Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Beacon Lights of History, Volume II by John Lord

Part 4 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

reforms and magnificent feasts averted the calamities which were the
legitimate result of the blindness of his father Ahaz. Sennacherib, the
most powerful of all the Assyrian kings, after suppressing a revolt in
Babylon and conquering various Eastern states, turned his eyes and steps
to Palestine, which had revolted. Hezekiah, in mortal fear, made humble
submission, and consented to a tribute of three hundred talents of
silver and thirty of gold, and the loss of two hundred thousand of his
people as captives, and a cession of a part of his territory,--as great
a calamity as France suffered in the war (1870-71) with Prussia.
Considering the prosperity of the kingdom of Judah under Hezekiah, it is
a difficult thing to be explained that the king could raise but three
hundred talents of silver and thirty of gold, although David had
contributed out of his private fortune, for the future erection of the
Temple, three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of
silver, besides the one million talents of silver and one hundred
thousand talents of gold which he collected as sovereign. It would seem
probable that an error has crept into the estimates of the wealth of the
kingdom under Solomon and under the subsequent kings; either that of
Solomon is exaggerated, or that of Hezekiah is underrated.

Notwithstanding his former defeat and losses, Hezekiah again revolted,
and again was Judah invaded by a still greater Assyrian force. The king
of Judah in this emergency showed extraordinary energy, stopped the
supply of water outside his capital, strengthened his defences, gathered
together his fighting men, and encouraged them with the assurance that
help would come from the Lord, in whom they trusted, and whom
Sennacherib boastfully defied. For the ringing words of Isaiah roused
and animated the hearts of both king and people to a noble courage,
announcing the aid of Jehovah and the overthrow of the heathen invader.
As we have seen, the men of Judah showed their faith in the divine help
by preparing to help themselves. But from an unexpected quarter the
assistance came, as Isaiah had predicted. A pestilence destroyed in a
single night one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian
warriors,--the most signal overthrow of the enemies of Israel since
Pharaoh and his host were swallowed up by the waters of the Red Sea, and
also the most signal deliverance which Jerusalem ever had. The calamity
created such a fearful demoralization among the invaders that the
over-confident Assyrian monarch retired to his capital with utter loss
of prestige, and soon after was assassinated by his own sons. No
Assyrian king after this invaded Judah, and Nineveh itself in a few
years was conquered by Babylon.

The fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was delayed one
hundred years. But such were the moral and social evils of the times
succeeding the Ninevite invasion that Isaiah saw that retribution would
come sooner or later, unless the nation repented and a radical reform
should take place. He saw the people stricken with judicial blindness;
so he clothed himself in sackcloth and cried aloud, with fervid
eloquence, upon the people to repent. He is now the popular preacher,
and his theme is repentance. In his earnest exhortations he foreshadows
John the Baptist: "Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." It
would seem that Savonarola makes him the model of his own eloquence.
"Thy crimes, O Florence! thy crimes, O Rome! thy crimes, O Italy! are
the causes of these chastisements. O Rome! thou shalt be put to the
sword, since thou wilt not be converted! O harlot Church! I will stretch
forth mine hand upon thee, saith the Lord." The burden of the soul of
the Florentine monk is sin, especially sin in high places. He sees only
degeneracy in life, and alarms the people by threats of divine
vengeance. So Isaiah cries aloud upon the people to seek the Lord while
he may be found. He does not invoke divine wrath, as David did upon his
enemies; but he shows that this wrath will surely overtake the sinner.
In no respect does he glory in this retribution: he is sad; he is
oppressed; he is filled with grief, especially in view of the prevailing
infatuation. "My people," said he, "do not consider." He denounces all
classes alike, and spares not even women. In sarcastic language he
rebukes their love of dress, their abandonment to vanities, their
finery, their very gait and mincing attitude. Still more contemptuously
does the preacher speak of the men, over whom the women rule and
children oppress. He is severe on corrupt judges, on usurers; on all who
are conceited in their own eyes; on those who are mighty to drink wine;
on those who join house to house and field to field; on those whose
glorious beauty is a fading flower; on those who call good evil and evil
good, that put darkness for light, that take away the righteousness of
the righteous from him. His terrible denunciation and enumeration of
evil indicate a very lax morality in every quarter, added to hypocrisy
and pharisaism. He shows what a poor thing is sacrifice unaccompanied
with virtue. "To what purpose," said he, "is the multitude of
sacrifices? Bring no more vain oblations. Incense is an abomination to
me, saith the Lord. Therefore wash you, make you clean, put away the
evil of your doings; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment,
relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."
Isaiah does not preach dogmas, still less metaphysical distinctions; he
preaches against sin and demands repentance, and predicts calamity.

There are two points in his preaching which stand out with great
vividness,--the certain judgments of God in view of sin, retribution on
all offenders; and secondly, the mercy and forgiveness of God in case of
repentance. Retribution, however, is not in Isaiah usually presented as
the penalty of transgression according to natural law; not, as in the
Proverbs, as the inevitable sequence of sin,--"Whatsoever ye sow, that
shall ye also reap,"--but as direct punishment from God. Jehovah's awful
personality is everywhere recognized,--a being who rules the universe as
"the living God," who loves and abhors, who punishes and rewards, who
gives power to the faint, who judges among the nations, who takes away
from Judah and Jerusalem the stay and the staff of bread and water. "To
whom then will ye liken God? Have ye not known, have ye not heard, hath
it not been told you from the beginning? It is He that sitteth upon the
circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers;
that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, that bringeth the princes
to nothing. Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the
everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth,
fainteth not, neither is weary? He giveth power to the faint and weary,
so that they who wait upon Him shall renew their strength, mount up with
wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint." Can stronger
or more comforting language be made use of to assert the personality
and providence of God? And where in the whole circuit of Hebrew poetry
is there more sublimity of language, greater eloquence, or more profound
conviction of the evil and punishment of sin? Isaiah, the greatest of
all the prophets in his spiritual discernment, in his profound insight
of the future, is not behind the author of Job in majestic and sublime

Whatever may be the severity of language with which Isaiah denounces
sin, and awful the judgments he pronounces in view of it, as coming
directly from God, yet he seldom closes one of his dreadful sentences
without holding out the hope of divine forgiveness in case of
repentance, and the peace and comfort which will follow. In his view the
mercy of the Lord is more impressive than his judgments. Isaiah is
anything but a prophet of wrath; his soul overflows with tender
sentiments and loving exhortation. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come
to the waters! Come ye, buy and eat! Yea, come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price!... Let the wicked forsake his way, and
the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and
he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly
pardon...Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save;
neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear...Though your sins be as
scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool."

According to modern standards, we are struck with the absence of what we
call art, in the writings of Isaiah. History, woes, promises, hopes,
aspirations, and exultations are all mingled together in scarcely
logical sequence. He exhorts, he threatens, he reproaches, he promises,
often in the same chapter. The transition between preacher and prophet
is very sudden. But it is as prophet that Isaiah is most frequently
spoken of; and he is the prophet of hope and consolation, although he
denounces woes upon the nations of the earth. In his prophetic office he
predicts the future of all the people known to the Hebrews. He does not
preach to _them_: they do not hear his voice; they do not know what
tribulations shall be sent upon them. He commits his prophecies to
writing for the benefit of future ages, in which he gives reasons for
the judgments to be sent upon wicked nations, so that the great
principles seen in the moral government of God may remain of perpetual
significance. These principles centre around the great truth that
national wickedness will certainly be followed by national calamities,
which is also one of the most impressive truths that all history
teaches; and so uniform is the operation of this great law that it is
safe to make deductions from it for the guidance of statesmen and the
teachings of moralists. National effeminacy which follows luxury, great
injustices which cry to heaven for vengeance, and practical atheism and
idolatry are certain to call forth divine judgments,--sometimes in the
form of destructive wars, sometimes in pestilence and famine, and at
other times in the gradual wasting away of national resources and
political power. In conformity with this settled law in the moral
government of God, we read the fate of Nineveh, of Babylon, of Tyre, of
Jerusalem, of Carthage, of Antioch, of Corinth, of Athens, of Rome; and
I would even add of Venice, of Turkey, of Spain. Nor is there anything
which can save modern cities and countries, however magnificent their
civilization, from a like visitation of Almighty power, if they continue
in the iniquity which all the world perceives, and sometimes deplores.
It must have seemed as absurd to the readers of Isaiah's predictions
twenty-five hundred years ago that Babylon and Tyre should fall, as it
would to the people of our day should one predict the future ruin of
Paris or London or New York, if the vices which now flourish in these
cities should reach an overwhelming preponderance, but which we hope may
be wholly overcome by the influence of Christianity and the spirit and
interference of God himself; for He governs the world by the same
principles that He did two thousand years ago,--a fact which seldom is
ignored by any profound and religious inquirer.

I have no faith in the permanence of any form of civilization, or of any
government, where a certain depth of infamy and depravity is reached;
because the impressive lesson of history is that righteousness exalteth
a nation, and iniquity brings it low. Isaiah predicted woes which came
to pass, since the cities and peoples against whom he denounced them
remained obstinately perverse in their iniquity and atheism. Their doom
was certain, without that repentance which would lead to a radical
change of life and opinions. He held out no hope unless they turned to
the Lord; nor did any of the prophets. Jeremiah was sad because he knew
they would not repent, even as Christ himself wept over Jerusalem. No
maledictions came from the pen or voice of Isaiah such as David breathed
against his enemies, only the expression of the sad and solemn
conviction that unless the people and the nation repented, they would
all equally and surely perish, in accordance with the stern laws written
on the two tables of Moses,--for "I, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting
the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, even to the third and
fourth generation;"--yea, written before Moses, and to be read unto this
day in the very constitution of man, physical, mental, spiritual,
and social.

The prophet first announces the calamities which both Judah and
Ephraim--the southern and the northern kingdoms--shall suffer from
Assyrian invasions. "The Lord shall shave Judah with a razor, not only
the head, but the beard,"--thus declaring that the land would be not
only depopulated, but become a desert, and that men should no longer
live by agriculture, or by trade and commerce, but by grazing alone.
"Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious
beauty is a fading flower; it shall be trodden under foot." The sins of
pride and drunkenness are especially enumerated as the cause of their
chastisement. "Woe to Ariel [that is Jerusalem]! I will camp against
thee round about, and lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will
raise forts against thee, and thou shalt be brought down.... Forasmuch
as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with lips do they
honor me, but have removed their heart far from me,"--hereby showing
that hypocrisy at Jerusalem was as prevalent as drunkenness in Samaria,
and as difficult to be removed.

Isaiah also reproves Judah for relying on the aid of Egypt in the
threatened Assyrian invasion, instead of putting confidence in God, but
declares that the evil day will be deferred in case that Judah repents;
however, he holds out no hope that her people may escape the final
captivity to Babylon. All that the prophet predicted in reference to
the desolation of Palestine by Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, as
instruments of punishment, came to pass.

From the calamities which both Judah and Israel should suffer for their
pride, hypocrisy, drunkenness, and idolatry, Isaiah turns to predict the
fall of other nations. "Wherefore it shall come to pass that when the
Lord hath performed his whole work upon Jerusalem, I will punish the
fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his
high looks.... For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom; for I am prudent, and I have removed the bounds of the
people, and have robbed their treasures, and put down the inhabitants
like a valiant man: and as I have gathered all the earth, as one
gathereth eggs, therefore shall the Lord of Hosts send among his fat
ones leanness, and under his glory He shall kindle a burning like the
burning of a fire." In the inscriptions which have recently been
deciphered on the broken and decayed monuments of Nineveh nothing is
more remarkable than the boastful spirit, pride, and arrogance of the
Assyrian kings and conquerors.

The fall of still prouder Babylon is next predicted. "Since thou hast
said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne
above the stars of God, thou shalt be brought down to hell.... Babylon,
the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldean excellency, shall be
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited,
neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither
shall the Arabians pitch tent there, neither shall the shepherds make
their fold there; but wild beasts of the deserts shall lie there, and
the owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there." Both Nineveh
and Babylon arose to glory and power by unscrupulous conquests, for
their kings and people were military in their tastes and habits; and
with dominion cruelly and wickedly obtained came arrogance and pride
unbounded, and with these luxury and sensuality. The wickedest city of
antiquity meets with the most terrible punishment that is recorded of
any city in the world's history. Not only were pride and cruelty the
peculiar vices of its kings and princes, but a gross and degrading
idolatry, allied with all the vices that we call infamous, marked the
inhabitants of the doomed capital; so that the Hebrew language was
exhausted to find a word sufficiently expressive to mark its
foul depravity, or sufficiently exultant to rejoice over its
predicted \fall. Most cities have recovered more or less from their
calamities,--Jerusalem, Athens, Rome,--but Babylon was utterly
destroyed, as by fire from heaven, and never has been rebuilt or again
inhabited, except by wild beasts. Its very ruins, the remains of walls
three hundred and fifty feet in height, and of hanging gardens, and of
palaces a mile in circuit, and of majestic temples, are now with
difficulty determined. Truly has that wicked city been swept with the
besom of destruction, as Isaiah predicted.

