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THE LAST KINGS OF JUDAH.
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." And she said to the king's messengers, "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."
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 PROPHETS.
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, 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, O house of Israel." a
a Jer. xviii. 1—6.
time he purchased an earthen vessel of the potter, and in the presence of the elders of Israel, and the chief of the priests, he threw the vessel upon the ground and broke it to pieces, with these words: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again and the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the princes of Judah, shall be defiled, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto other gods." b
But the great subject of the prophecies was the coming of the Saviour. It was foretold that he should be of the family of David. Yet that he should be the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peaced that he should be born at Bethlehem that he should perform miracles of mercy and kindness; opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, making the lame man to leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb to sing that he should preach good tidings to the meek, and bind up the broken-hearted:f that he should feed his flock like a shepherd, and gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom. And, especially, his sufferings and death were described by the prophets so clearly and fully, that it seems almost as if we were reading a history of what was then already past, rather than a prophecy of future events. It was foretold that this holy and gracious Being should be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; that he should be wounded for our transgressions, and
b Jer. xix. 11–13. d lsa. ix. 6.
Isa. xi. 1;
Jer. xxiii. 5.
f Isa. lxi. 1.
THE BABYLONISH CAPTIVITY.
bruised for our iniquities; that he should pour out his soul unto death; that he should be numbered with the transgressors; that he should bear the sin of many, and make intercession for the transgressors. His manner of suffering is thus described: "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth."h And, lastly, the glorious results and fruits of his sufferings were also foretold. The gift of the Holy Spirit was promised, and a happy period was predicted, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.i
54. THE BABYLONISH CAPTIVITY.
THE Jews, whether they had believed it or not, had now to experience, that, of all which the prophets had foretold, not one thing failed. The Chaldeans came, a cruel people, and under their destroying hands the beautiful city of Jerusalem became a heap of ruins. Yet even here the judgments of God came on by degrees. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Chaldeans, first imposed a tribute upon the land of Judea, and carried Jehoiakim away to Babylon, and ten thousand fighting men of the chief of the people, and all the smiths and artificers. He placed another king over the country, and so the kingdom continued for ten years.
Zedekiah then sought help and protection against the Chaldeans from the Egyptians; but the Chaldean armies came like an overwhelming
h Isa. liii. i Isa. xliv. 3; Joel ii. 28, 29; Isa. xi. 9.