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Heavens, with those nations dwelling in the vicinity of Palestine. If this supposition be correct, then the image of Belus would be that of the sun, and the tower of Belus would be dedicated to that luminary. Accordingly, we are told, that there was a sacellum, or small chapel, on the summit of the tower, where his image was kept, and where he was worshipped.
This form of worship prevailed, from all that appears, in the days of Job, whose trials were, it is believed, within that period in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived. In reference to this mode of worship, the writer of the instructive book of Job says:—
"If I beheld the sun when it shined,
Or the moon walking in brightness;
And my heart hath been secretly enticed,
Or my mouth hath kissed my hand:
This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge:
Job xxxi. 26-28.
It would not appear, however, that the Chaldeans or Assyrians bowed down to the heavenly hosts as God; at least, in their first stages of defection from their Maker. When men first became idolaters, they had not forgotten the existence of God, but had become unmindful of his character and attributes. They were aware of his existence; but they saw him not as Adam and Eve did in their state of innocence, and imagining that he was too high and distant to concern himself in the affairs, or in the management of the world on which they lived, they concluded that he must have left these small matters to beings greatly inferior to himself, but higher than man in their nature and existence. They sought for these, and beholding the sun when it shined, and the moon walking in brightness, and the planetary bodies moving unerringly onward in their courses, they believed them to be the regent governors, who took an immediate interest in their concerns, and turned to them in prayer. They esteemed them as mediators between God and them; for that there was a necessity for a mediatory office between God and man, is observed to have been a notion held by mankind from the beginning. "Conscious of their own meanness, vileness, and impurity," says Prideaux, "and unable to conceive how it was possible for them of themselves alone, to have any access to the all-holy, all-glorious, and Supreme Governor of all things, they considered him as too high and too pure, and
themselves as too low and polluted, for such a converse; and therefore concluded, that there must be a mediator, by whose means only they could make any address to him, and by whose intercession alone any of their petitions could be accepted of. But no clear revelation being then made of the mediator, whom God had appointed, because as yet he had not been manifested unto the world, they took upon them to address themselves unto him by mediators of their own choosing; and their notion of the sun, moon, and stars, being that they were the tabernacles or habitations of intelligences, which animated those orbs in the same manner as the soul of man animates his body, and were the causes of all their motions, and that those intelligences were of a middle nature between God and them; and, therefore, the planets being the nearest to them of all these heavenly bodies, and generally looked on to have the greatest influence on this world, they made choice of them in the first place for their mediators, who were to mediate for them with the Supreme God, and procure from him the mercies and favours which they prayed for; and accordingly they directed divine worship to them as such; and here began all the idolatry that hath been practised in the world." This was the first step in the defection of man from his Creator. And now no longer practically acknowledging "the God that is above," the knowledge even of his existence faded from the popular mind. For though some might know, by reason or tradition, that there was one great God, they knew it but obscurely and erroneously, and they also retained the original error, believing him to be too high to be honoured by adoration, or moved by prayer; and hence the most stupid idolatry usurped the place of true religion.
At first, the sun and moon were worshipped by the Chaldeans in the open air, and their altars blazed high upon the mountains. At length, symbolical representations and statues were introduced, as supplying their place when absent, temples were erected, gods multiplied; and the actual worship of the heavenly bodies, from the one end of heaven to the other was adopted, as fear, avarice, ambition, or imposture might dictate. Under the influences of these causes it was that these first idolaters began to furnish the Sacella, tabernacles or temples, with images, and to erect the same under trees, and upon the tops of mountains; and from hence it was that they assembled themselves together, to worship the hosts of heaven, to hope for all good from them, to dread all evil as proceeding from
them, and to honour and fear them; regardless of Him, by the word of whose mouth they were created.
Such appears to have been the rise and progress of idolatry, such the original doctrines of Sabiism, as fabricated by the Chaldean priests, adopted by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and finally by all the nations of the east.
