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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LESSON XVI. THE GREEK KINGS OF EGYPT.

The Chosen People by Charlotte Mary Yonge

LESSON XVI. THE GREEK KINGS OF EGYPT.

|Why hast Thou then broken down her hedge, that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?| -- Ps. lxxx.12.

The leopard of Daniel's vision had four heads -- the great horn of the rough goat gave place to four horns; so when Alexander was taken away so suddenly from the midst of his conquests, leaving no one in his room, his great officers divided them between themselves; and after much violence and bloodshed, four Greek kingdoms were formed out of the fragments of his conquests, Thrace, Macedon, Egypt, and Syria. It is only the two last of which we have to speak. The angel who spake to Daniel called their princes the Kings of the North and South. The north, or second kingdom of Syria, was very large, and went from Asia Minor to the borders of India, and it had two great capital cities, Antioch in Syria, and Seleucia upon the Tigris, where the Babylonians went to live when their city became deserted and uninhabitable. Both these places were named after the Greek Kings of Syria, who were by turns called Seleucus and Antiochus.

It would have seemed natural for Palestine to have belonged to Syria, but the Greek King of Egypt, whose name was Ptolemy Lagos, contrived to secure it. He entered Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day, when the Jews thought it wrong to fight, and so he gained the city without a blow; but this was no great misfortune to them, for the first Ptolemies were milder masters than the Seleucidae, and did not oppress their subjects. Ptolemy, however, brought a colony of Jews and Samaritans to live in Lybia and Cyrene, parts of Egypt, and so fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy, that five cities in Egypt should speak the language of Canaan. They were treated with much favour, for he saw that they were the most trustworthy of all his people. Indeed, the Greeks respected them much; and one of Ptolemy's soldiers tells this story: he says that while travelling in a large company by the Red Sea, he fell in with a very brave strong Jew, called Masollam. Presently the whole company came to a halt. Masollam asked why; and a soothsayer, pointing to a bird, told him that if the bird stopped, it would be lucky for them to stop; if it flew on, they might go on; if it went back, so must they. All the answer Masollam made, was to fit an arrow to his bow-string, and shoot the bird dead; and when the Greeks cried out at him, he rebuked them for thinking the poor bird could know their future, when he could not even save himself from the arrow.

At this time the High Priest was Simon the Just, son of Onias, the same who is so highly praised in the fiftieth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, and compared to the morning star, and to a young cedar of Libanus, when he stood before the Altar in his beautiful robes, and turned round and blessed the people. He was the last of the hundred and twenty great prophets, or wise men, whom the Jews called the great Synagogue; and it was he who sealed up the Old Testament, adding to the former collection the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi; and it is thought, compiling the books of Chronicles from older writings, for the genealogy of the house of David there given, comes down to about the year 300, when he was alive, since he died in 292. The Jews thought nothing went so well with them after his time, and were alarmed when the scape-goat, with the band of scarlet wool on his brow, instead of rushing down a precipice, as usual, and being killed at once, ran off into the desert, and was eaten by the Arabs. They enjoyed tolerable peace for the whole of the time they were under the Greeks of Egypt. Ptolemy Lagos wanted to make his new city of Alexandria as much famed for learning as Athens; and for this purpose he founded a great library there, collecting, from every quarter, books written either on parchment, or on the paper rush of Egypt. When he died, in the year 284, his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, or lover of his brethren, went on still more eagerly seeking for curious writings; and among those for which he wished were the Holy Scriptures. As they were in Hebrew, he caused them to be translated into Greek; and the Jews believe that this was done by seventy-two elders, who were shut up all day, two and two, in thirty-six little cells in a palace on a little island in the Nile, each pair taking one book of the Bible, and going back every evening to sup with the king. This history does not seem likely to be true, but it is quite certain that a version of the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Greek was made about this time, and is called the Septuagint, from this tradition about the seventy. It came more and more into use, as Greek was considered the language of all learned men in the east. Most of the quotations in the New Testament are taken from it, and it is of great value in helping to show the exact meaning of the old Hebrew.

