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Though Babylon was now in all its glory, yet the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both foretold its future destruction. It was impossible for any human being-unless God taught him—to foretell that so mighty a city and strong a power, should at last perish and come to nothing. Yet such is now the condition of Babylon. Its very name is perished, except in history, which informs us that it was, and that it is not.
In the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Isaiah, and in the fiftieth and fifty-first chapters of Jeremiah, you will read prophecies of Babylon, “the glory of kingdoms,” that it should never more be inhabited—that wild beasts should dwell there—that it should be a dry land and a desert-and much more of the same kind. Having been taken by Cyrus, it gradually sunk into decay, and now, for sixteen hundred years, it has been nothing but a heap of ruins. Its canals are all dried up; fragments of bricks and tiles, which once formed its splendid buildings, are all that remain of their grandeur. There are many dens of wild beasts in various parts about the place, and it is the unmolested retreat of jackals, hyenas, and other noxious animals. The majestic river Euphrates still flows on, the willows grow on the banks, on which the Israelitish captives hung their harps : but the city, and the palaces, and the fields, and gardens, which once adorned it, have for ever disappeared ! So at last shall the earth, and all the works that are in it, be burnt up, on account of the sinfulness of its inhabitants; for "every word of God is true."
THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are closely connected with his prophecies, and seem to have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem, and with a design to bring the people to a state of repentance on account of their sins, which had been the cause of their desolate condition.
Ezekiel was of the race of the priests. He was carried away captive into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, with Jehoiachin, king of Judah, of whom you have read at the end of the reigns of the kings. He prophesied twenty years. Ezekiel, as well as Isaiah and Jeremiah, prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Ezekiel also foretold the ruin of many nations and cities which had been
enemies to the people of God, and were base idolators, pronouncing the doom of the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and Philistines; and of Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt.
Let us just notice, in particular, Egypt.
Egypt was once a mighty nation. No nation was more learned and skilled in arts. Some of its monuments even remain to this day, and its huge pyramids are the wonders of the world. There are three of them, in particular, which attract notice. They are supposed to have been the tombs of some kings. The largest of these is a great deal higher than St. Paul's cathedral, and is reckoned to have been built with six millions of tons of stone! The Egyptians had many grand cities, and had made great conquests in neighbouring countries.
But Ezekiel, in the words of the Lord, prophesied of this nation which had made Israel slaves, and been a great foe to the people of God, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms, neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations; for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations."
This has come to pass. The Egyptians are the most enslaved of people. Tyrants rule over them. There are a very few men who are great, and all the rest are miserably poor, and ignorant, and wretched, and subject to the most cruel and oppressive lords. The ruins of splendid temples and palaces yet remain, but nothing but mud-walled cottages surround them. moment there is a ruler who has gained a little power; but Egypt is still among the basest of the nations. It was two thousand four hundred years ago, when the prophet foretold what it should be, and when it was most unlike what it now is. Who taught Ezekiel to describe its condition in the year eighteen hundred and forty-five, the time when this is written? The answer must be God, to whom there is none like, “ declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done."
DANIEL. Daniel was one of the captives carried away into Babylon with Jehoiachin, as you read at the end of the Books of Kings. He was one of the royal blood of Judah.
Daniel prophesied in a remarkable manner, of the ruin of the four great monarchies of the world, even before they had all risen to power : that is, the Babylonian ; the Medes and Persian-which were united in Cyrus, his father being a Persian and his mother a Mede, and to whom, after his uncle's death, the whole monarchy fell by right; the Macedonian, or Grecian; and the Roman.
These arose to greatness one after the other, and each new one swallowed up the old. The Babylonians were destroyed by the Medes and Persians; the Medes and Persians by the Greeks; and the Greeks by the Romans.
This explanation describes an image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream, and which was a prophecy of what should happen in the kingdoms of the world, till the kingdom of the Messiah, or Christ, should be set up in the world, and he should reign over the hearts of men.
The interpretation of this dream brought Daniel into honour and great notice in the Babylonian court.
Daniel went in to the king, and explained all that he wanted to know. And he made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the wise men.
You must remember that the Babylonians were idol worshippers ; and Nebuchadnezzar in his pride set up a very fine image of gold for the people to worship. This image, from the description given of it, must have been fifteen times larger than a man. So the king commanded all the great men everywhere throughout the provinces of his vast dominions to assemble together at a certain time ; and he made proclamation by a herald, that, at a certnin signal made by his bands of music, every one should fall down and worship this golden image. The command was obeyed, and men of all nations and languages who had been brought under his dominion, fell down before the idol ; for, if any refused so to do, they were to be cast into a burning fiery furnace for their disobedience.
