With what virtuous feelings the fathers of old hid the sacred fires when on the point of going into captivity.
98. Let us consider, again, that deed done at the time of the captivity, which has attained the highest degree of virtue and glory. Virtue is checked by no adversities, for it rises up among them, and prevails here rather than in prosperity. Mid chains or arms, mid flames or slavery (which is harder for freemen to bear than any punishment), midst the pains of the dying, the destruction of their country, the fears of the living, or the blood of the slain,—amidst all this our forefathers failed not in their care and thought for what is virtuous. Amidst the ashes and dust of their fallen country it glowed and shone forth brightly in pious efforts.
99. For when our fathers were carried away into Persia, 711 certain priests, who then were in the service of Almighty God, secretly buried in the valley the fire taken from the altar of the Lord. There was there an open pit, with no water in it, and not accessible for the wants of the people, in a spot unknown and free from intruders. There they sealed the hidden fire with the sacred mark and in secret. They were not anxious to bury gold or to hide up silver to preserve it for their children, but in their own great peril, thinking of all that was virtuous, they thought the sacred fire ought to be preserved so that impure men might not defile it, nor the blood of the slain extinguish it, nor the heaps of miserable ruins cover it.
100. So they went to Persia, free only in their religion; for that alone could not be torn from them by their captivity. After a length of time, 712 indeed, according to Gods good pleasure, He put it into the Persian kings heart to order the temple in Judea to be restored, and the regular customs to be again rebuilt at Jerusalem. To carry out this work of his the Persian king appointed p. 84 the priest Nehemiah. He took with him the grandchildren of those priests who on leaving their native soil had hidden the sacred fire to save it from perishing. But on arriving, as we are told in the history of the fathers, they found not fire but water. And when fire was wanting to burn upon the altars, the priest Nehemiah bade them draw the water, to bring it to him, and to sprinkle it upon the wood. Then, O wondrous sight! though the sky had been overcast with clouds, suddenly the sun shone forth, a great fire flamed forth, so that all, wonder-stricken at such a clear sign of the favour of the Lord, were filled with joy. Nehemiah prayed; the priests sang a hymn of praise to God, when the sacrifice was completed. Nehemiah again bade the remainder of the water to be poured upon the larger stones. And when this was done a flame burst forth whilst the light shining from off the altar shone more brightly yet.
101. When this sign became known, the king of Persia ordered a temple to be built on that spot where the fire had been hidden and the water afterwards found, to which many gifts were made. They who were with holy Nehemiah called it Naphthar, 713 —which means cleansing—by many it is called Nephi. It is to be found also in the history of the prophet Jeremiah, 714 that he bade those who should come after him to take of the fire. That is the fire which fell on Moses sacrifice and consumed it, as it is written: “There came a fire out from the Lord and consumed upon the altar all the whole burnt-offering.” 715 The sacrifice must be hallowed with this fire only. Therefore, also, fire went out from the Lord upon the sons of Aaron who wished to offer strange fire, and consumed them, so that their dead bodies were cast forth without the camp. 716
101. Jeremiah coming to a spot found there a house like a cave, and brought into it the tabernacle, the ark, and the altar of incense, and closed up the entrance. And when those who had come with him examined it rather closely to mark the spot, they could not discover nor find it. When Jeremiah understood what they wanted he said: “The spot will remain unknown until God shall gather His people together and be gracious to them. Then God shall reveal these things and the majesty of the Lord shall appear.” 717
2 Macc. i. 20 ff.84:713 84:714
2 Macc. ii. 1 ff.84:715 84:716 84:717
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