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Thus heartened, thus laded, do the joyful families of Judah return to their old home. How many thousands of them were worn out and lost, in that seventy years' servitude ! How few of them yet survived, that could know the place of their birth and habitation; or say, “Here stood the temple, here the palace!"
Amongst those forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore Jews, (besides servants seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven,) that returned in this first expedition, there were, whom the confusion of their long captivity had robbed of their pedigree. They knew themselves Jews, but could not derive their line. These were yet admitted, without difficulty ; but those of the priestly tribe, which could not deduce their genealogy from the register, are cashiered as unclean.
Then, God would be served in a blood ; now, in a due succession. If we could not fetch the line of our pedigree from Christ and his apostles, we were not fit for the evangelical altars. Their calling was by nature; ours by grace; the grace of inward abilities, of outward ordination : if we cannot approve both these, we are justly abandoned.
Now had the children of Israel taken down their harps from the willows which grew by the waters of Babylon, and could, unbidden, sing the true songs of their recovered Sion.
They are newly settled in their old mansions; when, upon the first public feast, in the autumn immediately following their return, they flock up to Jerusalem. Their first care is their public sacrifice. That school of their captivity, wherein they have been long trained, hath taught them to begin with God. A forced discontinuance makes devotion more savoury, more sweet, to religious hearts ; whereas, in an open freedom, piety doth too often languish.
Joshua the priest, and Zerubbabel the prince, are fitly joined in the building of the altar: neither of their hands may be out of that sacred work. No sooner is that set upon the bases, than it is employed to the daily burnt-offerings. The altar may not stay the leisure of the temple. God's Church may not want her oblations. He can be none of the sons of Israel, that doth not every day renew his acknowledgments of God.
How feelingly do these Jews keep their Feast of Tabernacles, while their sojourning in Babylon was still in their thoughts; while as yet their tents must supply their ruined houses ! The first motions of zeal are commonly strong and fervent.
How carefully do these governors and priests make preparation for God's temple! Carpenters and masons are hired. Tyrian workmen are again called for; and Lebanon is now anew solicited for cedar trees.
The materials are ready. Every Israelite with such courage addresses himself to this service, as if his life lay in those stones. And now, while the foundation of the temple was laying, the priests stand in their habits with trumpets, the Levites with cymbals; interchanging their holy music, and melodiously singing praises to the God of Israel, who had turned their captivity as the streams in the south, and honoured their eyes and hands with the first stones of his house. The people second their songs with shouts. The earth sounds, and heaven rings, with the joyful acclamations of the multitude.
It is no small comfort in a good action, to have begun well. The entrance of any holy enterprise is commonly encountered with many discouragements; which, if we have once overcome, the passage is smooth.
How would these men have shouted at the laying on of the last stone of the battlements, who are thus joyed with laying the first stones of the foundation! The end of any thing is better than the beginning : that hath certainty, this danger; this labour, that rest. Little did these men think, that, for all this, few of them should live to see the roof.
What different affections shall we see produced in men, by the same occasion! The younger Jews shouted at this sight; the elder wept. The younger shouted to see a new foundation; the elder wept to remember the old. They, who had seen no better, thought this goodly; they, who had seen the former, thought this mean and homely; more sorrowing for what they had lost, than rejoicing in so unequal a reparation.
As it may fall out, it is some piece of misery, to have been happier. Every abatement of the degrees of our former height lays siege to our thankfulness, for lesser mercies. Sometimes, it proves an advantage, to have known no better. He shall more comfortably enjoy present benefits, who takes them as they are, without any other comparisons, than of the weakness of his own deservings. It is nothing to me, what myself or others have been, so I be now well. Neither is it otherwise in particular churches : if one be more gloriously built than another, yet, if the foundation be rightly laid in both, one may not insult, the other may not repine: each must congratulate the truth to other ; each must thankfully enjoy itself.
The noise was not more loud, than confused. Here was a discordant mixture of lamentation and shouting. It was hard to say whether drowned the other.
