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465

CHAPTER XXXIX

GEDALIAH

b.c. 586

2 Kings xxv. 22-30

"Vedi che son un che piango."—Dante, Inferno.

"No, rather steel thy melting heart

To act the martyr's sternest part,

To watch with firm, unshrinking eye

Thy darling visions as they die,

Till all bright hopes and hues of day

Have faded into twilight grey."

Keble.

In deciding that he would not accompany Nebuchadrezzar to Babylon, Jeremiah made the choice of duty. In Chaldæa he would have lived at ease, in plenty, in security, amid universal respect. He might have helped his younger contemporary Ezekiel in his struggle to keep the exiles in Babylon faithful to their duty and their God. He regarded the exiles as representing all that was best and noblest in the nation; and he would have been safe and honoured in the midst of them, under the immediate protection of the great Babylonian king. On the other hand, to return to Judæa was to return to a defenceless and a distracted people, the mere dregs of the true nation, the mere phantom of what they once had been. Surely his life had earned the blessing of repose? But no! The hopes of the466 Chosen People, the seed of Abraham, God's servant, could not be dissevered from the Holy Land. Rest was not for him on this side of the grave. His only prayer must be, like that which Senancour had inscribed over his grave, "Éternité, deviens mon asile!" The decision cost him a terrible struggle; but duty called him, and he obeyed. It has been supposed by some critics893893   So Grätz and Cheyne. that the wild cry of Jer. xv. 10-21 expresses his anguish at the necessity of casting in his lot with the remnant; the sense that they needed his protecting influence and prophetic guidance; and the promise of God that his sacrifice should not be ineffectual for good to the miserable fragment of his nation, even though they should continue to struggle against him.

So with breaking heart he saw Nebuzaradan at Ramah marshalling the throng of captives for their long journey to the waters of Babylon. Before them, and before the little band which returned with him to the burnt Temple, the dismantled city, the desolate house, there lay an unknown future; but in spite of the exiles' doom it looked brighter for them than for him, as with tears and sobs they parted from each other. Then it was that—

"A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refuseth to be comforted, because they are not. Thus saith the Lord, 'Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded,' saith the Lord; 'and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for thy time to come,' saith the Lord, 'that thy children shall come again to their own border.'"894894   Jer. xxxi. 15-17.

467

Disappointed in the fidelity of the royal house of Judah, Nebuchadrezzar had not attempted to place another of them on the throne. He appointed Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, his satrap (pakîd) over the poor remnant who were left in the land. In this appointment we probably trace the influence of Jeremiah. There is no one whom Nebuchadrezzar would have been so likely to consult. Gedaliah was the son of the prophet's old protector,895895   Jer. xxvi. 24. and his grandfather Shaphan had been a trusted minister of Josiah. He thoroughly justified the confidence reposed in him, and under his wise and prosperous rule there seemed to be every prospect that there would be at least some pale gleam of returning prosperity. The Jews, who during the period of the siege had fled into all the neighbouring countries, no sooner heard of his viceroyalty than they came flocking back from Moab, and Ammon, and Edom. They found themselves, perhaps for the first time in their lives, in possession of large estates, from which the exiles of Babylon had been dispossessed; and favoured by an abundant harvest, "they gathered wine and summer fruits very much."896896   Jer. xl. 12.

Jerusalem—dismantled, defenceless, burnt—was no longer habitable. It was all but deserted, so that jackals and hyænas prowled even over the mountain of the Lord's House. All attempt to refortify it would have been regarded as rebellion, and such a mere "lodge in a garden of cucumbers" would have been useless to repress the marauding incursions of the envious Moabites and Edomites, who had looked on with shouts at the destruction of the city, and exulted when her468 carved work was broken down with axes and hammers. Gedaliah therefore fixed his headquarters at Mizpah, about six miles north of Jerusalem, of which the lofty eminence could be easily secured.897897   Some identify it with Shaphat, a mile from Jerusalem. It was the watchtower from which Titus caught his first glimpses of the Holy City, as many a traveller does to this day, and the point at which Richard I. averted his eyes with tears, saying that he was unworthy to look upon the city which he was unable to save. Here, then, Gedaliah lived, urging upon his subjects the policy which his friend and adviser Jeremiah had always supported, and promising them quietness and peace if they would but accept the logic of circumstances—if they would bow to the inevitable, and frankly acknowledge the suzerainty of Nebuchadrezzar. It was perhaps as a pledge of more independence in better days to come that Nebuzaradan had left Gedaliah in charge of the young daughters of King Zedekiah, who had with them some of their eunuch-attendants. As that unfortunate monarch was only thirty-two years old when he was blinded and carried away, the princesses were probably young girls; and it has been conjectured that it was part of the Chaldæan king's plan for the future that in time Gedaliah should be permitted to marry one of them, and re-establish at least a collateral branch of the old royal house of David.

