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° Our soul is escaped "as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: The snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who “made heaven and earth.
b Prov. 6, 5. • Gen. 1.1. Psa. 134.8.
INTRODUCTION TO PSALMS LXXXVII, CXLVII, CXLVIII. CXLIX, AND CL.
PSALMS OF KORAH, HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH., AND OTHERs.
In the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, (B. C. 458) about eighty-eight years after the first colony of Jews had been led back to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel, Ezra, a learned and pious priest, received a commission as governor of Judea, with permission to lead back a second caravan of Jews, and to rectify the disordered religious condition of the Jewish nation. Ezra vii. It does not appear that he was empowered to rebuild Jerusalem, but, in addition to a general civil authority, he was specially charged to restore and set in order the true worship of Jehovah; to complete and beautify the temple built by Zerubbabel; and to inculcate upon the provinces west of Euphrates a reverence for the laws of God. The Babylonian and Persian kings had witnessed many stupendous miracles wrought by the power of Jehovah; and the wisdom of the Hebrew princes at their court had excelled that of the astrologers and magicians, so that they generally believed in the supremacy of the Hebrews’ God. This accounts for the phraseology of their edicts respecting the Jews, which often would do honour to a Christian monarch.
But, notwithstanding the favour which from time to time they had received from the royal grants, the strong motives they had for diligence and zeal in resuscitating their nation, and the enthusiasm with which they first undertook the work, the Jewish colony, after the lapse of a hundred years, found itself in a feeble, dishonoured state, with the problem of their nationality yet hanging in doubt. This discouraging condition of things was partly owing to the disturbing influence of the Persian and Egyptian, and the Persian and Grecian wars, which often brought the Jews between the contending parties. To this must be added the revolt of Megabyzus, general of the Persian army, which caused Syria and Palestine to be, for a time, the seat of a severe civil war; also the opposition and bitter persecution of the rival petty tribes about Judea; and still more, the selfish indifference to public interests which led the Jews to attend primarily to their own private affairs; to all which must be still further added, the sensuous tendency of the times, which abstracted attention from the worship of God, and left the temple and the priesthood neglected. Their religious declension and worldly and selfish tendencies were severely reprimanded by Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah, and, later still, by Nehemiah and Malachi. About the year B. C. 444, one Hanani, a Jew, with others, returned from Jerusalem to Shushan, from whom Nehemiah, who was then cup-bearer to the king, Artaxerxes Longimanus, learned the unhappy condition of the colony in Judea. He then learned that “the remnant that were left of the captivity there in the province, were in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem was still broken down, and the gates thereof burned with fire,” as when the army of Nebuchadnezzar left it. Nehemiah was overwhelmed with grief at this intelligence, and for several days gave himself to weeping, to fasting, and prayer. He stood high in office and in the royal favour. Some time after receiving the bitter intelligence from
Jerusalem, he was called to appear before the king and queen.
in the functions of his office, when the sadness of his countenance led the king to inquire into the cause of his grief. Nehemiah frankly disclosed to him the occasion of his sorrow, and Artaxerxes, with expressions that do honour to his heart, kindly granted him his request to return to his people; conferring upon him full powers as governor of Judea, with power also to make such levies upon the provinces west of Euphrates
as should enable him to carry out his plan to rebuild the walls and city of Jerusalem. The edicts of the Persian emperors in favour of the Jews had hitherto extended only to the right of rebuilding their temple, restoring their religion, and occupying their ancient lands. Now, for the first time, full authority is given to rebuild their ancient capital. The business was intrusted to the right hands. Nehemiah was a person of undaunted courage, of inflexible firmness, a shrewd observer of men, a skilful politician, prompt and energetic in the execution of his plans, an ardent lover of his country, possessing immense wealth and an equal liberality, and a devout and humble worshipper of God. The history of this great man is full of lessons of fidelity, of devout simplicity, and of a noble and fearless devotion to the cause of his country. Nehemiah arrived in Judea, attended with a military retinue worthy the dignity of a Persian satrap. His first care was to reconnoitre, by night, the entire city of Jerusalem. He thus saw the ruined and reproachful condition of that once renowned metropolis, and the stupendous work which lay before him. And now, for the first time, he unfolds to the fathers and dignitaries of the nation, his object in coming, and his letters of authority to rebuild Jerusalem. Hope animated their breasts as they listened to his message, and immediately they responded, “Let us rise up and build.” The work was arranged in separate divisions, and the labourers