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The Young Captives by Erasmus W. Jones

Part 4 out of 4

twelve terrible plagues on the king of Egypt and his people. He opened
before the Hebrews a passage through the sea, and brought them dry-shod
to the opposite shore. For forty years were they fed with manna from
heaven, while water was called forth from the flinty rock. And as the
waves of the Red Sea were parted before them as they left Egypt, so, in
like manner, were the waters of Jordan parted as they left the plains of
Moab; and thus were they settled in the land of Canaan. Since that day,
nine hundred and fifteen years have passed away; and during all this
period, Jehovah hath given unto his people abundant signs of his
presence. Thus our God is not a being that dwells only in the imagination
of men, but his wonderful acts, O king, are written on the pages of
correct history."

"If these things are so, surely the God of Israel is the only God. But,
Daniel, thou knowest that it is much harder for Cyrus the Persian to
believe these things than for thee, who art a native Hebrew, and a firm
believer in the God thou worshipest. Have not the Persians their
histories of their gods as well as ye?"

"They have, O king! But those histories are dark, indefinite, and without
date, which is a conclusive evidence that they are fiction, and not
history. If my lord the king hath aught to doubt in regard to the
correctness of our ancient historians concerning our God, what thinketh
he of those miraculous displays of Divine power witnessed by his servant
and by thousands more, during the last threescore years and ten?"

"Proceed, Daniel; the king is well pleased to hear thee!"

"Be it known to thee, O king, that all the calamities that of late have
befallen Babylon have come to pass in perfect accordance with the
predictions of God's prophets, some of whom prophesied over two hundred
years before these events transpired. When thou comparest these
prophecies with the actual occurrences, there remaineth no longer a place
for doubt. Even the draining of the Euphrates, O king, was spoken of by
the prophet of Jehovah over one hundred and fifty years before the
wonderful thing was conceived in thy mind."

"Enough, O Daniel! Enough!" cried Cyrus. "If thou art able to show me
this thing, I ask no more!"

The Hebrew sage, with a peculiar smile of satisfaction on his
countenance, rose from his seat, and took from a shelf what appeared to
be a scroll of ancient manuscript.

"Listen, O king, to the words of Jehovah's prophets in regard to the
taking of Babylon:

"'Make bright the arrows, gather the shields! The Lord hath raised up the
spirits of the kings of the Medes, for his device is against Babylon to
destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his
temple. Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand! Shout against her
round about! Behold, I will stir up the Modes against them, who shall not
regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. Lift ye up
a banner upon the high mountain! Exalt the voice! shake the hand, that
they may go into the gates of the nobles! Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O
Media! Therefore shall evil come upon thee, and thou shalt not know from
whence it cometh. Desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou
shalt not know. I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken,
and thou wast not aware. O thou that dwellest upon many waters, I will
dry up her sea, and make her springs dry. A drought is upon her waters,
and they shall be dried up. In her heat I will make their feasts, and I
will make them drunken, that they may repose and sleep a perpetual sleep,
and not wake, saith the Lord. Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield!
Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of their fathers,
that they do not rise and possess the land; for I will rise up against
thee, saith the Lord of hosts, and cut off from Babylon the name and
remnant, and son and nephew, saith the Lord.'

"These, O king, are some of the predictions of Jehovah against Babylon,
by the mouths of his holy prophets. And has not my lord the king been an
eye witness to their fulfillment!"

"They have all come to pass to the letter, O Daniel! Surely the God of
Israel is the God of gods! Why should I any longer doubt? Thus it appears
that Cyrus the Persian has been under the directions of the God of
Israel, to bring about these wonderful events!"

"In this thou sayest truly, O king. And strange as it may sound in thine
ears, be assured that thy name was known in Israel for over one hundred
and fifty years before thy birth."

Here the Persian gazed on the Hebrew for awhile in silent wonderment; and
it was evident from his countenance, that he had some doubt in regard to
the truth of the sentence.

"Did the king rightly understand thy meaning? Sayest thou that my name
was known in Israel for one hundred and fifty years previous to my

"The king rightly understandeth his servant. Thy name was carefully
written in a book by one of our prophets two hundred and twenty years
ago. Happily, I have now in my possession a copy taken from the original,
written by one of our scribes, and bearing date which maketh it over one
hundred and seventy years old. If the king desireth, thy servant will

"Read, Daniel," said the king, with much feeling.

Daniel from the same scroll from which he had read before, which was the
Prophecies of Isaiah, read:

"'Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have
holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings
to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not he shut,
I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break
in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I
will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret
places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord which call thee by thy
name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine
elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though
thou hast not known me.'"

The Persian was deeply moved. Indeed, tears were in the monarch's eyes.
He rose, and in the deepest reverence, exclaimed:

"I acknowledge the God of Israel as the great ruling power of the
universe! Under his infinitely wise directions I stand ready to do his
pleasure, and accomplish his great designs."

"One favor it is thine to grant, O king, according to the word of the
Lord. For their iniquity the children of Judah were carried captive into
Babylon, and Jerusalem was rendered desolate. According to the word of
the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, they were to remain in this land of
their captivity for seventy years. This period, O king, in a few more
months will be at an end. I pray thee, give permission to the children of
Judah to return to their own land, and build up the old waste places, and
raise again a temple to the God of Israel."