How long this respite continued we do not know. The language of Jeremiah xxxix 2, xli. 1, compared with 2 Kings xxv. 8, might seem to imply that it only lasted two months. But since Jeremiah does not mention the year in xli. 1, and as there seems to469 have been yet another deportation of Jews by Nebuchadrezzar five years latter (Jer. lii. 30), which may have been in revenge for the murder of his satrap, some have supposed that Gedaliah's rule lasted four years. All is uncertain, and the latter passage is of doubtful authenticity; but it is at least possible that the vengeful atrocity committed by Ishmael followed almost immediately after the Chaldæan forces were well out of sight. Respecting these last days of Jewish independence, "History, leaning semisomnous on her pyramid, muttereth something, but we know not what it is."

However this may be, there seem to have been guerilla bands wandering through the country, partly to get what they could, and partly to watch against Bedouin marauders. Johanan, the son of Kareah, who was one of the chief captains among them,898898   They are called sarî ("princes"). came with others to Gedaliah, and warned him that Baalis, King of Ammon, was intriguing against him, and trying to induce a certain Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama—who, in some way unknown to us, represented, perhaps on the female side, the seed royal899899   There is no Elishama in the royal genealogy, except a son of David. Ishmael may have been the son or grandson of some Ammonite princess. An Elishama was scribe of Jehoiakim (Jer. xxxvi. 12).—to come and murder him. Gedaliah was of a fine, unsuspicious temperament, and with rash generosity he refused to believe in the existence of a plot so ruinous and so useless. Astonished at his noble incredulity, Johanan then had a secret interview with him, and offered to murder Ishmael so secretly that no one should know of it. "Why," he asked, "should this man be suffered to ruin everything, and470 cause the final scattering of even the struggling handful of colonists at Mizpah and in Judah?" Gedaliah forbad his intervention. "Thou shalt not do this," he said: "thou speakest falsely of Ishmael."

But Johanan's story was only too true. Shortly afterwards, Ishmael, with ten confederates,900900   The Hebrew text calls these ten ruffians rabbî hammelech, "chief officers of the king" of Ammon. came to visit Gedaliah at Mizpah, perhaps on the pretext of seeing his kinswomen, the daughters of Zedekiah. Gedaliah welcomed this ambitious villain and his murderous accomplices with open-handed hospitality. He invited them all to a banquet in the fort of Mizpah; and after eating salt with him, Ishmael and his bravoes first murdered him, and then put promiscuously to the sword his soldiers, and the Chaldæans who had been left to look after him.901901   Josephus records or conjectures that the governor was overpowered by wine, and had sunk into slumber (Antt., X. ix. 2). The gates of the fort were closed, and the bodies were flung into a deep well or tank,902902   In Jer. xli. 9, for "because of Gedaliah," the better reading is "was a great pit" (LXX., φρέαρ μέγα). which had been constructed by Asa in the middle of the courtyard, when he was fortifying Mizpah against the attacks of Baasha, King of Israel.

For two days there was an unbroken silence, and the peasants at Mizpah remained unaware of the dreadful tragedy. On the third day a sad procession was seen wending its way up the heights. There were scattered Jews in Shiloh and Samaria who still remembered Zion; and eighty pilgrims, weeping as they went, came with shaven beards and rent garments to bring a minchah and incense to the ruined shrine at Jerusalem. In the depth of their woe they had even violated a law (Lev. xix. 28, xxi. 5), of which they were perhaps471 unaware, by cutting themselves in sign of their misery. Mizpah would be their last halting-place on the way to Jerusalem; and the hypocrite Ishmael came out to them with an invitation to share the hospitality of the murdered satrap. No sooner had the gate of the charnel-house closed upon them,903903   Ishmael—a marvel of craft and villainy—put into practice the same stratagem which on a larger scale was employed by Mohammed Ali in his massacre of the Mamelukes at Cairo in 1806 (Grove, s.v. Bibl. Dict.). For "the midst of the city" (Jer. xli. 7), we ought to read "courtyard," as in Josephus. than Ishmael and his ten ruffians began to murder this unoffending company. Crimes more aimless and more brutal than those committed by this infinitely degenerate scion of the royal house it is impossible to conceive. The place swam with blood. The story "reads almost like a page from the annals of the Indian Mutiny." Seventy of the wretched pilgrims had been butchered and flung into the tank, which must have been choked with corpses, like the fatal well at Cawnpore,904904   Comp. Jehu's treatment of the family of Ahaziah (2 Kings x. 14). when the ten survivors pleaded for their lives by telling Ishmael that they had large treasures of country produce stored in hidden places, which should be at his disposal if he would spare them.905905   The dark deed is still commemorated by a Jewish fast, as in the days of Zechariah (Zech. vii. 3-5, viii. 19).

