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By Gabriel, was revealed to him, with great exactness, the time when Messiah, the Prince, should appear. “Seventy weeks,” said he “are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision of prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that, from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the prince, shall be seven weeks and three score and two weeks. And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself.” A day, in prophetic language, is a year. The period predicted therefore, was 490 years from the commission given to Ezra by Artaxerxes, to the crucifixion of Christ; or 434 years from the completion of the second temple; which was exactly fulfilled. With the like accuracy, also, did this prophet predict the duration of the Man of sin and the reign of the prince of darkness; which will be fully seen when the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom, shall be given to the saints of the Most High.
What a view had this prophet of events in the womb of time! How clearly manifest it is that “known unto God are all his works, from the foundation of the world; that he works by a fixed plan, that he determines the end from the beginning; and that, while man is perfectly free and pursues his own pleasure, God sits on the throne, accomplishing, in his own time and way, and through the instrumentality of man, his glorious purposes. Well might Daniel exclaim in prospect, and we, in the fulfilment of these purposes, “ Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are his. And he changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings, and setieth up kings; he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding. He revealeth the deep and secret things; he knoweth what is in the darkness, and light dwelleth with him."
In the land of bondage the Church might have been left to perish, but God was with her; and when the time for her deliverance had come, so clearly and fully predicted by his prophets, He provided means for its accomplishment. One hundred and fifty years before, he had declared by Isaiah, that he would raise up Cyrus, who should deliver this peo. ple.* In the ordinary course of human events, this distin.
* Isaiah, xlv. 1.
guished man came to the height of power. He was the son of Cambyses, the king of Persia; and as he advanced in life, became an eminent warrior. In conjunction with his uncle Darius the Mede, he besieged Babylon. But it was a city of amazing strength, and its conquest appeared beyond the power of man. Under its walls, and through the centre of the city, ran the Euphrates. This had once been turned into a vast lake, excavated for its reception, while a passage could be made under its bed to unite two palaces, which stood on its opposite banks. Cyrus resolved to break down the embankment which had been formed, turn the water into the old excavation, and march into the city in the dry bed of the river.
Having fixed his plan, he determined to prosecute it on a night when Belshazzar and all his court were engaged in rioting. This Belshazzar was one of the most impious princes who had filled the throne. That night he drank from the gold and silver vessels which were taken out of the temple at Jerusalem, he and his lords, and his concubines, making a mock of the God of heaven. For such impiety, Jehovah awfully chastised him. For he caused a hand to appear and write on the wall. At beholding it, fear and astonishment seized the king, and he called his magicians, and diviners, and astrologers, but none could read the writing. Daniel, the prophet, was instantly summoned, and he read, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN,” giving the interpretation, “God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” No sooner was the warning given, than Darius and Cyrus entered the city, and Belshazzar was slain. Thus ended the Babylonian empire. Thus was destroyed the golden head of Nebuchadnezzar's image, 539 years B. C., and thus were fulfilled the many prophecies which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Daniel, had delivered against it.
Of the new kingdom of the Medes and Persians, the arms and breast of the great image, Daniel was made prime minister. His exaltation excited the envy of the presidents, and princes; and when they could find nothing against him, they artfully laid a plan to destroy him for his religion. To the great grief of Darius, he was cast into the den of lions because he would go to his chamber and three times a day pray to the God of heaven. But God shut the mouths of the lions, and he was brought out in safety. His enemies were destroyed, and his influence at court was greater than ever.
In a few years, Cyrus succeeded to the throne. Daniel had carefully computed the seventy years of Judah's captivity, predicted by Jeremiah, and had made earnest supplication unto the Lord, that he would remember his people. He showed the king, we have reason to suppose, the predictions of Isaiah respecting him, and the purpose for which God had raised him up, and earnestly interceded with him to effect the deliverance on which his heart was placed. The king's heart was in the hands of the Lord, and he excited that heathen prince to make this wonderful proclamation; “ 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."
Atheists ascribe all things to chance, and earthly politicians glory in developing the secret springs of action; but the Bible shows us an Almighty Governor sitting on the throne of the universe, and wielding the destinies of nations at his pleasure. Nothing is of so much consequence in the eyes of men as a vast, splendid and powerful empire. But the mightiest kingdoms are raised up and destroyed in entire subserviency to the good of the Church. The whole history of the world is but a history of the divine decrees. Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, was raised up to be a furnace for the Church; and when she was sufficiently purified, Babylon was destroyed that the Church might not perish in bondage. Her deliverer was predicted ages before his birth, and was conducted to princely power by the hand of God. His acquaintance with the Israelites and the divine purposes was through the eminent prophet who had been miraculously preserved from death. How awful and glorious is the sovereignty of God! He called the ravenous bird from the east to execute vengeance upon Babylon, and deliver his people. How weak and contemptible are they who fancy they control the affairs of nations! “Surely the princes of Zoan are fools.” The balance of power is in his hands who weigheth kings and nations.
