A Peaceful Interval
It was one of the stipulations of the peace offered by the young Antiochus, and accepted by Judas, that the King should be admitted with due ceremony into the surrendered fortress. It was to be a formal acknowledgment of his authority, but nothing more. No change, it was understood, was to be made; the King and his attendants were not to go beyond the court which it was lawful for the Gentiles to enter.
On the morrow, accordingly, the boy-King came with a splendid procession of nobles and officers. In front marched a company of soldiers, picked from the whole army for their beauty of feature and commanding stature, and gorgeous with their gilded arms. Then, in the order of their dignity, came the high officers of state; last, the young monarch himself, the Governor Lysias leading him by the hand.
The approach to the Temple was thronged by a crowd of eager spectators, none of whom were more profoundly interested in the sight than the little Daniel, with his cousins Miriam and Judith. The child's fancy had been caught by all that he had heard of the young prince. It seemed strange to him, almost beyond belief, that a lad, a little older, it was true, than himself, but younger than Miriam, should have power to do so much harm. "Mother," he said one day to Ruth, "why does God let him hurt so many people? It is all his doing that the brave soldiers are shut up in the Temple, and that we have so little to eat. Will he not be punished for it some day? I suppose, as he is a king, nobody can punish him except God. But He will, won't He, mother?"
Then came the unexpected news of the peace; and nothing would satisfy little Daniel but that he must see the boy-King received in the Temple. Eagerly did the child watch him as he walked in his little suit of armour, which the most skilful artizans in Antioch had made so light as not to be too much for his strength, and great was his delight when Eupator, catching a sight of his eager face, kissed his hand to him with a pleasant smile. That smile he never forgot, though it is true that his old anger against the young king returned next day almost as vehemently as ever when he heard that orders had been given that the ramparts of the Temple fortress were to be broken down, and that the Greek soldiers, anxious to depart, had begun the work of destruction the very hour at which the edict had been published.
Though this breach of faith was a great blow to the patriots, still they had much to console them. In the first place, to their intense relief, the Greek army marched away, and the Holy City was no more defiled by the presence of the heathen. Then the renegade Menelaüs, whom every faithful Jew hated with a more bitter hatred than he felt for the heathen themselves, went away, but not of his own free choice, with the King. Lysias had an honest man's dislike for a traitor, and indeed did not scruple to say that this impostor, who was neither good Jew nor real Greek, had done more than any one else to cause the recent troubles.
Not less welcome was the end of the Sabbatical year. This of itself would not, of course, have relieved the pressure of scarcity; but there was help from without which before had not been available. Hitherto the Jews had been under a ban; they were enemies of the Syrian King, and none who desired to be his friends would have any dealings with them. Now all was changed. The ban was removed. The people were in favour with Eupator and Lysias. A brisk trade commenced, and supplies of food came in abundance. With good heart and hope the people set themselves to the work. From being a city of mourning Jerusalem became gay and cheerful.
The general gladness culminated in the Feast of Tabernacles, always the most joyous of Jewish festivals, and now celebrated with special manifestations of delight. Never had the people felt so keenly the pleasure of seeming at least to return to the simple life of earlier times, the rustic enjoyments of a nation that had not yet learnt to dwell in cities. It was the ordinance that for seven days the Israelite should dwell, not in his house, but in a booth of boughs. For days waggon-loads without number of the boughs of the olive, the palm, the pine, the myrtle, and other trees which had a foliage sufficiently thick for the purpose, were brought into the city. When a house had a roof of a convenient size and situation, the booth was built upon it; in many cases it was set up in the court. Those who had come from elsewhere to share in the festival set up their booths in the court of the Temple, in the street of the Water Gate, and in the street of the Gate of Ephraim. It was a beautiful sight at any time, and now the fresh foliage hid the scars of many a grievous wound that had been inflicted during the years of desolation.
Every day, at the time of the morning sacrifice, each Israelite, gaily dressed in holiday attire, made his way to the Temple. Each carried in one hand a bundle of the same branches that were used in the building of the booths, and in the other a fruit of the citron tree. When all the company was assembled, and the parts of the victim had been laid upon the altar, a priest was seen approaching with a golden ewer in his hand. He had filled it at the pool of Siloam, and he brought it into the court of the Temple through the Water Gate. The trumpets sounded as he came in and ascended the slope of the altar. On each side of this were two silver basins; into that on the eastern side he the sacred water; while another priest poured wine into that on the western. Then the "Hallel" was sung; when the singers came to the words, "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good, because His mercy endureth for ever," each Israelite shook his bundle of branches; he did it again when they sang, "Save, Lord, I beseech Thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech Thee, send now prosperity;" and a third time at the words, "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever." In the evening there was a grand illumination. Eight lamps, so large and so high that they sent their light over nearly the whole of the city, were set up in the court of the Temple, while many of the people carried flambeaux in their hands. Meanwhile a company of Levites, standing on the steps of the Court of the Women, chanted to the music of cymbal and the harp the fifteen "Songs of Degrees."