"This thy request, O Daniel, shall be granted," said the king, in a firm
voice. "The proclamation shall go forth from the king, and all that is
needful for the enterprise shall be supplied."

"Praised be Jehovah!" said the aged Hebrew. "At last the days of Judah's
captivity are numbered, and Jerusalem shall be restored. Thy God, O king,
whom from henceforth thou wilt serve, shall greatly prosper thee in the
affairs of thy kingdom."

"I trust my faithful servant will consent to tarry with the king, to
whom, from time to time, he will deliver lessons of wisdom. I purpose
soon to remove my court from Babylon to Ecbatana, in Persia, whither I
hope my faithful servant Daniel will consent to remove."

"Thy servant in this is willing to abide the pleasure of the king."

The king left the presence of his aged minister with strange but yet
pleasurable emotions, hurried into his chariot, which was waiting, and
was soon on his way to the palace.

The next day the following proclamation was heralded through the streets
of Babylon, and sent to all the provinces:

"Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia: The Lord God of heaven hath given me
all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him an
house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his
people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in
Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God),
which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he
sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold,
and with goods, and with beasts, besides the free-will offering for the
house of God that is in Jerusalem."

This proclamation was received by the captive Jews with gladness and
great joy. Measures were immediately put forth for the accomplishment of
the enterprise; the king, in the meantime, continuing to give every
encouragement to these measures, in the firm conviction that he was under
peculiar guidance of the God of heaven.

. . . . . . .

A brighter day never dawned on the plains of Judah. The brilliant rays of
the morning sun were seen flashing upwards from behind Mount Zion, like
so many messengers in uniform, proclaiming the near approach of their
sovereign master. Presently, the great regent of day himself, in slow and
silent majesty, made his appearance, and once more smiled on the City of
the Great King. At an early hour, multitudes were seen pouring into the
city, from east, west, north, and south, and on each countenance might
have been read a degree of excitement and animation. This was the
twenty-fourth day of the second month, in the second year after the
return from Babylon; and on this day was to be laid the foundation of the
temple of the Lord. This was well understood throughout the land; and we
wonder not that from cities and villages, from hill and valley, the
emancipated Hebrews hastened by thousands to witness a scene at the
thought of which their hearts throbbed with intense emotions. By the
sixth hour the great multitudes had congregated to witness the solemn and
joyful ceremony. There stood the priests, with their long, flowing robes,
with trumpets in their hands. There, also, stood the Levites, and the
sons of Asaph, with cymbals to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of
David, king of Israel. The builders had laid the foundation. Then the
trumpets were blown, and the sons of Asaph struck their cymbals. Songs of
praise ascended on high, and they gave thanks unto the Lord.

The ceremony was over. The concourse was dismissed, under the benediction
of the priests, and the masses moved homeward in all directions.

Two chariots of magnificent appearance, drawn by beautiful steeds, were
seen leaving the ground. They drew much attention from the crowd, as they
leisurely drove through the winding streets of Jerusalem. At last the
chariots halted in front of a mansion, which had the appearance of having
of late undergone a thorough repair. From one of these chariots alighted
several venerable men, their hair whitened with age. Their whole bearing
gave the beholder to understand that they were persons of distinction.
From the other chariot alighted, first a man of middle age, next a woman
somewhat younger, then an aged man and woman, the latter alighting with
great elasticity of step. The countenance of this lady gave evidence that
it had once been the throne of rare beauty.

"Why looketh my brother so thoughtful and sad on this day of general
rejoicing in Judah?" asked the aged lady, directing her address to one of
those who had alighted from the first chariot.

"I am not sad, sister," replied the brother, "but am thoughtful. And what
thinkest thou my mind dwelt upon?"

"Surely, I cannot tell. Some past scenes in Chaldea, peradventure."

"Nay, sister. But I was thinking that seventy and two years ago this very
night, myself and my two brothers here, accompanied by our beloved
Jeremiah, entered this house, and revealed the sad story of our captivity
to our beloved Perreeza."

"Ah, dear Hananiah! and a dark night of sorrow that proved to your almost
brokenhearted sister."

"But I trust that Jehovah hath overruled the whole in the end to the
glory of his great name," said Mishael.

"Surely he hath!" quickly answered Mathias. "Forever blessed be the
memory of that delightful night when these eyes, at the house of
Barzello, rested on the bright charms of the 'Rose of Sharon.'"

"The rose no longer blooms, Mathias!" answered Perreeza. "It's hues are
faded; and, under the pelting storms of life, its petals have well-nigh

"The tint may fade, and the petals may wither, but sweeter than ever
shall its fragrance continue to perfume the surrounding air," answered
the husband, his face glowing with pure affection. "In that better
country whither we are going, where flowers never fade, and where roses
forever bloom, the 'Rose of Sharon' shall yet flourish in immortal

Mathias, Perreeza and the latter's three brothers had been made almoners
of an immense bequest provided in Joram's will for advancing the
interests of Judah. It was stipulated that the fund should not be
employed until the expiration of seventy years of captivity. Joram
believed, with Daniel and the other distinguished Israelites, that the
captivity would come to an end in the specified seventy years. The
treasure was hidden where none but the almoners and their natural heirs
could disturb it.