Now Daniel and his three companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, being Jews, placed in situations of eminence, were likely to be sufferers by the king's decree, for, being sincere followers of the true God, they would not worship a dumb idol. Daniel, however, escaped at this time; he was either too much in favour for any to venture to accuse him, or else he was engaged at a distance on business of sufficient importance to excuse his absence. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, could not escape, and they attended with the rest, in obedience to the king's orders; but when the multitude fell down before the idol, they did not.
Some of the Chaldeans, who were jealous of the honours of these men who were exalted with Daniel, went and told the king, that the Jews, whom he had exalted, had not regarded him. This was so told, as to make their disobedience appear worse, after the rank he had conferred
upon them. Then Nebuchadnezzar sent in a rage for these men, and asked them, “Is it true, 0 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up ?” You will observe here, that the king does not call them by the names we saw before, but by three other names; for, when he bestowed honours upon them, he gave them new names, as Pharaoh did to Joseph, and as you remember to have been told was usually done by Eastern princes when they dignified any persons. A similar sort of custom exists among us. The Duke of Wellington was formerly called Sir Arthur Wellesley, till the king gave him his new titles; and, in like manner, the names of others have been changed as they have risen in rank. Daniel had also the same honour granted to him with his companions, and was called Belteshazzar.
Nebuchadnezzar now told Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that he would give them another trial, and order the ceremony to take place again; and that if they then persisted in their refusal to worship his fine image, they should be burned to death that very hour; and then he haughtily dared to say, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands ?" These men truly loved God, and so they feared him above Nebuchadnezzar. And they told the king that they would not serve his god, and that if he chose to cast them into the furnace, their God was able to save them.
Nebuchadnezzar's pride was now mortified, and in his fury he desired the furnace to be made as hot as it was possible to make it. Then he had the three good men bound hand and foot, and cast into the blazing furnace. The men who cast them in might perhaps be their great enemies who had accused them, and were forward to make an end of them ; but they scarcely saw them in the furnace, for they instantly perished, with only the heat of the flames proceeding from it, before they had time to draw back.
In a few moments Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, were observed by the king, walking in the midst of the furnace, quite unhurt. A fourth person was walking with them, whom he supposed-perhaps from some particular appearance—to be a divine person, and he called him-perhaps being convinced by a divine light of the mind just at the moment-by the name of the Son of God, or an angel of God.
Immediately this lion was changed into a lamb; and he went nearer to the furnace, and spoke to the three persecuted men, “and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the Most High God, come forth and come hither.” So they came out of the furnace, before all the rulers and people, without one single injury either to their clothes, or even a hair of their heads!
Nebuchadnezzar was then sure that the God of the Jews was the true He was
God; and he made a decree, that if the people did not in future serve the true God, they should all be cut in pieces.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, were also raised by the king to greater power, so that what their enemies, and the enemies of God had desired, not only failed, but turned out for their good, and that of their people, who would no more be in danger of insult and suffering, on account of their holy religion.
We have an account of one of Nebuchadnezzar's successors. not, indeed, the king that reigned directly after him, for there were three others before this Belshazzar came to the throne, as we learn from some very old historians; but these three had very short reigns of two years, four years, and nine months. The first was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and was called Evil-Merodach, and the other two were usurpers. Belshazzar was of the lawful line, and was grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.
This was the last king of Babylon ; and we learn how he lost it. He made a great feast, and being a despiser of the true God, he sent for the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple at Jerusalem; and with his princes, wives, and concubines, he drank to the honour of his "gods of gold and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.”
Cyrus was at this time besieging the city; but the gates and walls being strong, with plenty of water all round it, and there being provision enough for twenty years within it, Belshazzar did not suppose it possible that it could be taken; so he enjoyed himself in his profane doings, and was getting drunk out of the Jewish vessels which had been consecrated to the service of the true God.
In the midst of his mirth and cups, he suddenly saw a hand which was writing upon a wall upon which he cast his eye. He was struck with astonishment and dread. It was marvellous. But what could the secret words mean which the wonderful hand wrote ? Why was he frightened ? Why should he not have supposed that the hand was writing something good for him—some news about the destruction of his enemy, or some advice how to defeat them? No, my young reader, not so. We say, “ A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” So it was with this king. He felt he was doing something that was bad, and he now dreaded to know what was to happen to him. He changed colour, was distressed in his mind, and he trembled so violently that his knees “ even smote one against another.”
He cried aloud to bring the wise men; he was so much in haste that he would not send for them in the usual quiet way. They came, but they could