James Frederick McCurdy.

History, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) online

. (page 35 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 35 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


essential nature of Israel's struggle for its real interests,
which lay in the conservation and cultivation of the re-
ligion of Jehovah. The net results of the unequal conflict
were, first, that the kingdom of Judah, with its central city,
was allowed to survive ; and, second, that it was allowed
to retain its position as a state on probation ; suspected
indeed, but yet tolerated on condition of regular payment
of tribute. There was therefore no question, while the
country remained quiescent, of forcing upon it either for-
eign officials or alien gods.

§ 796. Equally favourable to Isaiah's particular plans of
religious reform was the outward condition of the country at
large. The reformation had many details of stricter and more
earnest ritual (2 Chr. xxix.-xxxi.). But its great distinc-
tion was that which in its earlier stages had been noticed
even by the officers of Sinacherib (2 K. xviii. 22) ; namely,
the centralization of the sacrificial services in Jerusalem,



382 CENTRALIZATION OF WORSHIP Book VIII

What could be more propitious for this enterprise than the
state of the country at large in its humiliation and desola-
tion ? It was the local sanctuaries and the stated worship
and the ministry of the attendant priesthood that gave
prestige to the towns in their respective neighbourhoods
throughout the land. These were, as a matter of course,
dismantled and disbanded by the "servants of Asshur" in
their campaign of devastation ; and their restoration could
only be accelerated with the rapid return of population
and prosperity. The observance of these conditions made
it easy for Hezekiah and his dominant counsellor to per-
suade the surviving votaries of former shrines to resort to
the central sanctuary on Mount Zion. What was of equal
importance, especially for the first decisive movements
towards centralization, was the outstanding fact that Jeru-
salem, the special seat of Jehovah, had been spared, while
the territory overlooked by the " high places " had wit-
nessed the triumph and listened to the blasphemies of the
enemies of Jehovah and his people. ^ An inevitable result,
in any case, must have been a large permanent accession
to the population of Jerusalem. On all grounds a rare
opportunity was now afforded for the completion of the
work of reform in ritual and worship.

§ 797. Hezekiah, as we have seen (§ 638), must have died
about 690 B.C. Our data make him to have been forty-four
years old at the time of his death. The very tender age at
which his son Manasseh, probably his eldest-born, suc-
ceeded to the throne is additional evidence that he passed
away as a comparatively young man. Yet his life had
been eventful, and of great importance for the history and

1 Compare the argument of Ps. Ixxiv. 8-10, applying to somewhat sim-
ilar conditions, though in a later age. We must not overlook the fact
that the hardships of the deposed priests and the officials of the local
sanctuaries must have been much less than if they had been summarily
expelled in a time of peace and prosperity. F. W. Newman, History of
the Hebrevj Monarchy (3d edition, 1865), p. 290, has some creditable but,
as we can now see, exaggerated expressions of sympathy for these suf-
ferers at the hands of the reforming party.



Cii. IX, § 798 IIKZEKIAH — HIS WORK AND EPOCH 383

destin}- of his people. His reign is marked by three mon-
umental distinctions. The first was that in spite of early
successes in aggressive conquest and diplomacy their final
issue brought about the adoption of the prophetic policy of
national quiescence and trust in Jehovah. The second was
the reformation in worship which was promoted so largely
through the changed political conditions. The third was
the composition and publication of the most pow^erful and
far-reaching of the Old Testament prophecies. This was
an age of great issues and decisive events in that little cor-
ner of the world where the world's fate was being prepared.
The most significant of all its lessons was one which was
probably not understood by any except Isaiah and his dis-
ciples, as indeed the complete apprehension of such a lesson
is rarely within the reach of contemporaries. Under
Hezekiah the sceptre was departing from Judah ; but in
his time were forged some of those spiritual weapons which
have reclaimed for the kingdom of God a territor}- much
vaster than all that was wasted by the Assyrian. As for
Hezekiah himself, it is no detraction to say that he was not
always equal to his opportunities or his duty. He was
not in any sense a great king. But few kings in any age
have been great men, and still fewer have been good. It
is only just to say that he stands out in moral stature above
all the preceding kings of Israel or Judah. His errors of
ambition and intrigue were those of an inherited policy
and were committed by him while still a youth. His con-
spicuous merit is that in his afflictions and reverses he sin-
cerely humbled himself (Isa. xxxvii. 1 ff. ; xxxviii. 9 ff.),
and that he bent liimself at last without reserve to the pro-
phetic work and purpose. He has thereby gained a renown
more just than the adventitious distinction which has asso-
ciated his name with the golden age of Hebrew literature.
§ 798. Manasseh, the son^ of Hezekiah (G90-640), came
to the throne of Judah under circumstances quite different

