All that was left now of the people of Judah was a company of captives, carried away from their won land to the land of Babylon. Theirs was a long, sorrowful journey, with their wives and children, dragged by cruel soldiers over mountains and valleys almost a thousand miles. They could not go straight across the vast desert which lies between the land of Judah and the plains of Babylonia. They were led around this desert far to the north, through Syria, up to the Euphrates river, and then following the great river in all its windings down to the land of their captivity. There in the land of Babylonia or Chaldea they found rest at last.
When they were once in their new home the captives met with less trouble than they had feared; for the people of the land under Nebuchadnezzar, the great king, treated them kindly, and gave them fields to work in as their own. The soil was rich, and they could raise large crops of wheat, and barley, and other grains. They planted gardens and built for themselves houses. Some of them went to live in the cities, and became rich, and some were in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, and rose to high places as nobles and princes, standing next to the king in rank and honor.
And the best of all was that these captives in a strange land did not worship idols. They saw the images of the Babylonian gods all around them, but they did not bow down to them. They worshipped the Lord God of their fathers, and the Lord only. The idol worshippers in Judah had been slain, and most of the captives were good men and women, who taught their children to love and serve the lord.
And these people did not forget the land from which they had come. They loved the land of Israel, and they taught their children to love it by singing songs about it. Some of these songs which the captive Jews sang in the land of Chaldea are in the Book of Psalms. Here is a part of one of these songs:
|“By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willow-trees in the midst of that land
We hanged up our harps
For there they that led us captive asked us to sing;
And they that wanted us asked us to be glad, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her skill,
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I do not remember thee
If I do not prefer Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.”
From this time these people were called Jews, a name which means “people of Judah.” And the Jews everywhere in the world belong to this people, for they have sprung or descended from the men who once lived in the land of Judah. And because they had once belonged to the twelve tribes of Israel, and ten of the tribes had been lost, and their kingdom had forever passed away, they were also spoken of as Israelites. So from this time “people of Judah,” Jews, and Israelites, all mean the people who had come from the land of Judah, and their descendants after them.
God was good to his people in the land of Babylon, or Chaldea, another name by which this country was called. He sent to them prophets, who showed to them the way of the Lord. One of these prophets was Daniel, a young man who lived in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. Another was a priest named Ezekiel, who lived among the captive people beside a river in Chaldea, called the river Cheban. God gave to Ezekiel wonderful visions. He saw the throne of the Lord, and the strange creatures with six wings, that the prophet Isaiah had seen long before. (See Story Three in this Part.) And he heard the voice of the Lord telling him of what should come to his people in the years to come.
At one time the Lord lifted up Ezekiel and brought him into the middle of a great valley. The prophet looked around, and saw that the valley was covered with the bones of men, as though a great battle had been fought upon it, and the bodies of the slain had been left there, and they had become a vast army of dry bones.
“Son of man,” spoke the voice of the Lord to Ezekiel, “can these dry bones live again?”
And Ezekiel answered, “O Lord God, thou knowest whether these dry bones can live.”
Then the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Preach to these dry bones, O son of man, and say to them, ‘O ye dry bones, hear the voice of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord, I will send breath into you, and you shall live, and I will put flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and you shall be alive again, and know that I am the Lord.'”
Then Ezekiel spoke to the army of dry bones spread over the valley, as the Lord bade him speak. And while he was speaking there sounded a noise of rolling thunder, and all through the field the different bones began to come together, one part to another part, until they were no more loose bones, but skeletons of bones fitted together. Then another change came. Suddenly the flesh grew over all the bones, and they lay on the ground like an army of dead men, a host of bodies without life.
Then the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Speak to the wind, O son of man; speak, and say, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.'”
Then Ezekiel called upon the wind to come, and while he was speaking the dead bodies began to breathe. Then they stood up on their feet, a great army of living men, filling the whole valley. Then the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these dry bones are the people of Israel. They seem to be lost, and dead, and without hope. But they shall live again, for I, the Lord, will put life into them; and they shall go back to their own land, and be a people once more. I, the Lord, have spoken to it, and I will do it.”
When Ezekiel told the captive people this vision their hearts were lifted up with a new hope that they should see their own land again.