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48

CHAPTER IV.

ISRAEL IN EXILE.

From 589 till about 550 b.c.

It is remarkable how completely the sound of the march from Jerusalem to Babylon has died out of Jewish history. It was an enormous movement: twice over within ten years, ten thousand Jews, at the very least, must have trodden the highway to the Euphrates; and yet, except for a doubtful verse or two in the Psalter, they have left no echo of their passage. The sufferings of the siege before, the remorse and lamentation of the Exile after, still pierce our ears through the Book of Lamentations and the Psalms by the rivers of Babylon. We know exactly how the end was fulfilled. We see most vividly the shifting panorama of the siege,—the city in famine, under the assault, and in smoke; upon the streets the pining children, the stricken princes, the groups of men with sullen, famine-black faces, the heaps of slain, mothers feeding on the bodies of the infants whom their sapless breasts could not keep alive; by the walls the hanging and crucifixion of multitudes, with all the fashion of Chaldean cruelty, the delicate and the children stumbling under heavy loads, no survivor free from the pollution of blood. Upon the hills around, the neighbouring tribes are gathered to jeer49 at the day of Jerusalem, and to cut off her fugitives, we even see the departing captives turn, as the worm turns, to curse those children of Edom. But there the vision closes. Was it this hot hate which blinded them to the sights of the way, or that weariness and depression among strange scenes, that falls upon all unaccustomed caravans, and has stifled the memory of nearly every other great historical march? The roads which the exiles traversed were of immemorial use in the history of their fathers; almost every day they must have passed names which, for at least two centuries, had rung in the market-place of Jerusalem—the Way of the Sea, across Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, round Hermon, and past Damascus; between the two Lebanons, past Hamath, and past Arpad; or less probably by Tadmor-in-the-Wilderness and Rezeph,—till they reached the river on which the national ambition had lighted as the frontier of the Messianic Empire, and whose rolling greatness had so often proved the fascination and despair of a people of uncertain brooks and trickling aqueducts. Crossing the Euphrates by one of its numerous passages—either at Carchemish, if they struck the river so high, or at the more usual Thapsacus, Tiphsah, the passage, where Xenophon crossed with his Greeks, or at some other place—the caravans must have turned south across the Habor, on whose upper banks the captives of Northern Israel had been scattered, and then have traversed the picturesque country of Aram-Naharaim, past Circesium and Rehoboth-of-the-River, and many another ancient place mentioned in the story of the Patriarchs, till through dwindling hills they reached His—that marvellous site which travellers praise as one of the great view-points of the world—and looked out at last upon the land of50 their captivity, the boundless, almost level tracts of Chaldea, the first home of the race, the traditional Garden of Eden. But of all that we are told nothing. Every eye in the huge caravans seems to have been as the eyes of the blinded king whom they carried with them,—able to weep, but not to see.

One fact, however, was too large to be missed by these sad, wayworn men; and it has left traces on their literature. In passing from home to exile, the Jews passed from the hills to the plain. They were highlanders. Jerusalem lies four thousand feet above the sea. From its roofs the skyline is mostly a line of hills. To leave the city on almost any side you have to descend. The last monuments of their fatherland, on which the emigrants' eyes could have lingered, were the high crests of Lebanon; the first prospect of their captivity was a monotonous level. The change was the more impressive, that to the hearts of Hebrews it could not fail to be sacramental. From the mountains came the dew to their native crofts—the dew which, of all earthly blessings, was likest God's grace. For their prophets, the ancient hills had been the symbols of Jehovah's faithfulness. In leaving their highlands, therefore, the Jews not only left the kind of country to which their habits were most adapted and all their natural affections clung; they left the chosen abode of God, the most evident types of His grace, the perpetual witnesses to His covenant. Ezekiel constantly employs the mountains to describe his fatherland. But it is far more with a sacramental longing than a mere homesickness that a psalmist of the Exile cries out, I will lift up mine eyes to the hills: from whence cometh mine help? or that our prophet exclaims: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him51 that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth.