engaged in their respective sections with enthusiastic ardour. When the enemies of the Jews, particularly Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, perceived that they had engaged in earnest to rebuild the walls of the city, they at first charged them, as usual, with intent to rebel against the Persian government, (Nehemiah ii, 19;) and next ridiculed and poured contempt and derision upon the enterprise. Nehemiah iv, 1–3. When these impotent weapons failed, the neighbouring hostile tribes associated, with the intention to fall upon the Jews suddenly with the sword. But Nehemiah received information of their designs, and took such precautions that they feared to attack the builders. Nehemiah iv, 7–23. Defeated in their murderous purpose, they next proposed a friendly conference with Nehemiah, in a remote village of Judah, as if all differences might thus be quickly accommodated. This Nehemiah very promptly and at the same time adroitly declined. Nehemiah vi, 1–4. Their next measure was to accuse Nehemiah and the Jews, in writing, of an intent to rebel, and set up an independent government in Judea; threatening at the same time to report the same to the King Artaxerxes. Nehenniah simply denied the allegation, and, as they feared to meet him at the court of Artaxerxes, they dropped the complaint and again attempted to intimidate him with threats of ambushments and assassination. In all this, however, they effected nothing. Nehemiah penetrated all their designs and defeated them. Nehemiah vi, 5–13. At length the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the gates set up. Proper officers were immediately appointed to keep the gates, and to guard against the entrance of foreigners. A thorough revision of the entire religious, social, and political polity of the nation was now commenced. The genealogies were first examined to ascertain the numbers of those who had returned from the captivity, and of all such as were of the genuine Hebrew stock. Ezra and the Levites were then called, and the people were assembled before the “water-gate,” on the southeast of the city, where Ezra read from the book of the law of Moses, and the more learned and honourable of the Levitical fathers explained. It must be remembered that the Jews had lost the use of the pure Hebrew language during their residence with the Babylonians, and had imbibed the Chaldee dialect in its stead. Ezra read the law of Moses in the original Hebrew, and what portions seemed obscure, the Levites explained in Chaldee to the people. From early dawn till noon this solemn exercise continued. The effect was great. Most of the Jews had never before received such clear views of the meaning of the law, and they now melted under the burning words of their great lawgiver. “For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.” Nehemiah viii, 1–9. The day following they assembled again, and again Ezra read from the sacred canon. As he read from Leviticus, (chapter xxiii, 4, &c.,) they perceived that the proper time for the annual “feast of tabernacles” was near at hand, and accordingly they dispersed, and made immediate preparations for that cheerful and soul-stirring occasion. After the convivialities of the feast of booths, they entered publicly into a solemn, written covenant, to observe all the laws of God, “and the princes, Levites, and priests, sealed it,” as the representatives of the nation. Nehemiah ix, 38. As the temple service had been much neglected, a complete restoration of the ecclesiastical code and economy of Moses was especially insisted on and accomplished. Nehemiah x. Another evil needed to be remedied. Although the city walls were rebuilt, yet the city itself was in a general state of desolation, presenting little more than vast heaps of rubbish. By the genealogical records few returned from Babylon to their ancient paternal estates in Jerusalem, and residence in other cities and villages now became far more desirable. To people the capital therefore, Nehemiah ordered that every tenth citizen throughout the land should take up his residence there, and these should be selected by lot. Such also as volunteered to dwell there were applauded by the people for their generous devotion to the common cause. Nehemiah xi, 1, 2. Thus Jerusalem was again populated. They were now ready to dedicate the walls of Jerusalem. The wayward tendencies of the nation had been again corrected and reproved; their religious and political system revised; their priesthood and their police newly organized; the walls of their metropolis rebuilt, and the city itself peopled ; their enemies disheartened at beholding the solid foundation of the nation's strength and prosperity at length fairly laid; and the joyful Hebrew family once more repair to Jerusalem to solemnize the dedication of their new capital. Every preparation had been made, by the forethought of Nehemiah, which the magnificence of the occasion required. That day, upon the walls and towers of the capital, were seen everywhere, in formal position, the princes, the heads of all departments, and the great men of the nation, with the bands of Levitical choristers, the trumpeters, and the companies for the responsive chants. Around the altars, and within the temple, were the priests’ arrayed in their holy vestments, to offer up sacrifices and incense. Thus they solemnly and joyfully celebrated the day which was indeed the birthday of their nation; “for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the wives also and the children rejoiced; so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even