This assembly of Jews was a true image of God's Church on earth; one sings, another cries ; never doth it all either laugh or mourn at once. It shall be in our triumph, that all tears shall be wiped from our eyes ; till then, our passions must be mixed, according to the occasions.
The Jews are busy at work; not more full of joy, than hopes : and now that the walls begin to overlook the earth, their thoughts seem to overlook the walls. But what great enterprise was ever set on foot for God, which found not some crosses ?
There was a mongrel brood of Samarit-Assyrians, which, ever since the days of Sennacherib, dwelt in the land of Ísrael ; whose religion was a patched coat of several shreds; some little part Jewish, the rest Pagan, not without much variety of idolatry,
These hollow neighbours proffer their assistance to the Children
of the Captivity ; Let us build with you ; for we seek your God, as ye do ; and do sacrifice to him. Might men be their own judges, there would be no heresy in the world, no misworship. It is true, these men did sacrifice to the true God. The lions taught them to seek, and the Israelitish priest taught them to find, the fashions of the God of the land. Some of these Jews knew their devotion of old. They served Israel's God; but with their own. As good no God, as too many.
In a just indignation therefore, do these Jewish governors repel the partnership of such helpers; You have nothing to do with us, to build an house to our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel. The hand of an idolater is contagious. Yet, had it been to the building of some fortress or common-hall, perhaps their aid had not been refused; but when the walls of God's house are to be raised, this society had been piacular.
Those, that may not be allowed to help the work, will ask no leave to hinder it: their malicious suggestions weaken the hands of the people of Judah, and stir up authority to suppress them.
Cyrus was far off; neither lived he long after that gracious commission; and besides was so taken up the while with his wars, that he could not have leisure to sift those queralous accusations. Now therefore, during the last years of Cyrus, and the reign of his Cambyses, and the long government of Darius Histaspides, and of his son Xerxes or Ahasuerus, and lastly of his son Artaxerxes, until the days of Darius Nothus, which was no less than five successions of kings besides Cyrus, do the walls of the temple stand still, yea lie waste; subject to the wrongs of time, and weather : the fit matter of sorrow to the Jews, insultation to the enemies, derision to passengers.
What a wide gap of time was here, betwixt the foundation of God's house, and the battlements! How large a trial doth God now secondly take of the faith, of the patience, of his people! How large a proof doth he give of his own long-suffering ! o God when thou hadst but one house upon earth, thou wert content to put up delays, yea affronts in the building of it: now thou hast many, it is no marvel, if thy longanimity and justice abide some of them to lie desolate. They are not stones, nor metals, nor men, that can make thee more glorious: thou best knowest, when to serve thyself of all these; when to honour these with thy service.
A small matter hinders the worthiest action ; as a little fish, they say, stays the greatest ship. Before, the Jews were discouraged with words; but now they are stopped by commands.
These envious Samaritans have corrupted the governors, which the Persian kings set over those parts; and from their hands have obtained letters of deep calumniation, to Ahasuerus the king; and after him, to his son Artaxerxes : wherein Jerusalem is charged with old rebellion to kings; and for proof, appellation' is made to the records ; from which evidence, is spitefully inferred, that if these walls be once built, the king shall receive no tribute on this side the river. Never was God's Church but subject to reproaches.
Princes have reason to be jealous of their rights. The records are searched. It soon appears, that, within one century of years, Jerusalem had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar; and held out two years' siege of that great Babylonian. The scandal of disloyalty is perpetual : although indeed they held him rather a prevailing enemy, than a lawful sovereign. One aet disparages either place, or person, to all posterities. Therefore shall the walls of Jerusa lem lie waste, because it had once been treacherous. After a hundred years, doth that city rue one perfidious act of Zedekiah. Fidelity to our governors is ever both safe and' honourable.
Command is now sent out from Artaxerxes, (surnamed Longhand) even the son of queen Esther, to restrain the work. All respects must cease with carnal minds, when their honours and profits are in question. Rehum the chancellor, and Shimşhai the scribe, come now armed with authority. The sword hath easily prevailed against the trowel. Still do the Jews find themselves, as it were, captives at home; and in silence and sorrow, cease from their labours, until the days of the next successor, Darius Nothus.