By the route sketched above, it is at least seven hundred miles from Jerusalem to Babylon—a distance which, when we take into account that many of the captives walked in fetters, cannot have occupied them less than three months. We may form some conception of the aspect of the caravans from the transportations of captives which are figured on the Assyrian monuments, as in the Assyrian basement in the British Museum. From these it appears as if families were not separated, but marched together. Mules, asses, camels, ox-waggons, and the captives themselves carried goods. Children and women suckling infants were allowed to ride on the waggons. At intervals fully-armed soldiers walked in pairs.2323   If we would construct for ourselves some more definite idea of that long march from Judah to Babylon, we might assist our imagination by the details of the only other instance on so great a scale of "exile by administrative process"—the transportation to Siberia which the Russian Government effects (it is said, on good authority) to the extent of eighteen thousand persons a year. Every week throughout the year marching parties, three to four hundred strong, leave Tomsk for Irkutsk, doing twelve to twenty miles daily in fetters, with twenty-four hours' rest every third day, or three hundred and thirty miles in a month (Century Magazine, Nov. 1888).

I.

Mesopotamia, the land "in the middle of the rivers," Euphrates and Tigris, consists of two divisions, an upper and a lower. The dividing line crosses from near Hit or His on the Euphrates to below Samarah on the Tigris. Above this line the country is a gently undulating plain of secondary formation at some elevation above the sea. But Lower Mesopotamia is absolutely flat land, an unbroken stretch of alluvial52 soil, scarcely higher than the Persian Gulf, upon which it steadily encroaches. Chaldea was confined to this Lower Mesopotamia, and was not larger, Rawlinson estimates, than the kingdom of Denmark.2424   For the above details, see Rawlinson's Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, vol. i. It is the monotonous level which first impresses the traveller; but if the season be favourable, he sees this only as the theatre of vast and varied displays of colour, which all visitors vie with one another in describing: "It is like a rich carpet;" "emerald green, enamelled with flowers of every hue;" "tall wild grasses and broad extents of waving reeds;" "acres of water-lilies;" "acres of pansies." There was no such country in ancient times for wheat, barley, millet, and sesame;2525   Herodotus, Bk. I.; "Memoirs by Commander James Felix Jones, I. N.," in Selections from the Records of the Bombay Government, No. XLIII., New Series, 1857; Ainsworth's Euphrates Valley Expedition; Layard's Nineveh. tamarisks, poplars, and palms; here and there heavy jungle; with flashing streams and canals thickly athwart the whole, and all shining the more brilliantly for the interrupting patches of scurvy, nitrous soil, and the grey sandy setting of the desert with its dry scrub. The possible fertility of Chaldea is incalculable. But there are drawbacks. Bounded to the north by so high a tableland, to the south and south-west by a superheated gulf and broad desert, Mesopotamia is the scene of violent changes of atmosphere. The languor of the flat country, the stagnancy and sultriness of the air, of which not only foreigners but the natives themselves complain, is suddenly invaded by southerly winds, of tremendous force and laden with clouds of fine sand, which render the air so dense as to be suffocating,53 and "produce a lurid red haze intolerable to the eyes." Thunderstorms are frequent, and there are very heavy rains. But the winds are the most tremendous. In such an atmosphere we may perhaps discover the original shapes and sounds of Ezekiel's turbulent visions—the fiery wheels; the great cloud with a fire infolding itself; the colour of amber, with sapphire, or lapis lazuli, breaking through; the sound of a great rushing. Also the Mesopotamian floods are colossal. The increase of both Tigris and Euphrates is naturally more violent and irregular than that of the Nile.2626   Perrot and Chipiez, Histoire de l'Art d'Antiquité, vol. ii.; Assyrie p. 9. Frequent risings of these rivers spread desolation with inconceivable rapidity, and they ebb only to leave pestilence behind them. If civilisation is to continue, there is need of vast and incessant operations on the part of man.