Forty two thousand people, chiefly of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with seven thousand servants, returned the first year, under Zerubbabel, to the holy land; 535 B. C. Though of two tribes, they were blended together under the name of Jews—an appellation which they have from that day to this sustained. They carried with them all the golden vessels belonging to the Temple, which Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged. After providing themselves suitable habitations, they assembled at Jerusalem; celebrated the feast of trumpets; restored the altar of the Lord for burnt offerings, and commenced rebuilding the Temple. But they soon met with a powerful opposition from the Samaritans.
The Samaritans were a people who were brought by Shalmaneser, when he carried the ten tribes out of their own land, from Babylon, from Cuthah, from Ava, from Hameth, and from Sepharvim, and made to dwell in the desolate cities of Samaria. These foreigners intermingled with the lower classes of the Israelites, who remained in the land, and formed a mongrel race, claiming connexion with the Jews and Heathen. Being harrassed by lions, they sought protection from Jehovah, the God of the country, and obtained from an exiled Hebrew priest a copy of the five books of Moses.*
Hearing of the return and undertaking of the Jews, this people came and offered to unite with them; but as they were not of the children of Israel, would not put away their idols, and cared but little about the true religion, the Hebrews would have no connexion with them; which so enraged the Samaritans, that they opposed them with bitterness, bribed some of the counsellors of Cyrus to act against them, and for many years, greatly retarded their work. And when Cyrus and Daniel were dead and a new monarch was upon the throne, they made such representations to him of the former rebellious character of the Jews, that he issued a decree against the rebuilding of the Temple, and the work ceased. In opposition to the Jewish Temple, they built one on Mount Gerizim, where they said men ought to worship. Between them and the Jews has ever subsisted the most bitter animosity.
Under a succeeding reign, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah exhorted the Jews to go on with their work. And
* This being the most ancient copy of the Pentateuch, has been considered of great importance in relation to biblical criticism. It differs in about two thousand instances from the Jewish copy. But it has been shown in a late learned work of Gesenius, that the Jewish is the original copy, and that all the variations of the Samaritan may be easily accounted for. The Samaritans are now reduced to less than 200 persons. They reside at Neplos, the ancient Sychar, or Sychem. The Samaritan is the original Hebrew character.
when the governor asked for their warrant in undertaking it again, they appealed to the decree of Cyrus. This appeal was sent to Darius, the king, who caused search to be made. The decree was found; liberty was granted them to finish the Temple, and means were furnished from the king's treasury. In twenty years from their return, the building was completed and dedicated to God with great solemnity and joy, B. C. 415.
This second Temple, however, had but little of the magnificence of the first. The aged men who beheld it, wept at the contrast. Besides its inferior workmanship and covering, it was destitute of the Shechinah or cloud of glory over the mercy seat; of the holy oracle, or approach to God by Urim and Thummim; of the perpetual fire which came down from heaven in the wilderness; and of the two tables of the testimony on which God wrote, with his finger, the ten commandments. But yet the glory of this latier house was to be greater than that of the former; for into it the Desire of all nations was to come, who would fill it with his praise.
Two eminent prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, returned with the children of the captivity. They were raised up to reprove the people for their sins; to call them to repentance, and encourage them in building the second temple. The most eminent prediction of Haggai was of the Messiah's coming into his Temple, when God should shake the nations. Zechariah predicted with wonderful minuteness, his riding into Jerusalem on an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass; his being valued at thirty pieces of silver; and his death, by the avenging sword of Jehovah. He also described the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans; the conversion and bitter grief of the Jews for having pierced the Messiah, and their final admission by baptism into the privileges of the gospel covenant. His style is much like that of Jeremiah, whose spirit the Jews said had descended upon him.
This dreadful captivity cured the nation of idolatry. They never more went after the gods of the heathen.
It was but a remnant that was restored to their native land, and this was from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes were doomed to a long dispersion among the eastern nations. Their descendants, it is supposed, are still distinctly visible.
In a subsequent period, in the reign of Ahasuerus, called also Artaxerxes, this whole people, embracing the Church of God, came near an utter extermination. For Haman, the