As it was useless to make any further attempt to conceal his atrocities, Ishmael now took the young princesses and the inhabitants of Mizpah with him, and tried to make good his escape to his patron the King of Ammon. But the watchful eye of Johanan, the son of Kareah, had been upon him, and assembling his band he went in swift pursuit. Ishmael had got no farther than the Pool of Gibeon, when Johanan472 overtook him, to the intense joy of the prisoners. A scuffle ensued; but Ishmael and eight of his blood-stained desperadoes unhappily managed to make good their escape to the Ammonites. The wretch vanishes into the darkness, and we hear of him no more.

Even now the circumstances were desperate. Nebuchadrezzar could not in honour overlook the frustration of all his plans, and the murder, not only of his viceroy, but even of his Chaldæan commissioners. He would not be likely to accept any excuses. No course seemed open but that of flight. There was no temptation to return to Mizpah with its frightful memories and its corpse-choked tank. From Gibeon the survivors made their way to Bethlehem, which lay on the road to Egypt, and where they could be sheltered in the caravanserai of Chimham. Many Jews had already taken refuge in Egypt. Colonies of them were living in Pathros, and at Migdol and Noph, under the kindly protection of Pharaoh Hophrah. Would it not be well to join them?

In utter perplexity Johanan and the other captains and all the people came to Jeremiah. How he had escaped the massacre at Mizpah we do not know; but now he seemed to be the only man left in whose prophetic guidance they could confide. They entreated him with pathetic earnestness to show them the will of Jehovah; and he promised to pray for insight, while they pledged themselves to obey implicitly his directions.

The anguish and vacillation of the prophet's mind is shown by the fact that for ten whole days no light came to him. It seemed as if Judah was under an irrevocable curse. Whither could they return? What temptation was there to return? Did not return mean473 fresh intolerable miseries? Would they not be torn to pieces by the robber bands from across the Jordan? And what could be the end of it but another deportation to Babylon, with perhaps further massacre and starvation?

All the arguments seemed against this course; and he could see very clearly that it would be against all the wishes of the down-trodden fugitives who longed for Egypt, "where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread."

Yet Jeremiah could only give them the message which he believed to represent the will of God. He bade them return. He assured them that they need have no fear of the King of Babylon, and that God would bless them; whereas if they went to Egypt, they would die by the sword, the famine, and the pestilence. At the same time—doomed always to thwart the hopes of the multitude—he reproved the hypocrisy which had sent them to ask God's will when they never intended to do anything but follow their own.

Then their anger broke out against him. He was, as always, the prophet of evil, and they held him more than half responsible for being the cause of the ruin which he invariably predicted. Johanan and "all the proud men" (zēdim) gave him the lie. They told him that the source of his prophesy was not Jehovah, but the meddling and pernicious Baruch. Perhaps some of them may have remembered the words of Isaiah, that a day should come when five cities, of which one should be called Kir-Cheres ("the City of Destruction")—a play on the name Kir-Heres, "the City of the Sun," On or Heliopolis should—speak the language of Canaan and swear by the Lord of hosts, and there should be an altar in the land of Egypt and a matstsebah at its474 border in witness to Jehovah, and that though Egypt should be smitten she should also be healed.906906   Isa. xix. 18-22.

So they settled to go to Egypt; and taking with them Jeremiah, and Baruch, and the king's daughters, and all the remnant, they made their way to Tahpanhes or Daphne,907907   Jer. ii. 16, xliv. 1; Ezek. xxx. 18; Jer. xliii. 7, xlvi. 14; Herod., ii. 30. an advanced post to guard the road to Syria. Mr. Flinders Petrie in 1886 discovered the site of the city at Tel Defenneh, and the ruins of the very palace which Pharaoh Hophrah placed at the disposal of the daughters of his ally Zedekiah. It is still known by the name of "The Castle of the Jew's Daughters"—El Kasr el Bint el Jehudi.908908   Fl. Petrie, Memoir on Tanis (Egypt. Explor. Fund, 4th memoir), 1888.

