Revised by Albert Pike
"Now in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia", says the Compiler of the Sacred Book of Chronicles, "(that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished) the Lord stirred up the Spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, that he made a Proclamation throughout all his Kingdom, and also in writing, saying: Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia: All the kingdoms of the Earth hath the Lord God of Heaven given me; and He hath charged me to build Him an House in Jerusalem, in Judea. Who among you are of His People? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up." [2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:2-4 Ed]
The dream which you have heard described in the ceremonies of this Degree, and the earnest solicitations of Zerubbabel, a Prince of the House of Judah, and one of those held in captivity in Persia (who had served in the Persian wars and on one occasion had saved the life of Cyrus in his youth and who had recently returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem), coupled with the interpretation of the dream by the Prophet Daniel [Cyrus' dream seems to have been conflated with that of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. See 2 Kings, 24-25; 2 Chron. 38; Jer. 39; Dan. 2, 4. Ed.], the Chief of the Presidents set by Darius over the one hundred and twenty Princes of Persia, who denounced against the King the anger of God, and his own speedy destruction if he dared to disobey the mandate conveyed to him in his dream, produced this Proclamation the liberty of the captives and the restoration of the Holy vessels.
Ten chiefs of the Hebrews accompanied Zerubbabel to Jerusalem among whom were Joshua, the son of Josadak, Nehemiah and Mordecai. And in all there went from Persia and Assyria at that time to Jerusalem forty-two thousand, three hundred and sixty Hebrews, besides servants and their maids.
Zerubbabel, with the chiefs who accompanied him and a large force of the People, reached in safety the river that separates Assyria from Judea. He threw a bridge over it, but was attacked in crossing by the people who had seized on the larger portion of Judea when the Hebrews were carried away captive; and a bloody battle ensued, resulting in the defeat of the enemy and the safe passage of the Jews. Zerubbabel lost in the battle the marks of honour which Cyrus had given him as badges of his rank and dignity as a Satrap of Persia and Viceroy of Judea.
After the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradin his General left many of the poorer people, who had nothing, in the land of Judah, and assigned them vineyards and fields. He also liberated Jeremiah the Prophet, and gave him permission to remain at Jerusalem, giving him the means whereby to live. [Jer. 39:11-14; Jer. 40. Ed].
After Ishmael, of the blood royal, had murdered Gedeliah after eating bread with him, and had also killed the Assyrian kings that had been left as guards for the Viceroy [2 Kings 25:22-26 Ed], and had then himself fled to the Ammonites, Johanan the son of Kareah succeeded to the command over the people and removed them near to the frontier with Egypt, fearing the anger of the Assyrian King whose troops had been treacherously murdered. And soon afterwards, notwithstanding the urgent advice of Jeremiah who warned them that, if they went into Egypt, they should die by the sword, by the famine and by the pestilence, Johanan and the other captains led the whole remnant of the People into Egypt. There they embraced the worship of the Goddess Neith, and sacrificed to her [Jer. 39-44 Ed]. But Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt with a great army and conquered it and shattered the images and burned the temples of the gods, and destroyed most of the Israelites who had fled. A small number escaped and, returning to Judea, settled about Jerusalem and there remained, wretched and miserable, and exposed to constant attacks from furious enemies on all sides.
There, while Ezekiel was seeing visions and prophesying on the banks of the Chaldean river Chebar, and Daniel was being educated at the Court of Babylon, the few fugitives at Jerusalem increased continually by the arrival of other fugitives but, leaving little record of their suffering, their disasters, and their successes, struggled to maintain a national existence. Among them were a few Elect and Perfect Masons who, recognising each other, met in secret to lament the misfortunes of their people, and to practise the ceremonies of Masonry. They explored the ruins until they discovered the entrance of the Sacred Vault, entering which they penetrated as far as the pedestal, and found the plate of gold under the cubical stone. Determined entirely to prevent a future discovery of the Secret Word by the Profane, they broke up the triangular plate and melted it down, and shattered the cubical agate into fragments; and thenceforward they and their successors transmitted the mysteries orally. Animated with the hope of one day seeing their labours upon the Temple renewed, they organised a government by the election of a chief or captain of the People who exercised the Executive Power. The law of Moses was lost, except so far as it existed in tradition; and such brief laws were enacted by the Elect as were absolutely indispensable to civil order and organisation for defence.
When the captivity ended, Ananias was the chief or captain of this unfortunate and poor people. He received Zerubbabel into the fraternity upon the ruins of the Temple and surrendered to him, as Viceroy of Cyrus, the Executive power over the remnant of the Jewish nation.