It was Esrom's purpose, as a final atonement, to bequeath one-half of his
vast fortune for the development of religious and educational
institutions in Jerusalem and to aid the poorer class of Hebrews to
acquire homes. The decision of Cyrus the king to assist in rebuilding the
Temple at Jerusalem enabled Mathias and his associates to use the bequest
in other channels. The fund at their disposal was large, and they were
enabled to give a new impetus to the cause of education in Judah.
Hundreds of the former captives were likewise assisted in the purchase of
land and cattle. Much had been accomplished in the past year for the
upbuilding of Jerusalem and the advancement of the race. It was natural,
therefore, that, at the close of the ceremonies attending the laying of
the foundation of the new temple, Esrom's friends should let their minds
dwell on his generosity. Conversation turned to this theme as the family
entered their home.

"It was a gracious and noble thing for Joram to do," exclaimed Hananiah.

"My uncle frequently told me," said Perreeza, "that it was his earnest
desire to have his native city and his beloved land of Judah take a more
advanced position in the affairs of the world. He believed that, with
higher educational advantages, the Israelites would rapidly gain in
statecraft. They are an industrious people, and many of them have shown
such marked administrative ability as to convince observing men that the
race will be potent in shaping the destiny of nations.

"Uncle Esrom became the wealthiest man in all Babylon because of his
sagacity in barter and exchange. He was wise in regard to what the
populace would buy most freely and where to obtain the merchandise to the
best advantage."

"His discretion rather than his wealth gave him influence at the king's
court," exclaimed Mishael. "Joram was a credit to his people, and
methinks he was remarkable for his talent as a diplomat. He had great
influence in foreign countries, and his knowledge gained abroad was of
the highest importance to Nebuchadnezzar throughout his reign. Our uncle
never forgot his native land, and constantly exerted a powerful influence
in behalf of the people of Judah. That work was secret and mysterious,
however. Frequently we heard of unexpected concessions and favors to our
people from the king, and in time found out that they were due to Joram's

"My great hope at present is," returned Perreeza, "to be spared long
enough to see substantial fruit spring from Uncle Esrom's bounty."

"I second that hope," said Hananiah. "I wish to see all the returned
captives well provided for. The children of all these families must have
doubled advantages as a measure of restitution. We can accomplish much
with the immense sum at our disposal."

"We ought now, under such favorable circumstances," said Mishael, "to
give Israel a new start in commerce and education. We have the benefit of
Daniel's wisdom in this great undertaking; for, on several occasions
before we left Babylon, he outlined plans by which Joram's wishes might
be carried out in a practical manner. With the present government of
Chaldea to protect our nation, the security of life and property is
assured. We can push our projects as hard as we please, and feel
confident that nothing but good is being accomplished."

The melodious voice of young Rebekah was now heard in another apartment,
warbling one of her sweetest songs.

"Jehovah bless the child!" cried the grandmother. "How that voice of
melody cheers my heart!"

"Mother!" quickly replied Monroah. "Permit me to call her into this
apartment, where she may sing and play thy favorite 'song of Judah.'"

"Thou art ever kind to thy mother, dear Monroah; do as thou desirest."

Rebekah was called.

"Will my daughter sing and play for us her grandmother's favorite 'song
of Judah'?"

"With pleasure, mother," cried Rebekah, as she quickly left the

In a moment she returned, bearing in her arms a stringed instrument with
which the reader is somewhat familiar, and proceeded with the following
appropriate song:

"When we our weary limbs to rest
Sat down by proud Euphrates' stream,
We wept, with doleful thoughts oppressed,
And Zion was our mournful theme.

"Our harps, that when with joy we sung
Were wont their tuneful parts to bear,
With silent strings neglected hung
On willow trees that withered there.

"Oh, Salem! once our happy seat,
When I of thee forgetful prove,
Then let my trembling hand forget
These speaking strings with art to move!

"Again we hail the sacred hall,
That echoed to our youthful lays!
And Amonober's children all
Have reached their home to end their days.

"To thee, Almighty King of kings,
In new-made hymns my voice I'll raise,
And instruments of many strings
Shall help me to adore and praise.

"How sweet to die in Judah's dale,
And with the fathers calmly rest;
The thought of sleeping in yon vale,
How soothing to my throbbing breast!

"A few more days of grief and pain,
And then adieu to every gloom,
For soon we all shall meet again,
Beyond the portals of the tomb."

The old harp of Judah has also returned from the captivity, and is once
more safely lodged in its own native Jerusalem, whence Esrom bore it to
the land of strangers a century before.

Time has left some impression on its aged frame, but its tones are
sweeter than ever. In that family it is held as a priceless treasure; and
its melody shall sweetly fall on ears yet unborn, when the hands that now
so skillfully sweep its well-tuned strings shall be palsied, and the
sweet voices that blend with its thrilling chords shall be silent in the

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