1 Possibly uot his only son ; see the prediction Isa. xxxix. 7. The asser-
tions of Sinacherib (§ 675, Col. Ill, 38), which seem to throw further



384 EARLY YEAES OF MANASSEH Book VIII

from those which had attended the accession of any of his
predecessors. The most important outward change was
that which had converted the territory outside of Jerusa-
lem into an appanage of the capital, such as it continued to
be until the close of the monarchy .^ Of the details of
his civil government we have little or no information. Of
one thing we may be sure, that no serious disturbance in
any important line of policy was made during the years of
his minority. Centralization of government as well as of
worship being a sure tendency of absolute monarchy, this
was perhaps the only marked political and social feature
of his earlier years. Upon another important point we can
speak with confidence. Sinacherib did not cease to rule in
Nineveh till Manasseh had been about ten years upon the
throne. Non-interference of Assyria in Palestine was con-
tinued by Esarhaddon, so that we must consider the first
twenty years of the long reign of Manasseh to have been
free from harmful complications with the controlling state.
What these years brought to Jerusalem, Bible readers well
know.

§ 799. The change of religious policy in Judah so pro-
nounced and disastrous was, we may safely assume, in-
augurated about 680 B.C. At that time Manasseh must
have attained to the years of independent action ; and as
Isaiah and his chief supporters had passed from the scene,
no opposition was given to the wild impulses of a misguided
youth. Another coincidence it may be proper to note. It
was at this date that a new king came to the throne of

light upon the household circumstances of Hezekiah, are merely the regu-
lar form of statement made in recounting the subjection of a rival king.

1 Notice, as bearing upon this revolution, the contrast presented by the
later portion of the prophecy of Micah compared with the earlier. In the
one case (chs. ii. and iii.) the evils condemned by the prophet are those
practised by great country landholders, as well as the nobles of the capital.
In the other case it is the iniquities of city life that are expressly censured
(vi. 9 ff.). It is indeed a question whether the latest chapters were not
w-ritten by Micah himself (§ 595), now living in Jerusalem, to which we
may perhaps assume that he retired after the devastation of his country
home by the Assyrians (ch. i. U ff. ; cf. § 791, 796).



Ch. IX, § 799 NEW RELIGIOUS POLICY 385

Assyria. Now it may be observed that the religious revo-
lutions which took place in Israel had generally behind
them a political occasion. Thus the idolatrous career of
Ahaz was begun after he had come under obligations to
Assyria (§ 336). The reform of Hezekiah was promoted
through the withdrawal of Sinacherib. And the later re-
form under Josiah was undertaken when the power of
Assyria, hitherto predominant, had begun its rapid decline
(cf. § 828). Manasseh necessarily either appeared in Nine-
veh personally to render homage to Esarhaddon and his gods
or was represented there by his ambassador. What more
natural than that he, like Ahaz, in similar circumstances
(§ 640), should be impressed by the pomj) and splendour of
the worship of the great gods of Nineveh, and thereby moved
to introduce it into the temple services ? That the tj'pe of
religious observances promoted by Manasseh was Assyrio-
Babylonian is clear from the language of 2 K. xxi. 5, 6,
which tells us of sacrifices to the host of heaven and in
general of the astrological basis of the favourite mode of
worship. We are concerned with the matter just now
chiefly for its political bearings. The most obvious infer-
ence from the facts related is that during the decisive
years of this period of religious reaction the kingdom of
Judah was studiously subservient to the ruling state, and
that the anomalous attitude maintained by Sinacherib
towards the once turbulent principality had given place to
one of active interest. A proof of such concern on the
part of Esarhaddon in the affairs of Palestine is shown in
his settling Samaria with colonists from the eastern por-
tion of his dominions, who seem indeed to have formed
the main elements in the permanent population of the
country (Ezra iv. 2). The same policy was followed by
Asshurbanipal in the earlier years of his reign (Ezra iv. 9,
10), who as the conqueror of Susa (§ 785) transplanted
thither people of that city,^ of Babylon, Erech, and other
less known localities.

