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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 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 magnifi. cence 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 latter 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 en. courage 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 Jeho. vah. 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.
CHURCH SAVED THROUGH ESTHER.
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 na. tions. 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 prime minister of his court, unable to brook the contumely shown him by Mordecai, who probably only refused to render liim
certain honours because he viewed them as due to God alone, i procured a royal decree, for their entire destruction throughout
the whole world. But Esther, a Jewess, had been exalted to royalty ; and through her intercession the plot was defeated and the Jews were saved. This great event happened 452 B. C. In commemoration of it, the Jews instituted the feast of Purim, or lot, because Haman ascertained by lot the day on which the Jews were to be destroyed.
In no part of the sacred writings, do we more clearly behold the wonderful steps of divine providence for the preservation of the Church. The most trivial circumstances paved the way for the accomplishment of the most important events. A Jew..' ess orphan became the queen of the greatest empire on earth, through the whim of a monarch in a drunken revel. A restless night of the king brought to the highest honours the object of Haman's implacable rage, and the man on whom the salvation of the Church rested. The uncertain humour of a despot, was overruled to regard favorably the petition of his queen, who approached him at the hazard of her life, for the safety of her people. And when the Church was actually consigned to ruin, it
was only saved by a counter decree which gave the Jews ** liberty to defend themselves against their enemies. In all this
concatenation of circumstances there was nothing miraculous. All happened according to the ordinary course of human affairs, and yet all was directed by the finger of God.
God brought Esther to the kingdom “for such a time as this.” She saved her people, and made this mighty Ahasuerus favourable to the Church during the whole of his reign. By whom the book of Esther was written is unknown. It has been ascribed to Mordecai, to Ezra, and to Nehemiah.
Seventy-eight years after the decree of Cyrus, 457 B.C. Ezra was commissioned by Artaxerxes (the Ahasuerus of the
book of Esther,) governor of Judea.* He went up to Jerusalem with about 1700 persons, bearing a munificent present of silver and gold from the king and his counsellor, to the Lord God of Israel, and a proclamation to all the treasurers beyond the river, requiring them to furnish whatsoever should be commanded by the God of heaven, for his house ;—all, probably, obtained through the intercession of Queen Esther. Like a truly pious man, who placed his dependence on the God of heaven, Ezra observed, at the river Ahava, a day of fasting and prayer; and God was with him, and made all his way prosperous before him. He found the people in a low state. They had intermarried with the Gentiles in the land. Ezra convened them, severely rebuked them, compelled them all to put away their strange wives, and publicly read to them, from a pulpit of wood, the law of God. The Holy Spirit was poured out, and the people turned to the Lord with weeping, fasting and mourning; entered into solemn covenant with God, and became greatly reformed.
Ezra was of the sacerdotal family, and was an eminent scribe. He not only wrote the book which bears his name; but com, piled from ancient records, the books of Chronicles, collected all the books of which the sacred scriptures did then consist, made such additions to them as were necessary for their completion, and placed them in their proper order. In transcribing, he put the Hebrew writings into the square character of the Chaldeans, after which the ancient Hebrew character fell into disuse excepting with the Samaritans, who have retained it to this day. Ten years after, Nehemiah went to Jerusalem with a commission from the same king to repair the walls and set up the gates of Jerusalem. He was a Jew, of exalted heroism and piety, who had obtained the place of cup-bearer to the king ; not improbably through the influence of queen Esther. Under him the people fortified the city, though they were so opposed by the Samaritans, as to be obliged to carry arms to their work. Nehemiah returned to the Persian court, but he soon came back with a new commission, and entered with great zeal upon the business of repeopling Jerusalem and of reforming the nation ; especially in their abuses of the daily worship and of the Holy Sabbath. His government continued near forty years. His last act of reformation was in the year 409 B. C. He died, probably, soon after this, about 70 years of age.
* From the decree granting this commission, are to be dated the 70 weeks of Daniel.
Under the administration of these excellent men the custom was introduced of reading publicly, the law and the prophets in the synagogues every sabbath day. Before the captivity, there were but very few copies of the sacred scriptures. In the time of Josiah, only one copy of the law was in existence. The people, therefore, were very ignorant of it. But by this new regulation, copies were greatly multiplied. Synagogues, or churches, were built in every town and every synagogue had one copy:
Contemporary with Ezra and Nehemiah was the prophet Mal. achi. He was raised up to censure the people for the same offences that had excited the indignation of the governors, and to declare that God would punish and reject them and would make his name great among the Gentiles. He predicted the coming of John the Baptist, and the sudden appearance of the Lord in his Temple, to take vengeance on his enemies and he glorified in them that fear him. His style is inferior, as be lived in the decline of the Hebrew poetry. He was the last of the prophets. By him the canon of the Old Testament was completed, about 400 years before Christ.
Table of the Prophets who prophecied after the captivity.
between 606 and 534 B. C.
between 595 and 536. Haggai,
about 520. Zechariah,
about 519. Malachi,
between 436 and 400.
For many ages the false religions of the East had remained stationary; but in this period Magianism received considerable strength from the writings of Zoroaster. He was a native of Media. He pretended to a visit in heaven, where God spake to him out of a fire. This fire he pretended to bring with him on his return. It was considered holy, the dwelling of God. The Priests were forever to keep it and the people were to worship before it. He caused fire-temples every where to be erected, that storms and tempests might not extinguish it. As he considered God as dwelling in the fire, he made the sun to be bis chief residence and therefore the primary object of worship. He abandoned the old system of two Gods, one good and the other evil, and taught the existence of one Supreme, who had under him a good and evil angel; the immediate authors of
good and evil. To gain reputation, he retired into a cave and there lived a long time a recluse, and composed a book called the Zendavesta, which contains the liturgy to be used in the fire-temples and the chief doctrines of his religion. His suc. cess in propagating his system was ‘astonishingly great. Al. most all the eastern world, for a season, bowed before him. He is said to have been slain, with 80 of his priests, by a Scy. thian prince whom he attempted to convert to his religion. It is manifest that he was well acquainted with the Jewish scrip. tures, and that he derived his whole system of God's dwelling in the fire from the burning bush, out of which God spake to Mo
He gave the same history of the creation and deluge that Moses had given and inserted a great part of the Psalms of David into his writings. The Mehestani, his followers, be. lieved in the immortality of the soul, in future rewards and pun. ishments, and in the purification of the bad by fire; after which they would be united to the good.
Civil government of the Jews. Sanhedrim. Religious order.
Degeneracy in piety. Conflicts for the High-priesthood. Joshua slain in the Temple. Destruction of the Persian and erection of the Grecian monarchy. Daniel's vision of the ram and ihe he-goat. Fulfilment of prophecies against Tyre. The Jews favoured by Alexander. Course and end of the he. goat. Of the four horns which stood up in its place. Death of Simon the just. Septuagint version of the Scriptures. Ptolemy's violation of the Holy of holies. The Jews favor. ed by Antiochus the Great.
From the completion of the Scriptures of the Old Testament to the birth of Christ, was a period of about 400 years. It was a period of which indeed, we have no inspired history; but as the great Edwards well remarks, it was a period whose events are much the subject of Scripture prophecy; so that, if we have no later writer than Malachi, still we have, in the Bible, a complete history of the Church; "the account is carried on, the chain is not broken 'till we come to the very last link of it in the consummation of all things.” God also has provided profane historians, who, from the cessation of scriptural history, have given us authentic and full accounts of his providential