FOR a time, everything went well with the remnant at the capital in Mizpeh.  Hereditary piety was great; Gedaliah himself was gentle and popular; his reputation for he was the representative of the mighty and victorious government of the Chaldees.

Large crops were gathered in, and the sorrows of the people began to be softened by hopes of safety and peace under a foreign rule. But in the fall of that sad year all these rising hopes were quenched, and a deeper darkness than before settled upon the doomed country.

On the third of September, Ishmael, with ten companions, paid a visit to Gedaliah, and was cordially received and entertained in the governor's castle. The feast was a very lavish one, according to Josephus, and Gedaliah, the generous host, was overcome with wine.

This was the opportunity of Ishmael and his associates. They rose and fell upon him, slew him with the sword, and having taken possession of the castle, they put to death all, both Jews and Chaldeans, whom they found on the premises. None escaped to tell the news, so that for two whole days the people dwelling in the neighborhood, being busy with harvest, knew not the calamity which had befallen the settlement.

During this time a company of eighty pilgrims from the North, including, what is very remarkable, a number, of Samaritans, came to Mizpeh to pay their respects, and offer their sympathies and gifts, to the ruined temple of Jerusalem. Ishmael easily ensnared them into his den of slaughter, where he and his associates put seventy of them to death.

The melancholy fate of Gedaliah, and the subsequent slaughter in the castle, completely broke the spirits of the people.

Their leader was slain, the Chaldeans would be disposed to hold them responsible for the overthrow of the government, and they no longer felt themselves safe in Mizpeh, or indeed in any part of their country. In the panic, even the influence of Jeremiah could not control their movements. They pretended to ask his advice, but refused to listen to the messages divinely sent through his mouth. Against his earnest remonstrances, they set their faces south-ward, and returned to the country of their captivity, idolatrous Egypt.  The remnant who had fled into Egypt, soon fell back into the sin of idolatry, notwithstanding the fact that it was idolatry which brought upon the nation the chastisement of the Chaldean invasion. In Egypt they suffered for their idolatry the sore affliction of another Chaldean invasion. That under Cambyses, "the madman," was especially cruel and severe, both to the people and to their false gods. The conqueror ordered the great temple at Thebes to be pillaged and burned. At the celebration of an idolatrous feast in Memphis, he stabbed the sacred ox with his own poniard, ordered the priests to be scourged, and all the people who assisted at the sacrifice to be massacred. Amid such bloody scenes, the Jews in Egypt vanish from our knowledge. Far different was the destiny of those who had been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar into exile in Babylon. While those who remained in possession of the land proved unfaithful to the covenant, those in exile actually saved and perpetuated the spiritual life, and thus secured the high destiny of the people.

The history of these exiles gathers about the persons of the two great prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel. Ezekiel had been carried away to the country of the Chaldeans, with other distinguished persons, eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. The river Chebar, on which he and his companions dwelt, cannot now be recognized. These exiles formed a little colony with local arrangements almost amounting to self-government. Ezekiel, who was both priest and prophet, was held in the highest consideration among his companions, and was consulted by the elders on all occasions.

Five years after the beginning of his captivity, his call as a prophet came to him by the river Chebar, and for twenty or more years he continued to exercise its high duties. By his visions and predictions, he performed an important work in keeping alive the spirit of the exiles. The fact of his inspiration assured them that the God of Israel had not deserted his people. They were warned and rebuked for their worldly-mindedness, their false confidence, and their unfaithfulness.

They were instructed in the sins and the ill-desert of their nation which led to its downfall. Such men, with such a calling, formed the strength of Judaism. Without them there could have been no recovery from the calamities under which it was suffering.

The history of the colony on the Chebar ends with the record of Ezekiel himself. How, when, or where he died we are not told. But the colony need not be viewed as separate from the whole settlement of exiled Jews in Babylonia, which lasted as long as the city of Babylon itself. That great and magnificent city was the home of many of these exiles. Here, doubtless, much of the bitterness of their captivity was felt. Not held as slaves or seriously restricted in their personal liberty, they were yet strangers in a strange land. Here, by the river Euphrates, which ran through the city, they hung their harps upon the willows, and sat them down and wept while they remembered Zion. Here their enemies made sport of their griefs, and in the midst of their tears demanded a song. Here they made those vows which held them together as a people, and gave assurance that whether returning from captivity or preferring to remain in exile, they would be faithful to the hopes and destinies with which God had distinguished them from the other peoples of the earth:



If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,

Let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee,

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;

If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.


These early griefs indeed passed away, and more or less of contentment with their new circumstances came to be felt by the exiles. Especially would they be consoled when several of their number were treated with favor by the court, and were raised, like Daniel and his three companions, like Nehemiah and Esther, to very high positions in the government or about the king's person.




From Exile to Overthrow.