The angel began with the history of the Persian kingdom, for at the time of the vision the Babylonian monarchy was entirely gone. It was the third year of the sole reign of Cyrus, and the fifth year since Darius the Mede had taken Babylon. It will be remembered that Daniel had seen the various nations, as they rose one after another on the stream of time. God is the only perfect authentic historian; the only unbiased record of national events is found in the Scriptures. Men record acts, but only God can give those acts their proper setting in the great drama of life. There is one unbroken chain of events, a silken thread in the web of life, a perpetual spring in the tide of human affairs. This is the record of God's dealings with his chosen people. Egyptian history is noted in the inspired record of the world, but only as it played some part in connection with Jehovah's people. Likewise Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome; whatever the nation and whatever its place in time, its history is noted by the divine historian only during the time when it has been an instrument in God's hand to spread his truth, or to protect his people.
It was for such a purpose that the Medo-Persian kingdom came into existence, and when it had fulfilled that work, and the Spirit of God was withdrawn, it passed from the stage of action.
The Medo-Persian empire was born when the
time was ripe for Israel's deliverance from the bondage of Babylon. The first king of the united empire was Darius the Mede. He was a man well advanced in life when he came to the throne; threescore and two years old, the record states. But throughout his reign, Gabriel stood by him "to confirm and to strengthen him." To Darius was given an opportunity to liberate the Jews. The Spirit of God pleaded with him, and it brought Daniel into his favor, so that he placed the prophet in the third position in the kingdom. Darius knew of God and his power, for it was he who spent the sleepless night in prayer while Daniel was in the lions' den. Darius, however, did no great work for the Lord. He reigned but two years, when Cyrus took the kingdom.
From the accession of Cyrus to the end of the history of MedoPersia, Gabriel worked with the kings. His first words to Daniel in this last vision are to this effect: "I will return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come." When, therefore, the influence of God should be withdrawn from the king of Persia, no power on earth could help them. This thought was made emphatic when the rough goat was seen to meet the ram on the banks of the River Granicus. Wealth, arms, and influence were without avail.
Of the seven years of the reign of Cyrus, the third was already entered at the time of the vision. His first recorded act on taking the kingdom was to issue the proclamation of freedom to the Jews. Throughout the length and breadth of the land the tidings were heralded. It did not take over twelve months for the message to reach the most remote corners of the
empire where the Jews might be found. Every inducement which monarch could offer was held out to that people. The slow movement on the part of a few, and the utter inactivity with the great majority, surprised Cyrus beyond measure. It is one of the saddest commentaries in the whole Bible on the perverseness of the human heart, and its desire to cling to sin.
When it is remembered that Babylon was the personification of all vileness; that injustice and oppression abounded, and that the decree of Cyrus was a call from God to liberty and purity of life, the effect of living long even in the sight of sin ought to appall one. This is a picture of the way the calls of God have been treated over and over again. Here is seen the exact counterpart of what people are doing to-day when asked of God to forsake modern Babylon.
One reason why the Jews were slow about withdrawing from ancient Babylon was because the children and youth had been neglected during the seventy years' captivity. Jewish homes should have been schools, training these children for the city of Jerusalem. Instead, Jewish children attended Babylonian schools, mingled with Babylonian society, wore Babylonish apparel, talked, ate, and acted like the Babylonians; and consequently, when the time came to leave Babylon, they had no desire to do so.
Had the Hebrew race been true to its privileges, they might have established schools of the prophets, from which light would have radiated to all parts of the kingdom. This opportunity was offered in the first days of the captivity, when Nebuchadnezzar was witness to the fact that all the Chaldean learning was not worth one
tenth what God could teach. Daniel and his companions were brought into favor because of their knowledge of true educational principles, and had schools been established at that time, Chaldean youth would doubtless have been educated by the Jews, and in the religion of the Jews. God had always intended that Israel should be the teachers of the world, and even after sin had led them into slavery, he gave then an opportunity to teach their captors and their captors' children. Did Israel do so? The end of the seventy years and the response to the decree of Cyrus answer, No. They did not teach others; they failed even to teach their own children. As a result, thousands perished with Babylon.
