(From the times of “Darius the Persian” (Neh. 12:22) to the fall of the Persian Empire—about 425 to 335, B. C.).
The average Bible reader seldom knows much of the stirring events which followed in rapid succession the days of rehabilitation, described in the interesting and instructive records of Ezra and Nehemiah. He gets more than an inkling of the fallen condition of the restored remnant in the solemn expostulation of the last prophet, Malachi; but when he opens the New Testament and begins to read the Gospel of Matthew, he finds an utter change of atmosphere and conditions. The Old Testament closes with the people of the Jews partially restored to their land, but under Persian dominion. The New Testament opens with the same people greatly multiplied and dwelling in the same country, but under Roman sway, and yet with an Edomite vice-king exercising jurisdiction over part of the land. In many other respects circumstances have undergone a marked change, and generally for the worse.
What brought about these changes? What movements, civil, religious, and political, were in progress during the four hundred silent years after prophetic testimony had died away with a last solemn warning of a possible curse to smite the land and people once so richly blessed? (Mal. 4:6).
We cannot turn to the unerring word of God for an authentic and inspired answer to these questions; but we are able, nevertheless, to reply to them with a large measure of assurance, since God has been pleased to preserve, uninspired but fairly reliable, chronicles of the history of His chosen people in the four centuries that succeeded the days of the prophets. The Jewish historian, Josephus, and the unknown (save to God) author of the first book of the Maccabees, have left us records that are generally considered trustworthy, and are largely corroborated by Jewish traditions and historical side-lights.
With Nehemiah, the history and experiences of the returned Remnant in the Land end, at a time when evil was creeping in and decay was beginning. In his lifetime Nehemiah earnestly endeavored to uphold their covenant-relation with God, and zealously sought to maintain that holy separation from the idolatrous nations surrounding them, as a peculiar people to Jehovah, wherein alone their strength lay. Balaam had declared, “The people shall dwell alone; they shall not be reckoned among the nations,” and he had also taught Balak to cast a stumbling- block before Israel by breaking down this very separation. “The doctrine of Balaam” had been their snare ever afterwards, and we see in the closing chapters of Nehemiah how difficult it was to stamp it out.
Nehemiah’s efforts were largely successful; and while his godly life and testimony still had influence over the people there was a measure at least of outward separation. But Malachi is witness that people may be separated from outside evils and not be separated to the Lord. This is a constant danger. Who has not heard “heady, high-minded” believers prating of “separation from evil as God’s principle of unity” (as indeed it is, other things being equal), who seem quite to forget that it is separation to Christ that alone gives power to the former.
Separation from, may end in mere Pharisaism. Separation to, will result in practical godliness, and be evidenced by devotedness, with brotherly love and unity.
But this truth ever needs consecrated men of God to insist upon its recognition; otherwise, there is always the likelihood of its being forgotten, and a form of godliness without the power usurping its place. Of Israel of old, when first settled in the land, we read: “And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that He had done for Israel” (Josh. 24:31). We have something analogous to this in the case now under consideration. The Jewish remnant, generally speaking, walked before God in a measure of holy separation and cleaving to His name and His word during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and of the elders who outlived them; but even in Malachi’s time declension had made very rapid progress.
After the death of Nehemiah the “Tirshatha,” or Governor, they enjoyed a large measure of independence under the mild rule of the Persian kings, and even for a time after the Medo-Persian “Bear” had been defeated and superseded by the four-headed “Leopard” of Greece (Dan. 7)—or, using the simile of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, after the silver kingdom had been displaced by the dominion of brass (Dan. 2).
Government was entrusted by these Gentile sovereigns to the high-priest, who previously was but a religious leader. In Nehemiah 12:10,11,22,2 we have the high-priestly line traced down from Jeshua, or Joshua (who came up from Babylon, with Zerubbabel at the first return, and is the one described in Zech-ariah’s vision, chap. 3), through Joiakim, Eliashib, Joiada, and Jonathan to Jaddua, the latest historical character mentioned in the Old Testament.
Eliashib succeeded to the high-priesthood during the life-time of Nehemiah, and it was his grandson (Joiada’s son), whom the Tirshatha indignantly “chased” from him because of his unhallowed alliance by marriage with the house of Sanballat the Horonite (Neh. 13:28).
