صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

of this author, and, most of all, in the beginning of the book, which is chiefly poetical. The middle of it is almost entirely historical. The latter part again, consisting of the six last chapters, is altogether poetical; it contains several different predictions, which are distinctly marked, and in these, the prophet approaches very near the sublimity of Isaiah. On the whole, however, Dr. Lowth believes not above half the book of Jeremiah to be poetical.

Chapter twenty-third, 3..6 verses, contains a very evident reference to evangelical times. The Lamentations of Jeremiah (for the title is properly and significantly plural) consist of a number of plaintive effusions, composed upon the plan of the funeral dirges; all upon the same subject, and uttered without connexion, as they rose in the mind, in a long course of separate stanzas. These have afterwards been put together, and formed into a collection or correspondent whole. If any reader, however, should expect to find in them an artificial or methodical arrangement of the general subject; a regular disposition of the parts; a perfect connexion, and orderly succession in the matter; and, with all this, an uninterrupted series of elegance and correctness; he will really expect what was foreign to the prophet's design. In the character of a mourner, he celebrates, in plaintive strains, the obsequies of his ruined country; whatever presented itself to his mind, in the midst of desolation and misery; whatever struck him as particularly wretched and calamitous; whatever the instant sentiment of sorrow dictated; he pours forth, in a kind of spontaneous effusion. He frequently pauses, and, as it were, ruminates upon the same object; frequently varies and illustrates the same thought with different imagery, and a different choice of language; so that the whole bears rather the appearance of an accumulation of corresponding sentiments, than an accurate and connected series of different ideas, arranged in the form of a regular treatise.

Of the style of Obadiah there is little to be said; the only specimen of his genius extant, being very short, and the greater part of it included in one of the prophecies of Jeremiah. The reader may compare, at leisure, Obadiah 1..9, with Jeremiah xlix. 14. 15, 16, 7, 9, 10.

ine whole of Habakkuk is also poetical, and his prayer is a remarkable instance of that sublimity, peculiar to the ode; and which is often the result of a bold, but natural digression.

Zephaniah is also poetical, but affords matter for no particular remark. In the conclusion is a prophecy respecting the days of the Messiah.

During the captivity, the greater part of the predictions of Ezekiel and Daniel were delivered.

[ocr errors]

Ezekiel is much inferior to Jeremiah in elegance; in sublimity, he is not even excelled by Isaiah; but his sublimity is of a totally different kind. He is deep, vehement, tragical; the only sensation he affects to excite, is the terrible; his sentiments are elevated, fervid, full of fire, indignant; his imagery is crowded, magnificant, terrific, sometimes almost to disgust; his language is pompous, solemn, austere, rough, and, at times, unpolished; he employs frequent repetitions, not for the sake of grace or elegance, but from the vehemence of passion and indignation. Whatever subject he treats of, that he sedulously pursues, from that he rarely departs, but cleaves, as it were, to it; whence the connexion is, in general, evident, and well preserved. In many respects, he is, perhaps, excelled by the other prophets; but in that species of composition, to which he seems, by nature, adapted, the forcible, the impetuous, the great and solemn, not one of the sacred writers is superior to him.

Ezekiel has several predictions concerning the Messiah; although, in this respect, he is excelled by Daniel, who has so clearly pointed out the train of events, which connect the reign of Nebuchadnezzar with the establishment of the Roman empire, and the birth

of Christ; that Porphyry, that great enemy of the Christian name, asserted them to have been written after they were partially fulfilled.

The book of Daniel is intirely prose.

Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, are the only remaining prophets. The first of these is altogether prosaic, as well as the greater part of the second: towards the conclusion of the prophecy, there are some poetical passages, and those highly ornamented; they are also perspicuous, considering that they are the production of the most obscure of all the prophetic writers. The last of the prophetical books, that of Malachi, is written in a kind of middle style, which seems to indicate, that the Hebrew poetry, from the time of the Babylonish captivity, was in a declining state; and being past its prime and vigour, was then fast verging towards the debility of age.

Each of these prophets has borne a valuable testimony to the coming of the Son of God.

