AT first sight the contrast of Greece and Israel is absolute. Greece begins with man, and works up to the conclusion that the God and Father of this universe is hard to find and impossible to explain to the vulgar. Israel begins with, I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out from the land of Egypt, and from the house of bondmen, and finishes in the proud assurance that This God is our God for ever and ever: he shall be our guide. So Greece has wisdom for an ideal, Israel holiness. Greece believes in man, and endeavours by reason to discover the divine in nature: Israel knows one God, and rests in the revelation he has given in history. To the Greek, the beauty and order of Nature are divine: to Israel, Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. The two stand at opposite poles of thought, and seem to have nothing in common.
Yet we shall find a good deal to soften the contrast. In the first place, there is much likeness in their earlier political development. The primitive element in Greece may have been Canaanite, as that of Israel certainly was, though the conquering Hellenes came down from the wooded north, while the Israelites came up from the desert. But whatever be the truth of this obscure question, the paganismus1 of Greece with its baser worships has a good deal of likeness to the paganismus of Israel with its worships of the Baals and Ashtaroth: and it contended with the Olympic gods as pertinaciously as the abominations contended with Jehovah, though it stood in much less direct opposition to them. Again, we see the same development in Israel as at Athens, from a scattered agricultural population under local rulers to a city governed by a king. In either case it became no mean city. The pride of Pericles in Athens with her glorious culture was no greater than the pride of Israel in the city of the Great King. The city, the city, is the burden of the prophets; and the towns of Judah hardly count for more than the towns of Attica.2 It is the city which trembles at Sennacherib's approach, as Athens trembled that evening when one came and told the news of Elatea. It is the citizen who laments the fallen city, the citizen who cries, if I forget thee, O Jerusalem, the citizen who draws his picture of the children playing and the old folk sunning themselves in the streets of a restored city.
As at Athens, so at Jerusalem, the growth of wealth and commerce gathered the nobles into the city; and the princes of Judah fairly represent the Eupatrids of Athens. They were much alike in grinding the face of the poor and selling the righteous for a pair of shoes. They built up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity: and Solon found no very different state of things at Athens. The royal power dwindled before them, and its abolition is enough to shew that Codrus might have said like Zedekiah, The king is not he that can do anything against them; though the house of Codrus, like the house of David, had a long decline before it fell into obscurity. The Eupatrid government at Athens broke down under the economic failure which led to the reforms of Solon, the tyranny of Pisistratus and the rise of a democracy, and to the stirrings of religion connected with these changes. But Israel never reached these later developments, though no age of the world has seen the principle of personal responsibility, which is essentially the principle of democracy, more boldly stated than by Ezekiel. One cause for this arrest of development is the fact that Israel failed to become a commercial nation in his own land. The failure was not for want of will. The prophets from first to last have to oppose the trading spirit of the people; and Isaiah's genuine respect for the commerce of Tyre3 is evidence that their action was not inspired by any fanatical hatred of trade, but by the belief that Israel's particular mission was not in the wanted direction the people to go. Thus the cleavage between prophet and people was economic as well as religious. Solomon traded on his own account, and Jehoshaphat in this matter went after the house of Omri: but the prophets and the Law endeavoured to keep Israel apart from the surrounding nations, while the paganismus was all for trade and close relations with them. The question was vital, for it was plainly impossible to have Phoenician trade on a large scale without letting in the idol worships and immoralities of the more civilized people. The paganismus might have won the day, but for the impossibility of making such a site as Jerusalem a commercial centre. Samaria might have been a place of trade, Jerusalem never can be. So it came to pass that in these respects the main course of Israel's development ran directly contrary to the national character.
Another reason why Israel never reached these later stages is that the process was violently interrupted. Athens threw back her barbarian invaders, but Israel became a prey. The destruction of Athens by Xerxes was a minor event of the war; but the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldees was the political extinction of Israel. The old order was at an end: and though the Israel of the Return was more than ever concentrated in the city, its development resembled that of Greece in a very different way.
