THE DELIVERY OF THE JEWS FROM BONDAGE
CYRUS made himself king over Babylon, which he had conquered, in the seventieth year of the captivity
of the Jews in that country. Now, Jeremiah the prophet had predicted that after the Jews had been
held in bondage for seventy years they would be restored again to the land of their fathers and
rebuild the temple. And more than two hundred years before this time Isaiah had mentioned
Cyrus by name
 as a mighty conqueror, to whom the Lord would give dominion over many nations, and who would cause a temple to be built in Jerusalem to the Lord.
It happened one day that Cyrus was reading the book of Isaiah, and he marvelled greatly at the prophecy, and an earnest desire seized upon him to fulfil what was so written. And he wrote to all the people in Asia, and said,—
"Thus saith Cyrus the king: since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of all the earth, I believe that He is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship, for, indeed, He foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build Him a house in Jerusalem, in the country of Judea."
Then Cyrus called together all the principal men among the Jews that were in Babylon, and told them that he gave them leave to return to their own country and to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple, and that he would be their assistant, and would make the rulers and governors in the neighborhood of Judea contribute gold and silver for the building of the temple.
Then the rulers of the Jews, and the priests and the Levites, and all the others who were willing to go, made ready to start on their journey. Cyrus sent back to them the holy vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple and carried to Babylon.
Now, the number of those that returned out of captivity to Jerusalem was forty-two thousand four hundred and sixty-two.
As soon as they reached Jerusalem they commenced rebuilding the temple. But their neighbors the
Samaritans were jealous and angry, for they feared the Jews would become a great nation again.
And when Cyrus died, not long afterwards, they wrote to his son Cambyses, and told him that the
Jews were a proud and rebellious race, and that if they became powerful again they would not
submit to the rule of
 the Persians nor pay them tribute, but would strive to overthrow them. Cambyses believed what they
said, and he made the Jews stop their work on the temple. Cambyses reigned for six years, and a few
months after his death Darius was elected to succeed him.
In the first year of his reign Darius made a great feast, to which all the lords and rulers of his kingdom were invited. And after the king had eaten and drunk he went to bed, but, being unable to sleep, he fell into conversation with his three guards, and told them he wished to have a question answered: "What were the strongest of these four things, wine, kings, women, or truth?" He would give them all night to think over whatever answer they should make.
"And whoever," he said, "shall speak most wisely and truthfully in reply to this question, shall put on a purple garment, and drink from cups of gold, and have a chariot with bridles of gold, and a chain of gold about his neck, and sit next to me and be called my cousin."
Then Darius went to sleep, but in the morning he sent for his great men, the princes and the rulers of Persia and Media, and gathered them round in the room where he used to give audience, and bade each of the guards to tell their answers.
The first of the guards said that wine was the strongest of all things, because it could intoxicate the mightiest king as well as the meanest slave, and put both on the same level, so that the king could no longer command, nor would the slave obey; and it made men forget for a time all their greatest sorrows and afflictions, and when they came out of their drunkenness they forgot what they had done while they were in that state.
Then the second of the guards spoke up and said that kings were the mightiest of all things, for they
rule over men, and men are the most powerful of all living beings. Men command all other animals
and force them to obey them, but
 men in their turn are forced to obey the commands of their kings. Therefore kings are the mightiest of all things.
Now the third guard was a Jew, whose name was Zorobabel. He was a grandson of Jehoiachin, the king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had brought captive to Babylon, and was, therefore, a prince of the house of David. When the second guard had stopped speaking, Zorobabel rose and said that wine and kings were mighty indeed, but women were mightier. For women were the mothers and wives of kings as well as of the men that planted vines, and therefore it was owing to women that there were kings and vines in the world. Moreover, the greatest kings were ruled by their wives and would do anything to please them.
"But, mighty as women are," continued Zorobabel, "both women themselves and the king himself are weaker than truth. For though the earth be large, and the heaven high, and the course of the sun swift, yet are all these moved according to the will of God, who is true and righteous. And all things else, however strong they may be, are mortal and short-lived, but truth is immortal and eternal."
The assembly cried aloud that Zorobabel had spoken the most wisely of the three. And the king himself was so much pleased with Zorobabel's answer that he commanded him to ask for something over and above what he had promised, for that he would give it to him on account of his wisdom. When he had said this, Zorobabel put him in mind of a vow he had made in case he should ever possess the kingdom. Now, this vow was to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the temple of God.
"I only ask," said Zorobabel, "that you will keep this vow which you have sworn."
Darius was pleased with what he said, and rose and embraced him, and told him it should be as he
wished. Then the king wrote to the rulers throughout his dominions, asking them to give free
passage to Zorobabel and all those that
 were with him till they had reached Jerusalem. He sent letters also to the governors of Syria and Phoenicia, ordering them to make their subjects cut down the cedar-trees on Mount Lebanon and carry them to Jerusalem, and he proclaimed that all prisoners who were willing to go to that city to help in rebuilding the temple should be set at liberty. And all that Cyrus intended to do before him relating to the restoration of Jerusalem Darius now ordained should be done.
So Zorobabel started out joyfully with a great number of the Jews that had not gone in the first journey to Jerusalem. The work on the temple was taken up again, and progressed very fast. Now, the Samaritans were a deceitful people, who pretended to be very friendly to the Jews when they saw them in prosperity, but were always enemies to them in their distress. So they came to Zorobabel and the rulers of the Jews, and said to them, "Let us help you in rebuilding the temple and be partners with you in its ownership, for we worship the same God that you do, and have offered sacrifices to Him ever since the king of Assyria gave us the land of Israel to live in."
When they had said this, Zorobabel and Joshua the high-priest and the rulers of the Jews answered that they could not let them be their partners in rebuilding the temple, but that when it was finished the Samaritans would have the same privilege as all other men to come and worship in the temple if they felt so disposed.
Then the Samaritans were angry, and they wrote to Darius as they had before written to Cambyses; but Darius would not listen to them, and the building of the temple was allowed to proceed.
At the end of seven years it was completed, and solemn sacrifices were offered upon the altars. The
time for celebrating the feast of the Passover was now at hand, and the
 Jews came in great crowds to Jerusalem from all their villages and cities, and kept the feast for seven days with great joy.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics