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Image Map : Christian Books : LESSON XV. ALEXANDER.

The Chosen People by Charlotte Mary Yonge


|Ships shall come from Chittim, and shall afflict Eber, and shall afflict Assur.| -- Num. xxiv.24.

Mountain lands, small islets, and peninsulas broken into by deep bays and gulfs, rise to the northward of the east end of the Mediterranean, and were known to the Jews as the Isles of the Gentiles. The people who dwelt in them have been named Greeks; they were sons of Japhet, and were the race whom God endowed, above all others, with gifts of the body and mind, though without bestowing on them the light of His truth. They had many idols, of whom Zeus, the Thunderer, was the chief; but they did not worship them with cruel rites like the Phoenicians, and some of their beautiful stories about them were full of traces of better things. Their best and wisest men were always straining their minds to feel after more satisfying knowledge of Him, Who, they felt sure, must rule and govern all things; and sometimes these philosophers, as they were called, came very near the truth. Every work of the Greeks was well done, whether poems, history, speeches, buildings, statues, or painting; and the remains have served for patterns ever since. At first there were many separate little states, but all held together as one nation, and used to meet for great feasts, especially for games. There were the Olympian games, by which they reckoned the years, and the Isthmean, which were held at the Isthmus of Corinth. Everyone came to see the wrestling, boxing, racing, and throwing heavy weights, and to hear the poems sung or recited; and the men who excelled all the rest were carried high in air with shouts of joy, and crowned with wreaths of laurel, bay, oak, or parsley, one of the greatest honours a Greek could obtain. Of all the cities, Athens had the ablest men, and Sparta the most hardy; and these two had been the foremost in beating and turning back the great Persian armies of Darius and Xerxes; but since that time there had been quarrels between these two powers, and they grew weak, so that Philip, King of Macedon, who had a kingdom to the north of them, and was but half a real Greek, contrived to conquer them all, and make them his subjects.

The ensign of Macedon was a he-goat, the rough goat that Daniel had seen in his vision; and the time was come for the fall of the Ram of Persia. Philip's son, Alexander, set his heart on conquering the old enemy of Greece; and as soon as he came to the crown, in the year 333, though he was but twenty years of age, he led his army across the Hellespont into Asia Minor. His army was very brave, and excellently trained by his father, and he himself was one of the most highly-gifted men who ever lived, brave and prudent, seldom cruel, and trying to do good to all who fell under his power. The poor weak luxurious Persian King, Darius, could do little against such a man, and indeed did not come out to battle in the way to conquer; for he carried with him all the luxuries of his palace, his mother, and all his wives and slaves. Before his army marched a number of men carrying silver altars, on which burnt the sacred fire; then came three hundred and sixty-five youths in scarlet dresses, to represent the days of the year; then the Magi, and the gilded chariot and white horses of the Sun; and next, the king's favourite soldiers, called the Immortal Band, whose robes were white, their breastplates set with jewels, and the handles of their spears golden. They had small chance with the bold active Greeks; and at the Battle of the Issus they were routed, and Darius fled away, leaving all his women to the mercy of the conqueror. The poor old Persian Queen, his mother, had never met with such gentle respect and courtesy as Alexander showed to her old age; he always called her mother, never sat down before her but at her request, and never grieved her but once, and that was by showing her a robe that his mother and sisters had spun, woven, and embroidered for him, and offering to have her grandchildren taught the like works. She fancied this meant that he was treating them like slaves, and he could hardly make her understand that the Greeks deemed such works an honour to the highest ladies, and indeed thought their goddess of wisdom presided over them.