But if Ptolemy did desire to have the Scriptures in his own tongue, it was only for curiosity, not for edification, for he was a great idolater; and when his wife died he tried to build a temple to her at Alexandria, which was to have a loadstone arch, with a steel statue of her in the middle, where he hoped the equal attraction would keep it as if flying in the air; but of course the fancy could not be carried out. He had a quarrel with Antiochus Theos, King of Syria, but it was made up by his giving his daughter Berenice in marriage to the Syrian, as Daniel had foretold: |The king's daughter of the South, came to make an agreement with the King of the North.| But Antiochus had another wife before, whom he loved better; so when, in 246, Ptolemy Philadelphus died, he put Berenice away, and took her back. She requited him by poisoning him for fear her favour should not last, and her son, Seleucus, became king, and taking Berenice prisoner, put her to death.

|But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate, which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the King of the North.| This was the brother of Berenice, Ptolemy Euergetes, or the Benefactor, who came out of Egypt, overran Syria, and killed the murderess, carrying home much spoil and many of the Egyptian gods, which had been taken from the temples there in the time of Cambyses. Ptolemy Euergetes himself came to Jerusalem, and attended a sacrifice in the Temple; but Greek learning was doing the Jews no good, and some began to reason like the heathen philosophers. A man named Joseph taught that people ought to be holy for the love of goodness, and not for the sake of a reward after death; and his follower, Zadok, or Sadoc, went still farther, saying that there was no promise of any reward. His disciples, who were called Sadducees, declared that the soul was not separate from the body, but died with it; that there were no angels, nor spirits, and that only the five books of Moses were the real Word of God, thus casting aside all the prophecies. Such Jews as abhorred this falling away, kept themselves apart, and were called Pharisees, from a word meaning separate; and these grew the more strict in the observance of all that had come down to them from their fathers, adding to it much that had gradually been put into the explanations and interpretations of the Law which were read on the Sabbath in the Synagogue.

Ptolemy the Benefactor was the last brave man of his family; his son, Ptolemy Philopator, or lover of his father, was weak and violent, and had a disastrous war with Antiochus the Great of Syria. In the course of the conflict he came to Jerusalem, and tried to force his way into the Holy of Holies, though the High Priest and all the priests and Levites withstood him, and prayed aloud that the profanation might be hindered. When he came to the court of the priests, such a strange horror and terror fell on him, that he reeled and fell, and was carried out half dead; but he was only hardened by this great wonder, and on his return revenged himself by collecting the Jews at Alexandria, and insisting that they should be marked with the ivy leaf, the sign of the Greek god of wine, or else be made slaves, or put to death. Out of many thousands, only three hundred submitted to this disgraceful badge; so in his rage, he collected all the others in the theatre, and caused elephants to be made drunken with wine and frankincense, so that when driven in on them, they might trample them to death. But for two days following the king was too drunk himself to be present at the horrible spectacle, and the Jews had all that time for prayer; and when, on the third day, the execution was to take place, the beasts ran upon the spectators instead of upon the martyrs, so that though numbers of Greeks were killed, not one Jew was hurt, and Ptolemy gave up his attempt; though he did afterwards commit one savage massacre on his Jewish subjects. He died when only thirty-seven years of age, worn out by drunkenness; and the Jews, who had learnt to hate the Egyptian dominion, gladly received the soldiers of his enemy, Antiochus the Great, into Jerusalem, deserting his young son, who was only five years old; and thus, in the year 197, Jerusalem came to belong to the Seleucidae of Syria, instead of to the Ptolemies of Egypt. The history of Ptolemy Philopator in predicted from the 10th to the 13th verse of the 11th chapter of Daniel's prophecy. The Jews suffered terribly all through these wars, which were usually fought out on their soil. Each sovereign robbed them in turn, while they were too few to guard themselves, and could do no otherwise than fall to the strongest.

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