One tradition credits the closing of the canon of Old Testament to the days of Eliashib, before the death of Ezra. “The great synagogue” was supposed to have been presided over by this venerable servant of God (Ezra), and he is generally considered to have largely edited the books and arranged the Psalms in the order in which they are found in the Hebrew Bible. Some have thought to identify him with Malachi, supposing the title “Malachi” to be an untranslated word, simply meaning “My messenger,” or Messenger of Jehovah.” But this seems unlikely, as Malachi apparently portrays a later stage of declension. He may have prophesied in the days of Joiada or Jonathan. It is more than likely that another tradition, which gives Simon the Just the credit of settling authoritatively the limits of the canon, is the correct one.
Of these high-priests we know but little, save that Josephus implies that the former (Joiada) was exceedingly friendly to the mixed nations surrounding Judea, as indeed seems very likely, from the fact referred to above; his son having wedded the daughter of Sanballat, the arch-conspirator (Neh. 13:28). The Jewish historian, Josephus, declares that this young man, upon being driven out by Nehemiah, went over to the Samaritans, and with the aid of his wealthy and influential father-in-law, established the Samaritan system, and projected the building of a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. Such a temple was in existence as early as the days of Alexander the Great, but whether the unworthy son of Joiada had to do with its building is questionable. It is frequently the case, however, that one outwardly connected with the truth, without knowing its power in the soul, becomes the bitterest enemy of that which is of God, when repudiated for his unholy ways.
Jonathan (who is also called Johanan) left a most unsavory record. He was an insubject, godless man; though he remained to the last among the Jews, even committing the horrid crime of murder to make more secure his own place of authority as high-priest and ruler. He profaned the very temple of God by assassinating his brother Joshua (or Jesus) within its sacred precincts. Thus had corruption and violence so soon found a foothold among the separated remnant, emphasizing the solemn fact that mere correctness of position is of no real value, so far as maintaining what is of God is concerned, unless there be personal piety and devotedness to the Lord. We often hear of being “in the right place,” “on the true ground,” etc., but they are hollow and empty expressions when divorced from righteousness and holiness of truth. That believers on the Lord Jesus Christ should be a separated, unworldly people, no right-thinking Christian will deny or even question for a moment; but it is to the Holy and the True we are to be set apart and only as we “go forth unto Htm,” will our separation be of any real value, and we ourselves “vessels unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use.”
Man is prone to rest in what is merely outward, while neglecting or coolly ignoring what is inward; for “man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.” Hence the importance of insisting on reality, and not being content with mere outward conformity and ecclesiastical order. A Diotrephes will demand the latter while neglecting the former; but, on the other hand, another may be equally wrong if he lays stress only on what is subjective, while paying no attention to the question of association. The well-balanced Christian will have a care as to both, and neglect neither.
But we must return to our task of tracing out the history of the Jewish people under the high-priestly regime, during the years of Persian domination.
Jaddua was exercising the sacerdotal office when, in the course of God’s ways, the time had arrived for setting the Persian rule aside and giving it to the Greek. Jaddua was a man of spotless integrity, and his name is held in veneration to the present time.
It is related of him that he was a faithful servant under the kings of Persia; but when Alexander the Great had destroyed Tyre, and driven the armies of Darius Codomanus to the east in confusion, Jaddua was assured that the time had come for the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy as to the destruction of the second world-empire and its being replaced by the third. He recognized in the youthful Macedonian conqueror the rough he-goat with the notable horn between it$ eyes, who was to run upon the two-horned ram in the fury of his power and destroy it completely. Hearing that the cities of Syria were falling one by one before him, and that Alexander was actually on his way to besiege Jerusalem, Jaddua is said to have put on his pontifical garments, and with the Scriptures of the Prophets in his hand, to have gone forth to meet the conqueror, attended, not by armed men, but by a body of white-robed priests. As they drew near the army of Alexander, the latter is said to have hastened to meet them, prostrating himself on the ground before Jaddua, declaring he had but recently beheld the venerable pontiff in a vision, and recognized him as the representative of the God of heaven, who would show him what would be greatly to his advantage. Jaddua opened the prophetic roll, and had one of the scribes in his company read the visions of Daniel and their interpretation. Alexander saw the undoubted reference to himself, and declared he would never permit Jerusalem to be touched nor its temple polluted, and sent the high-priest back laden with gifts.
