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374

CHAPTER XXX

JOSIAH

b.c. 639-608664664   Kamphausen (Die Chronologie der hebräischer Könige) makes Josiah succeed to the throne in 638.

2 Kings xxii., xxiii

"Τὴν δὲ φύσιν αὐτὸς ἄριστος ὑπῆρχε καὶ πρὸς ἀρετὴν εὗ γεγονώς."—Jos., Antt., iv. 1.

"In outline dim and vast

Their fearful shadows cast

The giant forms of Empires, on their way

To ruin: one by one

They tower, and they are gone."

Keble.

If we are to understand the reign of Josiah as a whole, we must preface it by some allusion to the great epoch-marking circumstances of his age, which explain the references of contemporary prophets, and which, in great measure, determined the foreign policy of the pious king.

The three memorable events of this brief epoch were, (I.) the movement of the Scythians, (II.) the rise of Babylon, and (III.) the humiliation of Nineveh, followed by her total destruction.

I. Many of Jeremiah's earlier prophecies belong to this period, and we see that both he and Zephaniah—who was probably a great-great-grandson of King375 Hezekiah himself,665665   Otherwise his genealogy would not be mentioned for four generations (Hitzig). and prophesied in this reign666666   Zeph. i. 1. Jeremiah also was highly connected. He was a priest and his father Hilkiah may be the high priest who found the book; "for his uncle Shallum, father of his cousin Hanameel, was the husband of Huldah the prophetess" (2 Kings xxii. 14; Jer. xxxii. 7). The fact that Jeremiah's property was at Anathoth, where lived the descendants of Ithamar (1 Kings ii. 26), whereas Hilkiah was of the family of Eleazar (1 Chron. vi. 4-13), does not seem fatal to the view that his father was the high priest.—are greatly occupied with a danger from the North which seems to threaten universal ruin.

So overwhelming is the peril that Zephaniah begins with the tremendously sweeping menace, "I will utterly consume all things off the earth, saith the Lord."

Then the curse rushes down specifically upon Judah and Jerusalem; and the state of things which the prophet describes shows that, if Josiah began himself to seek the Lord at eight years old, he did not take—and was, perhaps, unable to take—any active steps towards the extinction of idolatry till he was old enough to hold in his own hand the reins of power.

For Zephaniah denounces the wrath of Jehovah on three classes of idolaters—viz., (1) the remnant of Baal-worshippers with their chemarim, or unlawful priests, and the syncretising priests (kohanim) of Jehovah, who combine His worship with that of the stars, to whom they burn incense upon the housetops; (2) the waverers, who swear at once by Jehovah and by Malcham, their king; and (3) the open despisers and apostates. For all these the day of Jehovah is near; He has prepared them for sacrifice, and the sacrificers are at hand.667667   Zeph. ii. 4-7. Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, Ekron, the Cherethites,376 Canaan, Philistia, are all threatened by the same impending ruin, as well as Moab and Ammon, who shall lose their lands. Ethiopia, too, and Assyria shall be smitten, and Nineveh shall become so complete a desolation that "pelicans and hedgehogs shall bivouac upon her chapiters, the owl shall hoot in her windows, and the crow croak upon the threshold, 'Crushed! desolated!' and all that pass by shall hiss and wag their hands."668668   Zeph. ii. 12-15.

The pictures of the state of society drawn by Jeremiah do not, as we have seen, differ from those drawn by his contemporary.669669   Jer. ii. 1-35. Considering the very great part played by Jeremiah for nearly half a century of the last history of Judah, the non-mention of his name in the Book of Kings is a circumstance far from easy to explain. Jeremiah, too, writing perhaps before Josiah's reformation, complains that God's people have forsaken the fountains of living water, to hew out for themselves broken cisterns. He complains of empty formalism in the place of true righteousness, and even goes so far as to say that backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah (iii. 1-11). He, too, prophesies speedy and terrific chastisement. Let Judah gather herself into fenced cities, and save her goods by flight, for God is bringing evil from the North, and a great destruction.670670   Jer. iv. 6, A. V., "retire, stay not." Comp. Isa. x. 24-31.