If Xerxes burned the city, he neither destroyed the State nor carried away the citizens. Now, if some earlier barbarian invasion had broken up the kingdom of Codrus and carried away the Eupatrids into captivity, we can safely say that the paganismus would have been strengthened as against the Olympic gods, and that the later history of Athens would have been on a lower plane. National calamity, and sometimes even hard won victory, has a terrible power of debasing religion. That of Rome never lost the stamp of the Hannibalic War; and we can all see that the last great strife in Europe did France much harm this way, and Germany little good. The noblest enthusiasm can but partly undo the mischief. The Maccabean War itself left behind a train of evils, and the Elizabethan Church was the baser for the loss of its natural leaders in the Marian persecution. In Israel the strength of the same debasing power of national calamity is shown by the great revival of the grosser worships after Josiah's death: yet somehow or other the destruction of Jerusalem was the ruin of the paganismus. It had held its ground for ages, and was distinctly gaining under the sons of Josiah; yet the calamity which ought to have completed its victory proved its ruin. Other causes helped later; but the fall of the city was the decisive blow. Now this means that monotheism in Israel was a moral power of exceptional strength, and forces on us the question, how it came to be such a power.
Some will tell us that the Semites have a peculiar genius for monotheism, and point to the fact that it originated among them, and still has firm supporters in Semitic Jews and Arabs. We may therefore grant that they have a capacity for monotheism, and will often answer its great teachers with enthusiasm. But their general tendency is quite the other way. If Israel followed after Jehovah, all the rest went astray after the abominations, and even Israel was Semitic enough to go astray for a long time like the rest. The roots of the monotheism must be in the nation, not in the race, and we shall have to study its history, instead of calling in some imaginary Semitic instinct for a summary solution of the problem. All that can be said yet is that we are more likely to find its answer in the occasional action of great men than in any permanent tendencies of the people in general. So it was in Arabia, and so it is likely to have been in Israel.
But the appeal to history is not so simple as it used to be. Our fathers would have told us at once that Moses wrote the Law, Joshua made the sun stand still, David predicted sundry things of Christ, and so on. It was all very plain till a so-called critical school arose to darken counsel by dating the prophets before the Law, rooting out every trace of miracle and prophecy, and amending the narrative till pious readers can hardly recognize it. On the old theory we have a clear monotheism from patriarchal times with continual backslidings till the Captivity. On the other, the monotheism is gradually developed in the midst of the paganismus, wins passing successes under Hezekiah and Josiah, and becomes the one religion of Israel during and after the Exile. Which of these versions are we to take?
We might despair of certainty if we listened only to the clamour of the extreme men. Some of them are fighting for religion. They take their stand, much as Luther did at Marburg, on God spake these words, as if it were self-evident that he must have spoken them in the most direct and literal sense. Sometimes they tell us that Jesus of Nazareth knew better than the critics, and settled once for all these questions of authorship, date, and accuracy of the books of the Old Testament. Others who fight for criticism seem to make it their business each to outdo the last in bringing down the date of the books a step later. Thus the Chaldean atmosphere of the second Isaiah, which forbids an Assyrian date, is made quite consistent with late Persian times; and if the Book of Ruth might have been an effective pamphlet against Nehemiah, this must be its date. As usual, the extremes have a good cause and a very bad case. For general unreason there is little to choose between them.
