sustain. All
public robbers appeal to legal technicalities. How could city officials
steal princely revenues, how could lawyers collect exorbitant fees, if
it were not for the law? Neither Ahab nor Jezebel would have ventured to
seize Naboth's vineyard except under legal pretences; false witnesses
swore to a lie, and the law condemned the accused. Ahab in this instance
was not as bad as his wife. He may not even have known by what
diabolical craft the vineyard became his.

But such crimes, striking at the root of justice, cry to heaven for
vengeance. On Ahab as king rested the responsibility, and he as well as
his more guilty partner was made to pay the penalty. God in his
providence avenged the death of Naboth. The whole affair was widely
known. As Naboth's reputed offence was unusual, and the gravest known to
the Jewish laws, there was so great a sensation that a fast was
proclaimed. The false trial and murderous execution were accomplished
"before all the people." But this very ostentation of legal form made
the outrage notorious. It reached the ears of Elijah. The prophet's keen
sense of right detected such an outrageous combination of hypocrisy,
covetousness, fraud, usurpation, cruelty, robbery, and murder, that he
once more heard the Divine voice which summoned him from his retirement
and sent him to the court with an awful message. Suddenly, unannounced
and unexpected, the man of God appeared before the king in his newly
acquired possession, surrounded by his gardeners and artificers, and
accompanied by two of his officers,--Bidkar, and Jehu the son of
Nimshi,--destined to be both instrument and witness of the retribution.
With unwonted austerity, without preface or waste of words, Elijah broke
forth: "Thus saith Jehovah!"--how the monarch must have quaked at this
awful name: "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall
dogs also lick thine, even thine." The conscience-stricken, affrighted
monarch could only say, "Hast thou found me, oh mine enemy!" And
terrible was the response: "Yes, I have found thee! and because thou
hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord, behold, I will
take away thy posterity, and will make thy house like the house of
Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin. And as to thy wife also, saith
Jehovah, the dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Him that
dieth of Ahab in the city shall the dogs eat, and him that dieth in the
field shall the fowls of the air eat."

When and where, in the annals of the great, has such a dreadful
imprecation been uttered? It was more awful than the doom pronounced on
Belshazzar. The blood of Ahab and his wife was to be licked up by dogs,
their dynasty to be overthrown, and their whole house destroyed. This
dire punishment was inflicted probably not only on account of the crime
pertaining to Naboth, but for a whole life devoted to idolatry. The
sentence was not to be executed immediately,--possibly a time was given
for repentance; but it would surely be inflicted at last. This Ahab knew
better than any man in his kingdom. He was thrown into the depths of the
most abject despair. He rent his clothes; he put ashes on his head and
sackcloth on his flesh, and refused to eat or drink. He repented after
the fashion of criminals, and humbled himself, as Nebuchadnezzar did,
before the Most High God. God in mercy delayed, but did not annul, the
punishment Ahab lived long enough to fight the king of Syria
successfully, so that for three years there was peace in Israel. But
Ramoth in Gilead, belonging to the northern kingdom, remained in the
hands of the Syrians.

In the mean time Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, whose son Jehoram had
married Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, and who was therefore in friendly
social and political relations with Ahab, came to visit him. They
naturally talked about the war, and lamented the fall of Ramoth-Gilead.
Ahab proposed a united expedition to recover it, to which Jehoshaphat
was consenting; but before embarking in an offensive war against a
powerful state, the two monarchs consulted the prophets. It is not to be
supposed that they were the priests of Baal, but ordinary prophets who
wished to please. False prophets and false friends are very much
alike,--they give advice according to the inclinations and wishes of
those who consult them. They are afraid of incurring displeasure,
knowing well that no one likes to have his plans opposed by candid
advisers. Therefore they all gave their voices for war, foretelling a
grand success. But one prophet, more honest and bold--perhaps more
gifted--than the rest, Micaiah by name, took a different view of the
matter. He was constrained to speak his honest convictions, and
prophesied evil, and was thrown into prison for his honesty
and boldness.

