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their nation, for whom they procured some signal favours. In this period Cyrus the Persian is born. Under him are united the Persian and Median powers. He proves a wise and virtuous, as well as a warlike and victorious prince. A little before the time predicted for the deliverance of the Jews, he makes a conquest, and obtains the government of the Chaldean empire. He favours these captives, and grants them liberty to return to their own land. Under the authority of the decree passed in his reign, his successors continue to them this indulgence, and assist them in resettling their country, and rebuilding their city and temple. Some of their countrymen, now in honour and affluence at Babylon, sacrifice all their worldly possessions and prospects to the interest of this despised people, and not only aid, but accompany them in their return. Here, under the smiles of Providence, they increase in number, strength and importance, and soon become respectable among the nations around them.
In this great event, utterly improbable to human foresight, so conspicuous was the divine hand, that when God turned again the captivity of Zion, it was said among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.
God would have them consider, that all this was done, not for their sakes, but for his name's sake.
It was done, not on account of their worthiness, but from pure mercy.
They had been sent into captivity for the sins which they committed in their own land; and these sins they carried with them and still retained in the land of their captivity. Thus God complains of them in the preceding part of this chapter. "When the house of Israel dwelt in their own lard, they defiled it by their own way, and by their doings; wherefore I poured out my fury upon them, and I scattered them among the heathen.-And
when they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when it was said unto them, These are the people of the Lord, and they are gone forth out of his land." As if it had been said, "By their evil practices they have brought a reproach on my name, and given occasion to the heathen to say, See what profligate and impious wretches these Jews are, who call themselves the servants of a holy God! No wonder he has expelled them out of the country, which he gave them." When God promises their restoration, he calls upon them to remember all that they had done, and to be ashamed and confounded for their own ways.
This deliverance was not intended principally for their benefit; but for a more general and extensive good. "I do this," says the Almighty," for my name's sake, and that the heathen may know that I am the Lord."
In this work God glorified his great name. He gave a striking display of his power, by rescuing these feeble captives from the hands of superior enemies-of his wisdom, in so disposing events as to accomplish this mighty purpose of his foreknowl edge, in pointing out the time, manner and circumstances of their deliverance-of his faithfulness, in fulfilling the promises, which had long before been made in their favour-of his goodness, in watching over this unworthy people, and pardoning their numerous provocations-of his holiness, in chastising their iniquities of his justice, in punishing the oppressions of their enemies-of his sovereignty, in casting down a superiour nation to make way for their deliverance-and of the truth of the religion instituted among them, by accomplishing the predictions of his prophets.
God did not at first set his love upon them, because they were more in number than any people; for they were then the fewest of all people. Neither VOL. I. D
did he overturn the empire of Babylon in order to their deliverance, because they were the greatest nation in the world; for they were but an inconsiderable company, compared with the nation now conquered. He must have had some higher end than merely the advancement of this small number of captives, scarcely amounting to fifty thousands.
God's ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts. It is by a variety of means, and by a laboured process, that we effect a single purpose. A variety of vast and wonderful purposes God accomplishes by the same means. There is a connexion which runs through his works. The end, which seems first intended, is one step in the process, in order to bring about some distant and more important design.
1. The captivity and deliverance of the Jews were the means of spreading in the world the knowledge of God, and of the true religion.
The heathen were thus made to know that he was the Lord.
The benefits of the revelation, which God gave to the Jews, were not wholly confined to them. They reached to other nations. The frequent captivities and dispersions of this enlightened people, as well as the travels of their prophets, contributed to disseminate far and wide the knowledge of the truth. Babylon was the most celebrated city, and the capital of the most powerful empire in the world; so that by means of this long captivity, the knowledge of the true God was more extensively spread, than it would have been, had his professed worshippers been suffered to continue in their own land. By various other calamities, as famines, plagues, storms and earthquakes, God could have punished their manifold iniquities; but judgments of this kind were not so well adapted to diffuse the knowledge of his name.
The means made use of in Providence for their deliverance, conduced to the same great end. To make way for this event, the empire of Babylon is subdued by the Medes and Persians, who of course now become acquainted with the Jews, with the religion which they profess, and with the God whom they worship. The information which Cyrus received concerning the predictions of the prophets, and the conviction which he felt of their truth and divinity, were doubtless the motives which first prompted him to release these captives. It is evident that he, as well as some preceding and follow. ing kings of Babylon, acknowledged the God of Israel to be the true and supreme God. If they ac knowledged him, many of their subjects would follow their example. So that the Jewish revelation was, in fact, more extensive than some imagine. That which at first looks like partiality in their favour, was, in its effects, the exercise of general goodness.
2. The return of the Jews was a strong confirmation of the truth of their religion, adapted to give conviction to all who were witnesses of it.
The wonderful steps of Providence in accomplishing this event, and the exact fulfilment of the many predictions and promises which had been made concerning it, were undeniable proofs, that the God whom they worshipped, was the only true God.
3. God preserved this people, because to them were committed his sacred oracles.
Though they were a sinful nation, yet as the only instituted church and the only written revelation, were among them, he would not utterly destroy them. He spared them because a blessing for mankind was in them. As the scriptures, which they enjoyed, were ultimately designed for general benefit, God would preserve the nation to whose care he had committed them. Had these sacred writings
been extinguished by the destruction of the present possessors of them, the world would have sustained a loss, which could, by no human means, have been repaired.
4. God restored and preserved this people, because from them was to proceed the great Saviour of the world.
To Abraham was a promise made, that among his descendants, the Redeemer should be born, and in his seed all nations should be blessed. As the time was not yet come for the appearance of the promised Saviour, the nation from whom he was to spring, and who were first to be blessed with his presence, must be preserved. Accordingly we find, that until the time of his coming, this nation was God's peculiar care; though he often chastised them, he forsook them not utterly; though he delivered them up to captivity, he dissolved not their national state. But this singular care of them was not for their sakes; it was for the sake of mankind in general, that the blessing promised to Abraham might come on the Gentiles. And therefore, after the Saviour's death, this special care for them is withdrawn.
They are soon given up to the power of the Romans, by whom they are completely subdued, and scattered over the face of the earth; and even to this day they no where subsist in a national capacity.
5. The captivity and deliverance of this people, were events which conduced much to prepare the world for the reception of the Saviour.
By these meáns, many learned men, in the most respectable nations of the earth, were brought to the knowledge and belief of the Jewish scriptures, and of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. The prophecy of Daniel, which was delivered toward the end of the captivity, expressly pointed out the time