It is impossible at this late day to know whether this story is a mere tradition or sober history; but there is nothing unlikely about it; at least it teaches a valuable lesson, reminding us that the word of God has foretold the end from the beginning, and He who inspired it has declared, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.” Jaddua pos- sessed those Scriptures which reveal God’s plans as to the nations of the earth; for prophecy is but history written prior to the events. Therefore it is not at all unreasonable to suppose that he acted as tradition relates.
This is the specific value of the study of prophecy, that it enables one to act in the present in the light of the things that are yet future. So writes the apostle Peter, when he tells us: “We have also the prophetic word made sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed in your hearts, as unto a lamp that shineth in a dark place till the day dawn and the day-star arise. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of its own interpretation; for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man ; but holy men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:19-21, 1911 Version). “Daniel the prophet,” as our Lord calls him, was one of these; and his book was doubtless in Jaddua’s hand—not written by some unknown apocryphal romancist a hundred years later, as modern pseudo-critics would have us believe—but a part of the inspired word of God outlining events that were coming upon the earth long before some of the nations and many of the persons specified so distinctly were in existence.
(Under the Macedonian or Greek Empire B. C. 230. to the end of the hereditary priesthood.)
The “Scripture of truth,” communicated to Daniel by the angel (Dan. 10:21), gives in outline the history of the wars following the death of Alexander the Great, but tells us nothing of the various high priests who succeeded one another as temporal and spiritual lords in Judea. They were frequently but the puppets of their imperial masters, whether Syrian or Egyptian; for Palestine throughout nearly a century was an almost continual battle-ground, between the Kings of the North, (Syrian) and the Kings of the South (Egyptian) in their successive wars.
Alexander died at Babylon, B. C. 323, being only about 33 years of age, after a reign of 12/4 years. His was a life of remarkable achievement and marvellous conquests. With plans for greater things still to be accomplished, he died a sacrifice to his passions, when he ought to have been in the prime of manly vigor.
Having appointed no successor, nor given directions as to the disposition of his vast and newly-formed empire, with no heir but the prospect of a yet unborn child, he left all in confusion. Disorder, intrigue, and ambition threatened to destroy the immense empire erected at so bloody a cost.
After a time, however, it was agreed among his principal generals that the empire should be held by them for the posthumous child, who proved to be a son and was called Alexander II. Another reputed son, Hercules, had been slain sometime before. The jealousies of the generals soon resulted in the same fate being meted out to the infant heir and his mother Roxana.
The dominions were then divided among the principal generals, only two of whom need particularly occupy us, as they are the progenitors of the two rival dynasties denominated the Kings of the North and of the South.
Antigonus, one of Alexander’s most powerful generals, together with his son Demetrius seized Syria and the adjacent region, and sought to control Palestine of which Ptolemy Lagus, another general, was governor. The Jews favored Antigonus, and Ptolemy’s son, Soter, determined to wreak upon them a fearful vengeance for their treasonable actions. He besieged and sacked Jerusalem, entering it on the Sabbath, massacred vast numbers of the wretched inhabitants, and transported many more (some say, one hundred thousand) to Egypt, where he gave them such unexpected privileges that, despite all they had suffered from him, they were quite content to dwell in his land, and many of their co-religionists joined them, as life in Egypt was far more peaceful than in war-torn Palestine. These Egyptian Jews became largely Gentilized as the years went on, discarding their native tongue and many of their former customs, speaking the Greek language and copying the ways of the nations. Henceforth they became a power to be reckoned with, and for a time threat- ened to completely annihilate the ancient Jewish faith.
Against Ptolemy Soter, Antigonus now turned his arms, and at first was successful in wresting the three provinces from him. But, for five years, triumph alternately turned between first Ptolemy then Antigonus, until the unhappy land of Palestine was about ruined, and its people completely crushed.
Many in their despair imagined that the only possible and logical way out of their distresses was to become assimilated with the warring factions of one side or the other, as much as possible; and because of Ptolemy’s superior enlightenment and hopeful inducements the majority clung to him.
