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the throne of David in Jerusalem twenty kings, during a period of three hundred and seventy-two years; and the kingdom of Judah continued for an hundred years after that of the ten tribes. But, even among the descendants of David, there were more ungodly and wicked kings than good ones. The names of such men as Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah shine in this history but as rare lights in surrounding darkness.
A haz set up altars to Baal in the streets of Jerusalem, and he caused the doors of the Lord's house to be shut; so that the temple of God was, for a time, like a house whose owner is dead, and which is exposed for sale.
Hezekiah, the pious son of the ungodly Ahaz, opened again the doors of the temple, and cleansed Jerusalem from idols; and sent letters inviting the people of the ten tribes to return to the God of their fathers, and to come up to the celebration of the passover. It was during his reign that the ten tribes were carried away by the Assyrians; and his kingdom was strengthened by many thousands of the Israelites who took refuge in the land of Judah. Then Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, the successor of Shalmaneser, sent his general with an army; and he took all the strong cities of Judah, and laid siege to Jerusalem. But when he spake contemptuously against the living God, Hezekiah rent his clothes, and prayed to the God of Israel. Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians, in one night, an hundred and eighty-five thousand men ; and, behold ! in the morning they all lay dead corpses.
At that time, Hezekiah was sick unto death; and the prophet Isaiah came to him, and said, “Set
thine house in order : for thou shalt die, and not live.” Hezekiah entreated the Lord, with tears, that his life might be lengthened. Then the Lord said to Isaiah, as he was going from the king's house, “ Turn again, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years." Then Isaiah directed a plaster of figs to be laid on the boil; and after three days the king was restored, and went up to the temple to give thanks to God for
recovery Hezekiah's degenerate son Manasseh destroyed in his reign, which lasted more than fifty years, the good that had been done by his pious father, and led the people back again to idolatry. Near the end of his life, he was taken as a prisoner to Babylon. There he humbled himself, and God heard his prayer; and he was again restored to his kingdom ; and he put away the strange gods in Jerusalem.
Amon, the son of Manasseh, was worse than all his predecessors; but he did not continue long, for after two years he was slain by his servants, and he was succeeded by Josiah, who was then a child eight years of age.
And Josiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David. While he was yet young, in the eighth year of his reign, he began to seek after God; and in the twelfth year of his reign he cleansed Jerusalem and all Judea from idols, and caused the house of God to be restored again. And, behold, in cleansing the temple, they found there a book which during the time of Manasseh had been lost and forgotten; it was the Bible, that is, the books of Moses. It was brought and read before the king, who, upon hearing it, was filled with fear and astonishment when he heard the threatenings it contained ; so that he rent his clothes. And he sent messengers to Huldah the prophetess, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel, and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found : for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us. Ănd she said to the king's messengers,
66 Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith 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 hath read; because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands. But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, this shall ye say to him, Thus saith the God of Israel, as touching the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest what I spake against this place ; therefore thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, and thine eyes shall not see the evil which I will bring upon this place.” a
Josiah was now still more zealous to restore all the ordinances in Israel, according to the book of the law of Moses. A general assembly of the people was called, and all the words of the book
a 2 Chron. xxxiv. 14-28.
were read before them, and the king made a covenant before the Lord on behalf of all the people. His zeal and activity extended beyond the boundaries of Judah; for he broke down the altar at Bethel, and caused bones to be brought out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, according to the word of the Lord which the man of God had proclaimed against the altar in the time of Jeroboam.
But when Josiah was dead, the work of reformation came to an end. Two of his sons and two of his grandsons ascended the throne of Jerusalem, one after another, within a short time; but they were all four removed ; and it was evident, from a multitude of signs, that the time of judgment drew nigh.
53. THE foretellers and interpreters of these signs were the prophets. Many of their addresses to the people are to be found in the Bible. Their office was to diffuse the knowledge of God among the people, and to stem the tide of corruption which often proceeded even from the kings and priests. God raised up such in the kingdom of the ten tribes as well as in Judah and Jerusalem, and from the lower ranks of the people as well as the higher. Isaiah and Daniel were of the royal family. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were of the priestly race. Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, and Micah were of the middle class. Amos was a cowherd.
At the period when the Babylonish empire was but a small and insignificant kingdom, the pro
phet Isaiah foretold both its rapidly increasing greatness and conquests, and its overthrow by a prince whom he designated by his Persian name of Cyrus.
Jeremiah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, and foretold the number of years that Jerusalem was to lie waste. He did not, however, speak of this impending judgment as unavoidable, but exhorted them to reformation, in order to avert the threatened ruin.
Ezekiel prophesied to the exiles in Armenia, who had then been banished from their own country for an hundred years, and who, as well as the Jews, were looking for the overthrow of the Babylonian empire by some Divine judgment; and he told them, that they were not then to expect the restoration of the Israelitish kingdom, but rather that the rest of the people would soon follow them into banishment. But he found as little faith on the part of the Israelites as Jeremiah did with the people of Judah.
The bold figures of speech which the prophets employed are remarkable. One which often occurs in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, is that of a potter. "I went down,” he says, to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter ; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter ? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, 0 house of Israel.”a Another
a Jer. xviii. 1-6.