Those who did go up to Jerusalem were half-hearted in their service, and ready to give up before the least opposition. When the foundation of the temple was laid, the old men wept because it did not equal in splendor the temple of Solomon, and there was little influence exerted to bring others from Babylon. There is little wonder that after waiting two full years to see results, Cyrus was perplexed and astonished at the outcome. What wonder that Daniel had to wait three weeks for an answer to his prayer, while Gabriel and Michael pleaded with the disheartened Cyrus! Cyrus was ready, had the Jews done their part, to make Jerusalem the glory of the whole earth. As it was, we do not find any record of further work by this king. He died, the work he might have done but partially accomplished because of neglect and inactivity on the part of God's chosen people.
Satan had witnessed the workings of the Spirit of God on the hearts of men at the very center
of the government he claimed as his own. It was due to his influence that the Jews did not make a grand entry into Jerusalem. Cyrus struggled between two influences, but was restrained by Gabriel from doing any act of violence. Cambyses, his son, reigned nearly eight years, but most of his time was spent in useless and expensive warfare in Egypt and Ethiopia. Cambyses is the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:5. To him the Samaritans wrote letters of complaint against the Jews at Jerusalem. But Cambyses was too busy with his foreign wars to give heed to this matter, and hence no action was taken either for or against the work at Jerusalem. The Jews were still at liberty to leave Babylon, but such a time of national quiet was not conducive to great activity on their part, and they remained where they were. The time came when they wished with all their hearts that they had gone out during those peaceful years.
Cambyses was slain while in Egypt; and before the report was circulated throughout the Medo-Persian empire, an impostor took the throne which belonged to Smerdis, the son of Cambyses. The impostor, known in history as Pseudo-Smerdis (the false Smerdis), is the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7. He reigned but seven months, but that gave him time to consider complaints from the Samaritans, and the tribes about Jerusalem, and to issue a commandment for the building of Jerusalem to cease until further word should come from the throne. This letter of the false Smerdis is found in Ezra 4:18-22. This is the only act which the divine historian mentions in the life of this Persian monarch.
Although very little is said about him, God
knew every move he made. This is seen as we follow the history of the decrees. As soon as the Jews at Jerusalem heard the reading of the letter from the false Smerdis, all work ceased. "For," reasoned they, "how can we go on?" After they ceased to build, God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, and from these we gain a knowledge of how matters then went in Jerusalem.
The people ceased to build the temple, and turned to building houses for themselves. When urged to continue the Lord's work, they complained that money was scarce. They sowed seed, but the harvest was less than the amount sown; their trees bore little or no fruit; there was drought, and the cattle died; men could not pay their rent or taxes, and became slaves because of debt, and sold their children into bondage. Then they complained to God. But all the time God was working for them, and they knew it not.
This is the way he worked: In the city of Babylon, six of the chief men of the empire suspected that the reigning king was not the rightful heir, and they banded themselves together to find out. Forcing their way into the presence of Smerdis, they recognized the impostor, and slew him, and Darius, the chief of the band, was made king. This is the man in history known as Darius Hystaspes, and is Darius the Persian spoken of in Ezra 4:24.
Gabriel still guarded the throne of the Persians, and while the weak-hearted Jews left off building the temple because of a little opposition, God was bringing a man to the throne who would carry forward the work of Cyrus. Haggai and Zechariah gathered the people together and
urged them to resume the work of building, giving the word of the Lord that their poverty was the direct result of their own refusal to build in the face of difficulties. The Jews took up the burden, but presently Tatnai and others, governors of tribes in Palestine, came to Jerusalem and warned the Jews to cease. Haggai, Zechariah, Zerubbabel, and Jeshua quoted the decree of Cyrus. Tatnai then wrote to Darius, expecting, of course, that he would put an end to the work. Darius, however, caused a search to be made, and found the decree of Cyrus, with all its particulars concerning the building, the sacrifices, and the order for money for the same from the king's treasury.
Here is a manifestation of God's goodness and mercy. That which in the eyes of men looked like defeat was turned into a glorious victory. Darius issued a decree which covered all that was contained in the decree of Cyrus, and more also. Tatnai and the men who had entered complaint were commanded to help forward the work at Jerusalem by giving their own money to bear the expense.