In front of this palace was an elevated platform (mastaba) of brick, which still remains. In this brickwork Jeremiah was bidden by the word of Jehovah to place great stones, and to declare that on that very platform, over those very stones, Nebuchadrezzar should pitch his royal tent, when he came to wrap himself in the land of Egypt, as a shepherd wraps himself in his garment, and to burn the pillars of Heliopolis with fire.909909   Jer. xliii. 13, Beth-shemesh. Only one pillar of the Temple of the Sun is now standing. It is said to be four thousand years old. It is certain that Nebuchadrezzar invaded Egypt and defeated Amasis, the son of Hophrah, b.c. 565, reducing Egypt to "the basest of kingdoms" (Ezek. xxix. 14, 15). Three of Nebuchadrezzar's terra-cotta cylinders have been found at Tahpanhes.

Jeremiah still had to face stormy times. At some great festival assembly at Tahpanhes he bitterly reproached the exiled Jews for their idolatries. He was extremely indignant with the women who burned incense to the Queen of Heaven. The multitude, and especially the women, openly defied him. "We will not hearken475 to thee," they said. "We will continue to burn incense, and offer offerings to the Queen of Heaven, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. It is only since we have left off making cakes for her and honouring her that we have suffered hunger and desolation; and our husbands were always well aware of our proceedings."

Never was there a more defiantly ostentatious revolt against God and against His prophet! Remonstrance seemed hopeless. What could Jeremiah do but menace them with the wrath of Heaven, and tell them that in sign of the truth of his words the fate of Pharaoh Hophrah should be the same as the fate of Zedekiah, King of Judah, and should be inflicted by the hand of Nebuchadrezzar.910910   How far the prophecy was fulfilled we do not know. Assyrian and Egyptian fragments of record show that in the thirty-seventh year of his reign Nebuchadrezzar invaded Egypt and advanced to Syene (Ezek. xxix. 10).

So on the colony of fugitives the curtain of revelation rushes down in storm. The prophet went on the troubled path which, if tradition be true, led him at last to martyrdom. He is said to have been stoned by his infuriated fellow-exiles. But his name lived in the memory of his people. It was he (they believed) who had hidden from the Chaldæans the Ark and the sacred fire, and some day he should return to reveal the place of their concealment.911911   2 Macc. ii. 1-8; comp. xv. 13-16. The tradition is singular when we recall the small store which Jeremiah set by the Ark (Jer. iii. 16). When Christ asked His disciples six hundred years later, "Whom say the people that I am?" one of the answers was, "Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He became, so476 to speak, the guardian saint of the land in which he had suffered such cruel persecutions.

But the historian of the Kings does not like to leave the close of his story in unbroken gloom. He wrote during the Exile. He has narrated with tears the sad fate of Jehoiachin; and though he does not care to dwell on the Exile itself, he is glad to narrate one touch of kindness on the part of the King of Babylon, which he doubtless regarded as a pledge of mercies yet to come. Twenty-six years had elapsed since the capture of Jerusalem, and thirty-seven since the captivity of the exiled king, when Evil-Merodach, the son and successor of Nebuchadrezzar, took pity on the imprisoned heir of the House of David.912912   Evil-Merodach (Avil-Marduk, "Man of Merodach") only reigned two years, and was then murdered by his brother-in-law Neriglissar (Berosus ap. Jos.: comp. Ap., i. 20). The Rabbis have a story—perhaps founded on that of Gaius and Agrippa I.—that Evil-Merodach had been imprisoned by his father for wishing his death, and in prison formed a friendship for Jehoiachin. He took Jehoiachin from his dungeon, changed his garments, spoke words of encouragement to him, gave him a place at his own table,913913   "Lifted up his head." Comp. Gen. xl. 13, 20. assigned to him a regular allowance from his own banquet,914914   To be thus ὁμοτράπεζος, or σύσσιτος, of the king was a high honour (Herod., iii. 13, v. 24. Comp. Judg. i. 7; 2 Sam. ix. 13, etc.). and set his throne above the throne of all the other captive kings who were with him in Babylon. It might seem a trivial act of mercy, yet the Jews remembered in their records the very day of the month on which it had taken place, because they regarded it as a break in the clouds which overshadowed them—as "the first gleam of heaven's amber in the Eastern grey."


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