Nevertheless Ahab in his heart was afraid, and had sad forebodings.
Knowing his peril, and alarmed at the words of a true prophet, he
disguised himself for the battle; but a chance arrow, shot at a venture,
penetrated through the joints of his armor, and he was mortally wounded.
His blood ran from his wound into the chariot, and when the chariot was
washed in the pool of Samaria, after Ahab had expired, the dogs licked
up his blood, as Elijah had predicted.

The death of Ahab put an end to the fighting; nor was Jehoshaphat
injured, although he wore his royal robes. The Syrian general had given
orders to slay only the king of Israel. At one time, however, the king
of Judah was in great peril, being mistaken for Ahab; but when his
pursuers discovered their mistake, they turned from the pursuit.

It seems that Jezebel survived her husband fourteen years, and virtually
ruled the kingdom, for she was a woman of ability. She exercised the
same influence over her son Ahaziah that she had over her husband, so
that the son like the father served Baal and made Israel to sin.

To this young king was Elijah also sent. Ahaziah had been seriously
injured by an accidental fall from his upper chamber, through the
lattice, to the court yard below. He sent to the priests of Baal, to
inquire whether he should recover or not. But Elijah by command of God
had intercepted the king's messengers, and suddenly appearing before
them, as was his custom, confronted them with these words: "Is there no
God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baalzebub, the God of Ekron?
Now, therefore, say unto the king, Thou shalt not come down from the bed
on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." On their return to
Ahaziah, without delivering their message to the god of the Phoenicians
or Philistines, the king said: "Why are ye now turned back?" They
repeated the words of the strange man who had turned them back; and the
king said: "What manner of man was he who came up to meet you?" They
answered, "He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather around
his loins." The king cried, "It is Elijah the Tishbite." Again his enemy
had found him!

Whereupon Ahaziah sent a band of fifty chosen soldiers to arrest the
prophet, who had retired to the top of a steep and rugged hill, probably
Carmel. The captain of the troop approached, and commanded him in the
name of the king to come down, addressing him as the man of God. "If I
am a man of God," said Elijah, "let fire come down from heaven and
consume thee and thy fifty." The fire came down and consumed them.
Again the king sent another band of fifty with their captain, who met
with the same fate. Again the king sent another band of fifty men, the
captain of which came and fell on his knees before Elijah and besought
him, saying, "O man of God! I pray thee let my life and the lives of
these fifty thy servants be precious in thy sight." And the angel of the
Lord said unto Elijah, "Go down with him; be not afraid of him." And he
arose and went with the soldiers to the king, repeating to him the words
he had sent before, that he should not recover, but should surely die.

So Ahaziah died, as Elijah prophesied, and Jehoram (or Joram) reigned in
his stead,--a brother of the late king, who did not personally worship
Baal, but who allowed the queen-mother to continue to protect idolatry.
The war which had been begun by Ahab against the Syrians still
continued, to recover Ramoth-Gilead, and the stronghold was finally
taken by the united efforts of Judah and Israel; but Joram was wounded,
and returned to Jezreel to be cured.

With the advent of Elijah a reaction against idolatry had set in. The
people were awed by his terrible power, and also by the influence of
Elisha, on whom his mantle fell. It does not appear that the people had
utterly abandoned the religion of their fathers, for they had not
hesitated to slay the eight hundred and fifty priests of Baal at the
command of Elijah. The introduction of idolatry had been the work of
princes, chiefly through the influence of Jezebel; and as the
establishment of a false religion still continued to be the policy of
the court, the prophets now favored the revolution which should overturn
the house of Ahab, and exterminate it root and branch. The instrument of
the Almighty who was selected for this work was Jehu, one of the
prominent generals of the army; and his task was made comparatively easy
from the popular disaffection. That a woman, a foreigner, a pagan, and a
female demon should control the government during two reigns was
intolerable. Only a spark was needed to kindle a general revolt, and
restore the religion of Jehovah.

