« VorigeDoorgaan »
Roman empire, great and powerful as it was, was broken into pieces by the repeated incursions of the northern nations; while the Jews are subsisting as a distinct people to this day. And how wonderful is it to think that the vanquished should so many ages survive the victors, and the former be spread all over the world while the latter
are no more.
The Divine vengeance hath not only punished nations for their cruelties to the Jews, but hath likewise pursued even single persons who have been their persecutors and oppressors. The first born of Pharaoh was destroyed, and he himself, with his host, drowned in the Red Sea. Most of those who oppressed Israel in the days of the Judges came to an untimely end. Nebuchadnezzar was stricken with madness, and the crown was soon transferred from his family to strangers. Antiochus Epiphanes died in great agonies, with ulcers and vermin issuing. from his body, so that the filthiness of him not only became intolerable to his attendants, but even to himself. Herod, who was a cruel tyrant to the Jews, died in the like miserable manner. Flaccus, governor of Egypt, who barbarously plundered and oppressed the Jews of Alexandria, was afterwards banished and slain. And Caligula, who persecuted the Jews, for refusing to pay Divine honor to his statues, was murdered in the flower of his age, after a short and wicked reign.
But, since the Jews have absolutely rejected the gospel, and been no longer the people of God, there have not been any visible manifestations of a Divine interposition in their favor. As a punishment for their infidelity they have, for many years past, been dispersed all over the world without having either a temporal or a spiritual protector. They are detested in all parts where they inhabit, and are the universal scoff and ridicule of the people of all nations.
Another most distinguished and memorable instance of the truth of prophecy is, the desolation of Judea. This prophecy was foretold so long ago as the time of Moses, I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you; and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste, Levit. xxvi. 33. It was likewise foretold by
the prophet Isaiah, who (speaking as prophets frequently did, of things future as present) says, Your country is desolate, your cities are burnt with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city, Isaiah i. 7, 8, 9. This last passage may immediately relate to the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah; but it must have a farther reference to the devastations made by the Chaldeans, and especially by the Romans. In this sense it is understood by most ancient interpreters; and the following words imply no less than a general destruction, and almost total excision of the people, such as they suffered under the Chaldeans, but more fully under the Romans: Except the Lord of Hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
The same thing is expressed or implied in other places; and hath not the state of Judea now for many ages been exactly answerable to this description? That a country should be depopulated, and desolated by the incursions and depredations of foreign armies, is nothing wonderful; but that it should lie so many ages in this miserable condition is more than man can foresee, and could be revealed only by the Divine will.
The long wretchedness of the land of Judea in being forsaken by its original inhabitants and left desolate and uncultivated, has furnished some arguments for such as are enemies to the christian religion. They say that, so barren a country could never have been a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have supplied and maintained such multitudes as it is represented to have done. But they do not see or consider, that hereby the prophecies are fulfilled; so that it is rather an evidence for the truth of our religion, than any argument against it.
If we may believe the concurrent testimony of those who best know it (namely, the people who inhabited it) the land of Judea was formerly a good and fertile country. Both Aristeas and Josephus speak largely in commendation of its fruitfulness; and though something may be al
lowed to national prejudices, yet they would hardly have had the confidence to assert a thing, which all the world could easily contradict and disprove. Nay there are even heathen authors who bear testimony to the fruitfulness of the land; though we presume, that after the Babylonish captivity it never recovered to be again what it was before. Strabo describes indeed the country about Jerusalem as rocky and barren, but he commends other parts, particularly about Jordan and Jericho. Hecatæus (quoted by Josephus) giveth it the character of one of the best and most fertile countries. And Tacitus saith, that it raineth seldom, the soil is fruitful, fruits abound as with us, and besides them the balsam and palm trees.
And notwithstanding the long desolation of the land, there are still visible such marks and tokens of fruitfulness, as may convince any man that it once deserved the character which is given of it in the sacred writings.