Thus, both by its fertility and by its violence, this climate—before the curse of God fell on those parts of the world—tended to develop a numerous and industrious race of men, whose numbers were swollen from time to time both by forced and by voluntary immigration. The population must have been very dense. The triumphal lists of Assyrian conquerors of the land, as well as the rubbish mounds which to-day cover its surface, testify to innumerable villages and towns; while the connecting canals and fortifications, by the making of them and the watching of them, must have filled even the rural districts with the hum and activity of men. Chaldea, however, did not draw all her greatness from herself. There was immense traffic with East and West, between which Babylon lay, for the greater part of antiquity, the world's central market and exchange.54 The city was practically a port on the Persian Gulf, by canals from which vessels reached her wharves direct from Arabia, India and Africa. Down the Tigris and Euphrates rafts brought the produce of Armenia and the Caucasus; but of greater importance than even these rivers were the roads, which ran from Sardis to Shushan, traversed Media, penetrated Bactria and India, and may be said to have connected the Jaxartes and the Ganges with the Nile and the harbours of the Ægean Sea. These roads all crossed Chaldea and met at Babylon. Together with the rivers and ocean highways, they poured upon her markets the traffic of the whole ancient world.

It was, in short, the very centre of the world—the most populous and busy region of His earth—to which God sent His people for their exile. The monarch, who transplanted them, was the genius of Babylonia incarnate. The chief soldier of his generation, Nebuchadrezzar will live in history as one of the greatest builders of all time. But he fought as he built—that he might traffic. His ambition was to turn the trade with India from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, and he thought to effect this by the destruction of Tyre, by the transportation of Arab and Nabathean merchants to Babylon, and by the deepening and regulation of the river between Babylon and the sea.

There is no doubt that Nebuchadrezzar carried the Jews to Babylon not only for political reasons, but in order to employ them upon those large works of irrigation and the building of cities, for which his ambition required hosts of labourers. Thus the exiles were planted, neither in military prisons nor in the comparative isolation of agricultural colonies, but just where Babylonian life was most busy, where they were forced to55 share and contribute to it, and could not help feeling the daily infection of their captors' habits. Do not let us forget this. It will explain much in what we have to study. It will explain how the captivity, which God inflicted upon the Jews as a punishment, might become in time a new sin to them, and why, when the day of redemption arrived, so many forgot that their citizenship was in Zion, and clung to the traffic and the offices of Babylon.

The majority of the exiles appear to have been settled within the city, or, as it has been more correctly called, "the fortified district," of Babylon itself. Their mistress was thus constantly before them, at once their despair and their temptation. Lady of Kingdoms she lifted herself to heaven from broad wharves and ramparts, by wide flights of stairs and terraces, high walls and hanging gardens, pyramids and towers—so colossal in her buildings, so imperially lavish of space between! No wonder that upon that vast, far-spreading architecture, upon its great squares and between its high portals guarded by giant bulls, the Jew felt himself, as he expressed it, but a poor worm. If, even as they stand in our museums, captured and catalogued, one feels as if one crawled in the presence of the fragments of these striding monsters, with how much more of the feeling of the worm must the abject members of that captive nation have writhed before the face of the city, which carried these monsters as the mere ornaments of her skirts, and rose above all kingdoms with her strong feet upon the poor and the meek of the earth?

