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INTRODUCTION TO PSALM CXXVI.
Cyaxares II., or "Darius the Mede," reigned two years, and on his death the sole government of the empire devolved upon his nephew, Cyrus. This prince, so celebrated in history as a hero, a monarch, and a magnanimous and virtuous character, was also honoured, as we have previously stated, in the page of inspired prophecy. Isaiah had designated him as the instrument by which God would redeem his people from the Chaldean yoke. One hundred and eleven years before Cyrus was born, that prophet had thus spoken to the people of Israel:
"Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer,
And he that formed thee from the womb,
I am the Lord that maketh all things;
That saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd,
Even saying to Jerusalem, "Thou shalt be built;'
And to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.'
"Thus saith the Lord to his anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden,
To subdue nations before him;
And I will loose the loins of kings,
To open before him the two-leaved gates;
I will go before thee,
And make the crooked places straight:
I will break in pieces the gates of brass,
And cut in sunder the bars of iron:
And I will give thee the treasures of darkness,
That thou mayest know that I, the Lord,
Which call thee by thy name,
Am the God of Israel.
I have raised him [Cyrus] up in righteousness,
He shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives,
Isaiah xliv, 24, 28; xlv, 1–3, 13. See also Isaiah xiii, xiv; and Jeremiah li, 11.
Such was the language of prophecy concerning this wonderful man, and such were some of the predicted details of his wonderful commission. It cannot be doubted that Cyrus had become acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures, and particularly with those prophecies which related to the overthrow of Babylon, through the agency of Daniel. Josephus says, that Cyrus was acquainted with the prophecies of Isaiah. In that prophet, and in Jeremiah, he saw the leading circumstances of his own history, as a conqueror, clearly foretold. Daniel, also, himself had received visions concerning the rise of the MedoPersian power, in the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and of Belshazzar, (see Daniel ii, 39; vii, 5, 17; viii, 3, 4;) and some of these facts were chronicled in the royal archives at Babylon. The stupendous miracles which had been wrought through Daniel and his three companions, in the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius, had confounded the wisdom of the astrologers, and caused the name of Jehovah to be known and revered throughout the provinces of the empire. These circumstances exerted a vast influence upon Cyrus, and brought him to believe in and confess the true God.
The wars of Nebuchadnezzar, in Syria and Palestine, had been sanguinary and severe. The Hebrews, and after them. the Phoenicians, had resisted his arms with obstinate valour, and for a long time held in check and baffled his plans of conquest. For this reason, when the old city of Tyre had fallen. into his hands, he crippled her commerce, and laid severe exactions upon the Phoenicians. The Babylonian oppression lay heavily upon this people during all the period of the continuance of that monarchy. But Isaiah had prophesied, that, after seventy years, when the Hebrew nation should be released, the commerce of Tyre should be revived, and her wealth and her merchandise should return. Isaiah xxiii, 15-17. The commerce of Tyre had always enriched the East, while the land of the Hebrews was important to the Eastern monarchs, in a military view, as a point of transit from Asia to Egypt. Cyrus was, therefore, from motives of sound policy, inclined to lenity toward these nations. It was for the safety of his western and African provinces, to attach the Phoenician and Hebrew nations to his throne by the strongest bonds of interest and of gratitude.
Under these circumstances, Daniel was prepared to present to that monarch, on his first accession to the throne, his petition for the release of his people. Such an act was due to humanity, to enlightened state policy, to the humane and pious spirit of the emperor, and to the important public services rendered by Daniel. The expectation of the captives was fixed upon Cyrus, while, with their faces toward Jerusalem, they daily offered up prayers, recalling the faithful mercies of God in his covenant to Abraham, Moses, and David. The hour at last came and God was entreated of them.
"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 'Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.'" Ezra i, 1-4.
Such was the edict of emancipation published by Cyrus, conveying a full charter of national and religious rights to the Jewish people. The captives everywhere received it with unbounded joy and pious thanksgiving, and made immediate preparations for returning to their native land. The first caravan of returning Jews was led back by Zerubbabel, a descendant of the royal house of David, and by Jeshua the high priest; Zerubbabel being invested with the functions of governor of Judea. This first colony amounted in round numbers to about fifty thousand souls. They carried back with them immense treasures for building the temple at Jerusalem.
Read Daniel ix, 1-19; Ezra i, and ii.
ON THE PUBLICATION OF THE DECREE OF CYRUS, PERMITTING THE JEWS TO RETURN TO THEIR OWN LAND.
The joy of the Hebrews on their return from captivity, 1-3; they pray for and prophesy their complete restoration, 4–6.
TA Song of Degrees.
1 When the LORD 'turned again the captivity of Zion, We were like them that dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing:
Then said they among the heathen,
"The LORD hath done great things for them." 3 The LORD hath done great things for us,
Whereof we are glad.
Turn again our captivity, O LORD!
As the streams in the south.
5 They that sow in tears Shall reap in 'joy.
6 He that goeth forth and weepeth,
Bearing precious seed,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
1 Heb. returned the return
ing of Zion. Psa. 58. 6.
a Acts 12. 9.
b Job 8. 21.
"Heb. hath magnified
to do with them.
© See Jer. 81. 9, &c.
• Or, singing.
• Or, seed basket.
INTRODUCTION TO PSALM LXXXV.
PSALM OF KORAH.
Psalm cxxvi, just recorded, well expresses the first lively transports of joy that filled the hearts of the emancipated exiles. Psalm lxxxv, which follows, is much more chastened by the recollection that their restoration is not yet perfect. The Psalmist acknowledges the Divine favour with gratitude, in "bringing back the captivity of Jacob," verse 1; but feels that much more is to be done in order to restore the people to their national character; and hence the earnest pleadings for still further help, and still larger measures of grace, verses 4-7. It must be remembered, that although the door of freedom and restoration had been opened to the Jews by the decree of Cyrus, and although many thousands of Judah, and of the scattered ten tribes of Israel, were ready and anxious to return to their native land, yet, as the Jews were scattered through the provinces of Babylonia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Media, as far north as the Caucasian mountains, and around the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, many of them a thou sand miles from their native land; and as many of them were now settled, and inclined to remain in their new homes, while others were poor and unable to undertake so great a journey, it became still a question whether the Hebrew family would ever again be gathered. Hence the earnest prayer, "Turn us, [that is, return us, or turn us back, to our own land,] O God of our salvation," "Wilt thou not turn? wilt thou not preserve us alive? and thy nation shall be glad in thee." Verses 4, 6. Read Daniel ix, 1-19; Ezra i and ii.