This was the appearance of a young prophet at Ramoth-Gilead, whom Elisha
had sent with an important message. Forcing his way to the house where
Jehu and his brother officers were sitting in council, he called Jehu
apart, led him to an innermost chamber of the house, took out a small
horn of sacred oil, and poured it on Jehu's head, telling him that God
had anointed him king to cut off the whole house of Ahab, and destroy
idolatry. On his return to the room where the generals were sitting,
Jehu communicated to them the message he had received. As the discontent
of the nation had spread to the army, it was regarded as a favorable
time to revolt from Joram, who lay sick at Jezreel. The army, following
the chief officers, at once hailed Jehu as king. It was supremely
necessary that no time should be lost, and that the news of the
rebellion should not reach the king until Jehu himself should appear
with a portion of the army. Jehu was just the man for such an
occasion,--rapid in his movements, unscrupulous, yet zealous to uphold
the law of Moses. So mounting his chariot, and taking with him a
detachment of his most reliable troops, he furiously drove toward
Jezreel, turning everybody back on the road. It was a drive of about
fifty miles. When within six miles of Jezreel the sentinels on the
towers of the walls noticed an unusual cloud of dust, and a rider was at
once despatched to know the meaning of the approach of chariots and
horses. The rider, as he approached, was ordered to fall back in the
rear of Jehu's force. Another rider was sent, with the same result. But
Joram, discovering that the one who drove so rapidly must be his own
impetuous captain of the host, and suspecting no treachery from him,
ordered out his own chariot to meet Jehu, accompanied by his uncle
Ahaziah, king of Judah. He expected stirring news from the army, and was
eager to learn it. He supposed that Hazael, then king of Damascus, who
had murdered Benhadad, had proposed peace. So as he approached Jehu--the
frightful irony of fate halting him for the interview in the very
vineyard of Naboth--he cried out, "Is it peace, Jehu?" "Peace!" replied
Jehu; "what peace can be made so long as Jezebel bears rule?" In an
instant the king understood the ominous words of his general, turned
back his chariot, and fled toward his palace, crying, "There is
treachery, O Ahaziah!" An arrow from Jehu pierced the monarch in the
back, and he sank dead in his chariot. Ahaziah also was mortally wounded
by another arrow from Jehu, but he succeeded in reaching Megiddo, where
he died. Jehu spoke to Bidkar, his captain, and recalling the dread
prophecy of Elijah, commanded the body of Ahab's son to be cast out into
the dearly-bought field of Naboth.

In the mean time, Jezebel from her palace window at Jezreel had seen the
murder of her son. She was then sixty years of age. The first thing she
did was to paint her eyelids, and put on her most attractive apparel, to
appear as beautiful as possible, with the hope doubtless of attracting
Jehu,--as Cleopatra, after the death of Antony, sought to win Augustus.
Will a flattered woman, once beautiful, ever admit that her charms have
passed away? But if the painted and bedizened queen anticipated her
fate, she determined to die as she had lived,--without fear, imperious,
and disdainful. So from her open window she tauntingly accosted Jehu as
he approached: "What came of Zimri, who murdered his master as thou hast
done?" "Are there any on my side?" was the only reply he deigned to
make, as he looked up to a window of the palace, which was a part of the
wall of the city. Two or three eunuchs, looking out from behind her,
answered the summons, for the wicked and haughty queen had no real
friends. "Throw her down!" ordered Jehu; and in a moment the blood from
her mangled body splashed upon the walls and upon the horses. In another
instant the wheels of the chariot passed over her lifeless remains. Jehu
would have permitted a decent burial, "for," said he, "she is a king's
daughter;" but before her mangled corpse could be collected, in the
general confusion, the dogs of the city had devoured all that remained
of her but the skull, the feet, and hands.

So perished the most infamous woman that ever wore a royal diadem, as
had been predicted. With her also perished the seventy sons of Ahab, all
indeed that survived of the royal house of Omri. And the work of
destruction did not end until the courtiers of the late king and all
connected with them, even the palace priests, were killed. Then followed
the massacre of the other priests of Baal, the destruction of the
idolatrous temples, and the restoration of the worship of Jehovah, not
only at Samaria, but at Jerusalem, for the revolution extended far and
wide on the death of Ahaziah as of Joram. Athaliah, the daughter of
Jezebel, who reigned over Judah, also perished in those
revolutionary times.