But in these dark days, during which Palestine was “the Debatable Land,” spoiled by her warring foes, there was always an election of grace, who held tightly to the now completed Scriptures of the Old Testament, embraced under three great heads, or divisions, viz., “The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms,” and clung desperately to the apparently forlorn hope of the coming Deliverer. It was of such that Malachi had written: “They that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord harkened and heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels (or, peculiar treasure); and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, be- tween him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not” (Mal. 3:16-18). It was just such a separating or winnowing process that was then going on. Ptolemy and Antigonus were but the flails used to separate the wheat from the chaff, or the great rollers that crushed the ore, and freed God’s jewels from the mass of the Jews in whom was but a traditional faith.
Nor were the sorrows of the remnant at an end when, in B. C. 301, the Battle of Ipsus put a quietus on the evil energy of Antigonus. In this great conflict—one of the decisive battles of the world—Antigonus and Demetrius were opposed by the renowned quartette of Alexander’s generals, among whom his empire was ultimately divided, namely: Ptolemy Soter, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander. The allies were triumphant, slaying Antigonus, utterly routing his army, and causing Demetrius to flee for his life. He was apprehended several years later by Seleucus, and died in captivity.
The confederate generals, who had previously borne the titles of governors or satraps, now partitioned the empire, Cassander becoming king of Greece; Lysimachus of Thrace, or Armenia; Seleucus, of Syria and the adjacent regions; and Ptolemy of Egypt, Palestine, Libya and Arabia. It was the four-fold division of the Grecian empire pictured in the four horns of the rough goat seen in the vision by Daniel, and so plainly predicted in the “writing of truth.” In fact, the eleventh chapter of Daniel gives a summary of the conflicts of the Seleucidae (as the successors of Seleucus were called) and the Ptolemies (the Egyptian rulers) for a century and a half after the battle of Ipsus.
But as it is rather the Jews than their Gentile rulers with whom we are concerned, we turn to trace again what little is left on record of their vicissitudes while the potsherds of the earth strove with one another.
Jaddua, the high-priest, died sometime between Alexander’s death and the agreement, about twenty years later, of which we have spoken. He was succeeded by Onias I, of whom we know but little, who, in turn, died B. C. 300, one year after the battle of Ipsus. His son, known as Simon the Just, succeeded him—so-called, Josephus tells us, “because of his piety toward God and his kind disposition to those of his own nation.” The 50th chapter of the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus is his best memorial. There he is described as “Simon the high-priest, the son of Onias, who in his life repaired the house again, and in his days fortified the temple; and by him was built from the foundation the double height, the high fortress of the wall about the temple.” And various other works of piety are credited to him. He is eulogized in terms that more befit Messiah Himself, even described as the “morning star,” “the sun shining upon the temple,” and “the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds.”
That the temple service was had in honor, and a measure of reverence and godliness preserved among the priests and people in his days, must be the conclusion of all who read the chapter through.
Simon was one who sought to stem the Hellen-
izing or Grecianizing spirit, and to recall the people to that separation to God which would have been their strength had they known what it was to maintain it in holy humility. In verses 22 to 26 we may have the language of Jesus, the son of Sirach, but we undoubtedly have the sentiment of Simon the Just. Verses 25 and 26 are noteworthy: “There be two manner of nations which my heart abhorreth, and the third is no nation. They that sit upon the mountain of Samaria, and they that dwell among the Philistines, and that foolish people that dwell in Sichem (Shechem).”
The dwellers in Shechem, whom he stigmatizes so bitterly, were the Samaritans, who had built their hated rival temple upon Mount Gerizim, and had with abhorrent effrontery dared to add an eleventh commandment to the law: “Thou shalt build an altar on Mount Gerizim, and there only shalt thou worship!” How apt we all are, unconsciously, to arrogate such pretentious claims to that with which we have decided to associate ourselves.