"The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the nations is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. Behold, he cometh as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind." Besiegers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah.377 The heart of the kings shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder.

"For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end"—and, "O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved!"671671   Jer. iv. 7-27.

"I will bring a nation upon you from far, O House of Israel, saith the Lord: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language"—unlike that of the Assyrians—"thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say. Their quiver is an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men. They shall batter thy fenced cities, in which thou trustest with weapons of war."672672   Jer. v. 15-17.

"O ye children of Benjamin, save your goods by flight: for evil is imminent from the North, and a great destruction. Behold, a people cometh from the North Country, and a great nation shall be raised from the farthest part of the earth. They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion. We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble."673673   Jer. vi. 1, 22, 23, 24.

And the judgment is close at hand. The early blossoming bud of the almond tree is the type of its imminence. The seething caldron, with its front turned from the North, typifies an invasion which shall soon boil over and flood the land.674674   The almond tree (shâqâd) "seems to be awake (shâqâd), whatsoever trees are still sleeping in the torpor of winter" (Tristram Nat. Hist. of the Bible, 332; Jer. i. 11-14).

378

What was the fierce people thus vaguely indicated as coming from the North? The foes indicated in these passages are not the long-familiar Assyrians, but the Scythians and Cimmerians.675675   The name Kimmerii (on the Assyrian inscriptions Gimirrai) is connected with Gomer. The Persians call them Sakai or Scyths. The nomad Scyths had driven the Kimmerii from the Dniester while Psammetichus was King of Egypt. For allusions to this see Jer. vi. 22 seq., viii. 16, ix. 10. The first notice of them is in an inscription of Esarhaddon, b.c. 677, who says that he defeated "Tiushpa, the Gimirrai, a roving warrior, whose own country was remote." Zephaniah and Jeremiah were certainly thinking of the Scythians (Eichhorn, Hitzig, Ewald; and more recently Kuenen, Onderzoek, ii. 123; Wellhausen, Skizzen, 150). In b.c. 626 they could not have consciously had the Chaldæans in view, though, twenty-three years later, Jeremiah may have had.

As yet the Hebrews had only heard of them by dim and distant rumour. When Ezekiel prophesied they were still an object of terror, but he foresees their defeat and annihilation. They should be gathered into the confines of Israel, but only for their destruction.676676   See Ezek. xxxviii., xxxix. The prophet is bidden to set his face towards Gog, of the land of Magog, the Prince of Rosh,677677   Ezek. xxxviii. 2. So Gesenius, Hävernick, etc., and R.V. Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him that God would turn him about, and put hooks in his jaws, and drive forth all his army of bucklered and sworded horsemen, the hordes of the uttermost part of the North. They should come like a storm upon the mountains of Israel, and spoil the defenceless villages; but they should come simply for their own destruction by blood and by pestilence. God should smite their bows out of their left hands, and their arrows out of the right, and the ravenous birds of Israel should feed upon the carcases of their warriors. There should be endless379 bonfires of all the instruments of war, and the place of their burial should be called "the valley of the multitude of Gog."

Much of this is doubtless an ideal picture, and Ezekiel may be thinking of the fall of the Chaldæans. But the terms he uses remind us of the dim Northern nomads, and the names Rosh and Meshech in juxtaposition involuntarily recall those of Russia and Moscow.678678   The form in the Vulgate and the Alexandrian MS. of the LXX. is Mosech; in the Assyrian inscription, Muski. As far back as 1120 Tiglath-Pileser I. had overrun Tubal (the Tublai, Tabareni) and Moschi, between the Black Sea and the Taurus. They were neither Aryans nor Semites. In Gen. x. 2; 1 Chron. i. 5, Gog, Magog, Meshech, and Gomer are sons of Japheth. They are referred to in Rev. xx. 8.