It is not to be supposed that the relentless and savage Jehu was
altogether moved by a zeal for Jehovah in these revolting slaughters. He
was an ambitious and successful rebel; but like all notable forces, he
may be regarded as an instrument of Providence, whose ways are
"mysterious," because men are not large enough and wise enough to trace
effects to their causes under His immutable laws. Jehu was a necessary
consequence of Ahab and Jezebel. Jehovah, as the national deity of the
Jews, was the natural and necessary rallying cry of the revolt against
Phoenician idolatry and foulness. The missionary sermons of those crude
days were preached with the sword and the strong arm. God's revelations
of himself and his purposes to man have always been through men, and by
His laws the medium always colors the light which it transmits. The
splendor of the noonday sun cannot shine clearly through rough,
imperfect glass; and so the conceptions of Deity and of the divine will,
as delivered by the prophets, in every case show the nature of the man
receiving and delivering the inspired message. And yet, through all the
turmoil of those times, and the startling contrast between the
conceptions presented by the "Jehovah" of Elijah and the "Father" of
Jesus, the one grand central truth which the seed of Abraham were chosen
to conserve stands out distinctly from first to last,--the unity and
purity of God. However obscured by human passions and interests, that
principle always retained a vital hold upon some--if only a
"remnant"--of the Hebrew race.

The influence of Elijah, then, acting personally through him and his
successor Elisha, had caused the extermination of the worship of Baal.
But the golden calves still remained; and there was no improvement in
the political affairs of the kingdom. It was steadily declining as a
political power, whether on account of the degeneracy which succeeded
prosperity, or the warlike enterprises of the empires and states which
were hostile equally to Judah and Israel. Jehu was forced to pay tribute
to Assyria to secure protection against Syria; and after his death
Israel was reduced to the lowest depression by Hazael, and had not the
power of Syria soon after been broken by Assyria, the northern kingdom
would have been utterly destroyed.

It was not given to Elijah to foresee the future calamities of the Jews,
or to declare them, as Isaiah and Jeremiah did. It was his mission, and
also Elisha's, to destroy the worship of Baal and punish the apostate
kings who had introduced it. He was the messenger and instrument of
Jehovah to remove idolatry, not to predict the future destiny of his
nation. He is to be viewed, like Elisha, as a reformer, as a man of
action, armed with supernatural gifts to awe kings and influence the
people, rather than as a seer or a poet, or even as a writer to instruct
future generations. His mission seems to have ended shortly after he had
thrown his mantle on a man more accomplished than himself in knowledge
of the world. But his last days are associated with unspeakable grandeur
as well as pathetic interest.

Elijah seems to have known that the day of his departure was at hand.
So, departing from Gilgal in company with his beloved companion, he
proceeded toward Bethel. As he approached the city he besought Elisha to
leave him alone; but Elisha refused to part with the master whom he both
loved and revered. Onward they proceeded from Bethel to Jericho, and
from Jericho to the Jordan. It was a mournful journey to Elisha, for he
knew as well as the sons of the prophets at Jericho that he and his
master, and friend more than master, were to part for the last time on
earth. The waters of the Jordan happened to be swollen, and the two
prophets, and the fifty sons of the prophets--their pupils, who came to
say farewell--could not pass over. But the sacred narrative tells us
that Elijah, wrapping his mantle together like a staff, smote the
waters, so that they were divided, and the two passed over to the
eastern bank, in view of the disciples. In loving intercourse Elijah
promises to give to his companion as token of his love whatever Elisha
may choose. Elisha asks simply for a double portion of his master's
spirit, which Elijah grants in case Elisha shall see him distinctly when
taken away.