The prophet then predicts the desolation of Moab on account of its
pride, which seems to have been its peculiar offence. It is to be noted
that the sin of pride has ever called forth a severe judgment. "It goeth
before destruction." Pride was one of the peculiarities of both Nineveh
and Babylon. But that which is exalted shall be brought low. A bitter
humiliation, at least, has ever been visited upon those who have
arrogated a lofty superiority. It presupposes an independence utterly
inconsistent with the real condition of men in the eyes of the
Omnipotent; in the eyes of men, even, it is offensive in the extreme,
and ends in isolation. We can tolerate certain great defects and
weaknesses, but no one ever got reconciled to pride. It led to the ruin
of Napoleon, as well as of Caesar; it creates innumerable enemies, even
in the most retired village; it separates and alienates families; and
when the punishment for it comes, everybody rejoices. People say
contemptuously, "Is this the man that made the earth to tremble?" There
is seldom pity for a fallen greatness that rejoiced in its strength, and
despised the weakness of the unfortunate. If anything is foreign to the
spirit of Christianity it is boastful pride, and yet it is one of those
things which it is difficult for conscience to reach, as it is generally
baptized with the name of self-respect.

The next woe which Isaiah denounced was on Egypt, which had played so
great a part in the history of ancient nations. The judgments sent on
this civilized country were severe, but were not so appalling as those
to be visited upon Babylon. With Egypt was included Ethiopia. Civil war
should desolate both nations, and it should rage so fiercely that "every
one should fight against his brother, and every one against his
neighbor, city against city, and kingdom against kingdom." Moreover, the
famed wisdom of Egypt should fail; the people in their distress should
seek to gain direction from wizards and charmers and soothsayers. It
always was a country of magicians, from the time that Aaron's rod
swallowed up the rods of those boastful enchanters who sought to repeat
his miracles; it was a country of soothsayers and sorcerers when finally
conquered by the Romans; it was the fruitful land of religious
superstitions in every age. It was governed in the earliest times by
pagan priests; the early kings were priests,--even Moses and Joseph were
initiated into the occult arts of the priests. It was not wholly given
to idolatry, since it is supposed that there was an esoteric wisdom
among the higher priests which held to the One Supreme God and the
immortality of the soul, as well as to future rewards and punishments.
Nevertheless, the disgusting ceremonies connected with the worship of
animals were far below the level of true religion, and the sorceries and
magical incantations and superstitious rites which kept the people in
ignorance, bondage, and degradation called loudly for rebuke. By reason
of these things the nation was to be still farther subjected to the
grinding rule of tyrants. It was a fertile and fruitful land, in which
all the arts known to antiquity flourished; but the rains of Ethiopia
were to be withheld, and such should be the unusual and abnormal drouth
that the Nile should be dried up, and the reeds upon its banks should
wither and decay. The river was stocked with fish, but the fishermen
should cast their hooks and arrange their nets in vain. Even the workers
in flax (one great source of Egyptian wealth and luxury) should be
confounded. The princes were to become fools; there was to be general
confusion, and no work was to be done in manufactures. Even Judah should
become a terror to Egypt, and fear should overspread the land. To these
calamities there was to be some palliation. Five cities should speak the
language of Canaan, and swear by the Lord of Hosts; and an altar should
be erected in the middle of the land which should be a witness unto the
Lord of Hosts, to whom the people should cry amid their oppressions and
miseries; and Jehovah should be known in Egypt. "He shall smite it, but
he also shall heal it." And when we remember what a refuge the Jews
found in Alexandria and other cities in the no very distant future,
keeping alive there the worship of the true God, and what a hold
Christianity itself took in the second and third centuries in that old
country of priests and sorcerers, producing a Clement, a Cyprian, a
Tertullian, an Athanasius, and an Augustine; yea, that when conquered by
the Mohammedans, the worship of the one true God was everywhere
maintained from that time to the present,--we feel that the mercy of God
followed close upon his justice. Isaiah predicted even the divine
blessing on the land, which it should share with Palestine: "Blessed be
Egypt my people, and Israel mine inheritance."

It is not to be supposed that Tyre would escape from the calamities
which were to be sent on the various heathen nations. Tyre was the great
commercial centre of the world at that time, as Babylon was the centre
of imperial power. Babylon ruled over the land, and Tyre over the sea;
the one was the capital of a vast empire, the other was a maritime
power, whose ships were to be seen in every part of the Mediterranean.
Tyre, by its wealth and commerce, gained the supremacy in Phoenicia,
although Sidon was an older city, five miles distant. But Tyre was
defiled by the worship of Baal and Astarte; it was a city of exceeding
dissoluteness. It was not only proud and luxurious, but abominably
licentious; it was a city of harlots. And what was to be its fate? It
was to be destroyed, and its merchandise was to be scattered. "Howl, ye
ships of Tarshish! for your strength is laid waste, so that there is no
house, no entering in.... The Lord of Hosts hath purposed it, to stain
the pride of glory, and bring to contempt all the honorable of the
earth." The inhabitants of the city who sought escape from death were
compelled to take refuge in the colonies at Cyprus, Carthage, and
Tartessus in Spain. The destruction of Tyre has been complete. There are
no remains of its former grandeur; its palaces are indistinguishable
ruins. Its traffic was transferred to Carthage. Yet how strong must have
been a city which took Nebuchadnezzar thirteen years to subdue! It arose
from its ashes, but was reduced again by Alexander.

Isaiah condenses his judgment in reference to the other wicked nations
of his time in a few rapid, vigorous, and comprehensive clauses.
"Behold, Jehovah emptieth the earth, and layeth it waste, and scattereth
its inhabitants. And it happeneth, as to the people, so to the priest;
as to the servant, so to the master; as to the maid, so to her mistress;
as to the buyer, so to the seller; as to the lender, so to the
borrower; as to the creditor, so to the debtor. The earth has become
wicked among its inhabitants, therefore hath the curse devoured the
earth, and they who dwelt in it make expiation." We observe that these
severe calamities are not uttered in wrath. They are not maledictions;
they are simply divine revelations to the gifted prophet, or logical
deductions which the inspired statesman declares from incontrovertible
facts. In this latter sense, all profound observations on the tendency
of passing events partake of the nature of prophecy. A sage is
necessarily a prophet. Men even prophesy rain or heat or cold from
natural phenomena, and their predictions often come to pass. Much more
to be relied on is the prophetic wisdom which is seen among great
thinkers and writers, like Burke, Webster, and Carlyle, since they rely
on the operation of unchanging laws, both moral and physical. When a
nation is wholly given over to lying and cheating in trade, or to
hypocritical observances in religion, or to practical atheism, or to
gross superstitions, or abominable dissoluteness in morals, or to the
rule of feeble kings controlled by hypocritical priests and harlots, is
it presumptuous to predict the consequences? Is it difficult to predict
the ultimate effect on a nation of overwhelming standing armies eating
up the resources of kings, or of the general prevalence of luxury,
effeminacy, and vice?

Isaiah having declared the judgment of God on apostate, idolatrous, and
wicked nations; having emphasized the great principle of retribution,
even on nations that in his day were prosperous and powerful; having
rebuked the sins of the people among whom he dwelt, and exposed
hypocrisy and dead-letter piety,--lays down the fundamental law that
chastisements are sent to lead men to repentance, and that where there
is repentance there is forgiveness. Severe as are his denunciations of
sin, and certain as is the punishment of it, yet his soul dwells on the
mercy and love of God more than even on His justice. He never loses
sight of reconciliation, although he holds out but little hope for
people wedded to their idols. There is no hope for Babylon or Tyre; they
are doomed. Nor is there much encouragement for Ephraim, which composed
so large a part of the kingdom of Israel; its people were to be
dispersed, to become captives, and never were to return to their native
hills. But he holds out great hope for Judah. It will be conquered, and
its people carried away in slavery to Babylon,--that is their
chastisement for apostasy; but a remnant of them shall return. They had
not utterly forgotten God, therefore a part of the nation shall be
rescued from captivity. So full of hope is Isaiah that the nation shall
not utterly be destroyed, that he names his son Shear-jashub,--"a
remnant shall return." This is his watchword. Certain is it that the
Lord will have mercy on Jacob whom he hath chosen; his promises will not
fail. Judah shall be chastised; but a part of Judah shall return to
Jerusalem, purified, wiser, and shall again in due time flourish as
a nation.

Isaiah is the prophet of hope, of forgiveness, and of love. Not only on
Judah shall a blessing be bestowed, but upon the whole world.
Forgiveness is unbounded if there is repentance, no matter what the sin
may be. He almost anticipates the message of Jesus by saying, "Though
your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." God's mercy is
past finding out. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!"
So full is he of the boundless love of God, extended to all created
things, that he calls on the hills and the mountains to rejoice. Here he
soars beyond the Jew; he takes in the whole world in his rapturous
expectation of deliverance. He comforts all good people under
chastisement. He is as cheerful as Jeremiah is sad.

Having laid down the conditions of forgiveness, and expatiated on the
divine benevolence, Isaiah now sings another song, and ascends to
loftier heights. He is jubilant over the promised glories of God's
people; he speaks of the redemption of both Jew and Gentile. His
prophetic mission is now more distinctly unfolded. He blends the
forgiveness of sins with the promised Deliverer; he unfolds the advent
of the Messiah. He even foretells in what form He shall come; he
predicts the main facts of His personal history. Not only shall there
"come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch out of its
roots," but he shall be "a man despised and rejected, a man of sorrows
and acquainted with grief; who shall be wounded for our transgressions
and bruised for our iniquities, brought as a lamb to the slaughter, cut
off from the living, making his grave with the wicked and with the rich
in his death; yet bruised because it pleased the Lord, and because he
made his soul an offering for sin, and made intercession with the
transgressors." Who is this stricken, persecuted, martyred personage,
bearing the iniquity of the race, and thus providing a way for future
salvation? Isaiah, with transcendent majesty of style, clear and
luminous as it is poetical, declares that this person who is still
unborn, this light which shall appear in Galilee, is no less than he on
whose shoulders shall be the government, "whose name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the
Prince of Peace; of the increase of whose kingdom and peace there shall
be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it,
and to establish it with judgment and justice forever."

Only in some of the Messianic Psalms do we meet with kindred passages,
indicating the reign of the Christ upon the earth, expressed with such
emphatic clearness. How marvellous and wonderful this prophecy! Seven
hundred years before its fulfilment, it is expressed with such
minuteness, that, had the prophet lived in the Apostolic age, he could
not have described the Messiah more accurately. The devout Jew,
especially after the Captivity, believed in a future deliverer, who
should arise from the seed of David, establish a great empire, and reign
as a temporal monarch; but he had no lofty and spiritual views of this
predicted reign. To Isaiah, more even than to Abraham or David or any
other person in Jewish history, was it revealed that the reign of the
Christ was to be spiritual; that he was not to be a temporal deliverer,
but a Saviour redeeming mankind from the curse of sin. Hence Isaiah is
quoted more than all the other prophets combined, especially by the
writers of the New Testament.

Having announced this glorious prediction of the advent into our world
of a divine Redeemer in the form of a man, by whose life and suffering
and death the world should be saved, the prophet-poet breaks out in
rhapsodies. He cannot contain his exultation. He loses sight of the
judgments he had declared, in his unbounded rejoicings that there was to
be a deliverance; that not only a remnant would return to Jerusalem and
become a renewed power, but that the Messiah should ultimately reign
over all the nations of the earth, should establish a reign of peace,
so that warriors "should beat their swords into ploughshares, and their
spears into pruning-hooks." Heretofore the history of kings had been a
history of wars,--of oppression, of injustice, of cruelty. Miseries
overspread the earth from this scourge more than from all other causes
combined. The world was decimated by war, producing not only wholesale
slaughter, but captivity and slavery, the utter extinction of nations.
Isaiah had himself dwelt upon the woes to be visited on mankind by war
more than any other prophet who had preceded him. All the leading
nations and capitals were to be utterly destroyed or severely punished;
calamity and misery should be nearly universal; only "a remnant should
be saved." Now, however, he takes the most cheerful and joyous views. So
marked is the contrast between the first and latter parts of the Book of
Isaiah, that many great critics suppose that they were written by
different persons and at different times. But whether there were two
persons or one, the most comforting and cheering doctrines to be found
in the Scriptures, before the Sermon on the Mount was preached, are
declared by Isaiah. The breadth and catholicity of them are amazing from
the pen of a Jew. The whole world was to share with him in the promises
of a Saviour; the whole world was to be finally redeemed. As recipients
of divine privileges there was to be no difference between Jew and
Gentile. Paul himself shows no greater mental illumination. "The glory
of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it."