Watch those men, Tatnai, Shethar-boznai, and their companions, who had raised such an outcry against God's work. When the decree of Darius was received, the accusers went with great speed to the Jewish leaders. Seeming defeat was turned into signal victory, because God was directing in the affairs of men. Bitter enemies became friends, or at least assistants, when the breath of Jehovah confounded their worldly policy. Again God especially favored Israel.
The warnings of Jeremiah were still heard: "Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver
every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity. . . . We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country. . . . The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God."
"O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." Israel heeded not. For thirty-six years-think of it, over a quarter of a century-Darius reigned, and Gabriel stood at his right hand to keep his heart tender toward the chosen people.
The angels of heaven watched intently to see Israel return and build Jerusalem. To the prophet Zechariah, in the days of Darius, was given a wonderful view of the future history of the people of God. Jerusalem was given an opportunity in those days to build so as to become an everlasting city. Said one angel to another in the hearing of Zechariah, "Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, for the multitude of men and cattle therein." Instead of walls of stone, such as Jerusalem and the cities of the world had hitherto been accustomed to build, God promised to be a wall of fire round about. "Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north. . . . Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon."
Abounding love, like the love of a mother for her firstborn, is heard in the words of Jehovah: "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! for lo, I come. I will dwell in the midst of thee." Christ's first and his second coming were both promised then, and would doubtless have followed in quick succession had Israel heeded.
Throughout all the world the glory of the Lord should be seen upon Zion, daughter of the living God. "I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and JERUSALEM SHALL BE CALLED A CITY OF TRUTH!" "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion: shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee."
To those who mourned because the new temple seemed less glorious than the former one, Christ, looking forward to the time when he himself should enter there with words of life for his people, said, by the prophet Haggai, "I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory." "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former . . . and in this place will I give peace." This he said referring to his personal visit in the form of humanity.
And again, by the same prophet, he asked them to witness to the fact that from the very day they began to build, the land yielded abundantly; the silver and the gold flowed in, and there was general prosperity.
By Zechariah the latter rain was promised to Jerusalem; great clouds of his glory should overshadow them. In Jerusalem the weak should be as David, and David as the angel of the Lord. All this he told them by the prophet Zechariah. Read the entire prophecy for its glorious promises. If we had lived in Babylon in the days of Darius, would he have hearkened? Hear the prophet as he looks still farther into the future, and sees the Lord coming and all his saints with him to crown Jerusalem, the City of our God, the bride of the Apocalypse. It should be an
eternal city, with sin and iniquity blotted from the earth.
Zechariah saw these things in the days of Darius, king of Persia; and had the Jews come out of Babylon, and followed where God would have led, such would have been the history of the world. They heeded not his voice, and after a lapse of nearly twenty-five hundred years, the people of to-day find themselves heirs to exactly the same promises under precisely the same conditions. If the church of God to-day follows the instruction of the prophets, every promise of Zechariah shall be theirs. If not, the history of the Jews during the reign of the king who followed Darius, will be repeated.
In giving this history to Daniel, these details were omitted, and Daniel did not live to see them carried out. To him the angel said, speaking in the third year of the reign of Cyrus, "Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all."
The three kings who followed Cyrus were Cambyses, PseudoSmerdis, and Darius. These, and their part in the history of the Jews, we have already seen. The fourth king of Persia after Cyrus the Great was noted for his wealth, and the great army he raised against the Greeks. This king was Xerxes, who came to the throne on the death of Darius, in the year 486 b. c. Our interest lies in the record of his dealings with the Jews, and to that history one entire book of the Bible is devoted. Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of Esther 1, and the book of Esther is the record
of the acts of this king with reference to the people of God who were still living in the kingdom of Babylon, over which Xerxes was sole monarch.
The Medo-Persian kingdom was at its height during the reign of this king. He held in subjection one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, extending from India to Ethiopia. His capital was at Shushan, in the province of Elam. Some estimate of the wealth at the disposal of this ruler may be gained from the fact that for six months the princes, rulers, and governors of all the provinces, representing the power of the Persian king in all parts of the realm, were entertained at the royal palace; and that when this gathering was over, the palace of Shushan was thrown open for a full week, during which time all the people were feasted in the gardens. There was drinking of wine and reveling. It was similar to the time when Belshazzar feasted with a thousand of his lords. The furnishings of the palace, with its marble walls and floors, its rich curtains and draperies of many colors, hanging by silver rings to the lofty pillars, told of the gratification of pride. The beds and couches were of gold and silver, and they drank from wine cups of gold. Truly Medo-Persia was the daughter of Babylon.