As those that had learned to sow after a bad crop, these Jews, upon the change of the prince, by the encouragement of the prophets of God, Haggai and Zechariah, take new heart to build again. If others' power hinder us in the work of God, our will may not be guilty.
Their new governors come, as before, to expostulate ; “ Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall ? and what are your names ?” They wisely and modestly plead the service of the God of Heaven, the decree of Cyrus; still persisting to build, as if the prohibition of Artaxerxes had died with the author.
The unpartial governors do neither claw nor exasperate; but relating the humble and just answer of the Jews, move the king that search may be made in the rolls of Babylon, whether such an edict were made by Cyrus; and require his royal pleasure, concerning the validity of such a pretended decree. Darius searches, finds, ratifies, enlargeth it; not only charging his officers not to hinder the work, but commanding to levy sums of his own tribute, beyond the river, for the expences of the building, for the furnishing of sacrifices; threatening utter ruin to the house of that man, and death to his person, who should offer to impeach this bounty; and shutting up with a zealous imprecation, The God of Heaven that hath caused his name to dwell there, destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God, which is at Jerusalem: I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
Who would have looked for such an edict from a Persian ? No Solomon, no David, could have said more. The Ruler of all Hearts makes choice of his own instruments; and, when he pleaseth,
can glorify himself by those means, which are least expected. That sacred work, which the husband and son of an Esther crossed, shall be happily accomplished by a Darius.
In the sixth year of his reign, is the temple of God fully finished; and now, the dedication of it is celebrated, by a joyful feast, A hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, in a meet proportion, smoke upon their altars. And now, the Children of the Captivity think this day a sufficient payment for all their sorrows. We have reason to think it the fairest day that ever shone forth to us, wherein the spiritual building of God's house is raised up in our souls. How should we shout at the laying of this foun. dation, and feast at the laying on of the roof! What other, what better sacrifice can we offer up to God, in the sense of our joy, than ourselves ? Let our hearts be, at once, the temple, the altar, the sacrifice. O God, be thou glorified in all these, who hast graciously honoured all these with thyself.
Every holy feast is now duly kept; the priests know their divi. sions, the Levites their courses; and the whole service of God is put into a settled order. But, as there can be no new beginnings without imperfection, nor long continuance without corruption; reformation is no less necessary than good institutions.
Artaxerxes Mnemon (the mindful) hath learned of his father Darius, to befriend God's people; and strives to inherit his beneficence. Under his government, is Ezra, the priest and learned scribe, sent with a large commission from Babylon to Jerusalem, to inquire into the wants, and redress the disorders, of the Jews; with full power, not only to carry with him all the voluntaries of his nation, and the treasures contributed in all the province of Babylon, but to raise such sums, out of the king's revenues, as sbould be found requisite ; and withal, to ordain magistrates and judges, and to crown the laws with due execution, whether to death, or banishment, or confiscation ; and lastly, with a large exemption of the priests and Levites, and all the inferior officers of the temple, from all tolls, tributes, customs. Nothing wanted here, whether for direction or encouragement. It is a sign of God's great favour to any nation, when the hearts of sovereign governors are raised up, both to the choice of worthy agents, and to the commanding of pious and restorative actions. * Holy and careful Ezra gathers a new colony of Jews; takes view of them at the river of Ahava; and, finding a miss of the sons of Levi, (without whom no company, no plantation can be complete,) sends for their supply; and now fully furnished, he proclaims a Fast in the way.
I do not hear him say ; “ The journey is long and dangerous. The people have need of all their strength. I could well wish us all afflicted with a Religious Fast, were it not that the abatement of the courage and vigour of the multitude may endanger our success.” But, without all these carnal consultations, he begins with this solemn act of humiliation. It is better, to have God strong in our weakness, than to have flesh and blood strong in His neg
Artaxerxes was a patron of the Jews, yet a Pagan by profession, Wise Ezra was afraid of quenching those sparks of piety, which he descried in this semi-proselyte. Rather, therefore, than be will