The other two classes were the temporizers who sought a league with these Samaritans, and the apostates who had gone over to Israel’s ancient foes, the Philistines; both alike were thorns in the side of the pious and patriotic. To the fourth party belonged Simon himself; those who repudiated all that was foreign to the spirit of Judaism and clung tenaciously to the holy writings and the sacred temple services. That these largely drifted into ceremonialism and heady exclusiveism should be a sad warning to those who attempt to maintain divine truth in a fleshly way, without the Spirit’s power. From these arose the sect of the Pharisees; rigid separatists, but hard and legal, having “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” On the other hand, we see in the Hellenizers the forerunners of the contemptuous, cultured, but unsound Sadducees of our Lord’s day. Simon was president of the Sanhedrim or High Council of the Jews, and the first of the great Rabbis whose oral teaching was embodied in the Mishna, which almost superseded the word of God itself. Alas, how ready are well-meaning people to put the ministry of human teachers in the place of the Holy Scriptures, and almost unconsciously begin “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” That Simon himself never contemplated this is evident; for, if tradition speaks truly, he it was who added the finishing touches to the work accredited to Ezra, and established authoritatively the canon of the Old Testament. He ever emphasized the supreme importance of the word of God, though he himself was looked up to in later days as if among the inspired, and in this we have another serious lesson for our own times. For there is the constant danger of either setting aside God-given teachers, or else actually allowing their ministry to supersede the Bible. Such men would indeed be the last to wish that such a place be given them. The object of all divinely-gifted servants of God would be to assert the authority of Scripture; their one desire in oral or written ministry would be the elucidation of the Word, and recalling the people of God to the Book, in place of giving them a substitute for it. But again and again has the ministry of great gifts, justly valued, been put in place of the Word of the living God, and thus made into a creed, which to maintain is to be orthodox, and to vary from is to be accounted heterodox.
The death of Simon the Just occurred in 291 B. C. He left an infant son; so his brother Eleazar was honored with the high-priesthood, a position he held until his death fifteen years later. Though wars abounded about them, and rumors of wars distracted them, the Jews enjoyed comparative peace in his time. The rival kings of the North and the South might carry on their struggles as they would, but Jehovah was to His people, during the reigns of the first three Ptolemies, who exercised suzerainty over Palestine, “a little sanctuary,” in which the righteous found safety and peace. God was watching over them. His good hand was upon them, and they found blessing, both temporal and spiritual, though the heathen raged without, and sects within threatened eventual ruin.
Ptolemy Soter reigned twenty years, and was succeeded, 284 B.C., by his son, known as Ptolemy Philadelphus. Considerable importance attaches to his reign; for it was while he was king and Eleazar high-priest, that the first translation of the Holy Scriptures was made. The Pentateuch, or five books of Moses was. by his request, translated into Greek, about the year 277 B. C, and book after book followed until the entire Old Testament was rendered in the same language, and deposited in the Imperial Library at Alexandria. This translation is generally known as the Septuagint (seventy), from a tradition that it was the joint production of seventy translators, though it is generally supposed the correct number was seventy-two. Another tradition says it was so-named because of the idea of the Jews that there were just seventy Gentile nations, and as Greek was at that time the world-language, this was the Bible for the entire seventy.
The version thus produced rapidly grew in favor even among the Jews, few of whom could read their own Hebrew Scriptures, as the Hebrew was already fast becoming a dead language. This was the Bible used in the days of our Lord and His apostles; and largely accounts for apparent discrepancies between Old Testament texts and New Testament quotations, which are generally from the Septuagint. This Greek translation of the Old Testament is often expressed, by the Roman numerals LXX.
In later days the strictly orthodox Rabbis of the Pharisaic school bitterly regretted this translation, and declared that it was “as great a calamity as the making of the golden calf.” This was because some of its renderings were rather paraphrases than translations, and were of such a character as to be a great aid to the Hellenizing Jews in their efforts to introduce the new learning and to overthrow the so-called orthodox teaching.
Upon Eleazar’s death, 276 B. C, his brother Manasseh became high-priest, and held office until his own decease, 251 B. C, which was the thirty-fourth year of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Little of moment occurred during his incumbency. He was succeeded by Onias II., the son of Simon the Just, who was an infant at his father’s death. This man was an unworthy son of so worthy a father. Josephus describes him as “a man of little soul.” During the reign of Ptolemy Euergetes, who came to the throne 247 B. C, the evil behaviour of Onias brought the nation of the Jews into grave trouble and danger. He neglected the annual tribute of twenty talents of silver for some years until the amount due to Euergetes became exceedingly high; and at last he sent an official called Athenion to demand the entire sum, or threaten the destruction of the Jewish state.