The story of Vashti is a familiar one. Ashasuerus
commanded her to appear before his half-drunken company, and she refused. Then she was set aside, and a Jewish maiden, her nationality being unknown, became queen of the Persian kingdom. This was Hadassah, known as Esther, an orphan of the house of Saul, whose parents had been among the royal captives in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. She had lived always with a cousin by the name of Mordecai, who treated her as his own daughter. Little did Mordecai and his wife think when they took the helpless infant Hadassah that she would one day stand for her people in the presence of the king. She was an obedient child, and consequently became an obedient woman. She was simple-hearted and unassuming, requiring little and demanding nothing. She loved her own people, although to be true to them meant that she must look death in the face.
Daniel was no longer living, and there were few if any to represent the worship of the true God in the court of the godless king. Mordecai sat at the king's gate, it is true, and in time of a conspiracy he reported the matter to the king; but there were few occasions when he could mingle with those in authority. Wickedness and injustice abounded, and Mordecai refused to countenance such principles, and would not bow before the haughty Haman, one of the king's counselors. This was pretense enough for the enemies of the Jews to work upon, for they were now a hated race throughout the empire. They had failed to take advantage of the time of national favor, and Persia had turned against them.
For about forty years mercy had been extended to Israel, and that people had turned a deaf ear
to all entreaty. Forty years has often been called the allotted time for a generation to settle its destiny either for or against the truth. Moses was forty years in the wilderness, unlearning the things of Egypt, and being taught in the things of God; Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness, when only eleven days were necessary to make the journey from the Red Sea to the border of Canaan; forty days Christ endured severe temptation as a figure of the time before the destruction of Jerusalem; forty years sealed the fate of the Reformation in Germany; and it was forty years from the preaching of the sealing message until the time of the loud cry.
So Israel was given forty years in Babylon while angels held the winds of strife. At the end of that time Xerxes yielded to the suggestion of Haman, and issued a decree against that "certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces." If entreaty would no longer attract the attention of the Jews, God would in his mercy let persecution come, that they might be compelled to flee to his side for protection. But when persecution and hardship are approaching, the love of God is so great that he prepares the deliverer beforehand.
The angel of God had guarded Hadassah, and directed in her education. He had brought her to the kingdom "for such a time as this." When there was no man to represent his cause, Jehovah used a woman, and she, a young woman. Her very beauty was consecrated to the Lord, and he made use of that. God loves the young people, as the history of the Jews certifies.
Messengers were sent by post to carry the
king's decree to every province in the vast empire. It was sealed with the king's signet, and the laws of the Medes and Persians were unchangeable. On a set day every Jew in the kingdom was to be put to death by the sword; old, young, men, women, and little children, none were excluded. Satan triumphed in the thought that at last Israel was in his hand, and the cause of God should fall. "The king and Haman," two of Satan's servants, "sat down to drink."
The city of Shushan first heard the decree, and consternation filled the hearts of the Jews. There was distress in every home. "The city of Shushan was perplexed." Scarcely one year from the date of the decree and death would be their lot. There was seemingly no way of escape. Years before they might have gone up to Jerusalem, but now it was forever too late. A bitter wail of agony reached heaven, and as those messengers of the king sped on, the cry grew louder. The voices of the Jews at Shushan were strengthened by sounds of mourning from thousands of Jews in all the provinces.
Esther, in the king's palace, was ignorant of the decree, but Mordecai made known to her the universal distress, and sent her a copy of the king's command. The crucial moment had come to her. Should she, could she, be true to her God? The Hebrews of Shushan put on sackcloth, and for three days fasted for the queen. Then she came forth in the strength of her God. Queenly, beautiful, trusting, she stood in the inner court over against the king's house, awaiting the recognition of the monarch of
earth, to cross whose will meant death. On one hand she saw death at the hand of Xerxes; on the other, the approval of her God. "If I perish, I perish," she said, and God accepted her sacrifice.
