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Haggai, in its superior splendour to the temple of Solomon!
Mrs. M. It certainly did, but not in the manner, perhaps, in which you apprehend that prophecy. The second temple was inferior to the first in the richness and beauty of its decorations, and the prodigious quantity of gold expended in overlaying many parts of that magnificent edifice. The ark of the covenant-the Divine Presence which was manifested by a bright cloud over the mercy seat—the sacred fire which descended
the sacrifice at the dedication of Solomon's temple—the Urim and Thummim, or breast-plate of Aaron, by which divine council was obtained—the sacred oil with which the priests and utensils for divine service were consecrated-all gave an ineffable sanctity to the first temple which was not communicated to the second; but all these wants and defects were abundantly repaired, when the desire of all nations, the Lord whom they sought, came to this his temple, and Christ our Saviour, who was the truest Schekinah of the Divine Majesty, honoured it with his presence, * and thus accomplished the promise.
Whilst their affairs at Jerusalem were thus prosperously going on, the captives, who remained in Babylon, sent a deputation to the elders, to enquire whether it were yet incumbent on them to observe the annual fasts which had been instituted on several occasions of great calamity to their nation-such as the destruction of the temple--the murder of Gedaliah, their upright governor, whom Nebuchadnezzar had set over them, and others—all which they had kept during the whole seventy years of their banishment.--The answer to their enquiry, which is contained in the seventh chapter of Zachariah's prophecy, is a lesson not less instructive to us than it was to the formalists of those days : That they had pleased themselves by a show of humiliation, whilst they had neglected the only homage that could be acceptable to the Omniscient Searcher of the heart. " Execute true judgment,” said the prophet, “ and shew mercy and compassion every man to his brother. And oppress not the widow or the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor, and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”
* Prideaux, vol. i. p. 127.
But although the temple was rebuilt, Judah continued in a languishing state until the reign of Artaxerxes. This prince resuming the kindness that had been shown by several of his predecessors, gave a new commission in their favour. He to whom this was directed was Ezra, whose book we have before us, and from whose pen we have the account of these transactions. Ezra was a priest of great sanctity of life, and profoundly skilled in the Mosaic law. The former decree had enabled the Jews to restore their house of worship; but this empowered Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges—to enforce “the law of God and the king," and inflict the severest punishments on the disobedient. The sacred vessels of the temple, which yet remained at Babylon, were delivered up to Ezra, besides a very large sum in gold and silver, to furnish him and all who might desire to go with him to Jerusalem, with all manner of provision for their journey, and offerings for “ the king and his counsellors." This commission too commanded the king's treasurers of the provinces, to give into Ezra's hands whatsoever was commanded by the God of Heaven for “ his house, that his wrath might be averted from the king and his sons,” and exonorated the priests, with all
the inferior ministers of the temple, from the payment of any tribute whatever.
FANNY. The Persians, then, it may be presumed, were not idolaters ?
Mrs. M. They were yet idolaters, but not of the baser sort. Their adoration was offered to fire ; but chiefly to the sun as the most pure and perfect emblem of the Deity. He, however, was the object of their worship, as you may discover in their desire to conciliate his favour, by their liberality to his people, and their desire to conciliate his favour to the royal family, by commanding sacrifices to be offered, at Jerusalem, in their behalf.
From this commission to Ezra, (B. C. 457) being so much more full and comprehensive than those which had gone before, our best commentators began to compute the seventy weeks of Daniel, at the conclusion of which the Messiah should come.
In consequence of this great indulgence to their nation, seventeen hundred and fifty-four persons repaired to Ezra at Shushan, now the seat of the Persian government, and departed for Jerusalem on the ninth day of the first month. Having before them a long and toilsome journey, and carrying a vast quantity of valuable goods, they encamped at the river Ahava, not far from the city, to implore the protection of heaven from the various accidents to which they might be exposed, particularly the depredations of wandering herds of Arabs, and other hostile tribes of people. They might indeed have obtained from their munificent king, a guard of soldiers, but they had professed to him their confidence in the blessing of God on their undertaking, and therefore they chose rather to attest their sincerity, by committing themselves wholly to his protection. After
three days of prayer and fasting, they left the river, and arrived safely at Jerusalem in the beginning of the fifth month.
The king's letter to his lieutenants being delivered, the gold and silver deposited in the treasury, and sacrifices offered by the returning exiles, Ezra set about the business of his journey.
Enquiring into the state of the colony, he soon learned, to his great grief, that they had already transgressed their law, by intermarriages with the heathens around them, to an enormous extent-and even that the priests were among the offenders !
CATHERINE. The very sin that had so largely contributed to the calamities from which they were but just escaped !
Mrs. M. No wonder, then, that the pious priest was overwhelmed with astonishment and sorrow, when he heard of their ingratitude to their supreme deliverer ; and first set about their reformation in this alarming particular. Assembled at the evening sacrifice, his earnest prayers in their behalf, and solemn deprecation of the wrath they had incurred, so deeply affected the whole congregation, that all present, who had violated the law, came voluntarily to Ezra, and declared their readiness to put away the strange wives they had taken--and the children who were born of them. Taking them instantly at their word, he exacted an oath, that they would abide by their own decision. Judges were then appointed to enquire into the matter, and a proclamation issued, requiring every individual who was implicated to appear at Jerusalem, on pain of confiscation of his property, and excommunication from the church of Israel; and after a careful examination, which consumed
above two months of time, all the aliens were separated from the congregation.
FANNY. The colonists being not generally the individuals who had been carried into captivity, but their descendants-may we not charitably suppose them to have erred through ignorance of the Jewish law ?
Mrs. M. They were not wholly ignorant on this prominent point, but through the lapse of time, and the destruction of their Temple, where alone they might perform the chief offices of their religion, its whole system had become corrupted by traditions. To restore it to its original purity, and “to teach them that knew it not,” was the chief business of Ezra. For this purpose be performed a work, which, at this day, demands our thankful recollection. He collected all the manuscript copies of the sacred books within his reach, corrected the errors of transcribers, and settled what we now call “ the canon of scripture,” so far as it had been given in his time—that is, the words and the books,* which were the genuine dictates of the Holy Spirit, and rejected such as were spurious. Having done this, he copied them out from the Hebrew, the original language of the Israelites, into the Chaldean, which, since their residence in Babylon, had become the vernacular tongue of the Jews.
We have not the express authority of holy writ, for ascribing this great work to Ezra. It is the account of respectable Jewish writers, and has been always received by the church, both Jewish and christian.
• The subdivision into chapters and verses, an invention for the more convenient reading of the scriptures, is of modern date. -Prideaux,