In view of this glorious reign of peace and universal redemption, Isaiah
calls upon the earth to be joyful and all the mountains to break forth
in singing, and Zion to awake, and Jerusalem to put on her beautiful
garments, and all waste places to break forth in joy; for the glory of
the Lord is risen upon the City of David. How rapturously does the
prophet, in the most glowing and lofty flights of poetry, dwell upon the
time when the redeemed of the Lord shall return to Zion with songs and
thanksgivings, no more to be called "forsaken," but a city to be renewed
in beauties and glories, and in which kings shall be nursing fathers to
its sons and daughters, and queens nursing mothers. These are the
tidings which the prophet brings, and which the poet sings in matchless
lyrics. To the Zion of the Holy One of Israel shall the Gentiles come
with their precious offerings. "Violence shall no more be heard in thy
land," saith the poet, "wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but
thou shalt call thy walls Salvation and thy gates Praise.... Thy sun
shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the
Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the day of thy mourning shall
be ended.... Thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the
land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I
may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one
a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in its time."

Salvation, peace, the glory of Zion!--these are the words which Isaiah
reiterates. With these are identified the spiritual kingdom of Christ,
which is to spread over the whole earth. The prophet does not specify
when that time shall come, when peace shall be universal, and when all
the people shall be righteous; that part of the prophecy remains
unfulfilled, as well as the renewed glories of Jerusalem. Yet a thousand
years with the Lord are as one day. No believing Christian doubts that
it will be fulfilled, as certainly as that Babylon should be destroyed,
or that a Messiah should appear among the Jews. The day of deliverance
began to dawn when Christianity was proclaimed among the Gentiles. From
that time a great progress has been seen among the nations. First, wars
began to cease in the Roman world. They were renewed when the empire of
the Caesars fell, but their ferocity and cruelty diminished; conquered
people were not carried away as slaves, nor were women and children put
to death, except in extraordinary cases, which called out universal
grief, compassion, and indignation. With all the progress of truth and
civilization, it is amazing that Christian nations should still be
armed to the teeth, and that wars are still so frequent. We fear that
they will not cease until those who govern shall be conscientious
Christians. But that the time will come when rulers shall be righteous
and nations learn war no more, is a truth which Christians everywhere
accept. When, how,--by the gradual spread of knowledge, or by
supernatural intervention,--who can tell? "Zion shall arise and
shine.... The Gentiles shall come to its light, and kings to the
brightness of its rising.... Violence shall no more be heard in the
land, nor wasting and destruction within its borders.... They shall not
hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.... And it shall
come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to
another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord."

This is the sublime faith of Christendom set forth by the most sublime
of the prophets, from the most gifted and eloquent of the poets. On this
faith rests the consolation of the righteous in view of the prevalence
of iniquity. This prophecy is full of encouragement and joy amid
afflictions and sorrows. It proclaims liberty to captives, and the
opening of the prison to those that are bound; it preaches glad tidings
to the meek, and binds up the broken-hearted; it gives beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit
of heaviness. This prediction has inspired the religious poets of all
nations; on this is based the beauty and glory of the lyrical stanzas we
sing in our churches. The hymns and melodies of the Church, the most
immortal of human writings, are inspired with this cheering
anticipation. The psalmody of the Church is rapturous, like Isaiah, over
the triumphant and peaceful reign of Christ, coming sooner perhaps than
we dream when we see the triumphal career of wicked men. In the temporal
fall of a monstrous despotism, in the decline of wicked cities and
empires, in the light which is penetrating all lands, in the shaking of
Mohammedan thrones, in the opening of the most distant East, in the
arbitration of national difficulties, in the terrible inventions which
make nations fear to go to war, in the wonderful network of
philanthropic enterprises, in the renewed interest in sacred literature,
in the recognition of law and order as the first condition of civilized
society, in that general love of truth which science has stimulated and
rarely mocked, and which casts its searching eye into all creeds and all
hypocrisies and all false philosophy,--we share the exultant spirit of
the prophet, and in the language of one of our great poets we repeat the
promised joy:--

"Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise!
Exalt thy towering head and lift thine eyes!
See a long race thy spacious courts adorn,
See future sons and daughters yet unborn!
See barbarous nations at thy gates attend,
Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend!
See thy bright altars thronged with prostrate kings,
And heaped with products of Sabaean springs!
No more the rising sun shall gild the morn,
Nor evening Cynthia fill her silver horn;
But lost, dissolved in thy superior rays,
One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze
O'erflow thy courts; the Light himself shall shine
Revealed, and God's eternal day be thine!
The seas shall waste, the skies to smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
But fixed His word, His saving power remains:
Thy realm forever lasts; thy own Messiah reigns!"


ABOUT 629-580 B.C.


Jeremiah is a study to those who would know the history of the latter
days of the Jewish monarchy, before it finally succumbed to the
Babylonian conqueror. He was a sad and isolated man, who uttered his
prophetic warnings to a perverse and scornful generation; persecuted
because he was truthful, yet not entirely neglected or disregarded,
since he was consulted in great national dangers by the monarchs with
whom he was contemporary. So important were his utterances, it is matter
of great satisfaction that they were committed to writing, for the
benefit of future generations,--not of Jews only, but of the
Gentiles,--on account of the fundamental truths contained in them. Next
to Isaiah, Jeremiah was the most prominent of the prophets who were
commissioned to declare the will and judgments of Jehovah on a
degenerate and backsliding people. He was a preacher of righteousness,
as well as a prophet of impending woes. As a reformer he was
unsuccessful, since the Hebrew nation was incorrigibly joined to its
idols. His public career extended over a period of forty years. He was
neither popular with the people, nor a favorite of kings and princes;
the nation was against him and the times were against him. He
exasperated alike the priests, the nobles, and the populace by his
rebukes. As a prophet he had no honor in his native place. He uniformly
opposed the current of popular prejudices, and denounced every form of
selfishness and superstition; but all his protests and rebukes were in
vain. There were very few to encourage him or comfort him. Like Noah, he
was alone amidst universal derision and scorn, so that he was sad beyond
measure, more filled with grief than with indignation.

Jeremiah was not bold and stern, like Elijah, but retiring, plaintive,
mournful, tender. As he surveyed the downward descent of Judah, which
nothing apparently could arrest, he exclaimed: "Oh that my head were
waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and
night for the daughter of my people!" Is it possible for language to
express a deeper despondency, or a more tender grief? Pathos and
unselfishness are blended with his despair. It is not for himself that
he is overwhelmed with gloom, but for the sins of the people. It is
because the people would not hear, would not consider, and would
persist in their folly and wickedness, that grief pierces his soul. He
weeps for them, as Christ wept over Jerusalem. Yet at times he is stung
into bitter imprecations, he becomes fierce and impatient; and then
again he rises over the gloom which envelops him, in the conviction that
there will be a new covenant between God and man, after the punishment
for sin shall have been inflicted. But his prevailing feelings are grief
and despair, since he has no hopes of national reform. So he predicts
woes and calamities at no distant day, which are to be so overwhelming
that his soul is crushed in the anticipation of them. He cannot laugh,
he cannot rejoice, he cannot sing, he cannot eat and drink like other
men. He seeks solitude; he longs for the desert; he abstains from
marriage, he is ascetic in all his ways; he sits alone and keeps
silence, and communes only with his God; and when forced into the
streets and courts of the city, it is only with the faint hope that he
may find an honest man. No persons command his respect save the Arabian
Rechabites, who have the austere habits of the wilderness, like those of
the early Syrian monks. Yet his gloom is different from theirs: they
seek to avert divine wrath for their own sins; he sees this wrath about
to descend for the sins of others, and overwhelm the whole nation in
misery and shame.

Jeremiah was born in the little ecclesiastical town of Anathoth, about
three miles from Jerusalem, and was the son of a priest. We do not know
the exact year of his birth, but he was a very young man when he
received his divine commission as a prophet, about six hundred and
twenty-seven years before Christ. Josiah had then been on the throne of
Judah twelve years. The kingdom was apparently prosperous, and was
unmolested by external enemies. For seventy-five years Assyria had given
but little trouble, and Egypt was occupied with the siege of Ashdod,
which had been going on for twenty-nine years, so strong was that
Philistine city. But in the absence of external dangers corruption,
following wealth, was making fearful strides among the people, and
impiety was nearly universal. Every one was bent on pleasure or gain,
and prophet and priest were worldly and deceitful. From the time when
Jeremiah was first called to the prophetic office until the fall of
Jerusalem there was an unbroken series of national misfortunes,
gradually darkening into utter ruin and exile. He may have shrunk from
the perils and mortifications which attended him for forty years, as his
nature was sensitive and tender; but during this long ministry he was
incessant in his labors, lifting up his voice in the courts of the
Temple, in the palace of the king, in prison, in private houses, in the
country around Jerusalem. The burden of his utterances was a
denunciation of idolatry, and a lamentation over its consequences. "My
people, saith Jehovah, have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
and hewn out for themselves underground cisterns, full of rents, that
can hold no water.... Behold, O Judah! thou shalt be brought to shame by
thy new alliance with Egypt, as thou wast in the past by thy old
alliance with Assyria."

In this denunciation by the prophet we see that he mingled in political
affairs, and opposed the alliance which Judah made with Egypt, which
ever proved a broken reed. Egypt was a vain support against the new
power that was rising on the Euphrates, carrying all before it, even to
the destruction of Nineveh, and was threatening Damascus and Tyre as
well as Jerusalem. The power which Judah had now to fear was Babylon,
not Assyria. If any alliance was to be formed, it was better to
conciliate Babylon than Egypt.

Roused by the earnest eloquence of Jeremiah, and of those of the group
of earnest followers of Jehovah who stood with him,--Huldah the
prophetess, Shallum her husband, keeper of the royal wardrobe, Hilkiah
the high-priest, and Shaphan the scribe, or secretary,--the youthful
king Josiah, in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he was himself
but twenty-six years old, set about reforms, which the nobles and
priests bitterly opposed. Idolatry had been the fashionable religion for
nearly seventy years, and the Law was nearly forgotten. The corruption
of the priesthood and of the great body of the prophets kept pace with
the degeneracy of the people. The Temple was dilapidated, and its gold
and bronze decorations had been despoiled. The king undertook a thorough
repair of the great Sanctuary, and during its progress a discovery was
made by the high-priest Hilkiah of a copy of the Law, hidden amid the
rubbish of one of the cells or chambers of the Temple. It is generally
supposed to have been the Book of Deuteronomy. When it was lost, and
how, it is not easy to ascertain,--probably during the reign of some one
of the idolatrous kings. It seems to have been entirely forgotten,--a
proof of the general apostasy of the nation. But the discovery of the
book was hailed by Josiah as a very important event; and its effect was
to give a renewed impetus to his reforms, and a renewed study of
patriarchal history. He forthwith assembled the leading men of the
nation,--prophets, priests, Levites, nobles, and heads of tribes. He
read to them the details of the ancient covenant, and solemnly declared
his purpose to keep the commandments and statutes of Jehovah as laid
down in the precious book. The assembled elders and priests gave their
eager concurrence to the act of the king, and Judah once more, outwardly
at least, became the people of God.

Nor can it be questioned that the renewed study of the Law, as brought
about by Josiah, produced a great influence on the future of the Hebrew
nation, especially in the renunciation of idolatry. Yet this reform,
great as it was, did not prevent the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of
the leading people among the Hebrews to the land of the Chaldeans,
whence Abraham their great progenitor had emigrated.

Josiah, who was thoroughly aroused by "the words of the book," and its
denunciations of the wrath of Jehovah upon the people if they should
forsake his ways, in spite of the secret opposition of the nobles and
priests, zealously pursued the work of reform. The "high places," on
which were heathen altars, were levelled with the ground; the images of
the gods were overthrown; the Temple was purified, and the abominations
which had disgraced it were removed. His reforms extended even to the
scattered population of Samaria whom the Assyrians had spared, and all
the buildings connected with the worship of Baal and Astaroth at Bethel
were destroyed. Their very stones were broken in pieces, under the eyes
of Josiah himself. The skeletons of the pagan priests were dragged from
their burial places and burned.

An elaborate celebration of the feast of the Passover followed soon
after the discovery of the copy of the Law, whether confined to
Deuteronomy or including other additional writings ascribed to Moses, we
know not. This great Passover was the leading internal event of the
reign of Josiah. Having "taken away all the abominations out of all the
countries that belonged to the children of Israel," even as the earlier
keepers of the Law cleansed their premises, especially of all remains of
leaven,--the symbol of corruption,--the king commanded a celebration of
the feast of deliverance. Priests and Levites were sent throughout the
country to instruct the people in the preparations demanded for the
Passover. The sacred ark, hidden during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon,
was restored to its old place in the Temple, where it remained until the
Temple was destroyed. On the approach of the festival, which was to be
held with unusual solemnities, great multitudes from all parts of
Palestine assembled at Jerusalem, and three thousand bullocks and thirty
thousand lambs were provided by the king for the seven days' feast which
followed the Passover. The princes also added eight hundred oxen and
seven thousand six hundred small cattle as a gift to priests and people.
After the priests in their white robes, with bare feet and uncovered
heads, and the Levites at their side according to the king's
commandment, had "killed the passover" and "sprinkled the blood from
their hands," each Levite having first washed himself in the Temple
laver, the part of the animal required for the burnt-offering was laid
on the altar flames, and the remainder was cooked by the Levites for the
people, either baked, roasted, or boiled. And this continued for seven
days; during all the while the services of the Temple choir were
conducted by the singers, chanting the psalms of David and of Asaph.
Such a Passover had not been held since the days of Samuel. No king, not
even David or Solomon, had celebrated the festival on so grand a scale.
The minutest details of the requirements of the Law were attended to.
The festival proclaimed the full restoration of the worship of Jehovah,
and kindled enthusiasm for his service. So great was this event that
Ezekiel dates the opening of his prophecies from it. "It seems probable
that we have in the eighty-fifth psalm a relic of this great
solemnity.... Its tone is sad amidst all the great public rejoicings; it
bewails the stubborn ungodliness of the people as a whole."