God had prepared from afar for her deliverance. The very act of kindness done years before by Mordecai wrought in the deliverance of his people. Who says there is no record kept of man's acts, or that man performs any deed of kindness unprompted by heavenly beings? God used Esther to save his people; he also used Mordecai.
Haman, the one who proposed the decree, was hung on a gallows built for Mordecai; Mordecai was promoted to the position of chief counselor of Xerxes; and a decree issued that on the day appointed for the slaughter of the Jews, every Jew should bear arms and defend himself against the Persians. And the fear of the Jews fell upon all the people. Again God had defeated the schemes, not of men only, but of the archenemy. Truth triumphed in spite of the waywardness of his people. This decree of Ahasuerus, or Xerxes, is the counterpart of the decree which will soon be issued by the beast of Revelation thirteen against the followers of God. It will find a people situated as were the Jews in Babylon; it will find others who have withdrawn from Babylon, and as the enemy rushes upon this latter class to slay them, the swords will fall like broken straws, for the angels of God will fight for his people.
This record, given in the book of Esther, is preserved in Bible history that men may know the future. God's dealings with the Jews reveal
the principles of his government, and in this history is a graphic description of the sins and deliverance of spiritual Israel.
Xerxes was a cruel, arrogant man, and his character is shown not only in his dealing with the Hebrew race, but with other peoples as well. Not content with the extent of territory under his control, he mustered an immense army-over five million, historians state-and crossed the Hellespont to subdue Grecia. Defeat and disaster accompanied the effort, however, and he returned unto his own kingdom.
The Spirit of God was not yet withdrawn from the MedoPersian court, and although Xerxes is the last king mentioned in the vision which Daniel saw, yet God was still holding out mercy to the Israelites; and it was during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the successor of Xerxes that the final decree for the return of the Jews was issued. In like manner the grand jubilee will immediately follow Satan's last effort to destroy the people of God.
In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, the heart of Ezra was stirred by the Spirit of God, and he appealed to the king for assistance. In response to the appeal Artaxerxes issued the commandment recorded in Ezra seven. This is the decree of the year 457 b. c., mentioned in chapter ten, page 126, and is the date from which to reckon 164Margin the beginning of the two thousand three hundred days of Daniel 8:14, and the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24. The decree of Artaxerxes included all that was contained in the decrees of Cyrus and Darius, and gave further commandment to build the wall and establish a government.
Eighty years had passed since the decree of Cyrus-eighty years of forbearance; but even after the experience of the days of Esther and Xerxes there was little interest manifested in the rebuilding of Zion, and the company who went with Ezra was small compared with what it should have been. The condition in Jerusalem was discouraging, for there the Jews had intermarried with the Canaanites, bringing in iniquity and confusion. The Sabbath was desecrated, and the services of the Lord's house were neglected. It was not until the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, after Ezra had labored for Israel thirteen years, that Nehemiah came from Babylon and stirred the people into activity. Then, and not till then, were the walls rebuilt. Even then it was fighting with one hand and building with the other, because of a multitude of enemies. It was only then that they began to pay tithe, and to cease from ordinary traffic on the Sabbath; it was then that they put away their heathen wives; but they did it only because threatened by God's wrath.
Truly Israel was stiffnecked and rebellious. A remnant was saved from Babylon, but it was only a remnant; and that remnant, after years of struggling and much halting, was as a brand snatched from the burning.
Jerusalem, which might have been the glory of the earth, fell a prey to each succeeding kingdom. Daniel's mind turned to the rising power of the kingdom of Grecia, and Gabriel next spoke of the mighty one who should rule with great dominion. Medo-Persia sank into a state of weakness, and the angel withdrew his sheltering wings; probation was passed for another nation.
It, too, had been numbered and found wanting; and its name is dropped by the inspired penman.
The history of the Persian empire, until it passed its zenith, is the history of the decrees; and when that nation ceased to help forward the people upon whom God was still bestowing light, it is lost sight of by the divine historian.
Time waits for neither man nor nation. The life of each individual may be read in the history of the years of Medo-Persian supremacy. Let us hasten our steps toward the New Jerusalem.