1 Cf. Par. p. 329.

2c



386 DECLINE OF PKOPHETISM Book YIII

§ 800. The most marked feature of the internal life
and history of the Judaite monarchy was the rejection of
the prophetic control in the policy of the state. This was
inseparable from the loss of prestige which the Prophets
suffered from the degradation of the worship of Jehovah.
Their counsel invariably was to hold a middle course be-
tween restless intrigue against Assyria, which had brought
untold calamities upon the state, and that obsequious cul-
tivation of Assyrian patronage which surely resulted in
moral and religious evils still more disastrous. That they
should have been at once put into the background was inev-
itable. And yet it is remarkable that scarcely a prophetic
voice was raised during all those years for purity of morals
or of religion. Micah, indeed, in the closing days of his
career, arraigns with dramatic force the false religion, the
gloomy unspiritual ritualism, and the reckless immorality
and dishonesty of the capital (ch. vi.). But the very ab-
sence of his old aggressive bitterness is an evidence that
he came less into public view than in the days of the ear-
lier struggle. He was indeed the last of that great order
of Prophets which began when Assyria was first looming
up on the horizon of Israel, and ended with its swift
decline.

§ 801. Thus the years went on till the time of general
commotion came which resulted finally in the downfall
of Babylonian independence, the devastation and annexa-
tion of Elam, and the scourging of the tribes of Northern
Arabia (§ 776 ff.). In connection with these larger upris-
ings came those smaller insurrections whose association
with the leading centres of disturbance has already been
shown (§ 786 ff.). At last Judah itself joined the list of
disaffected states (§ 790). Its share in the rebellion was
brief and inglorious. An armed force overran the country.
The capital was sacrificed without resistance. Manasseh
was taken and carried to Nineveh.^

1 "Babylon" is mentioned as the place of banishment, instead of
Nineveh, by a natural mistake of the writer or perhaps of some copyist.



Cri. IX, § 803 THE IlEVOLT AND ITS DATE 387

§ 802. It may naturally be asked how it is known that
Asshurbanipal and not Esarhaddon was the ruling king
when this revolution took place in Judah, The question
is already virtually answered in the preceding narrative.
There was no opportunity or indeed possibility of such
a change of attitude on the part of Manasseh during the
earlier reign. Nor was the motive of a rebellion under
Asshurbanipal very obvious. We are, indeed, -not to un-
derstand that Judah took a prominent part in the insur-
rection. Most probably it was rather guilty of negotiation
with the Arab tribes of the border (§ 786 ff.) than of
armed resistance to the Assyrians. It may possibly have
been the Arabs who, before the arrival of the Assyrian
reinforcements, by terrorism and a system of blackmail,
secured the promise of assistance from Jerusalem. This
was sufficient to bring summary chastisement from the
Assyrian over-lord. We may notice how strikingly the
account in Chronicles illustrates the character of the war-
fare of Asshurbanipal. According to his peculiar wont
he did not proceed in person, but it was " the captains of
the host " (xxxiii. 11) Avho carried Manasseh to Babylon.
" Hooks " (cf. 2 K. xix. 28) were used to secure the cap-
tive king — a favourite procedure of the same Assyrian
monarch so noted for his whimsical cruelty.^

§ 803. It may be asked further, " Why then was this
transaction not mentioned in the annals of Asshurbani-
pal ? " The answer is that these records do not contain
an account of all the numberless details of provincial wars.
Only events of essential moment were recorded, particu-
larly those which affected the status of the empire as a
whole. Doubtless a multitude of other princes, before
and after this episode, shared the fate of Manasseh for
similar offences. Moreover, the disturbance was not so
marked, because Manasseh submitted without resistance.
Hence, also, his kingdom was not annexed. Nor was he
himself subjected either to death or permanent captivity.

1 V R. 9, 105 ff.



388 MANASSEirS EXILE ; HIS INFLUENCE Book VIII

Indeed, he was at last included among the number of pris-
oners of rank who found grace in the eyes of the tyrant.

§ 804. According to the Biblical narrative (2 Chr.
xxxiii. 12 f.) Manasseh's captivity was to him a means
of grace and an occasion of repentance. In answer to his
prayer to Jehovah, whom he had slighted and dishonoured,
deliverance was granted him and restoration to his home
and kingdom. Now at last he began to show sj^iiptoms
of right kingly sense. He manifested a regard not merely
for the material defences of his country (v. 14), but above
all an endeavour to undo, as far as might be, the evils which
had been wrought through his cruelties and immoralities.
He had not very long to labour in this laudable work. He
died about 640 B.C., seven years after the defeat of the
border Arabians (§ 787), which we have assumed to be
nearly synchronous with the beginning of his captivity.
It would appear from this that he was liberated not very
long after his imprisonment had begun.

