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THE DESOLATIONS OF JUDEA.
The prophet had previously given warning of the judgments coming upon the people; see Jer. xxx. xxxi.
All faces were turned to paleness. Alas! for that day is great,
So that none is like it:
It is even the time of Jacob's trouble.
But with the declaration and warning thus given of the extremity of suffering to be inflicted on the Jewish nation in the day of its captivity, promises of future deliverance and glory were given. The cause of the judgments was fully stated; also the extent to which they should go, and the manner in which they should be restrained, and that the Lord would not forsake his favoured people, even in their most severe sufferings, Jer. xxx. 11, and xxxi. 1-3.
For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: Though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee:
Yet will I not make a full end of thee:
But I will correct thee in measure,
And will not leave thee altogether unpunished.
At the same time, saith the Lord,
Will I be the God of all the families of Israel,
Thus saith the Lord,
The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness;
Even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying,
By a beautiful personification Rachel is represented as rising from her grave at Ephrata, weeping for her children led into captivity, and refusing to be comforted; but yet a word of comfort is sent.
Thus saith the Lord;
Refrain thy voice from weeping,
And thine eyes from tears:
For thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord;
And there is hope in their end, saith the Lord, That thy children shall come again to their own border. Here, as in other prophecies, the inspired seer is carried forward from the objects immediately before him, to others more distant and yet to come. The sufferings of the captivity at Babylon are blended with the greater sufferings of the dispersion by the Romans, and the return from the land of Shinar is lost sight of, in the latter day glory of the house of Israel; by this alone can the decided and emphatic language of chap. xxxi. 31—40, be fully realized. As yet it cannot be said of the Jews, that they all know the Lord, that their sin is remembered no more, and that the city is built unto the Lord, so that it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever. But it is not for us to anticipate when, and in what manner, these prophetic revelations will be brought to pass.
The Jews in captivity, after the destruction of Jerusalem, were chiefly to be found in Assyria, especially in Babylon, the capital of that land. To this country the captives from Judah had principally been led in three transportations. The first was in the third year of Jehoiakim, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, and carried to Babylon many of the vessels and ornaments of the temple, with some of the people and of the nobles; among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, princes of the royal family. This was B.C. 605. It was rather the carrying away of selected prisoners and articles of value, than the breaking up of the nation. The temple still towered above its courts, the walls of Jerusalem were not thrown down, nor its palaces burned with fire. The exiles, as they cast a last, longing look at their once loved homes, still beheld the city of their God, in the mountain of his holiness, beautiful for situation.
The Jewish nation continued to despise the warnings of the Most High; the extent to which they carried their idolatrous practices is declared, Jer. xi. 13.
For according to the number of thy cities Were thy gods, O Judah;
And according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem Have ye set up altars to that shameful thing,
Even altars to burn incense unto Baal.
A darker hour speedily came. In the year B.C. 597, Nebuchadnezzar again invaded Judea, dethroned Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, and made his uncle Zedekiah king in his stead. A large number of captives were then removed, to weaken the rebellious land. These were the nobles, the military, and the artificers, more than seventeen thousand in number. Many of them were carried beyond Babylon, and placed in different parts of Mesopotamia. The prophet Ezekiel was one of these captives.
The Jewish nation did not yet learn wisdom from past experience. Zedekiah revolted against the Assyrians, and joined the Egyptians. This led to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, B.C. 586; when, after a terrific slaughter, most of the remaining inhabitants of the land were cleared away. A few of the poor of the people were left in the land, to be vinedressers and husbandmen, 2 Kings xxv. 12; Jer. xxxix. 10. There were also some bands of armed fugitives dispersed through the country, "forces which were in the fields," Jer. xl. 7—13; xli. 11. Many of them perished by each others' hands, as is related by Jeremiah; this is noticed in " The Kings of Israel and Judah.” Most of the survivors retired into Egypt, where they perished, while others fled into the adjacent countries. The mass of the sinful people, so constantly rebuked by the prophets, thus disappeared from Palestine. The invading troops no longer occupied the land; they had indeed cat closely, according to the prophecy uttered by Isaiah nearly two hundred years before, which was now fulfilled. Isa. vii. 20-25.
In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired,
Namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria,
STATE OF PALESTINE
The head, and the hair of the feet:
That a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep;
For the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter:
For butter and honey shall every one eat
That is left in the land.
And it shall come to pass in that day,
That every place shall be,
Where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings,
It shall even be for briers and thorns.
With arrows and with bows shall men come thither;
This passage describes the wild state of the fertile land once so fully cultivated. Large tracts, formerly occupied as vineyards, rented after the rate of a piece of silver for each vine, were overgrown with thorns and briers. The thinly scattered inhabitants no longer went forth with the implements of husbandry; but carried bows and arrows to destroy the wild animals that lurked in the underwood and bushes. Gardens and fields were no longer fenced; the produce was not regularly carried to the store-house or the byre; but the few kine and sheep belonging to the poor occupiers, were left to enjoy the full benefit of an abundant though spontaneous pasturage. A cow in the East produces only a quart or two of milk in the day; but then, from the ample supply of food, it would freely give an unusual quantity of milk, with the rich cream or butter, the delicacy of eastern countries. In former days, the poor tenant of the soil rarely tasted this delicacy; now he might freely enjoy it. But could he do so, if, as one of the chosen people of God, he thought of his nation humbled, and her glories departed? Could he do so; when, although he ranged at will over the district
DURING THE CAPTIVITY.
once cultivated for princes, whose families were now captives in a foreign land, he had no security for his life or scanty hoard? Both were at the disposal of any predatory band that might rove near his dwelling. And if disposed to exert himself, he could neither sell the fruits of his labour, nor hope to enjoy them in security. If not plundered by the robber, the collector and officers of his foreign master were at hand to take his property under the name of tribute ; whatever portions might reach the treasury, the unhappy peasant was sure to lose all of which he could be deprived. The poor of a civilized land may be ground beneath the undue requirements of those above them; but let all who act thus remember, "He that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth his Maker. He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth. Whoso stoppeth his ears to the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard." Yet when there is no regularly organized state of society, no protection of law or justice, there the poor suffer still more severely; there is no security or real comfort to be enjoyed by any rank. Though the highest may first be removed, or cast down by the storm, yet when a deluge of suffering is poured out upon a land, as upon Judea, "all faces shall gather blackness," even the poorest must lose his little all; the sweeping torrent carries all away.
In this wild and solitary state, the land was left to enjoy her sabbaths, till the number of the sabbatical years in which the land had been tilled and sown, contrary to the Divine command, had been compensated for. Moses had denounced this judgment, Lev. xxvi. 34, and Jeremiah declared it was come to pass, 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21.
And if the words of the apostle, Rom. viii. 20-25, describing the whole creation as groaning and travailing in pain for the sin of man, are applied to inanimate nature, we may figure to ourselves the land of Judea rejoicing at being emptied of that wretched race of heaven-defying idolators, who lately had cumbered the