Ah, the despair of it! To see her every day so glorious, to be forced to help her ceaseless growth,—and to think how Jerusalem, the daughter of Zion,56 lay forsaken in ruins! Yet the despair sometimes gave way to temptation. There was not an outline or horizon visible to the captive Jew, not a figure in the motley crowds in which he moved, but must have fascinated him with the genius of his conquerors. In that level land no mountain, with its witness of God, broke the skyline; but the work of man was everywhere: curbed and scattered rivers, artificial mounds, buildings of brick, gardens torn from their natural beds and hung high in air by cunning hands to please the taste of a queen; lavish wealth and force and cleverness, all at the command of one human will. The signature ran across the whole, "I have done this, and with mine own hand have I gotten me my wealth;" and all the nations of the earth came and acknowledged the signature, and worshipped the great city. It was fascinating merely to look on such cleverness, success and self-confidence; and who was the poor Jew that he, too, should not be drawn with the intoxicated nations to the worship of this glory that filled his horizon? If his eyes rose higher, and from these enchantments of men sought refuge in the heavens above, were not even they also a Babylonian realm? Did not the Chaldean claim the great lights there for his patron gods? were not the movements of sun, moon, and planets the secret of his science? did not the tyrant believe that the very stars in their courses fought for him? And he was vindicated; he was successful; he did actually rule the world. There seemed to be no escape from the enchantments of this sorceress city, as the prophets called her, and it is not wonderful that so many Jews fell victims to her worldliness and idolatry.

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II.

The social condition of the Jews in Exile is somewhat obscure, and yet, both in connection with the date and with the exposition of some portions of "Second Isaiah," it is an element of the greatest importance, of which we ought to have as definite an idea as possible.

What are the facts? By far the most significant is that which faces us at the end of the Exile. There, some sixty years after the earlier, and some fifty years after the later, of Nebuchadrezzar's two deportations, we find the Jews a largely multiplied and still regularly organised nation, with considerable property and decided political influence. Not more than forty thousand can have gone into exile, but forty-two thousand returned, and yet left a large portion of the nation behind them. The old families and clans survived; the social ranks were respected; the rich still held slaves; and the former menials of the temple could again be gathered together. Large subscriptions were raised for the pilgrimage, and for the restoration of the temple; a great host of cattle was taken. To such a state of affairs do we see any traces leading up through the Exile itself? We do.

The first host of exiles, the captives of 598, comprised, as we have seen, the better classes of the nation, and appear to have enjoyed considerable independence. They were not scattered, like the slaves in North America, as domestic bondsmen over the surface of the land. Their condition must have much more closely resembled that of the better-treated exiles in Siberia; though of course, as we have seen, it was not a Siberia, but the centre of civilisation, to which they were banished.58 They remained in communities, with their own official heads, and at liberty to consult their prophets. They were sufficiently in touch with one another, and sufficiently numerous, for the enemies of Babylon to regard them as a considerable political influence, and to treat with them for a revolution against their captors. But Ezekiel's strong condemnation of this intrigue exhibits their leaders on good terms with the government. Jeremiah bade them throw themselves into the life of the land; buy and sell, and increase their families and property. At the same time, we cannot but observe that it is only religious sins, with which Ezekiel upbraids them. When he speaks of civic duty or social charity, he either refers to their past or to the life of the remnant still in Jerusalem. There is every reason to believe, therefore, that this captivity was an honourable and an easy one. The captives may have brought some property with them; they had leisure for the pursuit of business and for the study and practice of their religion. Some of them suffered, of course, from the usual barbarity of Oriental conquerors, and were made eunuchs; some, by their learning and abstinence, rose to high positions in the court.2727   The Book of Daniel. Probably to the end of the Exile they remained the good figs, as Jeremiah had called them. Theirs was, perhaps, the literary work of the Exile; and theirs, too, may have been the wealth which rebuilt Jerusalem.

But it was different with the second captivity, of 589. After the famine, the burning of the city, and the prolonged march, this second host of exiles must have reached Babylonia in an impoverished condition. They were a lower class of men. They had exasperated their59 conquerors, who, before the march began, subjected many of them to mutilation and cruel death; and it is, doubtless, echoes of their experience which we find in the more bitter complaints of our prophet. This is a people robbed and spoiled; all of them snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and for a spoil. Thou, that is, Babylon, didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.2828   Isa. xlii. 22, xlvii. 6. Nebuchadrezzar used them for his building, as Pharaoh had used their forefathers. Some of them, or of their countrymen who had reached Babylonia before them, became the domestic slaves and chattels of their conquerors. Among the contracts and bills of sale of this period we find the cases of slaves with apparently Jewish names.2929   Records of the Past, second series, vol. i., M. Oppert's Translations.