After the great Passover, which took place in the year 622, when Josiah
was twenty-six years of age, little is said of the pious king, who
reigned twelve years after this memorable event. One of the best, though
not one of the wisest, kings of Judah, he did his best to eradicate
every trace of idolatry; but the hearts of the people responded faintly
to his efforts. Reform was only outward and superficial,--an
illustration of the inability even of an absolute monarch to remove
evils to which the people cling in their hearts. To the eyes of
Jeremiah, there was no hope while the hearts of the people were
unchanged. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his
spots?" he mournfully exclaims. "Much less can those who are accustomed
to do evil learn to do well." He had no illusions; he saw the true state
of affairs, and was not misled by mere outward and enforced reforms,
which partook of the nature of religious persecution, and irritated the
people rather than led to a true religious life among them. There was
nothing left to him but to declare woes and approaching calamities, to
which the people were insensible. They mocked and reviled him. His lofty
position secured him a hearing, but he preached to stones. The people
believed nothing but lies; many were indifferent and some were secretly
hostile, and he must have been pained and disappointed in view of the
incompleteness of his work through the secret opposition of the
popular leaders.

Josiah was the most virtuous monarch of Judah. It was a great public
misfortune that his life was cut short prematurely at the age of
thirty-eight, and in consequence of his own imprudence. He undertook to
oppose the encroachments of Necho II, king of Egypt, an able, warlike,
and enterprising monarch, distinguished for his naval expeditions, whose
ships doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and returned to Egypt in safety,
after a three years' voyage. Necho was not so successful in digging a
canal across the Isthmus of Suez, in which enterprise one hundred and
twenty thousand men perished from hunger, fatigue, and disease. But his
great aim was to extend his empire to the limits reached by Rameses II.,
the Sesostris of the Greeks. The great Assyrian empire was then breaking
up, and Nineveh was about to fall before the Babylonians; so he seized
the opportunity to invade Syria, a province of the Assyrian empire. He
must of course pass through Palestine, the great highway between Egypt
and the East. Josiah opposed his enterprise, fearing that if the
Egyptian king conquered Syria, he himself would become the vassal of
Egypt. Jeremiah earnestly endeavored to dissuade his sovereign from
embarking in so doubtful a war; even Necho tried to convince him through
his envoys that he made war on Nineveh, not on Jerusalem, invoking--as
most intensely earnest men did in those days of tremendous impulse--the
sacred name of Deity as his authentication. Said he: "What have I to do
with thee, thou King of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but
against the house wherewith I have war; for God commanded me to make
haste. Forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he
destroy thee not." But nothing could induce Josiah to give up his
warlike enterprise. He had the piety of Saint Louis, and also his
patriotic and chivalric heroism. He marched his forces to the plain of
Esdraelon, the great battle field where Rameses II. had triumphed over
the Hittites centuries before. The battle was fought at Megiddo.
Although Josiah took the precaution to disguise himself, he was mortally
wounded by the Egyptian archers, and was driven back in his splendid
chariot toward Jerusalem, which he did not live to reach.

The lamentations for this brave and pious monarch remind us of the
universal grief of the Hebrew nation on the death of Samuel. He was
buried in a tomb which he had prepared for himself, amid universal
mourning. A funeral oration was composed by Jeremiah, or rather an
elegy, afterward sung by the nation on the anniversary of the battle.
Nor did the nation ever forget a king so virtuous in his life and so
zealous for the Law. Long after the return from captivity the singers of
Israel sang his praises, and popular veneration for him increased with
the lapse of time; for in virtues and piety, and uninterrupted zeal for
Jehovah, Josiah never had an equal among the kings of Judah.

The services of this good king were long remembered. To him may be
traced the unyielding devotion of the Jews, after the Captivity, for the
rites and forms and ceremonies which are found in the books of the Law.
The legalisms of the Scribes may be traced to him. He reigned but twelve
years after his great reformation,--not long enough to root out the
heathenism which had prevailed unchecked for nearly seventy years. With
him perished the hopes of the kingdom.

After his death the decline was rapid. A great reaction set in, and
faction was accompanied with violence. The heathen party triumphed over
the orthodox party. The passions which had been suppressed since the
death of Manasseh burst out with all the frenzy and savage hatred which
have ever marked the Jews in their religious contentions, and these were
unrestrained by the four kings who succeeded Josiah. The people were
devoured by religious animosities, and split up into hostile factions.
Had the nation been united, it is possible that later it might have
successfully resisted the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah gave vent
to his despairing sentiments, and held out no hope. When Elijah had
appealed to the people to choose between Jehovah and Baal, he was
successful, because they were then undecided and wavering in their
belief, and it required only an evidence of superior power to bring
them back to their allegiance. But when Jeremiah appeared, idolatry was
the popular religion. It had become so firmly established by a
succession of wicked kings, added to the universal degeneracy, that even
Josiah could work but a temporary reform.

Hence the voice of Jeremiah was drowned. Even the prophets of his day
had become men of the world. They fawned on the rich and powerful whose
favor they sought, and prophesied "smooth things" to them. They were the
optimists of a decaying nation and a godless, pleasure-seeking
generation. They were to Jerusalem what the Sophists were to Athens when
Demosthenes thundered his disregarded warnings. There were, indeed, a
few prophets left who labored for the truth; but their words fell on
listless ears. Nor could the priests arrest the ruin, for they were as
corrupt as the people. The most learned among them were zealous only for
the letter of the law, and fostered among the people a hypocritical
formalism. True religious life had departed; and the noble Jeremiah, the
only great statesman as well as prophet who remained, saw his influence
progressively declining, until at last he was utterly disregarded. Yet
he maintained his dignity, and fearlessly declared his message.

In the meantime the triumphant Necho, after the defeat and dispersion of
Josiah's army, pursued his way toward Damascus, which he at once
overpowered. From thence he invaded Assyria, and stripped Nineveh of
its most fertile provinces. The capital itself was besieged by
Nabopolassar and Cyaxares the Mede, and Necho was left for a time in
possession of his newly-acquired dominion.

Josiah was succeeded by his son Shallum, who assumed the crown under the
name of Jehoaz, which event it seems gave umbrage to the king of Egypt.
So he despatched an army to Jerusalem, which yielded at once, and King
Jehoaz was sent as a captive to the banks of the Nile. His elder brother
Eliakim was appointed king in his place, under the name of Jehoiakim,
who thus became the vassal of Necho. He was a young man of twenty-five,
self-indulgent, proud, despotic, and extravagant. There could be no more
impressive comment on the infatuation and folly of the times than the
embellishment of Jerusalem with palaces and public buildings, with the
view to imitate the glory of Solomon. In everything the king differed
from his father Josiah, especially in his treatment of Jeremiah, whom he
would have killed. He headed the movement to restore paganism; altars
were erected on every hill to heathen deities, so that there were more
gods in Judah than there were towns. Even the sacred animals of Egypt
were worshipped in the dark chambers beneath the Temple. In the most
sacred places of the Temple itself idolatrous priests worshipped the
rising sun, and the obscene rites of Phoenician idolatry were performed
in private houses. The decline in morals kept pace with the decline of
spiritual religion. There was no vice which was not rampant throughout
the land,--adultery, oppression of foreigners, venality in judges,
falsehood, dishonesty in trade, usury, cruelty to debtors, robbery and
murder, the loosing of the ties of kindred, general suspicion of
neighbors,--all the crimes enumerated by the Apostle Paul among the
Romans. Judah in reality had become an idolatrous nation like Tyre and
Syria and Egypt, with only here and there a witness to the truth, like
Jeremiah, the prophetess Huldah, and Baruch the scribe.

This relapse into heathenism filled the soul of Jeremiah with grief and
indignation, but gave to him a courage foreign to his timid and
shrinking nature. In the presence of the king, the princes, and priests
he was defiant, immovable, and fearless, uttering his solemn warnings
from day to day with noble fidelity. All classes turned against him; the
nobles were furious at his exposure of their license and robberies, the
priests hated him for his denunciation of hypocrisy, and the people for
his gloomy prophecies that the Temple should be destroyed, Jerusalem
reduced to ashes, and they themselves led into captivity.

Not only were crime and idolatry rampant, but the death of Josiah was
followed by droughts and famine. In vain were the prayers of Jeremiah to
avert calamity. Jehovah replied to him: "Pray not for this people!
Though they fast, I will not hear their cry; though they offer sacrifice
I have no pleasure in them, but will consume them by the sword, by
famine, and pestilence." Jeremiah piteously gives way to despairing
lamentations. "Hast thou, O Lord, utterly rejected Judah? Is thy soul
tired of Zion? Why hast thou smitten us so that there is no healing for
us?" Jehovah replies: "If Moses and Samuel stood pleading before me, my
soul could not be toward this people. I appoint four destroyers,--the
sword to slay, the dogs to tear and fight over the corpse, the birds of
the air, and the beasts of the field; for who will have pity on thee, O
Jerusalem? Thou hast rejected me. I am weary of relenting. I will
scatter them as with a broad winnowing-shovel, as men scatter the chaff
on the threshing-floor."

Such, amid general depravity and derision, were some of the utterances
of the prophet, during the reign of Jehoiakim. Among other evils which
he denounced was the neglect of the Sabbath, so faithfully observed in
earlier and better times. At the gates of the city he cried aloud
against the general profanation of the sacred day, which instead of
being a day of rest was the busiest day of the week, when the city was
like a great fair and holiday. On this day the people of the
neighboring villages brought for sale their figs and grapes and wine and
vegetables; on this day the wine-presses were trodden in the country,
and the harvest was carried to the threshing-floors. The preacher made
himself especially odious for his rebuke for the violation of the
Sabbath. "Come," said his enemies to the crowd, "let us lay a plot
against him; let us smite him with the tongue by reporting his words to
the king, and bearing false witness against him." On this renewed
persecution the prophet does not as usual give way to lamentation, but
hurls his maledictions. "O Jehovah! give thou their sons to hunger,
deliver them to the sword; let their wives be made childless and widows;
let their strong men be given over to death, and their young men be
smitten with the sword."

And to consummate, as it were, his threats of divine punishment so soon
to be visited on the degenerate city, Jeremiah is directed to buy an
earthenware bottle, such as was used by the peasants to hold their
drinking-water, and to summon the elders and priests of Jerusalem to the
southwestern corner of the city, and to throw before their feet the
bottle and shiver it in pieces, as a significant symbol of the
approaching fall of the city, to be destroyed as utterly as the
shattered jar. "And I will empty out in the dust, says Jehovah, the
counsels of Judah and Jerusalem, as this water is now poured from the
bottle. And I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies
and by the hands of those that seek their lives; and I will give their
corpses for meat to the birds of heaven and the beasts of the earth; and
I will make this city an astonishment and a scoffing. Every one that
passes by it will be astonished and hiss at its misfortunes. Even so
will I shatter this people and this city, as this bottle, which cannot
be made whole again, has been shattered." Nor was Jeremiah contented to
utter these fearful maledictions to the priests and elders; he made his
way to the Temple, and taking his stand among the people, he reiterated,
amid a storm of hisses, mockeries, and threats, what he had just
declared to a smaller audience in reference to Jerusalem.

Such an appalling announcement of calamities, and in such strong and
plain language, must have transported his hearers with fear or with
wrath. He was either the ambassador of Heaven, before whose voice the
people in the time of Elijah would have quaked with unutterable anguish,
or a madman who was no longer to be endured. We have no record of any
prophet or any preacher who ever used language so terrible or so daring.
Even Luther never hurled such maledictions on the church which he called
the "scarlet mother." Jeremiah uttered no vague generalities, but
brought the matter home with awful directness. Among his auditors was
Pashur, the chief governor of the Temple, and a priest by birth. He at
once ordered the Temple police to seize the bold and outspoken prophet,
who was forthwith punished for his plain speaking by the bastinado, and
then hurried bleeding to the stocks, into which his head and feet and
hands were rudely thrust, to spend the night amid the jeers of the crowd
and the cold dews of the season. In the morning he was set free, his
enemies thinking that he now would hold his tongue; but Jeremiah, so far
from keeping silence, renewed his threats of divine vengeance. "For thus
saith Jehovah, I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of
Babylon, and he shall carry them captive to Babylon, and slay them with
the sword." And then turning to Pashur, before the astonished
attendants, he exclaimed: "And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thy
house, will be dragged off into captivity; and thou wilt come to
Babylon, and thou wilt die and be buried there,--thou and all thy
partisans to whom thou hast prophesied lies."

