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God's dealing with the Jews, especially for the last two centuries previous to the Babylonish captivity, are vividly illustrated by our Saviour's parible of the barren fig-tree. For all that period, it seems as if there was a conflict between judgment rising up to inflict vengeance, and compassion pleading for a little longer delay; between the owner of the vineyard almost impatient at disappointed expectation, and the gardener anxious to wait one year more, and then another, for the fig-tree to bear fruit, ere he cut it down.
It would seem, on reading the sacred history, that at the close of the reign of Ahaz, little could be offered in favor of another trial to fix the nation in the service of Jehovah. The
mercy of God, however, raised up Hezekiah to reëstablish religion among the people, and purify the land from idolatry. But Manasseh, on coming to the throne, almost instantly overthrew the reforms; and even the imperfect repairs which he attempted at the close of his reign, were rendered ineffectual by the short, disgraceful reign of Amon, his successor. As if divine patience was exhausted, its monitory voice had been for many years silent. A faint beam of hope gleamed on the land during the reign of Josiah; but it expired with his death. Both the owner and the dresser of the vineyard seem, at his untimely exit, to have formed the settled conclusion that nothing but barrenness would reward further forbearance and toil. “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground ?” is henceforth almost the only indication to be gathered from the movements of Providence in regard to the nation. Its future history, until the removal to Babylon, is little else than a record of successive blows to level the fruitless branches in the dust.
The two centuries to which we have referred, include the golden age of prophecy. The most cutting rebukes, the most tender expostulations, the most winning entreaties, the most glowing descriptions which language contains, were employed during this period by Jehovah to recover his people from apostasy. A mere glance at this part of the Bible will show the force of the divine appeal, " What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?". Well might ground which failed to yield a vintage to the labors of such men as Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk, be thought "nigh unto cursing."
We shall not enter into a minute account of the several steps taken to overthrow a government and nation which were now evidently given up to ruin. Suffice it to say, that on the death of Josiah the
people raised Jehoahaz, his second son, to the throne. After three months, Pharoah-Necho returned to Jerusalem from the conquest of Phenicia, and deposing Jehoahaz, put his brother Eliakim in his place. To him Necho gave the name Jehoiakim, and carried Jehoahaz to Egypt. He imposed also on the land an annual tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold, a sum equal to about $200,000. In utter disregard of their pious education and of the example of their godly father, the sons of Josiah were corrupt princes; and Jehoiakim was, in reality, what he was represented by Jeremiah, one of the worst kings that ever ruled over Judah.
Three years after the battle of Megiddo, in which Josiah was slain, Necho undertook a second expedition against the king of Babylon. He was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish on the river Euphrates, and driven out of Asia. Nebuchadnezzar marched directly to Jerusalem, which was subject to Egypt. After a short siege, Jehoiakim surrendered, and was again placed on the throne by the Babylonian prince. Nebuchadnezzar carried back with him to Babylon a part of the furniture of the temple, and some young men, sons of the principal Hebrew nobles. Among these were Daniel and his three friends.
“When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” But
now every thing seemed to conspire against the apostate kingdom of Judah. The Lord sent against it “ bands of the Chaldees and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the . children of Ammon, to destroy it.” “Surely, at the commandment of the Lord came this upon
Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did, and also for the innocent blood that he shed.”
After reigning eleven years, Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jeconiah, who in three months was carried captive to Babylon. The money of the royal treasury and the golden utensils of the temple were also taken. The whole court, seven thousand soldiers, one thousand artificers, two thousand nobles and wealthy men, who, with their wives, children, and servants, amounted to forty thousand persons, were led captive to the river Chebar, in Mesopotamia. Among this number was the prophet Ezekiel, Ezek. 1:23. The lower class of citizens and the people of the country only were left in the land. Nebuchadnezzar placed on the throne a brother of Jehoiakim, whom he called Zedekiah.
This prince, the third son of Josiah, was about ten years
old at the death of his father. The reformation in Judah was completed, and the passover, so celebrated in Jewish history, observed, about three years before his birth. His childhood, therefore, was passed in circumstances fitted to bind him to
the service of Jehovah. He seems, indeed, to have been better disposed than some of the late kings; but misled by evil counsellors, he renounced his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar in the ninth year of his reign, and entered into an alliance with Egypt. The Chaldean army immediately laid siege to Jerusalem, but withdrew on the approach of an army from Egypt, which came to the relief of the city. The Egyptians, however, retired without hazarding a battle; the siege was resumed, and the city taken five hundred and eighty-eight years before the Christian era. Zedekiah was made prisoner, his sons slain in his presence, his own eyes put out, and himself led to Babylon, whither Ezekiel had predicted that he would be brought, and where he would die without a sight of the city.'
Thus one son of Josiah was dethroned in three months, and died an exile in Egypt; the dead body of another, after he had reigned eleven years, was cast forth without a burial by the victorious Chaldeans; while a third, bereaved of his children by the sword, sightless, throneless, far from his native land, wore out life in the solitude of a Babylonish dungeon. What a fate for the family of one of the best monarchs and best men that ever sat on the throne of Judah! Happy for the good king, when surrounded by the playful circle in his palace, that his own eyes were blind to their coming destiny.
Nebuzar-adan, captain of the royal guard, after a