"Oh, that men,
Canst thou believe, should be so stupid grown,
To worship their own work in wood and stone
But the evil did not stop here. As man departed further from his God, he seems to have hewn out to himself idols of a more ignoble kind, till at length the very dead were deified. This, however, did not take place till idolatry had attained its height. Josephus says, that the first instance of the kind was amongst the Syrians of Damascus, who deified Benhadad, and Hazael, his successor. Now, Adad, or Hadad, was the name of the sun with that people, and Benhadad signified the "son of the sun;" and from this it would appear, that the sun was the primary object of their worship, as it was with their neighbours, the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and that afterwards the deified Benhadad usurped those honours; or, that they were given to him by his subjects under the belief that he was amongst them, what the sun was amongst the moon and stars. In like manner, it has been supposed that Belus, among the Assyrians, may have been in after ages a deified hero. This honour has, indeed, been ascribed to Pul, the founder of their political grandeur, he being, as will be seen in a future page, the first Assyrian monarch who extended his conquests west of the Euphrates. Nothing is more probable than this; for it was finally the belief of star worshippers, that the souls of their monarchs, when they ceased to animate their bodies, went to the sun, or illuminated some star in heaven, and they were consequently deified upon this opinion of their migration. Such being the lamentable fact, it is more than probable that this warrior king underwent an apotheosis, or had the same divine honours paid to him in after ages, that were in former days given to the orb, whither, they asserted, he was ascended. Preparatory to this, he would have been represented as the delegated god of Belus, or the sun upon earth. Accordingly, Herodotus tells us,
that in the temple of Belus, there were two gods and two altars, both of gold: one larger and one smaller; that on the lesser altar none but sucking victims were offered; and on the greater, none but such as were full grown. These suck ing victims may denote that the sun is the nourisher of ali living creatures; and the full grown may signify that, being thus perfected by the nourishing power of Belus, he committed them to the care of his deified vicegerent on earth.
In accordance with the view here taken of the religion of the Chaldean priests, the author of the book of Wisdom, in speaking of idols, says: "By the vain glory of men they entered into the world. Thus in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law, and graven images were worshipped by the commandments of kings. Whom men could not honour in presence, because they dwelt far off, they took the counterfeit of his visage from far, and made an express image of a king whom they honoured, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent, as if he were present," Wisd. xiv. 14, 16, 17.
This was certainly the case with regard to the deification of kings, who aspired, like the fallen angels, to be gods. The same author assigns two other cogent reasons for this practice, which must have powerfully operated with the former: "For a father afflicted with untimely mourning, when he hath made an image of his child soon taken away, now honoured him as a god, which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices," ver. 15. "Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition. For he, peradventure willing to please one in authority, forced all his skill to make the resemblance of the best fashion. And so the multitude, allured by the grace of the work, took him now for a god, which a little before was but honoured as a man. And this was an occasion to deceive the world: for men, serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable name," ver. 18-21.
From what has been said, therefore, it appears that idolatry had its first rise among the Chaldean priests, and that the vain science of astrology was its parent. The evils to which it gave rise, are well described by the author before quoted: "For whilst they slew their children in sacrifices, or used secret ceremonies, or made revellings of strange rites; they kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traitorously, or grieved him by adul
tery. So that there reigned in all men without exception blood, manslaughter, theft, and dissimulation, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind, disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness. For the worshiping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end of all evil," ver. 23, 27.
Contrasting such a state of things as this with those that present themselves to our view, under the influence of the Christian religion, how ought we to admire and prize those doctrines which produce the good fruits of holiness. Sitting under our vine, and under our fig trees, we can live in peace, and, walking abroad in the world, can adopt the language of the poet, with reference to the beautiful scenes which nature presents to our view,
"And smiling say, My Father made them all."-CowPER.
But our happiness, under the benign influences of revealed religion, does not stop here. If we are Christians indeed, we are not only raised in the scale of nature, in a moral point of view, but in a spiritual; not only profited for time, but for eternity. Like Enoch of old, who, by faith, was translated, that he should not see death, we can "walk with God," and stretching our thoughts beyond the narrow bounds of time, and looking up to heaven, in humble dependence upon a crucified Redeemer, can say,
"There is my house and portion fair,
For such as by faith are united to Christ, by whose blood they are justified, and by whose Spirit, through the means of the word, that immortal seed of regeneration, they are sanctified, are reserved unto life everlasting, and have mansions prepared for them in the eternal world. See John xiv. 1—3; 2 Cor. v. 1, 2.
As the Chaldeans were peculiarly the men of learning, and the priesthood in the Assyrian empire, so the Babylonians, properly so called, according to some authors, applied themselves to the arts and sciences, in which they excelled, as their manufactures, buildings, etc., testify. Besides these, there