Our chief historical authority respecting this influx of Northern barbarians is Herodotus.679679   Herod., i. 74, 103-106, iv. 1-22, vii. 64; Pliny, H. N., v. 16; Jos., Antt., I. vi. 1; Syncellus, Chronogl., i. 405. He tells us that the nomad Scythians, apparently a Turanian race, who may have been subjected to the pressure of population, swarmed over the Caucasus, dispossessed the Cimmerians (Gomer), and settled themselves in Saccasene, a province of Northern Armenia. From this province the Scythians gained the name of the Saquî. The name of Gog seems to be taken from Gugu, a Scythian prince, who was taken captive by Assurbanipal from the land of the Saquî.680680   Sayce, Ethnology of the Bible; Records of the Past, ix. 40; Schrader, K. A. T., 159. Some identify Gog with Gyges, King of Lydia, who was killed in battle against the Scythians, but whose name stood for a geographical symbol of Asia Minor, sometimes called Lud. It is said that in 665 Gyges (Gugu) sent two Scythian chiefs as a present to Nineveh. Magog is perhaps Mat-gugu, "land of Gog." These rude, coarse warriors, like the hordes of Attila, or Zenghis Khan, or Tamerlane—who were descended from them—magnetised380 the imagination of civilised people, as the Huns did in the fourth century.681681   Hence, in 2 Macc. iv. 47, 3 Macc. vii. 5, Scythian is used with the modern connotation of "Barbarian." They overthrew the kingdom of Urartis (Armenia), and drove the all-but exterminated remnant of the Moschi and Tabali to the mountain-fortresses by the Black Sea, turning them, as it were, into a nation of ghosts in Sheol.682682   Ezek. xxxii. 26, 27; Cheyne, Jeremiah ("Men of the Bible") p. 31. Then they burst like a thunder-cloud on Mesopotamia, desolating the villages with their arrow-flights, but too unskilled to take fenced towns. They swept down the Shephelah of Palestine, and plundered the rich temple of Aphrodite (Astarte Ourania) at Askelon, thereby incurring the curse of the goddess in the form of a strange disease. But on the borders of Egypt they were diplomatically met by Psammetichus (d. 611) with gifts and prayers. Judah seems only to have suffered indirectly from this invasion. The main army of Scyths poured down the maritime plain, and there was no sufficient booty to tempt any but their straggling bands to the barren hills of Judah.683683   Expositor, 2nd series, iv. 263; Cheyne, Jeremiah, 31. Hitzig and Ewald (erroneously?) refer Psalms lv., lix., to these events, and it seems also to be an error to suppose that the later name of Bethshan—Scythopolis—has anything to do with this incursion. Like the names of Pella, Philadelphia, etc., it is later than the age of Alexander the Great. See 2 Macc. xii. 30; Jos., B. J., II. xviii., Vit. vi. Perhaps Scythopolis is a corruption of Sikytopolis, the city of Sikkuth; or Scythian may merely stand for "Barbarian," as in 3 Macc. vii. 5; Col. iii. 11 (Cheyne, l.c.). It was the report of this over-flooding from the North which probably evoked the alarming prophecies of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, though they found their clearer fulfilment in the invasion of the Chaldees.

381

II. This rush of wild nomads averted for a time the fate of Nineveh.

The Medes, an Aryan people, had settled south of the Caspian, b.c. 790; and in the same century one of these tribes—the Persians—had settled south-east of Elam the northern coast of the Persian Gulf. Cyaxares founded the Median Empire, and attacked Nineveh. The Scythian invasion forced him to abandon the siege, and the Scythians burnt the Assyrian palace and plundered the ruins. But Cyaxares succeeded in intoxicating and murdering the Scythian leaders at a banquet, and bribed the army to withdraw. Then Cyaxares, with the aid of the Babylonians under Nabopolassar their rebel viceroy, besieged and took Nineveh—probably about b.c. 608—while its last king and his captains were revelling at a banquet.684684   Nah. i. 10, ii. 5, iii. 12; Diod. Sic., ii. 26.