We cannot better close this account of the prophets, than with the following observations of Lowth on the genius of the prophetic language.

The immediate design of all prophecy is, to inform or amend those generations that precede the events predicted; and it is usually calculated, either to excite their fears and apprehensions, or to afford them consolation. The means which it employs for the accomplishment of these effects, are a general amplification of the subject, whether it be of the menacing or consolatory kind, copious descriptions, diversified, pompous, and sublime; in this, also, it necessarily avoids too great a degree of exactness, and too for-mal a display of the minuter circumstances, rather employing a vague and general style of description, expressive only of the nature and magnitude of the subject; for prophecy, in its very nature, implies some degree of obscurity, and is always, as the apostle elegantly expresses it, like a light glimmering in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise." But there is, also, a further use and intention of prophecy, which. regards those who live after the prediction is accomplished, and that is, the demonstration and attestation which it affords of the divine veracity: this, evidently, appears to demand a different form of enunciation; for correct language, apt imagery, and an exact display of circumstances, are peculiarly adapted to this purpose. Since, however, a very plain description would totally withdraw the veil of obscurity, a more sparing use of this liberty of particularizing, is frequently adequate to that purpose; for the particular notification of one or two circumstances, united with a general propriety in the imagery, the proper adaption of which shall appear after the event, will afford an accumulation of evidence that cannot be withstood, as might be demonstrated in a number of instances. The prophetic style, therefore, is chiefly constructed on the former principle; that is, it commonly prefers a general mode of amplifying and elevating the subject, rarely and cautiously descending to a circumstantial detail.

There is, also, another particular, which must not be omitted. Prophecy frequently takes in, at a single glance, a variety of events, distinct both in nature and time; and pursues the extreme and principal design, through all its different gradations. From this cause, also, it principally employs general ideas; and expresses them, by imagery of established use and acceptation, for these are equally capable of comprehending the general scope of the divine counsels, and of accompanying the particular progressions of circumstances, situations, and events; they may be easily applied to the intermediate relations and ends, but must be more accurately weighed and proportioned, to equal the magnitude and importance of the ultimate design.

We have already briefly mentioned the important change in the Jewish affairs, which was introduced, by the decree of Cyrus, for the rebuilding of the temple but it is necessary to observe it a little more particularly. They were now restored to the en

joyment of their public worship, as far as it respected the imperial sanction; but as it is out of the power of the strongest edicts, at once, to root out inveterate prejudices, the reformers of that age had to encounter with many formidable difficulties. Many of the people had suffered from poverty as well as from exile, and therefore were little able to make any considerable exertions in that cause, which they deemed the most important; while others, who had obtained riches in the land of their conquerors, were disinclined to forego their present comforts, for the sake of re-establishing the religion and customs of their fathers at Jerusalem. Many, also, who consented to return, had married heathenish women, whom they were unwilling to divorce; and had contracted habits of superstition, licentiousness, and oppression, which they were, with extreme reluctance, prevailed upon to abandon. Besides these internal troubles, the Samaritans, irritated at being refused a share in the erection of the temple, exerted all their influence with the court of Persia, to procure the interference of authority for depressing and persecuting the Jews. Still, however, the good cause continued to prosper; Jerusalem, its temple and its wall, were rebuilded; many excellent institutions were set on foot for the instruction of the people; and religion again lifted up its head. It was not, indeed, loug, before many abuses found an entrance; but the Jews, as a body, never afterwards practised idolatry.

But though the Jews were now restored to the free exercise of religion, they were neither a free nor a powerful people, as they had formerly been. They were few in number, and their country only a province of Syria, subjects to the kings of Persia. The Syrian governors conferred the administration of affairs upon the high-priests, and their accepting this office, and thus deviating from the law of Moses, must be considered as one of the chief causes of the misfortunes, which immediately befel the people; because it made room for a set of men, who aspired at this high office merely through ambition or avarice, without either zeal for religion, or love for their country. It, besides, made the high-priesthoon capable of being disposed of at the pleasure of the governors; whereas, the Mosaic institution had fixed it unalienably in the family of Aaron. Of the bad effects of this practice, a fatal instance happened in 373, B. C. Bagoses, governor of Syria, having contracted an intimate friendship with Jeshua, the brother of Johanan the high-priest, promised to raise him to the pontifical office, a few years after his brother had been invested with it. Jeshua came immediately to Jerusalem, and acquainted his brother with it. The interview happened in the inner court of the temple, and a scuffle ensued: Jeshua was killed by his brother, and the templethus polluted in the most scandalous manner. The consequence, to the Jews, was, that a heavy fine was laid on the temple, which was not taken. off till seven years. after.