When the labours upon the Temple were commenced, they were continually harassed by enemies on every side, were compelled to be every moment prepared to defend themselves, and worked at all times with their arms by them: so that they were, by a natural exaggeration, said to labour with the Sword in one hand and the Trowel in the other.
After the return from the captivity, in the seventh month, Joshua the son of Josadak and his brethren the Priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren rebuilt the Altar of God and kept the Feast of the Tabernacles and offered burnt-offerings of the new moons and regular feasts from the first day of the Seventh Month. They hired masons and carpenters, and employed men from Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia, as Solomon had done, to bring cedars from Lebanon to Joppa [Ezra 3: 1-7 Ed].
In the second year after their return, they laid the foundation of the Second Temple and set the Priests in order in their regalia with trumpets, and the Levites with cymbals, to praise the Lord; and sang together, praising and thanking the Lord for His goodness and His eternal mercy. And all the People shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the House of the Lord was laid. And many Priests and Levites and chiefs of the Fathers, who were old men and had seen the first Temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation laid, and many of them shouted for joy.
The Prophets had said: "This is the Word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, saith the God of Armies. Who art thou, O great Mountain? Before Zerubbabel, a plain: and he shall bring forth the Keystone while the people shout, Success, success unto it! The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this House; his hands shall finish it also; and ye shall know that the God of Armies has sent me unto you [Zech. 4: 5-9 Ed].... Be strong, O Zerubbabel! saith the Lord; Be strong, O Joshua, son of Josadak, the High Priest; be strong all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work; for I am with you, saith the God of Armies. The glory of this latter House shall be greater than that of the former, and in this place will I give peace. In that day will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, son of Shealtiel, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the God of Armies. Take silver and gold and make crowns, and set one upon the head of Joshua the son of Josadak, the High Priest, and say, thus saith the God of Armies: Behold the man whose name is The Branch; he shall grow up out of his place and build the Temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a Priest upon his Throne [c.f. Zech. 6:12-13 Ed]. Execute true judgment and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow nor the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor; and do none of you imagine evil against your brother in your heart. I am returned unto Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem shall be called a City of Truth, and the Mountain of the God of Armies our Holy Mountain. There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates. And let none of you imagine evil in his heart against his neighbour and love no false oath: for all these I hate, saith the Lord." [c.f. Zech. 7:9-10 Ed]
Notwithstanding these promises and the endeavours of the people to obey these laws, the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah and troubled them in building and hired counsellors against them to frustrate their purposes all the days of Cyrus King of Persia even until the reign of Darius King of Persia. [c.f. Ezra 5, 6 Ed] These troubles and the ultimate success of the enterprise will be more particularly alluded to in the degree which you are next to receive, constituting, indeed, correctly speaking, the second part of one and the same degree. For the present, we pause here in our history.
This Degree, like all others in Masonry, is symbolical. Based upon historical truth and authentic tradition, it is still an allegory. The leading lesson of this Degree is Fidelity to obligation, and Constancy and Perseverance under difficulties and discouragement.
Masonry is engaged in her crusade against ignorance, intolerance, fanaticism, superstition, uncharitableness and error. She does not sail with the trade-winds upon a smooth sea with a steady free breeze fair for a welcoming harbour; but meets and must overcome many opposing currents, baffling winds, and dead calms.
The chief obstacles to her success are the apathy and faithlessness of her own selfish children and the supine indifference of the world. In the roar and crush and hurry of life and business and the tumult and uproar of politics, the quiet voice of Masonry is unheard and unheeded. The first lesson which one learns who engages in any great work of reform or beneficence is that men are essentially careless, lukewarm and indifferent as to every thing that does not concern their own personal and immediate welfare. It is to single men, and not to the united efforts of many, that all the great works of man, struggling towards perfection, are owing. The enthusiast who imagines that he can inspire with his own enthusiasm the multitude that eddies around him, or even the few who have associated themselves with him as co-workers, is grievously mistaken; and most often the conviction of his own mistake is followed by discouragement and disgust. To do all, to pay all, and to suffer all, and then, when despite all obstacles and hindrances, success is accomplished and a great work done, to see those who opposed or looked coldly on it claim and reap all the praise and reward, is the common and almost universal lot of the benefactor of his kind.
