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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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ESDRAS

WHEN Darius died, his son Xerxes took the kingdom. There was a Jew named Esdras, who was one of those that had remained in Babylon when his brethren returned to the city of their fathers. He was a priest, and very learned in the laws which God had given to Moses. Being anxious that his countrymen should live in accordance with these laws, he determined to go to Jerusalem to see that they were fully and firmly established. So, having asked and obtained permission from King Xerxes, he set out with a company of some six or seven thousand Jews who also wished to return to the holy city. It took them four months to cross the desert. Besides carrying with them a great many gold and silver vessels, Esdras and his friends had letters from the king ordering many of the governors of the countries near Judea to pay him sums of money.

On reaching Jerusalem, Esdras and his friends sacrificed to the Lord at the temple, and thanked Him for the care He had taken of them during their journey. Then some of the men of Jerusalem came to Esdras and told him that many of the people, including the rulers and the priests and the Levites, had offended against the law of Moses and taken heathen women for their wives. And they prayed Esdras to do all he could to enforce the laws, for otherwise God might be angry with all the people and punish them severely.

When Esdras heard this, he rent his garments and tore his [243] hair, and sat down in great distress. He feared that if he told the men to put away their heathen wives they would not obey him. And he knew very well that if they continued to live with these wives they would learn to worship idols and to commit sin as their fathers had done. All those who served God and respected the laws came to Esdras and grieved with him. And after a little while Esdras rose, and stretched out his arms to heaven, and prayed, saying,—

"I am ashamed, O Lord, to look up to heaven, because of the sins the people have committed, for they have forgotten the punishments which Thou didst visit upon their fathers. But Thou, O Lord, who hast saved a remnant of Thy people out of captivity in Babylon, and hast restored them to Jerusalem and to their own land, take pity on them, I beseech Thee, and forgive them what they have done."

After Esdras had said this he left off praying. And there came to him great numbers of men and women and children, weeping on account of the sins that had been done. Then one whose name was Jechonias, a principal man in Jerusalem, spoke to Esdras, and said,—

"We have sinned in marrying strange wives; therefore do thou order that all these wives be cast off, with the children that were born of them; and if any do not obey the law, let them be punished."

Esdras listened gladly to this advice, and he made the priests and the Levites and the heads of the people swear that they would put away those wives and children, according to the advice of Jechonias. And word was sent through all the land that the people should come to Jerusalem within three days, and if any man did not come, his property would be taken away from him. The people came together in this way, and Esdras told them they had sinned in taking strange wives, and that God would not forgive them unless these wives and the children that were born of them were put away. Then it was determined by the people that all who had married [244] strange wives should come before the rulers of the towns in which they lived and renounce their wives. And within a month all the Jews had done as was determined. In order to appease God they offered sacrifices and slew rams as burnt offerings.

A little while after, at one of the great feasts, the people all came to the temple and desired that Esdras should there read to them the laws of Moses. Accordingly, he stood in the midst of the multitude and read the laws from morning to noon. When the people heard the words of God, and remembered how many times they had offended against them, they were troubled, and wept. But Esdras bade them not weep, for it was a festival, when it was not lawful to lament, and he told them to go home and feast and rejoice, but to determine never again to fall into those sins.

And when Esdras had lived to a good old age he died, and was buried in Jerusalem.


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