The first public calamity which befel the Jewish nation after their restoration from Babylon, happened in the year 351, B. C. for having, some how or other, disobliged Darius Ochus, king of Persia; he besieged and took Jericho, and carried off all the inhabitants captives. From this time they continued faithful to the Persians, insomuch, that they had almost drawn upon themselves the displeasure of Alexander the Great. That monarch, having resolved upon the siege of Tyre, and being informed that the city was wholly supplied with provisions from Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, sent to Jaddua, then high-priest, to demand of him that supply, which he had been accustomed to pay to the Persians. The Jewish pontiff excused himself, on account of his oath of fidelity to Darius, which so provoked Alexander, that he had no sooner completed the reduction of Tyre, than he marched against Jerusalem. The inhabitants then, being, with good reason, thrown into the utmost consternation, had recourse to prayers; and Jaddua is said, by a divine revelation, to have been commanded to go and meet Alex


ander. He obeyed accordingly, and set out on his journey, dressed in his pontifical robes, at the head of all his priests in their proper habits, attended by the rest of the people dressed in white garments. Alexander is said to have been seized with such awful respect, on seeing this venerable procession, that he embraced the high-priest, and paid a kind of religious adoration to the name of God, engraven on the front of his mitre. His followers being surprised at this unexpected behaviour, the Macedonian monarch informed them, that he paid that respect, not to the priest, but to his God, as an acknowledgement for a vision which he had been favoured with at Dia, where he had been promised the conquest of Persia, and encouraged in his expedition, by a person of much the same aspect, and dressed in the same habit, as the pontiff before. He afterwards accompanied Jaddua into Jerusalem, where he offered sacrifices in the temple. The high-priest showed him, also, the prophecies of Daniel, wherein the destruction of the Persian empire, by himself, is plainly set forth; in consequence of which, the king went away highly satisfied; and, at his departure, asked the highpriest, if there was nothing in which he could gratify himself or his people. Jaddua then told him, that, according to the Mosaic law, they neither sowed nor ploughed on the seventh year; therefore would esteem it an high favour, if the king would be pleased to remit their tribute in that year. To this request the king readily yielded, and having confirmed them in the enjoyment of all their privileges, particularly that of living under their own laws, he departed.

Whether this story deserves credit or not, (for the whole transaction is not, without reason, called in question by some) it is certain, that the Jews were much favoured by Alexander, but with him their good fortune seemed also to expire. The country of Judea, being situated between Syria and Egypt, became subject to all the revolutions and wars, which the ambitious successors of Alexander waged against each other. At first, it was given, together with Syria and Phenicia, to Leomedon the Mitylenian, one of Alexander's generals; but he being, soon after, stripped of the other two by Ptolemy, Judea was next summoned to yield to the conqueror. The Jews scrupled to break their oath of fidelity to Leomedon, and were, of consequence, invaded by Ptolemy, at the head of a powerful army. The open country was easily reduced, but the city, being strongly fortified both by art and nature, threatened a strong resistance. A superstitious fear of breaking the sabbath, however, prevented the besieged from making. any defence on that day; of which Ptolemy being informed, he caused an assault to be made on the sabbath, and easily carried the place. At first he treated them with great severity, and carried 100,000 men of them into captivity; but reflecting, soon after, on their known fidelity to their conquerors, he restored them to all the privileges they had enjoyed under the Macedonians. Of the captives, he put some into garrisons, and others he settled in the countries of Libya and Cyrene. From those who settled in the latter of these countries, descended the Cyrenean Jews, mentioned by the writers of the New Testament.

Five years after Ptolemy had subdued Judea, he was forced to yield it to Antigonus, reserving to himself only the cities of Ace, Samaria, Joppa, and Gaza; and carrying off an immense booty, with a great number of captives, whom he settled at Alexandria, and endowed with considerable privileges and immunities. Antigonus behaved in such a tyrannical manner, that great numbers of his Jewish subjects fled into Egypt, and others put themselves under the protection of Seleucus, who also granted them considerable privileges. Hence this nation became gradually Hence this nation became gradually to be spread over Syria and Asia Minor, while Judea seemed to be in danger of being depopulated, till it was recovered by Ptolemy in 292. The affairs of the Jews then took a more prosperous turn, and continued in a thriving way till the reign of Ptolemy Philopator, when they

were grievously oppressed by the incursions of the Samaritans, at the same time that Antiochus Theos, king of Syria, invaded Galilee. Ptolemy, however, marched against Antiochus, and defeated him; after which, having gone to Jerusalem to offer up sacrifices, he ventured to profane the temple itself, by going into it. He penetrated through the two outer courts; but as he was about to enter the sanctuary, he was struck with such dread and terror, that he fell down half dead. A dreadful persecution was then raised against the Jews, who had attempted to hinder him in his impious attempt; but this persecution was stopped by a still more extraordinary accident, and the Jews again received into favour.

About the year 204, B. C: the country of Judea was subdued by Antiochus the Great, and on this occasion, the loyalty of the Jews to the Egyptians failed them, the whole nation readily submitting to the king of Syria. This attachment so pleased the Syrian monarch, that he sent a letter to his general, wherein he acquainted him, that lie designed to restore Jerusalem to its antient splendor, and to recal all the Jews that had been driven out of it; that out of his singular respect to the temple of God, he granted them 20,000 pieces of silver, towards the charges of the victims, frankincense, wine, and oil; 1400 measures of fine wheat, and 375 measures of salt, towards their usual. oblations; that the temple should be thoroughly repaired at his cost; that they should enjoy the free exercise of their religion, and restore the public service of the temple, and the priests, Levites, singers, &c. to their usual functions; that no stranger or Jew. that was unpurified, should enter further into the temple than was allowed by their law; and that no flesh of unclean beasts should be brought into Jerusalem, not even their skins; and all these, under the penalty of paying 3000 pieces of silver into the treasury of the temple. He further granted an exemption of taxes, for three years, to all the dispersed Jews, that should come, within a limited time, to settle in the metropolis ; and that all who had been sold for slaves, within his dominions, should be set free..

This sudden prosperity proved of no long duration. About the year 176, a About the year 176, a quarrel happened between Onias, at that time high-priest, and one Simon, governor of the temple, which was attended with the most fatal consequences. The causes of this quarrel are unknown. The event, however, was, that Simon, finding he could not get : the better of Onias, informed Apollonias, governor of Colosyria and Palestine, that there was, at that time, in the temple, an immense treasure, which, at his pleasure, might be siezed upon, for the use of the king of Syria. Of this the governor instantly sent intel-ligence to the king, who dispatched one Heliodorus to take possession of the supposed treasure. This person, through a miraculous interposition, as the Jews pretend, failed in his attempt of entering the temple; upon which, Simon accused the high-priest to the people, as the person who had invited Heliodorus to Jerusalem. This produced kind of civil war, in which many fell on both sides. At last, Onias having complained to the king, Simon was banished; but, soon after, Antiochus Epiphanes having ascended. the throne of Syria, Jason, the high-priest's brother, taking advantage of the necessities of Antiochus, purchased from him the high-priesthood, at the price of 350 talents; and obtained an order, that his brother should be sent to Antioch, there to be confined for. life.

Jason's next step was to purchase liberty, at the price of one hundred and fifty talents more; to build a gymnasium at Jerusalem, similar to those which were used in the Grecian cities; and to make as many Jews as he pleased free citizens of Antioch.. By. means of these powers, he became very soon able to form a strong party in Judea; for his countrymen were exceedingly fond of the Grecian customs, and the freedom of the city of Antioch was a very valuable privilege. From this time, therefore, a general

« السابقةمتابعة »