Onias and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were panic-stricken and knew not what to do. Only through the diplomacy of a nephew of the high-priest, Joseph, son of Tobias, was the calamity averted. He opened his house to the Egyptian ambassador and entertained him in a magnificent manner, and so pleaded for the Jews that Athenion returned to his royal master to give a most favorable report of the young man, and to counsel consideration for his nation. Joseph himself set out after him to plead in person for the royal clemency. On the way he traveled in a caravan of merchants from Coele-Syria and Phoenicia. Overhearing certain of those declaring their business, he determined to outwit them. It was their object to endeavor to purchase from the king for eight thousand talents the right to farm the taxes throughout Coele-Syria, Phoenicia, Judea and Samaria. Joseph saw how he might profit by such an appointment if he could obtain it for himself, so he determined to offer double the amount for the privilege, depending upon more than making it up out of the people. On the proper occasion he made his offer and was able to secure the position, and two thousand men were appointed to assist him. He was thus the first Jewish publican—the beginning of a detestable class in the eyes of all lovers of Israel, and put on the same level as the “sinners” of the nations, or even considered beneath them.
For twenty-two years Joseph kept this place. For a time, during the ascendency of Antiochus the Great (of whose wars we shall speak later on), he lost his lucrative post, but recovered it again when the Egyptian arms triumphed, and held it until his death.
We can well understand the abhorrence that Joseph’s course would inspire in the breasts of true Jewish patriots. As the servant of a foreign potentate, and under his protection, he enriched himself at the expense of his own people, grinding the faces of the poor, and extorting from them all he possibly could by taxes on their lands and goods, of which he kept for himself all that was over and above the yearly fee paid to the king of Egypt for the privilege. No wonder the name “publican” came to be a synonym for all that, was disgraceful to the Jew, and unworthy.
Upon the demise of Onias II, his son Simon II, succeeded him as high priest.
In his days grave conflicts were continually going on among the nations around, but there was comparative peace in Judea, save that warring factions among themselves did much to disturb the equanimity of the Jewish commonwealth. Particularly was this the case between the family of Joseph, known as “the sons of Tobias,” and the house of the high-priest. The ill-gotten gains of the publican-priest brought joy neither to himself nor his family, but resulted in a household feud of fiercest intensity, into the details of which we need not now enter, but shall advert to later.
The kings of the North and South continued their struggle for the possession of the Land, and once more Palestine played the part of a “buffer state.” Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the dynasty of the Seleucida, reigned thirty-three years, and was succeeded by Antiochus Soter, who reigned nineteen years. His successor, Antiochus Theos, wedded Berenice, a daughter of Ptolemy Philadelphus, who hoped thereby to strengthen his hold on Syria, but the ruse was a failure, and only made matters worse.
Antiochus Theos was followed by Seleucus Callinicus. He was killed, 226 B. C, by a fall from hi« horse. This was the year after Onias II sent his crafty nephew Joseph into Egypt to make peace with Ptolemy. Seleucus Ceraunas, a weakling, and an object of contempt, succeeded Callinicus, but was poisoned within a short time. He was succeeded by his brother, destined to become one of the most renowned of the Syrian kings, and known in history as Antiochus the Great. He became king 223 B. C, while Ptolemy Euergetes was on the Egyptian throne. This prince died two years later, poisoned, it is supposed, by his son Ptolemy IV, known as Philopater, who soon afterwards murdered his mother and brother. Against him Antiochus the Great declared war, with the ostensible purpose of recovering Palestine and the adjacent lands for himself. At first he was successful, but at the battle of Raphia, 217 B. C, he was defeated with tremendous loss.
Philopater marched through the land in triumph, and the people everywhere submitted to the exultant victor. In Jerusalem he gained the favor of the Jews by giving rich gifts to the temple and offering many sacrifices and oblations. But he undid all this a little later by insisting upon entering the Holy of holies against the vehement protests of priests and people. Tradition says that as he impiously pressed forward he was smitten with paralysis and carried out half dead. As a result, he left Judea in dismay, but with intense hatred for all things Jewish.
