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many zealous souls, who had hoped for the great deliverance, grew weary with the long delay, and hope deferred had made them sick at heart, till they concluded that their God had utterly forsaken Israel, and given over his purpose to save the world through them. It took strong faith to stand the strain of that weary waiting, and to hope on from age to age that God would, in his own good time, fulfill his promise. But such faith was found in every age.
Sometimes they were but a few—a remnant-who still waited on the altar and kept the lamp of hope alight.
From this faithful remnant came the great prophets. They were all the product of the doleful ages. “They that are whole need not a physician” and God sent no great prophet in the prosperous days of David or Solomon; but in the dark days when the way was most obscure, when the sun was clouded and the storm beat wildly, then God gave songs of hope and gladness. Then the seraphic voice of great Isaiah rang out with those sublime and heavenly anthems of deliverance to come. Jeremiah also chants his sweet pathetic elegies, "Weeping day and night for the slain of his people," but his faith in the destiny of Israel gave no sign of fainting, and his hope showed never a withered leaf. Hear him, when things were at their worst, "Thus saith the Lord who giveth the sun for a light by day and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, that stirreth up the sea that the waves thereof roar; the Lord of Hosts is his name. If these ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation." (Jer. xxxi:35-36); or this "For I am with thee saith the Lord, to save thee; though I make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee, but I will correct thee in measure and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.” (Jer. xXx:11).
It is such men as these that held fast the ancient promises, and looked forward with undaunted hope to the glorious day to dawn
on Israel and the world.
To these prophets we must turn if we would know the real history of Israel. It is they who voiced the religious life of the people, expressed the national ideals, and forecast its destiny.
Their place in history must be noticed that we may understand their messages.
to the land of Babylon, and after seventy years
How is the most pure gold changed !"
Greater Son, the Hebrew nation was carried captive returned to their own land and reestablished their national life.
Such an event is probably unique in history. I, at least, know not another instance of a national life suspended for two whole generations and then revived and rehabilitated.
However this may be, the captivity of Judah was one of the greatest events of history. Like most events of real importance, its significance was not apparent at the time.
To that distressed and broken hearted caravan that crept out of their city gate and took their weary way across the desert to a life of exile and oppression nothing could have seemed more sad, no fate more terrible, no prospect more devoid of hope. Yet in the retrospect we see the good fruit of that tearful sowing, and the brighter luster from that dark eclipse of their national life.
It is an epoch that will repay our study. It is of interest because it is unusual, and full of pathos. It is important because it is a part of our own history; for by this road this via dolorosa-came our gospel, and it is instructive because it is a luminous example of the ways of God with man. It is a copy in large type of lessons written small in every human life. There are three points of view from which it may be studied.
First, as a political event. It is a simple story. The great world powers of that day were Babylon and Egypt. These were rivals. For more than a thousand years their wars and jealousies were the chief events of history, and all the world of that day gravitated either to the Euphrates or the Nile.
Israel was small and insignificant, but its location gave it an importance out of all proportion to its size. It lay at the crossroads of the world. Commerce and armies passing from Babylon to Egypt must needs cross the land of Israel, and from their rugged hills they could greatly help or hinder whom they would.
If you look at the map you will appreciate how this little land between the desert and the sea was the only path by which these rival powers could approach each other.
From the beginning of their history their prophets and their constitution had stood consistently for strict neutrality. All the greater prophets cried out against alliances with any nations.
But as the nation became more fully organized, as her kings assumed more of the pretentions and the prerogatives of kingship, the tendency to form alliances, take sides, and thus become involved in international affairs became too strong to be resisted. Egypt was the nearer, more familar and more closely bound by old associations, and, in spite of the prophetic warnings, Israel became the ally of Egypt and the enemy of Babylon.
Now it happened in the days of which we speak, while a series of weak and wicked kings ruled in Jerusalem, there arose in Babylon one of the greatest kings that ever reigned, Nebuchadnezzar the Great.
His campaigns resulted in the conquest of Tyre and the subjugation of the land of Israel, but Israel, still clinging to the delusive hope of help from Egypt, rebelled again and again, till Nebuchadnezzar lost all patience and carried them away to Babylon, and reduced Jerusalem to ashes. Such is the story of the captivity from the view point of mere political affairs. It is simple, ordinary, insignificant.
It was not miraculous. It was scarcely remarkable. It was but a commonplace story of a third class nation.
But Israel's importance was not political but moral. His office in the world was spiritual. He was definitely called and consecrated as the priest nation of the world.
What the priest is to other men Israel was to other nationsthe teacher of religion; the minister of spiritual things; the revealer of divine mysteries, and the custodian of the oracles of God.
Our Lord spoke simply history when he remarked that "Salvation is of the Jews.”
But the historic fact that Israel was the priest of the world is not the important point; but that they were ordained beforehand for that high office. It is of some interest that this little nation should have been the teacher of the world in spiritual things, but it is infinitely more important that in this office they were carrying out a plan, performing a duty, accomplishing a task assigned to them by God; and followed a program published by the prophets of Jehovah ages before the time of its performance.
When God gave Abraham that threefold promise. "I will bless thee. I will bless thy seed, and in thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," he published the prospectus of the greatest enterprise the world has ever known. This promise was the high commission of the Hebrew race. It was their call to holy orders. It was their ordination to the duties and responsibilities, the rights and privileges of their sacred calling.
It was the pledge and guarantee of such instruction, discipline and providential government as might be needed for the proper exercise of their high office.
We may not now review the history of Israel,—nor is it necessary. You know their checkered career. From Abraham to Moses, from Joshua to Samuel and from David to St. Paul