We observe in these angry words of Jeremiah great directness and great
minuteness, so that his meaning could not be mistaken; also that the
instrument of punishment on the degenerate and godless city was to be
the king of Babylon, a new power from whom Judah as yet had received no
harm. The old enemies of the Hebrews were the Assyrians and Egyptians,
not the Babylonians and Medes.

Whatever may have been the malignant animosity of Pashur, he was
evidently afraid to molest the awful prophet and preacher any further,
for Jeremiah was no insignificant person at Jerusalem. He was not only
recognized as a prophet of Jehovah, but he had been the friend and
counsellor of King Josiah, and was the leading statesman of the day in
the ranks of the opposition. But distinguished as he was, his voice was
disregarded, and he was probably looked upon as an old croaker, whose
gloomy views had no reason to sustain them. Was not Jerusalem strong in
her defences, and impregnable in the eyes of the people; and was she not
regarded as under the special protection of the Deity? Suppose some
austere priest--say such a man as the Abbe Lacordaire--had risen from
the pulpit of Notre Dame or the Madeleine, a year before the battle of
Sedan, and announced to the fashionable congregation assembled to hear
his eloquence, and among them the ministers of Louis Napoleon, that in a
short time Paris would be surrounded by conquering armies, and would
endure all the horrors of a siege, and that the famine would be so great
that the city would surrender and be at the entire mercy of the
conquerors,--would he have been believed? Would not the people have
regarded him as a madman, great as was his eloquence, or as the most
gloomy of pessimists, for whom they would have felt contempt or bitter
wrath? And had he added to his predictions of ruin, utterly
inconceivable by the giddy, pleasure-seeking, atheistic people, the most
scathing denunciations of the prevailing sins of that godless city, all
the more powerful because they were true, addressed to all classes
alike, positive, direct, bold, without favor and without fear,--would
they not have been stirred to violence, and subjected him to any
chastisement in their power? If Socrates, by provoking questions and
fearless irony, drove the Athenians to such wrath that they took his
life, even when everybody knew that he was the greatest and best man at
Athens, how much more savage and malignant must have been the
narrow-minded Jews when Jeremiah laid bare to them their sins and the
impotency of their gods, and the certainty of retribution!

Yet vehement, or direct, or plain as were Jeremiah's denunciations to
the idol-worshippers of Jerusalem in the seventh century before it was
finally destroyed by Titus, he was no more severe than when Jesus
denounced the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, no more mournful
than when he lamented over the approaching ruin of the Temple. Therefore
they sought to kill him, as the princes and priests of Judah would have
sacrificed the greatest prophet that had appeared since Elisha, the
greatest statesman since Samuel, the greatest poet since David, if
Isaiah alone be excepted. No wonder he was driven to a state of
despondency and grief that reminds us of Job upon his ash-heap. "Cursed
be the day," he exclaims, in his lonely chamber, "on which I was born!
Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man-child
is born to thee, making him very glad! Why did I come forth from the
womb that my days might be spent in shame?" A great and good man may be
urged by the sense of duty to declare truths which he knows will lead to
martyrdom; but no martyr was ever insensible to suffering or shame. All
the glories of his future crown cannot sweeten the bitterness of the cup
he is compelled to drain; even the greatest of martyrs prayed in his
agony that the cup might pass from him. How could a man help being sad
and even bitter, if ever so exalted in soul, when he saw that his
warnings were utterly disregarded, and that no mortal influence or power
could avert the doom he was compelled to pronounce as an ambassador of
God? And when in addition to his grief as a patriot he was unjustly made
to suffer reproach, scourgings, imprisonment, and probable death, how
can we wonder that his patience was exhausted? He felt as if a burning
fire consumed his very bones, and he could refrain no longer. He cried
aloud in the intensity of his grief and pain, and Jehovah, in whom he
trusted, appeared to him as a mighty champion and an everlasting support.

Jeremiah at this time, during the early years of the reign of Jehoiakim,
the period of the most active part of his ministry, was about forty-five
years of age. Great events were then taking place. Nineveh was besieged
by one of its former generals,--Nabopolassar, now king of Babylon. The
siege lasted two years, and the city fell in the year 606 B.C., when
Jehoiakim had been about four years on the throne. The fall of this
great capital enabled the son of the king of Babylonia, Nebuchadnezzar,
to advance against Necho, the king of Egypt, who had taken Carchemish
about three years before. Near that ancient capital of the Hittites, on
the banks of the Euphrates, one of the most important battles of
antiquity was fought,--and Necho, whose armies a few years before had so
successfully invaded the Assyrian empire, was forced to retreat to
Egypt. The battle of Carchemish put an end to Egyptian conquests in the
East, and enabled the young sovereign of Babylonia to attain a power and
elevation such as no Oriental monarch had ever before enjoyed. Babylon
became the centre of a new empire, which embraced the countries that had
bowed down to the Assyrian yoke. Nebuchadnezzar in the pride of victory
now meditated the conquest of Egypt, and must needs pass through
Palestine. But Jehoiakim was a vassal of Egypt, and had probably
furnished troops for Necho at the fatal battle of Carchemish. Of course
the Babylonian monarch would invade Judah on his way to Egypt, and
punish its king, whom he could only look upon as an enemy.

It was then that Jeremiah, sad and desponding over the fate of
Jerusalem, which he knew was doomed, committed his precious utterances
to writing by the assistance of his friend and companion Baruch. He had
lately been living in retirement, feeling that his message was
delivered; possibly he feared that the king would put him to death as he
had the prophet Urijah. But he wished to make one more attempt to call
the people to repentance, as the only way to escape impending
calamities; and he prevailed upon his secretary to read the scroll,
containing all his verbal utterances, to the assembled people in the
Temple, who, in view of their political dangers, were celebrating a
solemn fast. The priests and people alike, clad in black hair-cloth
mantles, with ashes on their heads, lay prostrate on the ground, and by
numerous sacrifices hoped to propitiate the Deity. But not by sacrifices
and fasts were they to be saved from Nebuchadnezzar's army, as Jeremiah
had foretold years before. The recital by Baruch of the calamities he
had predicted made a profound impression on the crowd. A young man, awed
by what he had heard, hastened to the hall in which the princes were
assembled, and told them what had been read from the prophet's scroll.
They in their turn were alarmed, and commanded Baruch to read the
contents to them also. So intense was the excitement that the matter was
laid before the king, who ordered the roll to be read to him: he would
hear the words that Jeremiah had caused to be written down. But scarcely
had the reading of the roll begun before he flew into a violent rage,
and seizing the manuscript he cut it to pieces with the scribe's knife,
and burned it upon a brazier of coals. Orders were instantly given to
arrest both Jeremiah and Baruch; but they had been warned and fled, and
the place of their concealment could not be found.

Jehoiakim thus rejected the last offer of mercy with scorn and anger,
although many of his officers were filled with fear. His heart was
hardened, like that of Pharaoh before Moses. Jeremiah having learned the
fate of the roll, dictated its contents anew to his faithful secretary,
and a second roll was preserved, not, however, without contriving to
send to the king this awful message. "Thus saith Jehovah of thee
Jehoiakim: He shall have no son to sit on the throne of David, and his
dead body will be cast out to lie in the heat by day and the frost by
night; and no one shall raise a lament for him when he dies. He shall be
buried with the burial of an ass, drawn out of Jerusalem, and cast down
from its gates."

No wonder that we lose sight of Jeremiah during the remainder of the
reign of Jehoiakim; it was not safe for him to appear anywhere in
public. For a time his voice was not heard; yet his predictions had such
weight that the king dared not defy Nebuchadnezzar when he demanded the
submission of Jerusalem. He was forced to become the vassal of the king
of Babylonia, and furnish a contingent to his army. But this vassalage
bore heavily on the arrogant soul of Jehoiakim, and he seized the first
occasion to rebel, especially as Necho promised him protection. This
rebellion was suicidal and fatal, since Babylon was the stronger power.
Nebuchadnezzar, after the three years of forced submission, appeared
before the gates of Jerusalem with an irresistible army. There was no
resistance, as resistance was folly. Jehoiakim was put in chains, and
avoided being carried captive to Babylon only by the most abject
submission to the conqueror. All that was valuable in the Temple and the
palaces was seized as spoil. Jerusalem was spared for a while; and in
the mean time Jehoiakim died, and so intensely was he hated and despised
that no dirge was sung over his remains, while his dishonored body was
thrown outside the walls of his capital like that of a dead ass, as
Jeremiah had foretold.

On his death, B.C. 598, after a reign of eight years, his son
Jehoiachin, at the age of eighteen, ascended his nominal throne. He
also, like his father, followed the lead of the heathen party. The
bitterness of the Babylonian rule, united with the intrigues of Egypt,
led to a fresh revolt, and Jerusalem was invested by a powerful
Chaldean army.

Jeremiah now appears again upon the stage, but only to reaffirm the
calamities which impended over his nation,--all of which he traced to
the decay of religion and morality. The mission and the work of the Jews
were to keep alive the worship of the One God amid universal idolatry.
Outside of this, they were nothing as a nation. They numbered only four
or five millions of people, and lived in a country not much larger than
one of the northern counties of England and smaller than the state of
New Hampshire or Vermont; they gave no impulse to art or science. Yet as
the guardians of the central theme of the only true religion and of the
sacred literature of the Bible, their history is an important link in
the world's history. Take away the only thing which made them an object
of divine favor, and they were of no more account than Hittites, or
Moabites, or Philistines. The chosen people had become idolatrous like
the surrounding nations, hopelessly degenerate and wicked, and they
were to receive a dreadful chastisement as the only way by which they
would return to the One God, and thus act their appointed part in the
great drama of humanity. Jeremiah predicted this chastisement. The
chosen people were to suffer a seventy years' captivity, and then city
and Temple were to be destroyed. But Jeremiah, sad as he was over the
fate of his nation, and terribly severe as he was in his denunciations
of the national sins, knew that his people would repent by the river of
Babylon, and be finally restored to their old inheritance. Yet nothing
could avert their punishment.

In less than three months after Jehoiachin became king of Judah, its
capital was unconditionally surrendered to the Chaldean hosts, since
resistance was vain. No pity was shown to the rebels, though the king
and nobles had appeared before Nebuchadnezzar with every mark and emblem
of humiliation and submission. The king and his court and his wives, and
all the principal people of the nation, were sent to Babylon as captives
and slaves. The prompt capitulation saved the city for a time from
complete destruction; but its glory was turned to shame and grief. All
that was of any value in the Temple and city was carried to the banks of
the Euphrates, nearly one hundred and fifty years after Samaria had
fallen from a protracted siege, and its inhabitants finally dispersed
among the nations that were subject to Nineveh.

One would suppose that after so great a calamity the few remaining
people in Jerusalem and in the desolate villages of Judah would have
given no further molestation to their powerful and triumphant enemies.
The land was exhausted; the towns were stripped of their fighting
population, and only the shadow of a kingdom remained. Instead of
appointing a governor from his own court over the conquered province,
Nebuchadnezzar gave the government into the hands of Mattaniah, the
third son of Josiah, a youth of twenty, changing his name to Zedekiah.
He was for a time faithful to his allegiance, and took much pains to
quiet the mind of the powerful sovereign who ruled the Eastern world,
and even made a journey to Babylon to pay his homage. He was a weak
prince, however, alternately swayed by the different parties,--those
that counselled resistance to Babylon, and those, like Jeremiah, that
advised submission. This long-headed statesman saw clearly that
rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, flushed with victory, and with the
whole Eastern world at his feet, was absurd; but that the time would
come when Babylon in turn should be humbled, and then the captive
Hebrews would probably return to their own land, made wiser by their
captivity of seventy years. The other party, leagued with Moabites,
Tyrians, Egyptians, and other nations, thought themselves strong enough
to break their allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar; and bitter were the
contentions of these parties. Jeremiah had great influence with the
king, who was weak rather than wicked, and had his counsels been
consistently followed, Jerusalem would probably have been spared, and
the Temple would, have remained. He preferred vassalage to utter ruin.
With Babylon pressing on one side and Egypt on the other,--both great
monarchies,--vassalage to one or the other of these powers was
inevitable. Indeed, vassalage had been the unhappy condition of Judah
since the death of Josiah. Of the two powers Jeremiah preferred the
Chaldean rule, and persistently advised submission to it, as the only
way to save Jerusalem from utter destruction.

Unfortunately Zedekiah temporized; he courted all parties in turn, and
listened to the schemes of rebellion,--for all the nations of Palestine
were either conquered or invaded by the Chaldeans, and wished to shake
off the yoke. Nebuchadnezzar lost faith in Zedekiah; and being irritated
by his intrigues, he resolved to attack Jerusalem while he was
conducting the siege of Tyre and fighting with Egypt, a rival power.
Jerusalem was in his way. It was a small city, but it gave him
annoyance, and he resolved to crush it. It was to him what Tyre became
to Alexander in his conquests. It lay between him and Egypt, and might
be dangerous by its alliances. It was a strong citadel which he had
unwisely spared, but determined to spare no longer.