"And it came to pass, as they still went on and talked, that behold
there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire, which parted them
both asunder. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha
saw it, and he cried, 'My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and
the horsemen thereof !'"--Thou art the chariot of Israel; thou hast been
its horsemen! And then there fell from Elijah, as he vanished from human
sight, the mantle by which he had been so well known; and it became the
sign of that fulness of divine favor which was given to his successor in
his arduous labors to restore the worship of Jehovah, "and to prepare
the way for Him in whom all prophecy is fulfilled."




To understand the mission of Isaiah, one should be familiar with the
history of the kingdom of Judah from the time of Jeroboam, founder of
the separate kingdom of Israel, to that of Uzziah, in whose reign Isaiah
was born, 760 B.C.

Judah had doubtless degenerated in virtue and spiritual life, but this
degeneracy was not so marked as that of the northern kingdom,--called
Israel. Judah had been favored by a succession of kings, most of whom
were able and good men. Out of nine kings, five of them "did right in
the sight of the Lord;" and during the two hundred and sixteen years
when these monarchs reigned, one hundred and eighty-seven were years
when the worship of Jehovah was maintained by virtuous princes, all of
whom were of the house of David. The reigns of those kings who did evil
in the sight of the Lord were short.

During this period there were nineteen kings of Israel, most of whom did
evil. They introduced idolatry; many of them were usurpers, and died
violent deaths. If the northern kingdom was larger and more fertile than
the southern, it was more afflicted with disastrous wars and divine
judgments for the sins into which it had fallen. It was to the wicked
kings of Israel, throned in the Samarian Shechem, that Elijah and Elisha
were sent; and the interest we feel in their reigns is chiefly directed
to the acts and sayings of those two great prophets.

The kingdom of Judah, blessed on the whole with virtuous rulers, and
comparatively free from idolatry, continually increased in wealth and
political power. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, after the rebellion of
the ten tribes, seems to have changed somewhat his course of life,
although the high places and graven images were not removed; but his
grandson Asa destroyed the idols, and made fortunate alliances. Asa's
son Jehoshaphat terminated the civil wars that had raged between Judah
and Israel from the accession of Rehoboam, and almost rivalled Solomon
in his outward prosperity. Jerusalem became the strongest fortress in
western Asia; the Temple service was continued in its former splendor;
all that was vital in the strength of nations pertained to the smaller
kingdom. The dark spot in the history of Judah for nearly two hundred
years was the ascendency gained by Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel,
over her husband Jehoram, who introduced the gods of Phoenicia. She
seems to have exercised the same malign influence in Jerusalem that
Jezebel did in Samaria, and was as unscrupulous as her pagan mother. She
even succeeded in usurping the throne, and in destroying the whole race
of David, with the exception of Joash, an infant, whom Jehoiada the
high-priest contrived to hide until the unscrupulous Athaliah was slain,
having reigned as queen six years,--the first instance in Jewish history
of a female sovereign.

Both Judah and Israel in these years had the danger of a Syrian war
constantly threatening them. Under Hazael, who reigned at Damascus,
great conquests were made by the Syrians of Jewish territory, and the
capture of Jerusalem was averted only by buying off the enemy, to whom
were surrendered the gifts to the Temple accumulating since the days of
Jehoshaphat. The whole land was overrun and pillaged. Nor were
calamities confined to the miseries of war. A long drouth burned the
fields; seed rotted under the clods; the cattle moaned in the barren and
dried-up pastures; while locusts devoured what the drouth had spared.
Says Stanley: "The purple vine, the green fig-tree, the gray olive, the
scarlet pomegranate, the golden corn, the waving palm, the fragrant
citron, vanished before them, and the trunks and branches were left
bare and white by their devouring teeth,"--a brilliant sentence, by the
way, which Geikie quotes without acknowledgment, as well as many others,
which lays him open to the charge of plagiarism. Both Stanley and
Geikie, however, seem to be indebted to Ewald for all that is striking
and original in their histories,--so true is Solomon's saying that there
is nothing new under the sun. The rarest thing in literature is a truly
original history.

