« PreviousContinue »
As the Jewish church was noticed to be represented as the moon, so we have now come to her last quarter. Those especial manifestations which had hitherto been her peculiar glory, almost ceased ; her solemn ordinances and significant institutions became almost empty ceremonies, observed in the mere letter;--and when He came, who was predicted in this prophecy, he found, under a fair outside, all was emptiness and rottenness within.
Her history was left, at the close of the last period, connected with that of the kingdom of Persia; and from henceforward, having lost her own sovereignty, becomes connected in the vicissitudes of the ruling nations of the world. Persia, it was observed, did not in general act the part of an oppressor towards her; but rather, after being in a most peculiar manner raised up to be the instrument of Judah's deliverance from the tyranny of Babylon, on several occasions shewed the most marked and signal favour. Cyrus, in the first instance, no doubt under God, through the instrumentality of Daniel
whose life had been preserved through the seventy years' captivity, and who was held in the highest consideration, both by him and Darius his partner in the empire-issued an edict, soon after his conquest of that great city and nation, for the return of the Jews to their own country. This edict, as we have seen, formed the first termination of the Babylonish captivity; as a subsequent one of Darius Hystaspes, eighteen years after, formed the second termination; granting them still further privileges, and greater facilities in rebuilding their temple.
They were still, however, not regularly established as a people : their affairs continued from the date of this last edict, for near sixty years, under the immediate successors of Darius, including the wild and agitated reign of Xerxes, in an unsettled state, without a regular civil polity, without proper magistrates, without the due administration of justice, and without the proper institution of their various forms of worship. In this state of things, by one of the most extraordinary and striking incidents recorded in history, and one which in its beginning threatened their utter destruction, it pleased God again to incline the hearts of the kings of Persia, far to surpass in acts of kindness any thing that had previously been done for them. The particulars of this transaction are recorded in the book of Esther; and it was considered so great a deliverance, that it was decreed, the two days which they kept on the occasion as days of " feasting and gladness,” and which they called Purim, “should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.” (Esther ix. 28.)
As God in his wonderful providence had brought about the elevation of Esther, a Jewess, to share the throne of Persia, so the above event raised Mordecai, her near relative, to the situation of Prime Minister.
Under auspices so favourable-for the very great kindness of Artaxerxes cannot be otherwise accounted for --two illustrious characters were called forth to meet the exigences of their nation, and to be the instruments by which God's still gracious designs towards his people were to be carried into effect. These were Ezra and Nehemiah ; to each of whom, during the long reign of this monarch, edicts, similar to those of Cyrus and Darius, were grantedthe former in the year B.c. 457, and the latter in the year 444. The one given to Ezra was the most important, and is indisputably fixed as the commencement of the seventy weeks of this prophecy; and in all probability, as will be
afterwards explained, ought to be considered as the commencement of another yet unfulfilled “Period;” and it is otherwise a very important epoch in the Jewish history.
• Now this is the copy of the letter that king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, Unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; and to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem ; and all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the free-will-offering of the people, and of the priests: offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem :
“That thou mayst buy speedily with this money, bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meatofferings, and their drink-offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and gold, that do after the will of your God.
“ The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.
“And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure-house. And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.
“Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons ? Also we certify you, that, touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God; it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them. And thou Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the