These were the public rejoicings; the private festivities were on the most liberal scale. Never did the maxim that he who fails to contribute according to his means to the general joy is a sinner above other men meet with a more hearty acceptance.
Azariah with his daughters and little Daniel were watching the ceremonies of the last and greatest day of the feast from the roof of the Governor's house, where they were joined by Micah and by Joseph, who, it will be remembered, had shared with him the disastrous command of the city during the absence of Judas in Gilead. Joseph was exultant; Micah's face was grave and even sad.
"Thank the Lord, Azariah," cried Joseph, "for He has dealt with the traitor after his deservings."
"Whom mean you?" asked Azariah; "for we have had more traitors here than one."
"Whom should I mean but Menelaüs, the false priest who sat in Aaron's seat?"
"And what has befallen him?"
"The King has caused him to be put to death. He was in little favour when they took him home, for Lysias said that he had wrought all the mischief that had been done. And when they came to Antioch the matter of Oniah was brought against him, for there were many who loved the old man, and had taken it ill that his death had not been fully avenged. And when the young King heard the story, Menelaüs being present, and having nothing to say against it, he cried, 'I wonder that the King, my father, suffered this murderer to escape, but he shall not go unpunished any more. Take him, and cast him alive into the Tower of Ashes.' So they took him and did as the King had commanded."
"And what is the Tower of Ashes?" asked the little Daniel, who had been listening to this conversation with a sort of terrified interest.
Micah answered his question. "At Berea is a tower, the bottom of which is full of ashes, and in the tower is a machine which revolves and plunges the criminal who is bound to it deep into the ashes until he is smothered. But as for this unhappy man, the Lord have mercy upon him!"
Joseph turned fiercely upon him. "I marvel," he said, "that you should pray for this fellow, who was worse than the heathen. He has but had his deservings."
"And where should I be, if I had had mine?" answered Micah. "I walked in the same way with this Menelaüs, and sinned against the Law, even as he sinned, and but that God had mercy upon me, surely I had come to the same end."
"Don't be sorry, uncle," said the boy, holding up his little face for a kiss; "I am sure that God has forgiven you, for He knows how bravely you have fought for Him, and how many of the heathen you have killed with your sword."
"May it be so, dear child! But though He has forgiven me, yet I must reap as I have sown."
"And who shall be high priest in this traitor's place?" asked Joseph, after a pause. "For Oniah, the son of him that was slain at Antioch, is in the land of Egypt, and he takes part with the unfaithful brethren who would build another Temple among the temples of the heathen; leaving the place which the Lord has chosen to set His name there."
"And if the House of Zadok have perished, why should not Judas, son of Mattathias, be high priest?" said Azariah. "He is of a principal house among the sons of Aaron, and the Lord has been with him always."
Joseph had never forgiven Judas for his own disaster. His was one of those mean natures that justify the saying, "The injured may forgive, the injurer never." The captain had treated him with the same generous kindness which he had showed to Azariah, but this kindness had not been received in the same temper. On the contrary it rankled in his mind, till by a strange, yet not uncommon, perversion of feeling, it had produced a positive sense of injury. He now broke out:
"Nay, nay, my friend, you say too much. That he has won victories I deny not; but was the Lord with him when he fled before the face of the heathen at Beth-Zachariah, or when Beth-zur was yielded up to Lysias, or when we had well-nigh perished with famine in the siege, or when the King broke down the ramparts of the Temple? Not so: whatever the people may shout or sing in his praise, he too has known defeat, even as we have."
"This I know," said Azariah, "that whereas we were trodden underfoot by the heathen till there was no life left in us, now we are risen and stand upright."
"And how long, think you," returned Joseph, "will it be so with us? Did we drive away the King, or did he not rather depart of his own accord, because of what he and his counsellors had heard of the doings of Philip? And will he not return, and the end be worse than the beginning?"
Azariah answered, with some heat, "As for that which may happen hereafter, I say nothing. These things are in the hand of God. But that the young Antiochus departed to his own land was, I doubt not at all, of the Lord's doing. Why, even this child knows the story of Sennacherib, and the words which Isaiah the prophet spoke to Hezekiah when the King was faint-hearted, and could not see how there should be any deliverance for Israel. Did not the prophet say, 'He shall hear a rumour, and shall return unto his own land?' "
Joseph said nothing. With all his meanness and littleness he was a patriot, and really loved his country; and it went against his heart and conscience to prophesy evil against her.
Then the little Daniel startled them all by saying, with flashing eyes, "And I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land."