Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Let us stand still a little to consider the prosperity of Solomon, for it is an agreeable contemplation. If we were to read all history through, we should not find one example of such a perfect conjunction of all the good things that are to be enjoyed in this world : a young prince in the flower of his age ; of a handsome person ; of great parts, learning, and accomplishments ; in such reputation for wisdom that all the earth sought to hear him ; and a queen came in person from a great distance to converse with him.' He was master of a large kingdom, which was in a state of profound peace ; inhabited the finest country in the world ; had the

most magnificent palaces, and numerous attend· ance; was loaded with riches ; swimming in plea

sures; denying himself nothing, as he owns, and employing all his vast genius to satisfy his desires." This we should call a happy man, according to our natural ideas. Yet it is certain he was not so, because he was not contented. He himself says, that he found pleasure and joy were only illusion, and that all his labour was but vanity and vexation of spirit."

By this prosperity of Solomon and his people

• 1 Kings X. 24.

P 1 Kings x. 1. The Abyssinians eall this queen Makkedah: they say she had a child by Solomon, who came to the throne of Abyssinia after his mother's death; and that she brought a copy of Moses's law with her, which all her subjects received as a Divine revelation ; and which the Abyssinians continue to reverence to the present day. 9 Eccles. ii. 10.

" Eccles, y. 11.

God gave two important lessons to mankind at the same time. First, He shews His faithfulness in accomplishing His promises by giving the Israelites so plentifully of all the good things which He had promised their fathers in the possession of this land ; that no one hereafter might doubt of His power to reward those who adhere to Him and keep His commandments. Men, who applied themselves so entirely to earthly things, stood in need of such an carnest, to make them believe they should hereafter enjoy an invisible happiness, and the recompence

of another life. But besides, by granting the Israelites the possession of these earthly goods, and profusely heaping on them whatever might contribute to the happiness of this life, God has given all men an opportunity of seeing them in a true light, and conceiving higher hopes. For who under the sun can pretend to be happy, if Solomon was not? Who can doubt that whatever happens in this world is vanity, after he has confessed it ? Does not this example shew us plainly that worldly goods are not only vain, but dangerous ? not only incapable of satisfying the heart of man, but likely to corrupt it? What reason have we to flatter ourselves that we shall make a better use of them than a people so dear to God, and so well instructed in their duty ? and who seem to have had a better right to this sort of happiness, since it was proposed to them as a reward. What presumption would it be to think ourselves more capable of resisting pleasures than the wise Solomon ? He

gave
himself

UP so much to the love of women, that he had a thousand of them, though a multiplicity was absolutely forbidden by the law of God.' And his complaisance to them carried him even to idolatry : his subjects followed his bad example; and after his reign the manners of the Israelites grew worse and worse. They had attained their highest pitch of earthly felicity, and now began to decline.

The division of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah still augmented the evil. The corruption was much the greatest in Israel, where idolatry always prevailed, which is the fountain of all sorts of wickedness: rebellion and treason were common there. In Judah the crown never went out of the family of David : there were several pious kings in it. The priests and Levites, who retired thither, preserved the tradition of the true religion, and a more pure practice of the law.

In these latter times, the law being despised, they had frequent intercourse with strangers, chiefly to procure succours in war: and this is the reason of their being so frequently reproached by the prophets with their want of trust in God. The strangers, whose alliance they most courted, were the Assyrians and Egyptians, the two most powerful nations of those times. To please them, they imitated their customs and idolatry; and the ruin of the Israelites followed the fortune of these nations, when Egypt fell, and Assyria got the superiority.

Deut. xvii. 17.

I Wisd. xiv. 27.

PART III.

CHAP. I.

The Jews.- Their Captivity.

WHAT has already been noted appeared to me the most remarkable in the manners of the Israelites, whilst they lived at full liberty in their own country, without mixing with strangers, or being subject to infidels. Let us now take a view of their last state, from the Babylonish captivity to their entire dispersion. Though they were still the same people, and their manners the same in the main, there was however a great alteration in both.

First, they are called only Jews in these later times, because, in reality, there was no kingdom but that of Judah subsisting. Samaria had been destroyed; and Salmanasar had taken the ten tribes captive, which bore the name of Israel above a hundred years before the ruin of Jerusalem. And though the kingdom of Judah comprehended the two whole tribes of Benjamin and Levi, and many

a

particular persons of all the rest, whom a religious zeal had brought thither after Jeroboam's schism ; all was confounded in the name of Judea and Jews, and so they were usually called before the captivity.

As the kingdom manifestly tended to its ruin, after the death of Josiah, great numbers of Jews were dispersed on all sides, and retired to the Ammonites, Moabites, Idumeans, and other neighbouring people. The Chaldeans carried away captive the most considerable of those who dwelt at Jerusalem, when it was taken, and left none but the poorer sort to till the ground: this remnant too went into Egypt a little while after.

As to those that were carried to Babylon, they were servants to the king and his sons, as the Scripture tells us ; for such was the law of war at that time. All that were taken in arms, all the inhabitants of a town carried by storm, or surrendered at discretion, and of the adjacent country, which depended upon it, were slaves to the conquerors. They were either the property of the public, or that particular person that had taken them, according to the laws concerning the acquisition or division of spoil then subsisting in each country. Thus, at the taking of Troy, all that remained alive were made slaves, not excepting queen Hecuba, and the princesses her daughters.

The Greek and Roman histories are full of such

* 2 Kings xvi. 6.

Jer. xlii. 1-7.

b Jer. xli. 10.
2 Chron. xxvi, 20.

« VorigeDoorgaan »