He who endeavours to serve, to benefit and improve the world is like a swimmer who struggles against a rapid current in a river lashed into angry waves by the winds. Often they roar over his head, often they beat him back and baffle him. Most men yield to the stress of the current and float with it to the shore: and only here and there the stout, strong heart and vigorous arms struggle on towards ultimate success.
It is motionless and stationary that most fret and impede the current of progress; the solid rock or stupid dead tree, rested firmly on the bottom and around which the river whirls and eddies; the Masons that doubt and hesitate and are discouraged, that disbelieve in the capability of man to improve, that are not disposed to toil and labour for the interest and well-being of general humanity, that expect others to do all even of that which they do not oppose or ridicule while they sit applauding and doing nothing, or perhaps prognosticating failure.
There were many such at the re-building of the Temple. There were prophets of evil and misfortune; the lukewarm and the indifferent and the apathetic; those who stood by and sneered; and those who thought they did God service enough if they now and then faintly applauded. There were ravens croaking ill omen and murmurers who preached the folly and futility of the attempt. The world is made up of such: and they were as abundant then as they are now.
But gloomy and discouraging as was the prospect with lukewarmness within and bitter opposition without, our ancient brethren persevered. Let us leave them engaged in the good work; and whenever to us, as to them, success is uncertain, remote and contingent, let us still remember that the only question for us to ask, as true men and Masons, is, what does Duty require, and not what will be the result and our reward if we do our duty.
Masonry teaches that God is a Paternal Being and has an interest in His creatures such as is expressed in the title Father an interest unknown to all the systems of Paganism, untaught in all the theories of philosophy; an interest not only in the glorious beings of other spheres, the Sons of Light, the dwellers in Heavenly worlds, but in us poor, ignorant and unworthy; that He has pity for the erring, pardon for the guilty, love for the pure, knowledge for the humble, and promises of immortal life for those who trust in and obey Him.
Without a belief in Him, life is miserable, the world is dark, the Universe disrobed of its splendours, the intellectual tie to Nature broken, the charm of existence dissolved, the great hope of being lost; and the mind, like a star struck from its sphere, wanders through the infinite desert of its conceptions without attraction, tendency, destiny or end.
Masonry teaches that, of all the events and actions that take place in the Universe of worlds and the eternal succession of ages, there is not one, even the minutest, which God did not forever foresee with all the distinctness of immediate vision.
It teaches that the soul of man is formed by Him for a purpose: that, built up in its proportions and fashioned in every part by infinite skill, an emanation from His Spirit, its nature, necessity and design is virtue. It is so formed, so moulded, so fashioned, so exactly balanced, so exquisitely proportioned in every part, that sin introduced into it is misery; that vicious thoughts fall upon it like drops of poison; and guilty desires, breathing on its delicate fibres, make plague-spots there, deadly as those of pestilence upon the body. It is made for virtue and not for vice; for purity and, as its end, rest and happiness. Not more vainly would we attempt to make the mountain sink to the level of the valley, the waves of an angry sea turn back from its shores and cease to thunder upon the beach, the stars to halt in their swift courses, than to change any one law of our own nature. And one of those laws, uttered by God's voice and speaking through every nerve and fibre, every power and element of the moral constitution He has given us, is that we must be virtuous; that if tempted we must resist; that we must govern our unruly passions. And this is not the dictate of an arbitrary will nor of some stern and impracticable law: but it is part of the great firm law of harmony that binds the Universe together.
We know that God is good and that what He does is right. This known, the works of creation, the changes of life, the destinies of eternity, are all spread before us as the dispensations and counsels of infinite Love. This known, we then know that the Love of God is working to issues like itself, beyond all thought and imagination, good and glorious; and that the only reason why we do not understand it is that it is too glorious for us to understand. God's love takes care for all, and nothing is neglected. It watches over all, provides for all, makes wise adaptations for all for age, for infancy, for maturity, for childhood; in every scene of this or another world; for want, weakness, joy, sorrow, and even for sin. All is good and well and right, and shall be so forever. Through the eternal ages the Light of God's beneficence shall shine hereafter, disclosing all, consummating all, rewarding all that deserve reward. Then we shall see what now we can only believe. The cloud will be lifted up, the gate of mystery be passed, and the full Light shine forever: the Light of which that of the Lodge is a symbol. Then that which caused us trial shall yield us triumph; and that which made our heart ache shall fill us with gladness; and we shall then feel that there, as here, the only true happiness is to learn, to advance, and to improve: which could not happen unless we had commenced with error, ignorance and imperfection.
Go now, my Brother, to the Senior and Junior Wardens, and listen to the Catechism of this Degree.