§ 805. Manasseh's long reign was upon the whole one
rather of moral than of political decline. The kingdom
could not but continue for some time to recuperate under
the peaceful regime of Esarhaddon and the early years of
his successor. Compromised as it was by the treachery of
its king towards the Assyrians, it does not seem to have
suffered permanently in consequence. On the other hand,
a general deterioration must have been the result of the
religious reaction. There is too much reason to believe
that the " innocent blood " which Manasseh shed so pro-
fusely in Jerusalem was to a great extent at least that of
the adherents of the reforming party and its leaders the
prophetic guild.^ In the fury of persecuting zeal many of

1 It is unnecessary to say that the story that Isaiah at the age of nearly
ninety was sawn asunder by the order of jManasseh has only the authority
of remote tradition ; see Driver, Isaiah, his Life and Times, p. 2. It is
not impossible (Hebr. xi. 37) ; and there is no objection to it on the score
of the time of Isaiah's life. If he was thirty years old in 738 b.c. (§ 269;
Isa. vi. 1), he must have been, if living, about eighty-eight at the date of
the persecution (cf. § 799).



Ch. IX, § 807 BRIEF CAREER OF AMON 389

those who still preferred unmixed Jehovah worship would
naturally be made to share their fate. Thus tlie best blood
of the community was poured out like water, and both the
head and heart of the state were smitten with a deadly
wound.

§ 806. Manasseh was succeeded by his son Araon
(640-639 B.C.). Unlike his ^predecessor and successor,
he was a mature man when he came to the throne,^ and
thus entered upon his own chosen policy without delay.
He apparently had already held the supreme power ^ during
his father's exile, and was a devoted adherent of the foreisrn
worship and its cruel rites. Most probably for this reason
the new king was intensely unpopular. The brief inter-
lude of righteousness and morality under the repentant
IManasseh was perhaps more to the liking even of the men
of the court. A conspiracy was formed by which Anion's
life came to a sudden and violent end in his own palace.
However we may demur to the method of assassination, it
must be allowed that the continuance of the present policy
would have been destructive of the state. And yet the
act itself was not popular. The feeling of loyalty to the
king in Judah was so strong (§ 277 f.) that "the people
of the land," that is, the freemen in general, as distin-
guished from the court party, put the conspirators to
death. They tlien set upon the throne Josiah, son of
Amon, being little more than an infant (2 K. xxi. 23 ff.).

§ 807. That the prophetic and reforming party had at
last gained the upper hand in the state is proved by the
character of the youthful Josiah (639-608 B.C.). During

1 Probably a few years older than twenty-two (1 K. xxi. 19), for in
this case he would only have been fifteen or sixteen years of age at the
birth of Josiah (cf. 1 K. xxii. 1).

- There must have been some "king " in Jerusalem during the absence
of JIanasseh, however brief that period was, for the simple reason that
the Assyrian rulers invariably appointed a substitute for a dethroned
monarch in a rebellious state. Now there is no word of any other king
than Amon in Judah at tliis period. This forms an additional argument
in favour of his having been over twenty-two at his accession.



390 JOSIAH THE REFORMER Book VIII

the ten years of his minority he was preserved from the
vices and idohitrous habits which would inevitably have
ruined any lad not hedged in by better influences. The
outlook for religion and morality, always the main issues
in Israel, now became brighter. Hence when Josiah was
ready to undertake the most extensive and far-reaching ref-
ormation known in the history of his people, he found about
him both civil and spiritual officers eager to promote his
designs. It would be putting it more fairl}^, perhaps, to
say that the good work was prepared by them and per-
formed at their instigation. Indeed, the great prophet
Jeremiah had been called to the ministry five years before
the work was formally begun (cf. 2 K. xxii. 3 with Jer. i.
2). We must, however, leave for a time these mixed con-
ditions so fraught with fateful issues for Judah and Jeru-
salem, and take a hurried survey of the closing scenes in
the history of Assyria.