To satisfy those who may be doubtful of the truth of this assertion, we shall take notice of the observations made by Mr Maundrell and Dr Shaw, two ingenious travellers of our own nation. The first of these says, "All along this day's travel from Kane Leban to Beer, "and also as far as we could see round, the country dis"covered a quite different face from what it had before; "presenting nothing to the view in most places, but "naked rocks, mountains and precipices. At sight of "which, pilgrims are apt to be much astonished and "baulked in their expectations; finding that country ❝in such an inhospitable condition, concerning whose "pleasantness and plenty they had before formed in their "minds such high ideas from the description given of it, "in the word of God; insomuch that it almost startles "their faith when they reflect how it could be possible for "a land like this, to supply food for so prodigious a "number of inhabitants, as are said to have been polled "in the twelve tribes at one time; the sum given in by "Joab, 2 Sam. xxiv. amounting to no less than thir"teen hundred thousand fighting men, besides women "and children. But it is certain that any man, who is "not a little biassed to infidelity before, may see, as he passes along, arguments enough to support his faith
"against such scruples. For it is obvious for any one to "observe, that these rocks and hills must have been an"ciently covered with earth, and cultivated, and made to "contribute to the maintenance of the inhabitants, no less ❝than if the country had been all plain: nay perhaps as ❝much more; forasmuch as such a mountainous and un"even surface affords a larger space of ground for culti❝vation, than this country would amount to, if it were all "reduced to a perfect level. For the husbanding of these "mountains their manner was to gather up the stones, and 66 place them in several lines, along the sides of the hills,
in form of a wall. By such borders they supported the "mold from tumbling or being washed down; and formed 46 many beds of excellent soil, rising gradually one above 66 other, from the bottom to the top of the mountains. "Of this form of culture you see evident footsteps, "wherever you go on all the mountains in Palestine. "Thus the very rocks were made fruitful. And perhaps "there is no spot of ground in this whole land, that was "not formerly improved, to the production of something ❝or other, ministering to the sustenance of human life. "L'or than the plain countries nothing can be more fruit66 ful, whether for the production of corn or cattle, and $6 consequently of milk. The hills, though improper for "all cattle except goats, yet being disposed into such "beds as are before described, served very well to bear ❝corn, melons, gourds, cucumbers, and such like garden "stuff, which makes the principal food of these countries "for several months in the year. The most rocky parts "of all, which could not well be adjusted in that manner "for the production of corn, might yet serve for the plan"tation of vines and olive trees; which delight to extract, "the one its fatness, the other its sprightly juice, chiefly "out of such dry and flinty places. And the great plain "joining to the dead sea, which by reason of its saltness "might be thought unserviceable both for cattle, corn, "olives and vines, had yet its proper usefulness for the "nourishment of bees, and for the fabric of honey; of "which Josephus gives us his testimony, De Bell, "Jud. Lib. 5, Cap. 4. And I have reason to believe "it, because when I was there, I perceived in many
" places a smell of honey and wax, as strong as if one "had been in an apiary. Why then might not this coun"try very well maintain the vast number of its inhabit"ants, being in every part so productive of either milk, corn, wine, oil, or honey, which are the principal food "of these eastern nations? the constitution of their bodies, "and the nature of their clime, inclining them to a more "abstemious diet than we use in England, and other "colder regions."
In the description which Dr. Shaw gives he asserts, that were the Holy Land as well peopled and cul❝tivated, as in former times, it would be still more fruit"ful than the very best part of the coast of Syria and "Phonice; for the soil itself (says he) is generally much "richer, and all things considered, yields a more prefera"ble crop. Thus the cotton that is gathered in the plains "of Ramah, Esdraelon and Zebulon, is in greater esteem, "than what is cultivated near Sidon and Tripoly; neither
is it possible for pulse, wheat or any sort of grain, to "be more excellent than what is commonly sold in Jeru"salem. The barrenness or scarcity rather, which some "authors may either ignorantly or maliciously complain "of, does not proceed from the incapacity or natural un"fruitfulness of the country, but from the want of in"habitants, and the great aversion there is to labor and ❝ industry in those few who possess it.
"There are besides such perpetual discords and dep"redations among the governors, who share this fine "country, that allowing it was better peopled, yet there "would be small encouragement to sow, when it was "uncertain who should gather in the harvest. Otherwise "the land is a good land, and still capable of affording
its neighbors the like supplies of corn and oil, which "it is known to have done in the time of Solomon. The "parts particularly about Jerusalem, being described to "be rocky and mountainous, have been therefore sup"posed to be barren and unfruitful. Yet granting this "conclusion, which is far from being just, a kingdom is "not to be denominated barren or unfruitful from one
part of it only, but from the whole. Nay farther, the blessing that was given to Judah, was not of the same