The suspicions of the king of Babylonia were probably increased by the
disaffection of the Jewish exiles themselves, who believed in the
overthrow of Nebuchadnezzar and their own speedy return to their native
hills. A joint embassy was sent from Edom, from Moab, the Ammonites, and
the kings of Tyre and Sidon, to Jerusalem, with the hope that Zedekiah
would unite with them in shaking off the Babylonian yoke; and these
intrigues were encouraged by Egypt. Jeremiah, who foresaw the
consequences of all this, earnestly protested. And to make his protest
more forcible, he procured a number of common ox-yokes, and having put
one on his own neck while the embassy was in the city, he sent one to
each of the envoys, with the following message to their masters: "Thus
saith Jehovah, the God of Israel. I have made the earth and man and the
beasts on the face of the earth by my great power, and I give it to whom
I see fit. And now I have given all these lands into the hands of
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to serve him. And all nations shall
serve him, till the time of his own land comes; and then many nations
and great kings shall make him their servant. And the nation and people
that will not serve him, and that does not give its own neck to the
yoke, that nation I will punish with sword, famine, and pestilence, till
I have consumed them by his hand." A similar message he sent to Zedekiah
and the princes who seemed to have influenced him. "Bring your necks
under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, and ye shall live.
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, Ye shall not
serve the king of Babylon. They prophesy a lie to you." The same message
in substance he sent to the priests and people, urging them not to
listen to the voice of the false prophets, who based their opinions on
the anticipated interference of God to save Jerusalem from destruction;
for that destruction would surely come if its people did not serve the
king of Babylonia until the appointed time should come, when Babylon
itself should fall into the hands of enemies more powerful than itself,
even the Medes and Persians.

Jeremiah, thus brought into direct opposition to the false prophets, was
exposed to their bitterest wrath. But he was undaunted, although alone,
and thus boldly addressed Hananiah, one of their leaders and himself a
priest: "Hear the words that I speak in your ears. Not I alone, but all
the prophets who have been before me, have prophesied long ago war,
captivity, and pestilence, while you prophesy peace." On this, Hananiah
snatched the ox-yoke from the neck of Jeremiah, and broke it, saying,
"Thus saith Jehovah, Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar
from the neck of all nations within two years." Jeremiah in reply said
to this false prophet that he had broken a wooden yoke only to prepare
an iron one for the people; for thus saith Jehovah: "I have put a yoke
of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they shall serve the king
of Babylon.... And further, hear this, O Hananiah! Jehovah has not sent
thee, but thou makest this people trust in a lie; therefore thou shalt
die this very year, because thou hast spoken rebellion against Jehovah."
In two months the lying prophet was dead.

Zedekiah, now awe-struck by the death of his counsellor, made up his
mind to resist the Egyptian party and remain true to Nebuchadnezzar, and
resolved to send an embassy to Babylon to vindicate himself from any
suspicion of disloyalty; and further, he sought to win the favor of
Jeremiah by a special gift to the Temple of a set of silver vessels to
replace the golden ones that had been carried to Babylon. Jeremiah
entered into his views, and sent with the embassy a letter to the exiles
to warn them of the hopelessness of their cause. It was not well
received, and created great excitement and indignation, since it seemed
to exhort them to settle down contentedly in their slavery. The words
of Jeremiah were, however, indorsed by the prophet Ezekiel, and he
addressed the exiles from the place where he lived in Chaldaea,
confirming the destruction which Jeremiah prophesied to unwilling ears.
"Behold the day! See, it comes! The fierceness of Chaldaea has shot up
into a rod to punish the wickedness of the people of Judah. Nothing
shall remain of them. The time is come! Forge the chains to lead off the
people captive. Destruction comes; calamity will follow calamity!"

Meanwhile, in spite of all these warnings from both Jeremiah and
Ezekiel, things were passing at Jerusalem from bad to worse, until
Nebuchadnezzar resolved on taking final vengeance on a rebellious city
and people that refused to look on things as they were. Never was there
a more infatuated people. One would suppose that a city already
decimated, and its principal people already in bondage in Babylon, would
not dare to resist the mightiest monarch who ever reigned in the East
before the time of Cyrus. But "whom the gods wish to destroy they first
make mad." Every preparation was made to defend the city. The general of
Nebuchadnezzar with a great force surrounded it, and erected towers
against the walls. But so strong were the fortifications that the
inhabitants were able to stand a siege of eighteen months. At the end of
this time they were driven to desperation, and fought with the energy
of despair. They could resist battering rams, but they could not resist
famine and pestilence. After dreadful sufferings, the besieged found the
soldiers of Chaldaea within their Temple, a breach in the walls having
been made, and the stubborn city was taken by assault. The few who were
spared were carried away captive to Babylon with what spoil could be
found, and the Temple and the walls were levelled to the ground. The
predictions of the prophets were fulfilled,--the holy city was a heap of
desolation. Zedekiah, with his wives and children, had escaped through a
passage made in the wall, at a corner of the city which the Chaldeans
had not been able to invest, and made his way toward Jericho, but was
overtaken and carried in chains to Riblah, where Nebuchadnezzar was
encamped. As he had broken a solemn oath to remain faithful, a severe
judgment was pronounced upon him. His courtiers and his sons were
executed in his sight, his own eyes were put out, and then he was taken
to Babylon, where he was made to work like a slave in a mill. Thus ended
the dynasty of David, in the year 588 B.C., about the time that Draco
gave laws to Athens, and Tarquinius Priscus was king of Rome.

As for Jeremiah, during the siege of the city he fell into the power of
the nobles, who beat him and imprisoned him in a dungeon. The king was
not able to release him, so low had the royal power sunk in that
disastrous age; but he secretly befriended him, and asked his counsel.
The princes insisted on his removal to a place where no succor could
reach him, and he was cast into a deep well from which the water was
dried up, having at the bottom only slime and mud. From this pit of
misery he was rescued by one of the royal guards, and once again he had
a secret interview with Zedekiah, and remained secluded in the palace
until the city fell. He was spared by the conqueror in view of his
fidelity and his earnest efforts to prevent the rebellion, and perhaps
also for his lofty character, the last of the great statesmen of Judah
and the most distinguished man of the city. Nebuchadnezzar gave him the
choice, to accompany him to Babylon with the promise of high favor at
his court, or remain at home among the few that were not deemed of
sufficient importance to carry away. Jeremiah preferred to remain amid
the ruins of his country; for although Jerusalem was destroyed, the
mountains and valleys remained, and the humble classes--the
peasants--were left to cultivate the neglected vineyards and cornfields.

From Mizpeh, the city which he had selected as his last resting-place,
Jeremiah was carried into Egypt, and his subsequent history is unknown.
According to tradition he was stoned to death by his fellow-exiles in
Egypt. He died as he had lived, a martyr for the truth, but left behind
a great name and fame. None of the prophets was more venerated in
after-ages. And no one more than he resembled, in his sufferings and
life, that greater Prophet and Sage who was led as a lamb to the
slaughter, that the world through him might be saved.


DIED, 160 B.C.


After the heroic ages of Joshua, Gideon, and David, no warriors
appeared in Jewish history equal to Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers in
bravery, in patriotism, and in noble deeds. They delivered the Hebrew
nation when it had sunk to abject submission under the kings of Syria,
and when its glory and strength alike had departed. The conquests of
Judas especially were marvellous, considering the weakness of the Jewish
nation and the strength of its enemies. No hero that chivalry has
produced surpassed him in courage and ability; his exploits would be
fabulous and incredible if not so well attested. He is not a familiar
character, since the Apocrypha, from which our chief knowledge of his
deeds is derived, is now rarely read. Jewish history resembles that of
Europe in the Middle Ages in the sentiments which are born of danger,
oppression, and trial. As a point of mere historical interest, the dark
ages that preceded the coming of the Messiah furnish reproachless
models of chivalry, courage, and magnanimity, and also the foundation of
many of those institutions that cannot be traced to the laws of Moses.

But before I present the wonderful career of Judas Maccabaeus, we must
look to the circumstances which made that career remarkable
and eventful.

On the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity there was among
them only the nucleus of a nation: more remained in Persia and Assyria
than returned to Judaea. We see an infant colony rather than a developed
State; it was so feeble as scarcely to attract the notice of the
surrounding monarchies. In all probability the population of Judaea did
not number a quarter as many as those whom Moses led out of Egypt; it
did not furnish a tenth part as many fighting men as were enrolled in
the armies of Saul; it existed only under the protection afforded by the
Persian monarchs. The Temple as rebuilt by Nehemiah bore but a feeble
resemblance to that which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed; it had neither
costly vessels nor golden ornaments nor precious woods to remind the
scattered and impoverished people of the glory of Solomon. Although the
walls of Jerusalem were partially restored, its streets were filled with
the debris and ruins of ancient palaces. The city was indeed fortified,
but the strong walls and lofty towers which made it almost impregnable
were not again restored as in the times of the old monarchy. It took no
great force to capture the city and demolish the fortifications. The
vast and unnumbered treasures which David, Solomon, and Hezekiah had
accumulated in the Temple and the palaces formed no inconsiderable part
of the gold and silver that finally enriched Babylonian and Persian
kings. The wealth of one of the richest countries of antiquity had been
dispersed and re-collected at Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, and other cities,
to be again seized by Alexander in his conquest of the East, then again
to be hoarded or spent by the Syrian and Egyptian kings who descended
from Alexander's generals, and finally to be deposited in the treasuries
of the Romans and the Byzantine Greeks. Whatever ruin warriors may make,
whatever temples and palaces they may destroy, they always spare and
seize the precious metals, and keep them until they spend them, or are
robbed of them in their turn.

Not only was the Holy City a desolation on the return of the Jews, but
the rich vineyards and olive-grounds and wheat-fields had run to waste,
and there were but few to till and improve them. The few who returned
felt their helpless condition, and were quiet and peaceable. Moreover,
they had learned during their seventy years' exile to have an intense
hatred of everything like idolatry,--a hatred amounting to fanatical
fierceness, such as the Puritan Colonists of New England had toward
Catholicism. In their dreary and humiliating captivity they at length
perceived that idolatry was the great cause of all their calamities;
that no national prosperity was possible for them, as the chosen people,
except by sincere allegiance to Jehovah. At no period of their history
were they more truly religious and loyal to their invisible King than
for two hundred years after their return to the land of their ancestors.
The terrible lesson of exile and sorrow was not lost on them. It is true
that they were only a "remnant" of the nation, as Isaiah had predicted,
but they believed that they were selected and saved for a great end.
This end they seemed to appreciate now more than ever, and the idea that
a great Deliverer was to arise among them, whose reign was to be
permanent and glorious, was henceforth devoutly cherished.

A severe morality was practised among these returned exiles, as marked
as their faith in God. They were especially tenacious of the laws and
ceremonies that Moses had commanded. They kept the Sabbath with a
strictness unknown to their ancestors. They preserved the traditions of
their fathers, and conformed to them with scrupulous exactness; they
even went beyond the requirements of Moses in outward ceremonials. Thus
there gradually arose among them a sect ultimately known as the
Pharisees, whose leading peculiarity was a slavish and fanatical
observance of all the technicalities of the law, both Mosaic and
traditional; a sect exceedingly narrow, but popular and powerful. They
multiplied fasts and ritualistic observances as the superstitious monks
of the Middle Ages did after them; they extended the payment of tithes
(tenths) to the most minute and unimportant things, like the herbs which
grew in their gardens; they began the Sabbath on Friday evening, and
kept it so rigorously that no one was permitted to walk beyond one
thousand steps from his own door.

A natural reaction to this severity in keeping minute ordinances, alike
narrow, fanatical, and unreasonable, produced another sect called the
Sadducees,--a revolutionary party with a more progressive spirit, which
embraced the more cultivated and liberal part of the nation; a minority
indeed,--a small party as far as numbers went,--but influential from the
men of wealth, talent, and learning that belonged to it, containing as
it did the nobility and gentry. The members of this party refused to
acknowledge any Oral Law transmitted from Moses, and held themselves
bound only by the Written Law; they were indifferent to dogmas that had
not reason or Scriptures to support them. The writings of Moses have
scarcely any recognition of a future life, and hence the Sadducees
disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead,--for which reason the
Pharisees accused them of looseness in religious opinions. They were
more courteous and interesting than the great body of the people who
favored the Pharisees, but were more luxurious in their habits of life.
They had more social but less religious pride than their rivals, among
whom pride took the form of a gloomy austerity and a self-satisfied

Another thing pertaining to divine worship which marked the Jews on
their return from captivity was the establishment of synagogues, in
which the law was expounded by the Scribes, whose business it was to
study tradition, as embodied in the Talmud. The Pharisees were the great
patrons and teachers of these meetings, which became exceedingly
numerous, especially in the cities. There were at one time four hundred
synagogues in Jerusalem alone. To these the great body of the people
resorted on the Sabbath, rather than to the Temple. The synagogue,
popular, convenient, and social, almost supplanted the Temple, except on
grand occasions and festivals. The Temple was for great ceremonies and
celebrations, like a mediaeval cathedral,--an object of pride and awe,
adorned and glorious; the synagogue was a sort of church, humble and
modest, for the use of the people in ordinary worship,--a place of
religious instruction, where decent strangers were allowed to address
the meetings, and where social congratulations and inquiries were
exchanged. Hence, the synagogue represented the democratic element in
Judaism, while it did not ignore the Temple.