CHAPTER X

DOWNFALL OF THE ASSYRIAN EMPIRE

The events hitherto recorded have brought the
story of Assyria down to about 644 B.C. At this date
King Asshurbanipal had completed more than one-half of
his long reign. The years thus traversed had been spent
in almost continuous war, and at the close of the record
Assyria was still standing in her strength and pride. True,
Egypt was lost beyond hope of recovery. But, as a com-
pensation for its loss, the feebler successor of its conqueror
doubtless congratulated himself that the whole of the
West-land and of Arabia was now held secure against
Egypt. Moreover, the northern, northwestern, and north-
eastern regions, so long coveted by the Assyrian kings,
were also lost forever. If conquests in Cappadocia or
Armenia, among the Mannseans or the non-Aryan Medians
had still been possible, they would have soon to be sur-
rendered to the new claimants from the farther north
(§ 758, 773 ff.). "With all of these aggressive warfare was
at an end. But was extension or further concj^uest desir-
able ? Had not the empire of the Tigris at last realized
the true measure of its strength ? From the IMediterranean
to the mountains of Media, from Mount Taurus to the
heart of Arabia, from Kurdistan to the Persian Gulf, the
lordship of Asshur was still secure. These were the natu-
ral limits of such an empire, the proper Semitic realm
(§ 17). Assyria had learned at last that her dominion
must be determined by the possibility of undisturbed ad-
ministration. And within these boundaries the organiza-

391



392 LIMITS AND WEAKNESS OF THE EMPIRE Book YIII

tion of provinces and subject states was alike perfect.
The only exception was northern Arabia. But its people
had been disciplined by many defeats, and were over-
awed by the numerous watchful border garrisons. Else-
where chances of serious trouble seemed slight. The most
valuable, and at the same time the most uncertain, part
of the empire was Babylonia. But here the Chaldaeans
and Elamites had been taught by sword and flame and
banishment that even among them Asshur was to reign
supreme. Surely at last an Assyrian king might rest from
strife and enjoy the fruits of long centuries of effort and
of assiduous prayer to the great gods of Nineveh !

§ 809. But the strongest cohesive force in the empire
was still physical compulsion. Everywhere the generals
and governors and officers of the revenue confronted a
disarmed and yet hostile population. The great combina-
tion of communities was, strictly speaking, not an organ-
ism. It resembled one of those structures which are made
up of pieces kept together by a keystone, whose natural
tendency is to separate rather than unite, and whose func-
tion is to keep the parts in place and prevent disturbance
by unrelaxing pressure exerted equally upon them all.
A movement of any one of the elements brings the un-
cetnented pile to ruin. The Assyrian empire could still
survive the impact of border incursions, or the tremor of
local uprisings. But let numerous enemies pass over the
land, and no force as yet generated by the political agencies
of the ancient world could save the structure from demo-
lition. A great disintegrating factor — one of the most
influential in all Oriental history — was brought into play
by the famous invasions of the Scythians.

§ 810. The annals of Asshurbanipal do not go beyond
about 642 B.C., and our best authority for the Scythians
and their invasions is still Herodotus, who gives us a
graphic picture of their mode of migration, their appear-
ance and habits, and the extent of their depredations.
There is much in his description to remind us of the



Cii. X, § 810 THE SCYTHIANS 393

Tatars and their repeated inroads into the civilized
regions of the south and west, especiall}' of the hiter
more abiding conquests of Huns, Mongols, and Turks.
They are represented, no doubt with some exaggeration,
as a people coarse and gross in their habits, with stout
fleshy bodies, loose joints, and scanty hair. They never
washed themselves ; their nearest approach to ablution
was a vapour-ljath. They lived either in wagons or in
tents of felt of a simple and rude construction, and sub-
sisted on mares' milk and cheese, to which the boiled flesh
of horses and cattle was added occasionall}' as a rare deli-
cacy. In war their customs were yevj barbarous. The
Scythian, who slew his enemy in wratli, immediately pro-
ceeded to drink his blood. He then cut off his head, after
which he stripped the scalp from the skull, and hung it
on his bridle-rein as a trophy. The upper portion of tlie
skull he commonly made into a drinking-cup. The greater
part of each day he spent on horseback, in attendance on
the huge herds of cattle which he pastured. His favour-
ite weapon was the bow, which he used as he rode, shoot-
ing his arrows with great precision. He generally carried,
besides his bow and arrows, a short spear or javelin, and



Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 35 of 39)