Imagens das páginas

the north. With an instinctive fear of the great God of the Hebrews, these Assyrian settlers tried to add His worship to their own religious practices, so that the land soon became the scene of the strangest idolatry.

Thus the kingdom of the ten tribes was for ever overthrown. And this happened,' says the Bible, because the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel ; and on account of the kings of Israel they had chosen. And the children of Israel did secretly those things which were not right against the Lord their God, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city. And they set up images and groves in every high hill and under every garden tree; and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the Lord carried away before them; and they wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger. ...

Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah by all the prophets and by all the seers, saying, Turn you from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the laws which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets. Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God. . . . And they made for themselves molten images, two calves, and made Ashtartes, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal; and they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divinations and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.'

The Israelites were almost without exception ruled by weak or sinful kings; the gloom of their history is rarely relieved by a ray of prosperity or hope ; yet their ultimate fate, that of being entirely merged in the race of their hated conquerors, is full of a melancholy and touching interest. For the ten tribes of Israel were not even permitted, like the sister kingdom of Judah, to bequeath to later ages and western nations the memory of rich and varied destinies. They were irretrievably lost, and a deep and impenetrable silence clings round their dispersion. The thick folds of the veil have never been lifted; the words of the prophet are verified:

The virgin of Israel is fallen, she shall no more rise; she is forsaken upon her land, there is none to raise her up.'



130. REHOBOAM (975—958).

[1 Kings XIV. 21—31; 2 CHRON. X.-XII.] It is necessary now to retrace our steps to the time of the disruption of the Hebrew monarchy, when Rehoboam, the son of king Solomon, after vainly trying to defeat Jeroboam, and to win back the rebellious tribes, retired to his own capital Jerusalem. He felt that he must content himself with the rule of the two faithful provinces of Judah and Benjamin, which were gradually amalgamated under the name of the kingdom of Judah.

In extent, fertility, and variety of resources, the northern kingdom far outshone its southern rival: whilst the latter, as above pointed out, possessed the famed city of Jerusalem, and the sacred Temple hallowed by the Ark and the tablets of the Law. There could be no second Jerusalem, as there could be no second Temple. The chivalry and valour of David, the unsurpassed wisdom of Solomon, and the power and splendour of both, seemed inseparably associated with the holy city. Cherished memories of early days clung fresh and unfading round the bleak and barren hill country of Judah, dear to all its inhabitants as the cradle of their glorious heroes. The little kingdom was hemmed in between the Mediterranean and the desert. Ephraim and Dan were its northern

confines, the wild tribes of Edom and Arabia, of Amalek and Moab, roamed along its southern frontier; while the Ammonites and the Edomites remained tributary to its sway.

Rehoboam was unable to understand the pure faith of his ancestors; weak and sinful, he was easily tempted into idolatry, in which he was perhaps confirmed by his mother, who was of Ammonite descent. Heathen worship flourished in many groves and on a thousand heights consecrated to idols throughout the land. As usual, political decline was the consequence of religious degeneracy. In the fifth year of Rehoboam's reign, Shishak, king of Egypt, invaded Judea, and marched upon Jerusalem. He entered the holy city, penetrated unopposed into the royal palace and into the very precincts of the Temple, ransacked the treasures of both, and seized even the golden shields which since Solomon's time had adorned the porch of the Sanctuary. Laden with booty, Shishak returned to Egypt. Rehoboam, to lessen the humiliation, replaced the golden shields by brazen ones. Moreover, continual warfare was carried on throughout his reign between Judah and Israel; but he gained no decisive advantages; whilst the northern empire increased in strength, in unity, and in order.

Rehoboam was succeeded by his son Abijah, the child of his favourite wife Maachah, a daughter of Absalom.

131. ABIJAH (958–955).

[1 Kings XV. 1–8; 2 CHRON. XIII.] This short reign was distinguished by no memorable event. Abijah was an idolater like his father, and like him, he waged war against Jeroboam, and with equally indifferent results. He was succeeded by his son.

132. ASA (955–914).

[1 KINGS XV. 9—24; 2 CHRON. XIV.—XVI.] This king, pious and God-fearing, was earnestly intent upon restoring the true religion of the Hebrews. He not only broke the images of the idols, and expelled the heathen priests from the land, but he even banished his mother Maachah from the royal palace, because she obstinately clung to the worship of Ashtarte, and he ordered the statue of the goddess to be burnt in the valley of Kidron. But it is remarkable that he did not abolish the altars on the heights, upon which he allowed sacrifices to be offered and incense to be burnt as before: it is uncertain whether his reforming zeal did not extend so far, or whether he considered the high places as harmless and not incompatible with the service of God. He began to enrich the Temple anew, and deposited in it the treasures of gold and silver which he and his father had consecrated. The country indeed bade fair to prosper in his reign : he built new cities and fortified them with walls and towers, whilst valiant spearsmen from Judah and expert archers from Benjamin were trained to defend the towns. The strength of his army was soon to be tested. Immense hosts of Ethiopians under their king Serah invaded Judea ; but they were completely defeated by the Hebrews, who pursued them to Gerar, and gained much spoil. After this decided success, Asa became even more anxious than before to prove his piety; he faithfully followed the teaching of the prophets who came to advise and to guide him, destroyed every idol that had been left in Judah, and restored the altar of the Lord before the porch of the Temple.

But a serious trial awaited him towards the close of his reign. Baasha, king of Israel, desirous to weaken his rival, was building the city of Ramah close upon the con

« AnteriorContinuar »