The fall of Nineveh was not astonishing. The empire had long been "slowly bleeding to death" in consequence of its incessant wars. The city deemed itself impregnable behind walls a hundred feet high, on which three chariots could drive abreast, and mantled with twelve hundred towers; but she perished, and all the nations—whom she had known how to crush, but had with "her stupid and cruel tyranny" never known how to govern—shouted for joy. That joy finds its triumphant expression in more than one of the prophets, but specially in the vivid pæan of Nahum. His date is approximately fixed at about b.c. 660, by his reference to the atrocities inflicted by Assurbanipal on the Egyptian city of No-Amon. "Art thou [Nineveh] better," he asks, "than No-Amon, that was situate among the canals, that had the water round about her,382 whose rampart was the Nile, and her wall was the waters? Yet she went into captivity! Her young children were dashed to pieces at the head of all the streets: they cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men were bound in chains. Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt faint away, thou shalt seek a stronghold because of the enemy."685685   Nah. iii. 8-11.

All the details of her fall are dim; but Nineveh was, in the language of the prophets, swept with the besom of destruction. Her ruins became stones of emptiness, and the line of confusion was stretched over her. Nahum ends with the cry,—

"There is no assuaging of thy hurt; thy wound is grievous:

All that hear the bruit of this, clap the hands over thee:

For upon whom hath thy wickedness not passed continually?"

In truth, Assyria, the ferocious foe of Israel, of Judah, and all the world, vanished suddenly, like a dream when one awaketh;686686   Strabo, xvi. 1, 3: ἠφανίσθη παοαχρῆμα. and those who passed over its ruins, like Xenophon and his Ten Thousand in b.c. 401, knew not what they were.687687   Xen., Anab., III. iv. 7. Her very name had become forgotten in two centuries. "Etiam periere ruinæ!" The burnt relics and cracked tablets of her former splendour began to be revealed to the world once more in 1842, and it is only during the last quarter of a century that the fragments of her history have been laboriously deciphered.

III. Such were the events witnessed in their germs or in their completion by the contemporaries of Josiah and the prophets who adorned his reign. It was during383 this period, also, that the power to whom the ultimate ruin and captivity of Jerusalem was due sprang into formidable proportions. The ultimate scourge of God to the guilty people and the guilty city was not to be the Assyrian, nor the Scythian, nor the Egyptian, nor any of the old Canaanite or Semitic foes of Israel, nor the Phœnician, nor the Philistine. With all these she had long contended, and held her own. It was before the Chaldee that she was doomed to fall, and the Chaldee was a new phenomenon of which the existence had hardly been recognised as a danger till the warning prophecy of Isaiah to Hezekiah after the embassy of the rebel viceroy Merodach-Baladan.688688   Chaldees, Kardim, Kasdim, Kurds.

It is to Habakkuk, in prophecies written very shortly after the death of Josiah, that we must look for the impression of terror caused by the Chaldees.

Nabopolassar,689689   Nabu-pal-ussur, "Nebo protect the son" b.c. 625-7. Jos., Antt. X. xi. 1: comp. Ap., i. 19. sent by the successor of Assurbanipal to quell a Chaldæan revolt, seized the viceroyalty of Babylon, and joined Cyaxares in the overthrow of Nineveh. From that time Babylon became greater and more terrible than Nineveh, whose power it inherited. Habakkuk (ii. 1-19) paints the rapacity, the selfishness, the inflated ambition, the cruelty, the drunkenness, the idolatry of the Chaldæans. He calls them (i. 5-11) a rough and restless nation, frightful and terrible, whose horsemen were swifter than leopards, fiercer than evening wolves, flying to gorge on prey like the vultures, mocking at kings and princes, and flinging dust over strongholds. Nor has he the least comfort in looking on their resistless fury, except the deeply384 significant oracle—an oracle which contains the secret of their ultimate doom—

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright in him:

But the righteous man shall live by his fidelity."

The prophet places absolute reliance on the general principle that "pride and violence dig their own grave."690690   Newman, Hebrew Monarchy, p. 315.


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