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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 mean time 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 newlyacquired 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 Phænician 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 despair ing lamentations. “IIast 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, 0 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