In short, the state of the Jews in Babylonia resembled what seems to have been their fortune wherever they have settled in a foreign land. Part of them despised and abused, forced to labour or overtaxed; part left alone to cultivate literature or to gather wealth. Some treated with unusual rigour—and perhaps a few of these with reason, as dangerous to the government of the land—but some also, by the versatile genius of their race, advancing to a high place in the political confidence of their captors.

Their application to literature, to their religion, and to commerce must be specially noted.

1. Nothing is more striking in the writings of Ezekiel than the air of large leisure which invests them. Ezekiel lies passive; he broods, gazes and builds his60 visions up, in a fashion like none of his terser predecessors; for he had time on his hands, not available to them in days when the history of the nation was still running. Ezekiel's style swells to a greater fulness of rhetoric; his pictures of the future are elaborated with the most minute detail. Prophets before him were speakers, but he is a writer. Many in Israel besides Ezekiel took advantage of the leisure of the Exile to the great increase and arrangement of the national literature. Some Assyriologists have lately written, as if the schools of Jewish scribes owed their origin entirely to the Exile.3030   Mr. St. Chad Boscawen's recent lectures, of which I have been able to see only the reports in the Manchester Guardian. But there were scribes in Israel before this. What the Exile did for these, was to provide them not only with the leisure from national business which we have noted, but with a powerful example of their craft as well. Babylonia at this time was a land full of scribes and makers of libraries. They wrote a language not very different from the Jewish, and cannot but have powerfully infected their Jewish fellows with the spirit of their toil and of their methods. To the Exile we certainly owe a large part of the historical books of the Old Testament, the arrangement of some of the prophetic writings, as well as—though the amount of this is very uncertain—part of the codification of the Law.

2. If the Exile was opportunity to the scribes, it can only have been despair to the priests. In this foreign land the nation was unclean; none of the old sacrifice or ritual was valid, and the people were reduced to the simplest elements of religion—prayer, fasting and the reading of religious books. We shall find our prophecy61 noting the clamour of the exiles to God for ordinances of righteousness—that is, for the institution of legal and valid rites.3131   Ch. lviii. 2. But the great lesson, which prophecy brings to the people of the Exile, is that pardon and restoration to God's favour are won only by waiting upon Him with all the heart. It was possible, of course, to observe some forms; to gather at intervals to inquire of the Lord, to keep the Sabbath, and to keep fasts. The first of these practices, out of which the synagogue probably took its rise, is noted by our prophet,3232   Ch. lviii. 13, 14. and he enforces Sabbath-keeping with words, that add the blessing of prophecy to the law's ancient sanction of that institution. Four annual fasts were instituted in memory of the dark days of Jerusalem—the day of the beginning of Nebuchadrezzar's siege in the tenth month, the day of the capture in the fourth month, the day of the destruction in the fifth month, and the day of Gedaliah's murder in the tenth month. It might have been thought, that solemn anniversaries of a disaster so recent and still unrepaired would be kept with sincerity; but our prophet illustrates how soon even the most outraged feelings may grow formal, and how on their days of special humiliation, while their captivity was still real, the exiles could oppress their own bondsmen and debtors. But there is no religious practice of this epoch more apparent through our prophecies than the reading of Scripture. Israel's hope was neither in sacrifice, nor in temple, nor in vision nor in lot, but in God's written Word; and when a new prophet arose like the one we are about to study, he did not appeal for his authorisation, as previous prophets had done, to the fact of his call or inspiration, but it was62 enough for him to point to some former word of God, and cry, "See! at last the day has dawned for the fulfilment of that." Throughout Second Isaiah this is what the anonymous prophet cares to establish—that the facts of to-day fit the promise of yesterday. We shall not understand our great prophecy unless we realise a people rising from fifty years' close study of Scripture, in strained expectation of its immediate fulfilment.