In this mournful crisis the prophet Joel, who was a priest at Jerusalem,
demanded a solemn fast, which the entire kingdom devoutly celebrated,
the whole body of the priests crying aloud before the gates of the
Temple, "Spare Thy people, O Lord! give not Thine heritage to reproach,
lest the heathen make us a by-word, and ask, Where is now thy God?" But
Joel, the oldest, and in many respects the most eloquent, Hebrew prophet
whose utterances have come down to us, did not speak in vain, and a
great religious revival followed, attended naturally by renewed
prosperity,--for among the Jews a "revival of religion" meant a
practical return from vice to virtue, personal holiness, and the just
and wholesome requirements of their law; so that "under Amaziah, Uzziah,
and Jotham, Judah rose once more to a pitch of honor and glory which
almost recalled the golden age of David."

A greater power than that of Syria threatened the peace and welfare of
the kingdom of Judah, as it also did that of Israel; and this was the
empire of Assyria. During the reigns of David and Solomon this empire
was passing through so many disasters that it was not regarded as
dangerous, and both of the Jewish kingdoms were left free to avail
themselves of every facility afforded for national development. Ewald
notices emphatically this outward prosperity, which introduced luxury
and pride throughout the kingdom. It was the golden age of merchants,
usurers, and money-mongers. Then appeared that extraordinary greed for
riches which never afterward left the nation, even in seasons of
calamity, and which is the most striking peculiarity of the modern
Hebrew. This was a period not only of prosperity and luxury, but of
vanity and ostentation, especially among women. The insidious influences
of wealth more than balanced the good effected by a long succession of
virtuous and gifted princes. I read of no country that, on the whole,
was ever favored by a more remarkable constellation of absolute kings
than that of Judah. Most of them had long reigns, took prophets and wise
men for their counsellors, developed the resources of their kingdoms,
strengthened Jerusalem, avoided entangling wars, and enjoyed the love
and veneration of the people. Most of them, unlike the kings of Israel,
were true to their exalted mission, were loyal to Jehovah, and
discouraged idolatry, if they did not root out the scandal by
persecuting violence. Some of these kings were poets, and others were
saints, like their great ancestor David; and yet, in spite of all their
efforts, corruption, and infidelity gained ground, and ultimately
undermined the state and prepared the way for Babylonian conquests.
Though Jerusalem survived the fall of Samaria for nearly five
generations, divine judgment was delayed, but not withdrawn. The
chastisement was sent at last at the hands of warriors whom no nation
could successfully resist.

The old enemies who had in the early days overwhelmed the Hebrews with
calamities under the Judges had been conquered by Saul and David,--the
Moabites, the Edomites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the
Philistines,--and they never afterward seriously menaced the kingdom,
although there were occasional wars. But in the eighth century before
Christ the Assyrian empire, whose capital was Nineveh, had become very
formidable under warlike sovereigns, who aimed to extend their dominion
to the Mediterranean and to Egypt. In the reign of Jehoash, the son of
Athaliah, an Assyrian monarch had exacted tribute from Tyre and Sidon,
and Syria was overrun. When Pul, or Tiglath-pileser, seized the throne
of Nineveh, he pushed his conquests to the Caspian Sea on the north and
the Indus on the east, to the frontier of Egypt and the deserts of Sinai
on the west and south. In 739 B.C. he appeared in Syria to break up a
confederation which Uzziah of Judah had formed to resist him, and
succeeded in destroying the power of Syria, and carrying its people as
captives to Assyria. Menahem, king of Samaria, submitted to the enormous
tribute of one thousand talents of silver. In 733 B.C. this great
conqueror again invaded Syria, beheaded Rezin its king, took Damascus,
reduced five hundred and eighteen cities and towns to ashes, and carried
back to Nineveh an immense spoil. In 728 B.C. Shalmanezer IV. appeared
in Palestine, and invested Samaria. The city made an heroic defence; but
after a siege of three years it yielded to Sargon, who carried away into
captivity the ten tribes of Israel, from which they never returned.