Nearly contemporaneous with the synagogue was the Sanhedrim, or Grand
Council, composed of seventy-one members, made up of elders, scribes,
and priests,--men learned in the law, both Pharisees and Sadducees. It
was the business of this aristocratic court to settle disputed texts of
Scripture; also questions relating to marriage, inheritance, and
contracts. It met in one of the buildings connected with the Temple. It
was presided over by the high-priest, and was a dignified and powerful
body, its decisions being binding on the Jews outside Palestine. It was
not unlike a great council in the early Christian Church for the
settlement of theological questions, except that it was not temporary
but permanent; and it was more ecclesiastical than civil. Jesus was
summoned before it for assuming to be the Messiah; Peter and John, for
teaching false doctrine; and Paul, for transgressing the rules of
the Temple.

Thus in one hundred and fifty or two hundred years after the Jews
returned to their own country, we see the rise of institutions adapted
to their circumstances as a religious people, small in numbers, poor but
free,--for they were protected by the Persian monarchs against their
powerful neighbors. The largest part of the nation was still scattered
in every city of the world, especially at Alexandria, where there was a
very large Jewish colony, plying their various occupations unmolested by
the civil power. In this period Ewald thinks there was a great stride
made in sacred literature, especially in recasting ancient books that we
accept as canonical. Some of the most beautiful of the Psalms were
supposed to have been written at this time; also Apocalypses, books of
combined history and revelatory prophecy,--like Daniel, and simple
histories like Esther,--written by gifted, lofty, and spiritual men
whose names have perished, embodying vivid conceptions of the agency of
Jehovah in the affairs of men, so popular, so interesting, and so
religious that they soon took their place among the canonical books.

The most noted point in the history of the Jews in the dark ages of
their history, for two hundred years after their return from Babylon and
Persia, was the external peace and tranquillity of the country,
favorable to a quiet and uneventful growth, like that of Puritan New
England for one hundred and fifty years after the settlement at
Plymouth,--making no history outside of their own peaceful and
prosperous life. They had no intercourse with surrounding nations, but
were contented to resettle ancient villages, and devote themselves to
agricultural pursuits. They were thus trained by labor and
poverty--possibly by dangers--to manly energies and heroic courage. They
formed a material from which armies could be extemporized on any sudden
emergencies. There was no standing army as in the times of David and
Solomon, but the whole people were trained to the use of military
weapons. Thus the hardy and pious agriculturists of Palestine grew
imperceptibly in numbers and wealth, so as to become once more a nation.
In all probability this unhistorical period, of which we know almost
nothing, was the most fruitful period in Jewish history for the
development of great virtues. If they had no heathen literature, they
could still discuss theological dogmas; if they had no amusements, they
could meet together in their synagogues; if they had no king, they
accepted the government of the high-priest; if they had no powerful
nobles, they had the aristocratic Sanhedrim, which represented their
leading men; if they were disposed to contention, as so many persons
are, they could dispute about the unimportant shibboleths which their
religious parties set up as matters of difference,--and the more minute,
technical, and insoluble these questions were, the fiercer probably grew
their contests.

Such was the Hebrew commonwealth in the dark ages of its history, under
the protection of the Persian kings. It formed a part of the province of
Syria, but the internal government was administered by the
high-priests. After the return from exile Joshua, Joachim, and Eliashib
successively filled the pontifical office. The government thus was not
unlike that of the popes, abating their claims to universal spiritual
dominion, although the office of high-priest was hereditary. Jehoiada,
son of Eliashib, reigned from 413 to 373, and he was succeeded by his
son Johanan, under whose administration important changes took place
during the reign of Artaxerxes III., called Ochus, the last but two of
the Persian monarchs before the conquest of Persia by Alexander.

The Persians had in the mean time greatly degenerated in their religious
faith and observances. Magian rites became mingled with the purer
religion of Zoroaster, and even the worship of Venus was not uncommon.
Under Cyrus and Darius there was nothing peculiarly offensive to the
Jews in the theism of Ormuzd, which was the old religion of the
Persians; but when images of ancient divinities were set up by royal
authority in Persepolis, Susa, Babylon, and Damascus, the allegiance of
the Jews was weakened, and repugnance took the place of sympathy.
Moreover, a creature of Artaxerxes III., by the name of Bagoses, became
Satrap of Syria, and presumed to appoint as the high-priest at Jerusalem
Joshua, another son of Jehoiada, and severely taxed the Jews, and even
forced his way into the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the
Temple,--a sacrilege hard to be endured. This Bagoses poisoned his
master, and in the year 338 B.C. elevated to the throne of Persia his
son Arses, who had a brief reign, being dethroned and murdered by his
father. In 336 Darius III. became king, under whom the Persian monarchy
collapsed before the victories of Alexander.

Judaea now came under the dominion of this great conqueror, who favored
the Jews, and on his death, 323 B.C., it fell to the possession of
Laomedon, one of his generals; while Egypt was assigned to Ptolemy
Soter, son of Lagus. Between these princes a war soon broke out, and
Laomedon was defeated by Nicanor, one of Ptolemy's generals; and
Palestine refusing to submit to the king of Egypt, Ptolemy invaded
Judaea, besieged Jerusalem, and took it by assault on the Sabbath, when
the Jews refused to fight. A large number of Jews were sent to
Alexandria, and the Jewish colony ultimately formed no small part of the
population of the new capital. Some eighty thousand Jews, it is said,
were settled in Alexandria when Palestine was governed by Greek generals
and princes. But Judaea was wrested from Ptolemy Lagus by Antigonus, and
again recovered by Ptolemy after the battle of Ipsus, in 301 B.C. Under
Ptolemy Egypt became a powerful kingdom, and still more so under his
son Philadelphus, who made Alexandria the second capital of the
world,--commercially, indeed, the first. It became also a great
intellectual centre, and its famous library was the largest ever
collected in classical antiquity. This city was the home of scholars and
philosophers from all parts of the world. Under the auspices of an
enlightened monarch, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek,
the version being called the Septuagint,--an immense service to sacred
literature. The Jews enjoyed great prosperity under this Grecian prince,
and Palestine was at peace with powerful neighbors, protected by the
great king who favored the Jews as the Persian monarchs had done. Under
his successor, Ptolemy Euergetes, a still more powerful king, the empire
reached its culminating glory, and was extended as far as Antioch and
Babylon. Under the next Ptolemy,--Philopater,--degeneracy set in; but
the empire was not diminished, and the Syrian monarch Antiochus III.,
called the Great, was defeated at the battle of Raphia, 217. Under the
successor of the enervated Egyptian king, Ptolemy V., a child five years
old, Antiochus the Great retrieved the disaster at Raphia, and in 199
won a victory over Scopas the Egyptian general, in consequence of which
Judaea, with Phoenicia and Coele-Syria, passed from the Ptolemies to the

Judaea now became the battle-ground for the contending Syrian and
Egyptian armies, and after two hundred years of peace and prosperity her
calamities began afresh. She was cruelly deceived and oppressed by the
Syrian kings and their generals, for the "kings of the North" were more
hostile to the Jews than the "kings of the South." In consequence of the
incessant wars between Syria and Egypt, many Jews emigrated, and became
merchants, bankers, and artisans in all the great cities of the world,
especially in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Egypt, where all
departments of industry were freely opened to them. In the time of
Philo, there were more than a million of Jews in these various
countries; but they remained Jews, and tenaciously kept the laws and
traditions of their nation. In every large city were Jewish synagogues.

It was under the reign of Antiochus IV., called Epiphanes, when Judaea
was tributary to Syria, that those calamities and miseries befell the
Jews which rendered it necessary for a deliverer to arise. Though
enlightened and a lover of art, this monarch was one of the most cruel,
rapacious, and tyrannical princes that have achieved an infamous
immortality. He began his reign with usurpation and treachery. Being
unsuccessful in his Egyptian campaigns, he vented his wrath upon the
Jews, as if he were mad. Onias III. was the high-priest at the time.
Antiochus dispossessed him of his great office and gave it to his
brother Jason, a Hellenized Jew, who erected in Jerusalem a gymnasium
after the Greek style. But the king, a zealot in paganism, bitterly and
scornfully detested the Jewish religion, and resolved to root it out.
His general, Apollonius, had orders to massacre the people in the
observance of their rites, to abolish the Temple service and the
Sabbath, to destroy the sacred books, and introduce idol worship. The
altar on Mount Moriah was especially desecrated, and afterward dedicated
to Jupiter. A herd of swine were driven into the Temple, and there
sacrificed. This outrage was to the Jews "the abomination of
desolation," which could never be forgotten or forgiven. The nation
rallied and defied the power of a king who could thus wantonly trample
on what was most sacred and venerable.

Two hundred years earlier, resistance would have been hopeless; but in
the mean time the population had quietly increased, and in the practice
of those virtues and labors which agricultural life called out, the
people had been strengthened and prepared to rally and defend their
lives and liberties. They were still unwarlike, without organization or
military habits; but they were brave, hardy, and patriotic. Compared,
however, with the forces which could be arrayed against them by the
Syrian monarch, who was supreme in western Asia, they were numerically
insignificant; and they were also despised and undervalued. They seemed
to be as sheep among wolves,--easy to be intimidated and even

The outrage in the Temple was the consummation of a series of
humiliations and crimes; for in addition to the desecration of the
Jewish religion, Antiochus had taken Jerusalem with a great army, had
entered into the Temple, where the national treasures were deposited
(for it was the custom even among Greeks and Romans to deposit the
public money in the temples), and had taken away to his capital the
golden candlesticks, the altar of incense, the table of shew bread, and
the various vessels and censers and crowns which were used in the
service of God,--treasures that amounted to one thousand eight hundred
talents, spared by Alexander. So that there came great mourning upon
Israel throughout the land, both for the desecration of sacred places,
the plunder of the Temple, and the massacre of the people. Jerusalem was
sacked and burned, women and children were carried away as captives, and
a great fortress was erected on an eminence that overlooked the Temple
and city, in which was placed a strong garrison. The plundered
inhabitants fled from Jerusalem, which became the habitation of
strangers, with all its glory gone. "Her sanctuary was laid waste, her
feasts were turned into mourning, her Sabbath into a reproach, and her
honor into contempt." Many even of the Jews became apostate, profaned
the Sabbath, and sacrificed to idols, rather than lose their lives; for
the persecution was the most unrelenting in the annals of martyrdom,
even to the destruction of women and children.

The insulted and decimated Jews now rallied under Mattathias, the
founder of the Asmonean dynasty.

The immediate occasion of the Jewish uprising, which was ultimately to
end in national independence and in the rule of a line of native
princes, was as unpremeditated as the throwing out of the window at the
council chamber at Prague those deputies who supported the Emperor of
Germany in his persecution of the Protestants, which led to the Thirty
Years' War and the establishment of religious liberty in Germany. At
this crisis among the Jews, a hero arose in their midst as marvellous as
Gustavus Adolphus.

In Modin, or Modein, a town near the sea, but the site of which is now
unknown, there lived an old man of a priestly family named Asmon, who
was rich and influential. His name was Mattathias, and he had five
grown-up sons, each distinguished for bravery, piety, and patriotism. He
was so prominent in his little city for fidelity to the faith of his
fathers, as well as for social position, that when an officer of
Antiochus came to Modin to enforce the decrees of his royal master, he
made splendid offers to Mattathias to induce him to favor the crusade
against his countrymen. Mattathias not only contemptuously rejected
these overtures, but he openly proclaimed his resolution to adhere to
his religion,--a man who could not be bribed, and who could not be
intimidated. "Be it far from us," he said, "to forsake law and
ordinances. We will not hearken to the king's words, to turn aside to
the right hand or to the left."

When he had thus given noble attestation of his resolution to adhere to
the faith of his fathers, there came forward an apostate Jew to
sacrifice on the heathen altar, which it seems was erected by royal
command in all the cities and towns of Judaea. This so inflamed the
indignation of the brave old man that he ran and slew the Jew upon the
altar, together with the king's commissioner, and pulled down the altar.

