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sent messengers to Hezekiah with friendly greetings and presents. The king, full of cordial courtesy, and suspecting no hostile motives, showed them all the treasures collected in the palace. As soon as they had departed, the prophet Isaiah appeared before Hezekiah, and being informed of the visit of the Babylonians, and hearing that they had been shown all the wealth stored up in the king's residence, he spoke these ominous words: Behold, the days come when all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store for thee to this day, shall be carried into Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord.' But Hezekiah could not grieve for future troubles. His calm and simple nature was ready to enjoy the present. “Good is the word of the Lord,' he exclaimed, that thou hast spoken ; it is good if rest and truth be in my days.'
The closing years of Hezekiah's reign passed peacefully for himself and his people. He improved Jerusalem by building an aqueduct and bringing water into the city; he erected vast storehouses for supplies of corn, wine, and oil, and directed the attention of his herdsmen to the increase of the flocks. Moreover, he showed a love of wisdom and learning by causing a collection of proverbs, which till then may only have been preserved by oral tradition, to be compiled by his scribes (Proverbs XXV.--XXIX.).
Though Hezekiah's reign was not free from trials and dangers, it. was remarkable for political and religious energy, for extraordinary efforts to maintain the independence and to increase the resources of the kingdom. Well, therefore, may the people have mourned when Hezekiah died; and his name has been treasured in honourable remembrance.
142. MANASSEH (699_644).
[2 Kings XXI. 1–18; 2 Chron. XXXIII. 1—20.] Manasseh was child of twelve years of age when he succeeded his father, whose good qualities unfortunately he did not inherit. He was a determined and even fanatic idolater. As he grew up, he took delight in introducing into his kingdom the superstitions of every heathen country. The high places were restored, the groves re-planted, the many altars of Baal and Ashtarte rebuilt. The sun, the moon, and all the heavenly hosts were adored. The gods of Ammon, of Moab, and of Edom were zealously worshipped everywhere. Babylonian and Egyptian paganism was rife ; incense and offerings rose on the roofs of the houses to the fabled deities of the heights; wizards practised their enchantments and pretended to raise the dead from their graves and to reveal the mysteries of the future; and the valley of Hinnom was once more disgraced by the hideous statue of Moloch, to whom parents offered up their children as burntsacrifices. In the very Temple of the Lord stood an image of Ashtarte; and in the entrance of the Court were placed white horses harnessed to a splendid chariot sacred to the sun.
These evil practices were carried on almost unreproved ; for that voice which, during three preceding reigns, had warned and guided, was silenced—Isaiah died in the commencement of Manasseh's rule; tradition relates that he suffered a violent death at the hands of the ungrateful tyrant, who fiercely and relentlessly continued his career of idolatry and violence ; for he shed much innocent blood, until he had filled with it Jerusalem from one end to another.'
According to one account--that of the Chronist-the
Assyrians invaded Judea, and carried Manasseh away to Babylon; in his sad captivity, he humbled himself before the Lord, and fervently prayed to Him for deliverance; he was permitted to return to his much-tried country, and thenceforth abandoned his heathen practices, and introduced the worship of the Lord. Of all this the older narrative—that of the Books of Kings—makes no mention; it is, on the contrary, consistent in its blame of Manasseh : • And the Lord spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, Because Manasseh, king of Judah, has done these abominations, and has done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols; therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem, as a man wipes a dish—when he has wiped it, he turns it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies.'
When death ended his long and impious reign, Manasseh was succeeded by his son,
143. AMON (644-642).
[2 Kings XXI. 19-26; 2 CHRON. XXXIII. 20—25.] This unhappy monarch was an obstinate idolater like his father. He ruled only for two years, when he was assassinated by his servants in his own house. But the people avenged his death; they slew the murderers, and declared Josiah, the king's son, his successor,
144. JOSIAH (642-611).
[2 Kings XXII. 1-XXIII. 30; 2 Chrox. XXXIV. XXXV.)
When Josiah came to the throne he was only eight years old. It was fortunate for him and his country that his inexperience was guided by a number of pious and God-fearing men who, counterbalancing the corrupt influences of his earliest education, imbued his susceptible mind with principles of righteousness, and taught him to understand the truths of the pure religion of Israel. Thus he grew up under the care of the wise and zealous High-priest Hilkiah and his son ; he was watched over by Shaphan, a learned scribe, and his son Ahikam, by Shallum, the faithful keeper of the royal wardrobe, and his wife Hulda, the inspired prophetess. Not much later, he must have felt the power of the youthful Jeremiah, who soon became the leading spirit of the age. These devoted men, and others like them, were left as the germs of a new and better race to grow up after the general destruction which was impending over Judah.
For a time it might have seemed as if that doom could still be averted : so strong were the hopes which the piety of Josiah raised in the hearts of all patriots; and an event soon happened which awoke even the enthusiasm of the people. In the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah resolved to carry out, with greater energy than had been done of late, the necessary repairs of the Temple. The work was forthwith commenced. During its progress, and when a heap of long accumulated rubbish was being cleared away, a written scroll was discovered. It was examined by Hilkiah the High-priest, who exclaimed, “The Book of the Law have I found in the House of the Lord!' It was most probably the Book of Deuteronomy. The High-priest gave it to Shaphan the scribe, who took it to
the king, and read to him its contents. It was the first time that Josiah heard the words of the Law, which had before been completely unknown to him. Feeling that he had till then violated the Divine precepts, he was terrified and grieved, and in his agony rent his clothes. He could not rest until he had sought counsel of the Lord. So he commanded his most faithful servants : Go, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this Book that is found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this Book to do according to all that is written therein. The High-priest, who seemed as much perplexed as the king himself, went with the others to the prophetess Hulda. She was ready with an
• Tell the man that sent you to me: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the Book which the king of Judah has read; because they have forsaken Me, and have burnt incense to other gods.
But as touching the words which thou hast heard, because thy heart was moved, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou didst hear what I spoke against this place and against the inhabitants thereof:
I also have heard thee, says the Lord; behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thy eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place.
These words were faithfully reported to king Josiah, who determined that the Law should no longer remain unknown among his people, but that it should be spread through the length and breadth of the land.
The Temple, newly restored from its state of ruin, was open to receive the vast crowd that poured in at the command of the king: the priesthood, now one of the