Judah survived by reason of its greater military skill and its strong
fortresses, with which Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah had fortified the
country, especially Jerusalem. But the fate of western Asia was sealed
when Rezin of Damascus, Menahem of Samaria, Hiram of Tyre, and the king
of Hamath moodily consented to pay tribute to the king of Assyria; the
downfall of the sturdy Judah was in preparation.

Greater evils than those of war threatened the stability of the state.
In Judah as in Ephraim drunkenness was a national vice, and the nobles
abandoned themselves to disgraceful debauchery. There was a general
demoralization of the people more fearful in its consequences than even
idolatry. Judah was no exception to the ordinary fate of nations; the
everlasting sequence--pertaining to institutions as well as nations, to
religious as well as merely political communities--was here
seen,--"Inwardness, outwardness, worldliness, and rottenness."

It was in this state of political danger and a general decline in
morals, with a tendency to idolatry, that Isaiah--preacher, statesman,
historian, poet, and prophet--was born.

Less is said of the personal history of this great man than of Moses or
David, of Daniel or Elisha, and it is only in his writings that we see
the solemn grandeur of his character. We infer that he was allied with
the royal family of David; he certainly held a high position in the
courts of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was a man of great dignity,
experience, and wisdom, but ascetic in his habits and dress. Although he
associated with the great in courts and palaces, a cell was his delight.
He was a retiring, contemplative, rapt, austere man, severe on
passing follies, and not sparing in his rebukes of sin in high
places,--something like Savonarola at Florence, both as preacher and
prophet,--and exercising a commanding influence on political affairs
and on the people directly, especially during the reigns of Ahaz and
Hezekiah. He denounced woes and calamities, yet escaped persecution from
the grandeur of his character and the importance of his utterances. He
was a favorite of King Hezekiah, and was contemporary with the prophets
Hosea, Amos, and Jonah. He lived in Jerusalem, not far from the Temple,
and had a wife and two sons. He wrote the life of Uzziah, and died at
the age of eighty-four, in the reign of Manasseh. It is generally
supposed that although Isaiah had lived in honor during the reigns of
four kings, he suffered martyrdom at last. It is the fate of prophets to
be stoned when they are in antagonism with men in power, or with popular
sentiments. His prophetic ministry extended over a period of about fifty
years, and he was continually consulted by the reigning monarchs.

The great outward events that took place during Isaiah's public career
were the invasion of Judah by the combined forces of Israel and Syria in
the reign of Ahaz, and the great Assyrian invasion in the reign
of Hezekiah.

In regard to the first, it was disastrous to Judah. The weak king, the
twelfth from David, was inclined to the idolatries of the surrounding
nations, but was not signally bad like Ahab. Yet he was no match for
Pekah, who reigned at Samaria, or for Rezin, who reigned at Damascus.
Their combined armies slew in one day one hundred and twenty thousand of
the subjects of Ahaz, and carried away into captivity two hundred
thousand women and children, with immense spoil. The conqueror then
advanced to the siege of Jerusalem. In his distress Ahaz invoked the aid
of Pul, or Tiglath-pileser II., one of the most warlike of the Assyrian
kings, whose kingdom stretched from the Armenian mountains on the north
to Bagdad on the south, and from the Zagros chain on the east to the
Euphrates on the west. Earnestly did the prophet-statesman expostulate
with Ahaz, telling him that the king of Assyria would prove "a razor to
shave but too clean his desolate land." The inspired advice was
rejected; and the result of the alliance was that Judah, like Israel,
fell to the rank of a subject nation, and became tributary to Assyria,
and Ahaz, a mere vassal of Tiglath-pileser. The whole of Palestine
became the border-land of the Assyrian empire, easy to be invaded and
liable to be conquered.

The consequences which Isaiah feared, took place in the time of
Hezekiah, in the actual invasion of Judah by the Assyrian hosts under
Sennacherib. Not the splendid prosperity of Hezekiah, little short of
that enjoyed by Solomon,--not his allegiance to Jehovah, nor his grand

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