3. The third special feature of the people in exile is their application to commerce. At home the Jews had not been a commercial people.3333   See vol. i., p. 292 ff. But the opportunities of their Babylonian residence seem to have started them upon those habits, for which, through their longer exile in our era, the name of Jew has become a synonym. If that be so, Jeremiah's advice to build and plant3434   Jer. xxix. is historic, for it means no less than that the Jews should throw themselves into the life of the most trafficking nation of the time. Their increasing wealth proves how they followed this advice,—as well as perhaps such passages as Isa. lv. 2, in which the commercial spirit is reproached for overwhelming the nobler desires of religion. The chief danger, incurred by the Jews from an intimate connection with the commerce of Babylonia, lay in the close relations of Babylonian commerce with Babylonian idolatry. The merchants of Mesopotamia had their own patron gods. In completing business contracts, a man had to swear by the idols,3535   Records of the Past, first series, ix., 95 seq. and might have to enter their temples. In Isa. lxv. 11, Jews are blamed for forsaking Jehovah, and forgetting My holy mountain; preparing a table for Luck, and filling up mixed wine to63 Fortune. Here it is more probable that mercantile speculation, rather than any other form of gambling, is intended.

III.

But while all this is certain and needing to be noted about the habits of the mass of the people, what little trace it has left in the best literature of the period! We have already noticed in that the great absence of local colour. The truth is that what we have been trying to describe as Jewish life in Babylon was only a surface over deeps in which the true life of the nation was at work—was volcanically at work. Throughout the Exile the true Jew lived inwardly. Out of the depths do I cry to Thee, O Lord. He was the inhabitant not so much of a foreign prison as of his own broken heart. He sat by the rivers of Babylon; but he thought upon Zion. Is it not a proof of what depths in human nature were being stirred, that so little comes to the surface to tell us of the external conditions of those days? There are no fossils in the strata of the earth, which have been cast forth from her inner fires; and if we find few traces of contemporary life in these deposits of Israel's history now before us, it is because they date from an age in which the nation was shaken and boiling to its centre.

For if we take the writings of this period—the Book of Lamentations, the Psalms of the Exile, and parts of other books—and put them together, the result is the impression of one of the strangest decompositions of human nature into its elements which the world has ever seen. Suffering and sin, recollection, remorse and revenge, fear and shame and hate—over the confusion of these the Spirit of God broods as over a second64 chaos, and draws each of them forth in turn upon some articulate prayer. Now it is the crimson flush of shame: our soul is exceedingly filled with contempt. Now it is the black rush of hate; for if we would see how hate can rage, we must go to the Psalms of the Exile, which call on the God of vengeance and curse the enemy and dash the little ones against the stones. But the deepest surge of all in that whirlpool of misery was the surge of sin. To change the figure, we see Israel's spirit writhing upward from some pain it but partly understands, crying out, "What is this that keeps God from hearing and saving me?" turning like a wounded beast from the face of its master to its sore again, understanding as no brute could the reason of its plague, till confession after confession breaks away and the penalty is accepted, and acknowledged guilt seems almost to act as an anodyne to the penalty it explains. Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? If thou, Jehovah, shouldest mark iniquity, who shall stand? No wonder, that with such a conscience the Jews occupied the Exile in writing the moral of their delinquent history, or that the rest of their literature which dates from that time should have remained ever since the world's confessional.

But in this awful experience, there is still another strain, as painful as the rest, but pure and very eloquent of hope—the sense of innocent suffering. We cannot tell the sources, from which this considerable feeling may have gathered during the Exile, any more than we can trace from how many of the upper folds of a valley the tiny rivulets start, which form the stream that issues from its lower end. One of these sources may have been, as we have already suggested, the experience of Jeremiah; another very probably sprang with every65 individual conscience in the new generation. Children come even to exiles, and although they bear the same pain with the same nerves as their fathers, they do so with a different conscience. The writings of the time dwell much on the sufferings of the children. The consciousness is apparent in them, that souls are born into the wrath of God, as well as banished there. Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we bear their iniquities. This experience developed with great force, till Israel felt that she suffered not under God's wrath, but for His sake; and so passed from the conscience of the felon to that of the martyr. But if we are to understand the prophecy we are about to study, we must remember how near akin these two consciences must have been in exiled Israel, and how easy it was for a prophet to speak—as our prophet does, sometimes with confusing rapidity of exchange—now in the voice of the older and more guilty generation, and now in the voice of the younger and less deservedly punished.


Our survey of the external as well as the internal conditions of Israel in Exile is now finished. It has, I think, included every known feature of their experience in Babylonia, which could possibly illustrate our prophecy—dated, as we have felt ourselves compelled to date this, from the close of the Exile. Thus, as we have striven to trace, did Israel suffer, learn, grow and hope for fifty years—under Nebuchadrezzar till 561, under his successor Evil-merodach till 559, under Neriglassar till 554, and then under the usurper Nabunahid. The last named probably oppressed the Jews more grievously than their previous tyrants, but with66 the aggravation of their yoke there grew evident, at the same time, the certainty of their deliverance. In 549, Cyrus overthrew the Medes, and became lord of Asia from the Indus to the Halys. From that event his conquest of Babylonia, however much delayed, could only be a matter of time.

It is at this juncture that our prophecy breaks in. Taking for granted Cyrus' sovereignty of the Medes, it still looks forward to his capture of Babylon. Let us, before advancing to its exposition, once more cast a rapid glance over the people, to whom it is addressed, and whom in their half century of waiting for it we have been endeavouring to describe.

First and most manifest, they are a People with a Conscience—a people with the most awful and most articulate conscience that ever before or since exposed a nation's history or tormented a generation with the curse of their own sin and the sin of their fathers. Behind them, ages of delinquent life, from the perusal of the record of which, with its regularly recurring moral, they have just risen: the Books of Kings appear to have been finished after the accession of Evil-merodach in 561. Behind them also nearly fifty years of sore punishment for their sins—punishment, which, as their Psalms confess, they at last understand and accept as deserved.

But, secondly, they are a People with a Great Hope. With their awful consciousness of guilt, they have the assurance that their punishment has its limits; that, to quote ch. xl., ver. 2, it is a set period of service: a former word of God having fixed it at not more than seventy years, and having promised the return of the nation thereafter to their own land.

And, thirdly, they are a People with a Great Opportunity.67 History is at last beginning to set towards the vindication of their hope: Cyrus, the master of the age, is moving rapidly, irresistibly, down upon their tyrants.

But, fourthly, in face of all their hope and opportunity, they are a People Disorganised, Distracted, and very Impotent—worms and not men, as they describe themselves. The generation of the tried and responsible leaders of the days of their independence are all dead, for flesh is like grass; no public institutions remain in their midst such as ever in the most hopeless periods of the past proved a rallying-point of their scattered forces. There is no king, temple, nor city; nor is there any great personality visible to draw their little groups together, marshal them, and lead them forth behind him. Their one hope is in the Word of God, for which they wait more than they that watch for the morning; and the one duty of their nameless prophets is to persuade them, that this Word has at last come to pass, and, in the absence of king, Messiah, priest, and great prophet, is able to lift them to the opportunity that God's hand has opened before them, and to the accomplishment of their redemption.

Upon Israel, with such a Conscience, such a Hope, such an Opportunity, and such an unaided Reliance on God's bare Word, that Word at last broke in a chorus of voices.

Of these the first, as was most meet, spoke pardon to the people's conscience and the proclamation that their set period of warfare was accomplished; the second announced that circumstances and the politics of the world, hitherto adverse, would be made easy to their return; the third bade them, in their bereavement of earthly leaders, and their own impotence, find their68 eternal confidence in God's Word; while the fourth lifted them, as with one heart and voice, to herald the certain return of Jehovah, at the head of His people, to His own City, and His quiet, shepherdly rule of them on their own land.

These herald voices form the prologue to our prophecy, ch. xl. 1-11, to which we will now turn.


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