A peace was shortly afterwards patched up between Ptolemy and Antiochus, whereby Coele-Syria and Palestine were confirmed to the king of Egypt. For a few years following, the Jews in Palestine had rest, but it was far otherwise with those who were settled in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt. Against them the resentment of Ptolemy burned fiercely, and he persecuted them unmercifully, thus proving that Egypt was, as the prophet had long ago declared, “a bruised reed” to rest upon.
Philopater died 204 B. C, succeeded by his son Ptolemy Epiphanes, a child of but five years of age. In his minority Antiochus the Great re-asserted his claim to the lost territories, and seized them in 203-2, B.C. A few years later Scopas, an Egyptian general, led an army into Palestine and recovered the two provinces, but the following year, 198 B. C, Antiochus recaptured them. In 193 B. C, a marriage was consummated between the youthful Ptolemy and Cleopatra, daughter of Antiochus, and on the basis of this a peaceful agreement entered into whereby the revenues should be divided between the two kingdoms, and Palestine be nominally subject to Egypt. On Antiochus’ further troubles, his war with Rome, his defeat, his sacrilegious pillaging of the temple of Jupiter-Belus (187 B.C.), and his death by the hands of the mob, when according to Daniel’s words, “He stumbled and fell, and was not found,” we need not here dwell, as it is with the Jews we are immediately concerned.
Their sufferings had been fearful to contemplate in the awful years referred to above. Whichever party won, they lost. Whoever prospered, they were robbed. But in those days of terror and nights of anguish, who can doubt that “many were purified and made white” who otherwise would have been living in ease and careless indifference toward God?
Seleucus Philopater followed his father as king of Syria, but died by the treachery of his treasurer, Heliodorus, 175 B. C. This Seleucus is the “raiser of taxes” spoken of in Dan. 11; his father’s war with Rome having made it necessary to purchase peace at a great price.
Ptolemy Epiphanes died by poison while yet a youth, 180 B. C, and his son, Ptolemy Philometer reigned in his stead; his mother, Cleopatra, being queen- regent. At this time Seleucus Philopater held authority over Palestine, though how he obtained it is not clear, but it seems that the Jews themselves preferred Syrian to Egyptian rule, and readily submitted to him. This was during the high-priesthood of Onias III, in whose days the second book of the Maccabees says, “The holy city was inhabited in all peace, and the laws were kept very well, because of the godliness of Onias, the high-priest, and his hatred of wickedness” (2 Mace. 3:1). Thus we have again illustrated the proverb, “Like priest like people.” On the other hand, we have evidence of an easy-going self-confidence which rested in keeping the laws of the Lord “very well,” when, in reality, there was the gravest reason to be in the dust of humiliation before God for the centuries of failure that had resulted in the Lo-ammi condition in which they were still found. For they are never owned as God’s people after the Babylonian captivity, nor will be again till their repentance in the time of the end yet to come.
Onias III was the last to obtain the high-priesthood by inheritance. He was eventually deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes, brother and successor to Seleucus Philopater. With his setting aside, the high-priestly epoch closes and a new period begins, which we leave, with the events leading up to it, for a distinct chapter.
The century we have been considering, was one in which the Jews had practically no national history, and we have been chiefly occupied with their rulers and neighbors. They were, nevertheless, ever under the eye of God, and nothing happened to them but what his love and wisdom allowed.
Throughout all the darkness, He kept a lamp of testimony burning in Jerusalem, according to the word He had sworn to His servants of old, for David’s sake and for His own glory.
In the next period He gave them unexpected deliverances that remind us of the days of the Judges, and to the consideration of this heroic epoch we will now turn.3
1 Faithful Words, edited by H. F. Witherby
2 “And Jeshua begat Joiakim; Joiakim also begat Eliashib, and Eliashib begat Joiada; and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua … The Levites, in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, were recorded ohief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian”—which was nearly to the end of the Persian Empire.
3 I have endeavored to trace out a little more in detail the history of the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae in my Lectures on Daniel. The inquiring reader might consult the address on chapter 11:1-35.