Page images

One day as they were hunting, a lion, raising himself on his hinder feet, was going to rush upon the king, when Megabysus, seeing the danger he was in, and fired with zeal and affection for his sovereign, hurled a dart at the lion, which killed him. But Artaxerxes, upon pretence that he had affronted him, in darting at the lion first, commanded Megabysus's head to be struck off. Amytis the king's sister, and Amestris, with the greatest difficulty prevailed upon the king to change this sentence into perpetual banishment. Me. gabysus was therefore sent to Cyrta, a city on the Red Sea, and condemned to end his days there : however, five years after, disguising himself like a leper, he made his escape, and returned to Susa, where, by the assist. ance of his wife and mother in law, he was restored to favour and continued so till his death, which happened some years after, in the seventy sixth year of his age. Megabysus was extremely regretted by the king and the whole court. He was a man of the greatest abilities in the kingdom, and at the same time the best general. Artaxerxes owed y both his crown and life to him ; but it is of dangerous consequence for a subject, when his sovereign is under too many obligations to him. This was the cause of all the misfortunes of Megabysus.

It is surprising that so judicious a prince as Artaxerxes should have been so imprudent, as to be fired with jealousy against a nobleman of his court, merely because in a party of hunting he had wounded the beast they were pursuing before him. Could any thing be so weak ? and was this placing the point of honour in a manner worthy a king ? Nevertheless, history fur. nishes us with many instances of this kind. I am apt to believe, from some expressions of " Plutarch, that Artaxerxes was ashamed of the wild fury to which this false delicacy had raised him, and that he made some public kind of atonement for it : for, according to this author, he published a decree, importing that any man who was hunting with the king, should be allowed to throw his javelin first at the beast if opportunity should offer; and he, according to Plutarch, was the first Persian monarch who granted such a per mission.

y Beneficia eo usque læta sunt, dum videntur exolvi posse ; ubi multum antevertere, pro gratia odium redditur. Tacit. Annal. 1. iv, c. 18:

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]





[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Before I proceed in the history of the Persians and Greeks, I shall relate, in few words, the several things which happened to the people of God, during the first twenty years of Artaxerxes, which is an essential part of the history of that prince.

* In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, Esdras obtained of the king and his seven counsellors an ample commission empowering him to return to Jerusalem with all such Jews as would follow him thith. er, in order to settle the Jewish government and religion agreeably to their own laws. Esdras was descended from Saraia, who was high priest of Jerusalem, when destroyed by Nebuchodonosor, and was put to death by his command. Esdras was a very learned and pious man, and was chiefly distinguished from the

2 Plut. in Apophthegm. p. 173.
•A. M. 3537. Ant. J. C. 467. 1 Esdras vii. 7, &s.

rest of the Jews, by his great knowledge in the scriptures; it being said of him, b“ That he was very ready in the law of Moses that was given by the God of Israel.” He now set out from Babylon with the gifts and offerings which the king, his courtiers, and such Israelites as had staid in Babylon, had put into his hands for the service of the temple, and which he gave to the priests upon his arrival in Jerusalem. It appears by the commission which Artaxerxes gave him, that this prince had a high veneration for the God of Israel, as, in commanding his officers to furnish the Jews with all things necessary for their worship, he adds,

"Let all things be performed after the law of God diligently, unto the most high God, that wrath come not upon the kingdom of the king and his son.” This commission, as I observed, empowered him to settle the religion and government of the Jews, pursu. ant to the law of Moses ; to appoint magistrates and judges, to punish evil doers, not only by imprisoning their persons, and confiscating their possessions, but álsoby sending them into banishment and even sentencing them to death, according to the crimes they should commit. Such was the power with which Esdras was invested, and which he exercised faithfully during thirteen years, till Nehemiah brought a new commission from the Persian court.

Nehemiah was also a Jew of distinguished merit and piety, and one of the cupbearers to king Arta

This was a very considerable employment in the Persian court, because of the privilege annexed to it, viz. of being often near the king's person, and of


• 1 Esdras viii. 3.

c Ibid. viii. 21. & A. M. 3550. Ant. J. C. 454. Nehcm.c.ii et ii.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

being allowed to speak to him in the most favourable moments. However, neither his exalted station, nor the settlement of his family in that land of captivity, could obliterate from his mind the country of his ancestors, nor their religion : neither his love for the one, nor his zeal for the other, were abated ; and his heart was still in Sion. Some Jews who were come from Jerusalem, having informed him of the sad state of that city, that its walls lay in ruin, its gates were burned down, and the inhabitants thereby exposed to the insults of their enemies, and made the scorn of all their neighbours; the affliction of his brethren, and the dangers with which they were menaced, made such an impression on his mind, as might naturally be expected from one of his piety. One day, as he was waiting upon the king, the latter observing an unusual air of melancholy in Nehemiah's countenance, asked him the cause of it ; a proof that this monarch had a tenderness of heart rarely found in kings, and which is nevertheless much more valuable than the most shining qualities. Nehemiah took this opportunity to acquaint him with the calamitous state of his country, owned that it was the subject of his grief, and humbly entreated that leave might be given him to go to Jerusalem, in order to repair the fortifications of it. The kings of Persia, his predecessors, had permitted the Jews to rebuild the temple, but not the walls of Jerusalem. But Artaxerxes immediately decreed, that the walls and gates of Jerusalem should be rebuilt ; and Nehemiah, as governor of Judea, was appointed to put this decree in execution. The king, to do him the greater honour, ordered a body of horse, commanded by a considerable VOL. 3.


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

officer to escort him thither. He likewise wrote to all the governors of the provinces on this side the Euphrates, to give him all the assistance possible in forwarding the work for which he was sent. This pious Jew executed every part of his commission with incredible zeal and activity.

e It is from this decree, enacted by Artaxerxes in the twentieth year of his reign, for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, that we date the beginning of the seventy weeks mentioned in the famous prophecy of Daniel, after which the Messiah was to appear

and be put to death. I shall here insert the whole prophecy, but without giving the explication of it, as it may be found in other writers, and is not a part of this history.

? Thou art greatly beloved, therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, THAT FROM THE GOING FORTH OF THE COMMANDMENT TO RESTORE AND TO REBUILD JERUSALEM, unto the Messiah the prince, shall be seven weeks, and three score and two weeks ; the street shall be built again ; and the wall, even in troubleous times. And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come, shall destroy the city and the sanctuary, and the end thereof shall be with a flood; and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm

e Dan. ix. 23-27.


« PreviousContinue »