For this, Mattathias was obliged to flee, and he escaped to the
mountains, taking with him his five sons and all who would join his
standard of revolt, crying with a loud voice, "Let every one zealous for
the Law follow me!" A considerable multitude fled with him to the
wilderness of Judaea, on the west of the Dead Sea, taking with them
their wives and children and cattle. But this flight from persecution
speedily became known to the troops that were quartered on Mount Zion, a
strong fortress which controlled the Temple and city, and a detachment
was sent in pursuit. The fugitives, zealous for the Law, refused to
defend themselves on the Sabbath day, and the result was that they all
perished, with their wives and children. Their fate made such a powerful
impression on Mattathias, that it was resolved henceforth to fight on
the Sabbath day, if attacked. The patriots had to choose between two
alternatives,--to be utterly rooted out, or to defend themselves on the
Sabbath, and thus violate the letter of the Law. Mattathias was
sufficiently enlightened to perceive that fighting on the Sabbath, if
attacked, was a supreme necessity, remembering doubtless that Moses
recognized the right of necessary work even on the sacred day of rest.
The law of self-defence is an ultimate one, and appeals to the
consciousness of universal humanity. Strange as it may seem, the Sabbath
has ever been a favorite day with generals to fight grand battles in
every Christian country.

Mattathias, although a very old man, now put forth superhuman energies,
raised an army, drove the persecuting soldiers out of the country,
pulled down the heathen altars, and restored the Law; and when the time
came for him to die, at the age of one hundred and forty-five years,--if
we may credit the history, for Josephus and the Apocrypha are here our
chief authorities,--he collected around him his five sons, all wise and
valiant men, and enjoined them to be united among themselves, and to be
faithful to the Law,--calling to their minds the noted examples from the
Hebrew Scriptures, Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, David, Elijah, who were
obedient to the commandments of God. He did not speak of patriotism,
although an intense lover of his country. He exhorted his sons to be
simply obedient to the Law,--not, probably, in the restricted and
literal sense of the word, but in the idea of being faithful to God,
even as Abraham was obedient before the Law was given. The glory which
he assured them they would thus win was not the _eclat_ of victory, or
even of national deliverance, but the imperishable renown which comes
from righteousness. He promised a glorious immortality to those who fell
in battle in defence of the truth and of their liberties, reminding us
of the promises which Mohammed made to his followers. But the great
incentive to bravery which he urged was the ultimate reward of virtue,
which runs through the Scriptures, even the favor of God. The heroes of
chivalry fought for the favor of ladies, the praises of knights, and the
friendship of princes; the reward of modern generals is exaltation in
popular estimation, the increase of political power, the accumulation of
wealth, and sometimes the consciousness of rendering important services
to their country,--an exalted patriotism, such as marked Washington and
Cromwell. But the reward which the Jewish hero promised was
loftier,--even that of the divine favor.

The aged Mattathias, having thus given his last counsels to his sons,
recommended the second one, Simon, or Simeon, as the future head of the
family, to whose wisdom the other brothers were to defer,--a man whose
counsel would be invaluable. The third brother, Judas, a mighty warrior
from his youth, was appointed as the leader of the forces to fight the
battles of the people,--the peculiar vocations of Saul and of David, for
which they were selected to be kings.

On the death of Mattathias, mourned by all Israel as Samuel was mourned,
at the age of one hundred and forty-five, and buried in the sepulchre of
his fathers at Modin, Judas, called "The Maccabaeus" ("The Hammer," as
some suppose), rose up in his stead; and all his brothers helped him,
and all his father's friends, and he fought with cheerfulness the
battles of Israel. He put on armor as a hero, and was like a lion in his
acts, and like a lion's whelp roaring for prey. He pursued and punished
the Jewish transgressors of the Law, so that they lost courage, and all
the workers of inquity were thrown into disorder, and the work of
deliverance prospered in his hands. Like Josiah he went through the
cities of Judah, destroying the heathen and the ungodly. The fame of his
exploits rapidly spread through the land, and Apollonius, military
governor of Samaria, collected an army and marched against a man who
with his small forces set at defiance the sovereignty of a mighty
monarchy. Judas attacked Apollonius, slew him, and dispersed his army.
Ever afterward he was girded with the sword of the Syrian,--a weapon
probably adorned with jewels, and tempered like the famous
Damascus blades.

Seron, a general of higher rank, the commander-in-chief of the Syrian
forces in Palestine, irritated at the defeat and death of Apollonius,
the following year marched with a still larger army against Judas. The
latter had with him only a small company, who were despondent in view of
the great array of their heathen enemies, and moreover faint from having
not eaten anything that day. But the heroic leader encouraged his men,
and, undaunted in the midst of overwhelming danger, resolved to fight,
trusting for aid from the God of battles; for "victory," said he, "is
not through the multitude of an army, but from heaven cometh the
strength." This resolution to fight against overwhelming odds would be
audacity in modern warfare, which is perfected machinery, making one man
with reliable weapons as good as another, and success to be chiefly
determined by numbers skilfully posted and manoeuvred according to
strategic science; but in ancient times personal bravery, directed by
military genius and aided by fortunate circumstances, frequently
prevailed over the force of multitudes, especially if the latter were
undisciplined or intimidated by superstitious omens,--as evinced by
Alexander's victories, and those of Charles Martel and the Black Prince
in the Middle Ages. The desperate valor of Judas and his small band was
crowned with complete success. Seron was defeated with great loss, his
army fled, and the fame of Judas spread far and wide. His name became a
terror to the nations.

King Antiochus now saw that the subjection of this valiant Jew was no
easy matter; and filled with wrath and vengeance he gathered together
all the forces of his kingdom, opened his treasury, paid his soldiers a
year in advance, and resolved to root out the rebellious nation by a war
of extermination. Crippled, however, in resources, and in great need of
money, he concluded to go in person to Persia and collect tribute from
the various provinces, and seize the treasures which were supposed to be
deposited in royal cities beyond the Euphrates. He left behind, as
regent or lieutenant, Lysias, a man of royal descent, with orders to
prosecute the war against the Jews with the utmost severity, while with
half his forces he proceeded in person to Persia. Lysias chose Ptolemy,
Nicanor, and Gorgias, experienced generals, to conduct the war, with
forty thousand foot and seven thousand horsemen, besides elephants,
with orders to exterminate the rebels, take possession of their lands,
and settle heathen aliens in their place. So confident were these
generals of success that merchants accompanied the army with gold and
silver to purchase the Jews from the conquerors, and fetters in which to
make them slaves. A large force from the land of the Philistines also
joined the attacking army.

Jerusalem at this time was a forsaken city, uninhabited, like a
wilderness; the Sanctuary was trodden down, and heathen foreigners
occupied the citadel on Mount Zion. It was a time of general mourning
and desolation, and the sound of the harp and the pipe ceased throughout
the land. But Judas was not discouraged; and the warriors with him were
bent upon redeeming the land from desolation. They however put on
sackcloth, and prayed to the God of their fathers, and made every effort
to rally their forces, feeling that it was better to die in battle than
see the pollution of the Sanctuary and the evils which overspread the
land. Judas succeeded in collecting altogether three thousand men, who
however were poorly armed, and intrenched himself among the mountains,
about twenty miles from Jerusalem. Learning this, Gorgias took five
thousand men, one thousand horsemen, under guides from the castle on
Mount Zion, and departed from his camp at Emmaus by night, with a view
of surprising and capturing the Jewish force. But Judas was on the
alert, and obtained information of the intended attack. So he broke up
his own camp, and resolved to attack the main force of the enemy,
weakened by the absence of Gorgias and his chosen band. After reminding
his soldiers of God's mercies in times of old, he ordered the trumpets
to sound, and unexpectedly rushed upon the unsuspecting and unprepared
Syrians, totally routed them, pursued them as far as to the plains of
Idumaea, killed about three thousand men, took immense spoil,--gold and
silver, purple garments and military weapons,--and returned in triumph
to the forsaken camp, singing songs and blessing Heaven for the
great victory.

Many of the Syrians that escaped came and told Lysias all that had
happened, and he on hearing it was confounded and discouraged. But in
the year following he collected an army of sixty thousand chosen footmen
and five thousand horsemen to renew the attack, and marched to the
Idumaean border. Here Judas met him at Bethsura, near to Jerusalem, with
ten thousand men, now inspirited by victory, and again defeated the
Syrian forces, with a loss to the enemy of five thousand men. Lysias,
who commanded this army in person, returned to Antioch and made
preparations to raise a still greater force, while the victorious Jews
took possession of the capital.

Judas had now leisure to cleanse the Sanctuary and dedicate it. When
his army saw the desolation of their holy city,--trees growing in the
very courts of the Temple as in a forest, the altars profaned, the gates
burned,--they were filled with grief, and rent their garments and cried
aloud to Heaven. But Judas proceeded with his sacred work, pulled down
the defiled altar of burnt sacrifice and rebuilt it, cleansed the
Sanctuary, hallowed the desecrated courts, made new holy vessels, decked
the front of the Temple with crowns and shields of gold, and restored
the gates and chambers. Judas also fortified the Temple with high walls
and towers, and placed in it a strong garrison, for the Syrians still
held possession of the Tower,--a strong fortress near the mount of
the Temple.

When all was cleansed and renewed, a solemn service of reconsecration
was celebrated; the sacred fire was kindled afresh on the altar,
thousands of lamps were lighted, the sacrifices were offered, the people
thronged the courts of Jehovah, and with psalms of praise, festive
dances, harps, lutes, and cymbals made a joyful noise unto the Lord.
This triumphant restoration was celebrated three years, to the very day,
from the day of desecration; it was forever after--as long as the Temple
stood--held a sacred yearly festival, and called the Feast of the
Dedication, or sometimes, from its peculiar ceremonies, the Feast
of Lights.

The successes of Judas and the restoration of the Temple worship
inflamed with renewed anger the heathen population of the countries in
the near vicinity of Judaea; and there seems to have been a general
confederacy of Idumaeans,--descendants of Esau,--with sundry of the
Bedouin tribes, and of the heathen settled east of the Jordan in the
land of Gilead, and of Phoenicians and heathen strangers in Galilee, to
recover what the Syrians had lost, and to restore idol worship. Judas
had now an army of eleven thousand men, which he divided between himself
and his brother Simon, and they marched in different directions to the
attack of their numerous enemies. They were both eminently successful,
gaining bloody battles, capturing cities and fortresses, taking immense
spoils, mingling the sound of trumpets with prayers to Almighty
God,--heroes as religious as they were brave, an unexampled band of
warriors, rivalling Joshua, Saul, and David in the brilliancy of their
victories. All the Jews who remained true to their faith in the
districts which he overran and desolated, Judas brought back with him to
Jerusalem for greater safety.

Only one misfortune sullied the glory of these exploits. Judas had left
behind him at Jerusalem, when he and Simon went forth to fight the
idolaters, a garrison of two thousand men under the command of Joseph
and Azarias, leaders of the people, with the strict command to remain
in the city until he should return. But these popular leaders, dazzled
by the victories of Judas and Simon, and wishing to earn a fame like
theirs, issued from their stronghold with two thousand men to attack
Jamnia, and were met by Gorgias the Syrian general and completely
annihilated,--a just punishment for military disobedience. The loss of
two thousand men was a calamity, but Judas pursued his victories,
finally turning against the Philistines, who at this point disappear
from sacred history.

In the meantime King Antiochus, who, as already stated, had gone on a
plundering expedition to Persia, was defeated in the attempt, and
returned in great grief and disappointment to Ecbatana. Here he heard
that his armies under Lysias had been disgracefully beaten, and that
Judaea was in a fair way to achieve its independence under the heroic
Judas; and, worse still, that all the pagan temples and altars which he
had set up in Jerusalem were removed and destroyed. This especially
filled him with rage, for he was a fanatic in his religion, and utterly
detested the monotheism of the Jews. So oppressed with grief was this
heathen persecutor that he took to his bed; and in addition to his
humiliation he was afflicted with a loathsome disease, called
elephantiasis, so that he was avoided and neglected by his own servants.
He now saw that he must die, and calling for his friend Philip, made
him regent of his kingdom during the minority of his son, whom he had
left at Antioch.

The Jews were thus delivered from the worst enemy that had afflicted
them since the Babylonian captivity. Neither Assyrians nor Egyptians nor
Persians had so ruthlessly swept away religious institutions. Those
conquerors were contented with conquest and its political
results,--namely, the enslavement and spoliation of the people; they did
not pollute the sacred places like the Syrian persecutor. By the rivers
of Babylon the Jews had sat down and wept when they remembered Zion, but
their sad wailing was over the fact that they were captives in a strange
land. Ground down to the dust by Antiochus, however, they bewailed not
only their external misfortunes, but far more bitterly the desecration
of their Sanctuary and the attempt to root out their religion, which was
their life.

The death of Antiochus Epiphanes was therefore a great relief and
rejoicing to the struggling Jews. He left as heir to his throne a boy
nine years of age; but though he had made his friend Philip guardian of
his son and regent of his kingdom, his lieutenant at Antioch, Lysias,
also claimed the guardianship and the regency. These rival claims of
course led to civil wars between Lysias and Philip, in consequence of
which the Jews were comparatively unmolested, and had leisure to
organize their forces, fortify their strongholds, and prepare for
complete independence. Among other things, Judas Maccabaeus attacked the

Book of the day: