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THE CAPTIVITY.- REVIEW OF CHAPTERS ONE TO
SEVEN OF THE BOOK OF EZRA. SUGGESTIONS AS
AND DATE OF HIS ROYAL Feasts, &c.—
A GREAT and melancholy change had taken place in the condition of the Israelites. Their continued disobedience and idolatry had, at length, called down upon them the long-averted chastisement; and in the land of their foemen were now their mournful dwellings. The great armies of Nebuchadnezzar had overrun Judea, and, carrying off kings, priests, and people to Babylon, left their beautiful land to desolation.
But even in their captivity, a captivity which their sinfulness compelled, God had not forsaken them. All were not sinful, all were not disobedient, though all alike were exiled, and captives in a strange land. Even then the Lord raised up His witnesses. The firm constancy of the youthful Daniel and his companions, gave them examples of exalted righteousness in the very midst of darkness. The glorious visions of Ezekiel, yet more bold and sublime in imagery than the visions of any who had gone before him, inspired them with hope for the Future, and consolation for the Present;
While, when the period of action came, such men Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, Haggai, and others equally earnest, were not found wanting in the furtherance of their holy cause.
The condition of the exiled Hebrews appears more that of colonists than slaves. Allowed to dwell together in large bodies, they became at length possessed of considerable property;* so that many of them refused to return to their own land, even when the mandate of Cyrus gave them the permission so to do. It seemed a strange and painful contradiction, this refusal to quit the land of their captivity, when, during that captivity, so many had yearned and wept when they “ remembered Zion." Yet, that it was so, and that the return to Judea was by no means general, is a convincing proof to us that the universal restoration, of which every prophet speaks, is still to be fulfilled.
The chronology, nay, the very personages of the events we are about to regard, as identified with those flourishing at the same period in Profane History, are so entangled and confused, that a clear elucidation is impossible. Not only do Jewish and Christian chronologists differ as to national dates, but also amongst themselves. Josephus, following the arrangement of the Bible, places the History of Esther after the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In the Jewish calendar, † Esther's being made queen and saving her people, takes place six years after Cyrus's decree for the return of the Jews; sixteen or eighteen before the building of the second temple and the departure of Ezra; and thirty before the rebuilding
* Milman's History of the Jews, vol. ii. p. 4. † By E. H. Lindo, Esq.
of the walls by Nehemiah. The chronology at the end of Bagster's Comprehensive Bible rather favours this opinion,-only differing in regard to the departure of Ezra, which he states to have taken place only one year after Esther's accession, five before Haman's plot, and thirteen before the petition of Nehemiah. Milman, in his History of the Jews, and Gleig, in his History of the Bible, again differ; the former agreeing with the authorities already quoted, in placing the migration of the Jews under Ezra, after the accession of Esther; and the latter agreeing with Josephus, in placing him before it.
Now, in alluding to these differing authorities, let it be remembered, that we do not interfere at all with the grand question at issue between Jews and Christians, viz.: the correct data of the creation of the world; the one placing it 3760, the other 4004 before the Christian era. The Jew has demonstration of his correctness quite sufficient to satisfy himself, and prevent all adoption of the Christian supposition. All we wish to do, is to make the book of Esther clearer as to time and characters, and more connected with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah than is generally supposed. As, on a very careful consideration of the subject, both in itself, and in connection with Profane History, our own opinion differs from all the authorities above mentioned, we will state it openly, as also our reasons for holding it not at all compelling others to adopt it, nor as supposing it positively correct, but merely a suggestion founded on a careful study of the time. To bring it clearly forward, we must throw a cursory glance on the first six chapters of the book of Ezra.
* Even these are disputed: The Samaritan Pentateuch asserts the date of the creation to be 4700 B.C.; the Septuagint, 5372 ; Scaliger, 3950 ; Petavius, 3984; Dr. Hales, 5411 ; the T'almudists, 5344 (?) See note to Bagster's Comprehensive Bible,
The first chapter contains the celebrated proclamation of Cyrus; who, we are expressly told, was “stirred up by the spirit of the Lord,” that is, the Lord put
it into his heart to have mercy on the Jews; informing us also, that the heads of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, Priests and Levites, all whose spirit “God had raised,” gladly hastened their return, bearing with them all the vessels of gold and silver of which Nebuchadnezzar had spoiled the temple, but which Cyrus now restored. In the second, we learn the number that return, their names, substance, and offerings: in the third, the exertions of Jeshua, Zerubbabel, and their brethren the high priests, in preparing for the work of the temple, setting up first an altar on which to offer the usual evening and morning burnt-offerings; the celebration of the feast of the tabernacle, new moons, and all the feasts of the Lord; in the second year of their return to Judea, and the second month, the solemn foundation of the temple with shouting and with joy, mingled with the mourning of those who yet remembered the first house of the Lord, “ so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people.” In the fourth, we have the painful hindrance of the building by the adversaries of the Jews-their letter to Ahasuerus, king of Persia—and the royal prohibition to continue the building of the temple, believing it detrimental to the Persian power, by giving too much sway into the