While Darius fled away, Alexander came south to Palestine, and laid siege to Tyre upon the little isle, to which he began to build a causeway across the water. The Tyrians had an image of the Greek god Apollo, which they had stolen from a temple in Greece, and they chained this up to the statue of Moloch, their own god, to hinder Apollo from going over to help the Greeks; but neither this precaution nor their bravery could prevent them from being overcome, as the prophet Zechariah had foretold, |The Lord will cast her out, and will smite her power in the sea, and she shall be devoured with fire.|

|Gaza also shall see it, and shall be very sorrowful.| Alexander took this brave Philistine city after a siege of two months, and behaved more cruelly there than was his wont. It was the turn of Jerusalem next; but the Lord had promised to |encamp about His House, because of him that passeth by;| and in answer to the prayers and sacrifices offered up by the Jews, God appeared to the High Priest, Jaddua, in a dream, and bade him adorn the city, and go out to meet the conqueror in his beautiful garments, with all his priests in their ephods. They obeyed, and as Alexander came up the hill Sapha, in front of the city, be beheld the long ranks of priests and Levites in their white array, headed by the High Priest with his robes bordered with bells and pomegranates, and the fair mitre on his head, inscribed with the words |Holiness unto the Lord.| One moment, and Alexander was down from his horse, adoring upon his knees. His friends were amazed, but he told them he adored not the man, but Him who had given him the priesthood, and that just before he had left home, the same figure had stood by his bed, and told him that he should cross the sea, and win all the chief lands of Asia. He then took Jaddua by the hand, and was led by him into the Temple, where he attended a sacrifice, and was shown Daniel's prophecies of him as the brazen thighs, the he-goat and the leopard; he was much pleased, and promised all Jaddua asked, that the Jews might follow their own laws, and pay no tribute on the Sabbath years, when the land lay fallow.

Alexander next passed on to Egypt, where he built, at the mouth of the Nile, the famous city that still is called by his name, Alexandria; indeed he founded cities everywhere, and made more lasting changes than ever did conqueror in the short space of twelve years. He then hunted Darius into the mountain parts of the north of Persia, and after two more victories, the Greeks found the poor Persian king dying on the ground, from wounds given by his own subjects. So the soft silver of Persia yielded to the brazen might of Greece. After this, Alexander called himself King of Persia, and wore the tiara like an eastern king. He took his men on to the borders of India, but they thought they were getting beyond the end of the world, and grew so frightened that he had to turn back. All that the Medes and Persians had possessed now belonged to him, and he wanted to make Babylon his capital; he made his court there, and received messengers who paid him honour from all quarters; but he was hurt by so much success; he grew proud and passionate; he feasted and drank too much, and did violent and hasty things, but worst of all, he fancied himself a god, and insisted that at home, in Greece, sacrifices should be offered to him. He tried to restore Babylon to what it had been, and set multitudes to work to clear away the rubbish, and build up the Temple of Bel; but when he ordered the Jews to share in the work, they answered that it was contrary to their Law to labour at an idol temple, and he listened to them, releasing them from the command. He wished to turn the waters of the Euphrates back into their stream, and drain the swamps into which they had spread; but Babylon was under the curse of God, and was never to recover. Alexander caught a fever while going about surveying the unwholesome swamps, and after trying to hold out against it for nine days, his strength gave way. He said there would be a mighty strife at his funeral, perhaps recollecting how the prophecy had said that his kingdom should not continue; and instead of trying to choose an heir, he put his ring on the finger of his friend, and very soon died. He was but thirty-two, and had not reigned quite twelve years; but perhaps no one ever did greater things in so short a time. He died in the year 323; and so the great horn of the goat was broken when it was at the strongest. No one hated him; for though sometimes violent, he had generally been kind; he was frank, open, and free-handed, warm-hearted to his friends, and seldom harsh to his enemies, and he had done his best to educate and improve all the people whom he conquered. It was owing to him that Greek manners and habits prevailed, and the Greek tongue was spoken everywhere around the eastern end of the Mediterranean, though Persia itself soon fell back into the old eastern ways. Babylon became almost deserted after his death; the swamps grew worse, till no one could live there, and at last, the only use of the great walls was to serve as an enclosure for a hunting ground, where the wild beasts had their home, and kept court for ever.

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