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Sanctuary in the place of the destroyed Temple, and they had every prospect of gradually retrieving at least a part of their former strength, if not their independence. But the growth of the young commonwealth was suddenly checked by a cowardly deed of bloodshed and treachery.
Among the immigrants who had joined Gedaliah at Mizpah was Ishmael, the son of Nathaniah, an ambitious and unscrupulous man, descended from the royal house of David, and aspiring to the governorship over the remnant of Judah. His plans were fostered and accelerated by Baalis, king of Ammon, who saw with jealousy and apprehension the increasing welfare of the small Hebrew colony. He was easily persuaded to attempt the assassination of Gedaliah, to whose wise and zealous guidance that unexpected prosperity was justly attributed. He gained a number of associates, and at once proceeded to carry his sinister plans into effect. The conspiracy became known to Johanan, a devoted officer of Gedaliah, and he warned him of the danger. But the true and generous nature of Gedaliah shrank from believing such treachery. Johanan anxiously implored him to be on his guard, as upon him depended the fortunes of Israel's remnant; he offered to slay Ishmael secretly, so that no suspicion would be roused; but Gedaliah rejected the proposal indignantly, saying, “Thou shalt not do this thing, for thou speakest a lie of Ishmael.' To show his entire confidence, he invited Ishmael, with ten of his friends, to a feast at Mizpah. During the meal, the audacious Ishmael arose, and, assisted by his friends, slew his host. He had well prepared his plans, and now commenced a terrible massacre. He murdered not only all the more prominent followers of Gedaliah, but also the Chaldean soldiers whom Nebuchadnezzar had left behind in Mizpah. All this was done with such precautions that for several days nothing was known of it beyond the precincts of the town; and when eighty men
arrived from Shechem, Shilo, and Samaria, with offerings and presents for the new Sanctuary, Ishmael went out to meet them, and said, Come to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam;' but when they were within the walls of Mizpah, they were treacherously slain by Ishmael and his men, and thrown into a large pit together with the other corpses.
Now Ishmael left Mizpah with those whom he had spared, to carry them away as bondmen into the land of the Ammonites. But Jobanan and a few of his brave men had escaped the massacre. Heading this small but resolute band, he pursued the impious murderer, and soon overtook him near Gibeon in Benjamin. When the unhappy captives saw their armed brethren, they hailed them with rejoicing as their deliverers, broke with a desperate effort from Ishmael, and joined Johanan and his men. Ishmael, who saw that resistance was unavailing, was glad to flee with a few followers, and made good his escape to the Ammonites.
150. EMIGRATION TO EGYPT.
[2 Kings XXV. 26; JER. XLII.-XLV.)
The Jews were now in a position replete with the greatest dangers. By the massacre of the Chaldean garrison and the murder of Gedaliah, the appointed representative of the Chaldean power in Judah, they had drawn upon themselves the terrible wrath of the Babylonian king. They knew his haughty and impetuous spirit too well not to fear his speedy revenge. Yet whither should they turn? Where could they find a safer abode than in the land of their ancestors ? On returning from their pursuit of Ishmael, they did not take a northerly direction back to Mizpah, but proceeded southward, and halted near Bethlehem, to consider their condition and prospects.
By choosing that route, they had almost betrayed their intention ; for Bethlehem lay on the high caravan road from Canaan to Egypt, and it was in the land of the Pharaohs that they evidently desired to seek refuge. Yet they were anxious to have the Divine sanction for their plan ; they seemed undecided; they might have feared the danger of settling in a country that was proverbially inhospitable to strangers, and had once before been a house of bitter slavery to their fathers. To whom should they turn . for counsel and guidance? There was still among them that faithful adviser who had readily shared their many trials and misfortunes, and who, in spite of ignominy and persecution, had clung to them with unwavering affection. To him, to Jeremiah, they looked in their perplexity, and solemnly promised to act upon whatever counsel he might give them. After deliberating for ten days, Jeremiah spoke to the assembled people: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel. . . If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you and not pluck you up. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid, . . . for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand, and cause you to return to your own land. . . . But if you say, We will not dwell in this land, nor obey the voice of the Lord your God, saying, No, but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; then it shall come to pass that the sword, which you feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof you were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die.'
But it now became apparent that the people had already formed their unalterable resolution. In spite of the pledges given to Jeremiah that they would strictly
follow his advice, they answered unblushingly, “Thou speakest falsely; the Lord our God has not sent thee to say, Go not into Egypt to sojourn there; but Baruch, the son of Neriah, sets thee on against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they might put us to death, and carry us away captives into Babylon. Then they all forthwith broke up from Bethlehem, men and women and children, and proceeded towards Egypt; nay, they forced the aged prophet and his devoted scribe Baruch to accompany them to the hateful land. At the border town Tahpanhes (Daphne), a fortified city near Pelusium, they stopped, and from thence they gradually spread through many parts of Egypt. But even here they adhered to their old and inveterate superstitions ; idolatry flourished among them as it had flourished in Judea ; they even gloried in their abominations, and expected to find in them safety and happiness. In vain Jeremiah preached and rebuked and entreated; he was met as before with scorn and derision; and when he died full of years, he saw with sorrow his degenerate country. men steeped in all the heathen perversities, from which not even the Divine guidance and training of fifteen centuries had been able to wean them.
151. THE JEWS IN BABYLON.
[DANIEL I. 899.; EZEKIEL I. sqq.; Isaiah XL. sqq.
2 Kings XXV. 27-30; &c.]
Having followed the history of the small colony of Jews who had been left in Palestine, and who ultimately settled in Egypt, we must return to the far greater number of those who were sent as captives to Babylon with their king Jehoiachin, and to whom later, after the fall of Jerusalem, were added nearly all the remaining
inhabitants of Judea. Nebuchadnezzar had taken care to transport to Babylon especially men of ability and genius, artists famous as carvers in wood, and skilled as workers in gold and silver, men who had beautified and enriched Jerusalem ; and he desired them now to employ their talents and their arts in adorning his capital Babylon. Anxious to refine the tastes and cultivate the minds of his own subjects, he received youths of remarkable intelligence and knowledge in the royal palace, where they were instructed in the Chaldean language and philosophy, so that they might impart to the Babylonians their own superior learning. So far, therefore, from oppressing the Jews, he made every effort to win their affection for their adopted land and its government. He was shrewd enough to perceive the peculiar character of the conquered people. He must have respected, even if he did not understand, their religious convictions, which had armed them with strength to subdue much more powerful tribes, and to maintain themselves in the midst of warlike enemies for nearly nine hundred years. He must have heard of the glories of king Solomon's reign, the fame of which was spread throughout the East, and was long and fondly cherished. He was, no doubt, familiar with the names of Moses and Isaiah, of Amos, Joel, and Micah; and we have seen how he honoured his great contemporary Jeremiah.
Thus the exiles were received and treated with kindness. They lived together in large colonies, preserved many of their old institutions, had their own elders and judges, and even a common chief. They began to found new homes in the foreign land, to entwine its welfare with their own, and to undertake the duties, as they enjoyed the rights, of Babylonian citizens. Yet they could not forget the country of their birth, nor the capital hallowed by their glorious Temple. From the singularly varied and picturesque land of Palestine, from the rugged moun