Nevertheless, a good deal of progress has been made by more sober students. Not many would now deny that the Law contains elements dating long after Moses, as well as elements dating long before the Exile. Nor are the more moderate conservatives Mind to such possibilities as allegory in the early chapters of Genesis, poetry in Joshua turned by prosaic minds into a miracle, chronological mistakes in Kings, unhistorical exaggerations in Chronicles, incorrect ascriptions and even pure romance in some other books. Things like these disprove mechanical inspiration, but they do not disprove all inspiration. On the other side, the so-called critical school stands firm and solid for two Isaiahs, for a fifth century date of the Law in its present form, with Deuteronomy a couple of hundred years earlier, and for a second-century date of Daniel and the latest books of the Canon. Some go further; but so far the school may be considered unanimous: and if there has been a vast amount of wild writing in the name of criticism, these are deliberate conclusions of genuine scholars, and their arguments will have to be reckoned with. However, we can put at once the question that most concerns us. Is the picture of religion in Israel given by the Books of Kings passably true, or has it been manipulated all through, for edification doubtless, and—not to mince the matter—systematically falsified in the interest of the legalism which grew up in Persian times? After reasonable allowance for the natural tendency to see past times in the light of the present, is the story fairly true, or is it no better than the Chronicle of Dexter the Jesuit?
I speak now not as an Old Testament specialist, which I have no claim to be, but simply as a student of history. Nor can I see that the question is any way foreclosed by Christian belief. It seems evident that Jesus of Nazareth never took upon him to decide critical questions of authorship and date, but maintained only what every theist must maintain, that Israel's history was a training divinely given and divinely guided: and therefore I must absolutely deny that Christianity is committed to any particular opinions on these matters. It is clear that St. Paul's argument breaks down if Adam is no more than a personification, or that the Law is any the less a parenthesis4 if it lasted five centuries instead of fifteen, or that Christ cannot be a priest after the order of Melchizedek if Melchizedek never existed. Quotations of books are not deliberate decisions of their authorship, and the personal opinions of Apostolic men are not of necessity their deliberate teaching. In Butler's phrase, some serious persons may have spoken unadvisedly—I mean in later times—but the particular method of Israel's divinely given training—whether it was on this wise or on that wise—is as purely historical a question as the early growth of Rome, which also must on all theistic principles have been a training divinely guided: and as a purely historical question we are bound to treat it.
Now some conclusions of the critics would seem as certain as any unquestioned facts of history. If reasoning men still maintain the unity of the Pentateuch, or the Assyrian date of the second part of Isaiah, their reasoning is not easy to understand. The general rule is that if a writing reflects the character of a particular time, that is the date of the writer; and the rule is found to hold in all those parts of the Old Testament whose dates are fixed by independent evidence. Those then who make an exception are bound to give proof of the miracle involved in their theory; and the firmest believers in miracles may well pause before one that stultifies historical evidence generally. Of course, history may be mimicked by miracle, like geology; for some have held that the fossils were created in situ. But what is the evidence for the miracle? Against it is a moral difficulty. A moral purpose might be clear enough if Isaiah had only predicted a Return, as in fact he did;5 but a moral purpose is hardly suggested for this detailed preaching to the hopes and fears of the men of the Return by Isaiah rather than by one of themselves. It would prove God's foreknowledge; but has that ever been seriously doubted by Theists? Till some moral reason is suggested, the fact will need strong evidence, to say the least, to make it credible. In its favour is a title, ex hypothesi contradicted by the book itself, and in any case no proof that the last editors of the book believed the whole of it to be the work of Isaiah. We do not ourselves care much for unity of authorship when we have our pamphlets bound; and if the second pamphlet were anonymous, the title of the first might seem to cover both. Quotations by New Testament writers are also put forward; and these are good evidence of current, opinions, but they are not decisive of the writer's own opinion unless it can be shown that he was thinking of the question of authorship, and giving a deliberate opinion on it. So far as I know, this has never been done—certainly not in the case of any quotation ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth. And supposing St. Paul's personal belief on such a question fully ascertained, it would still have to be shown that such belief is unconditionally binding on Christian men.
I have traced the outline of this case as a sample of critical methods which can hardly be rejected without also rejecting the laws of evidence in common life; and many other conclusions of the critics may be equally sound, though the evidence in their favour does not lie so much on the surface. Nevertheless, with all deference to the learning and industry of the gentlemen of the critical school, I must confess that I cannot altogether follow them. Mere students like myself can but look up with admiration to the magnificent certainty with which single verses, and often single clauses, are assigned to different authors or to particular dates. We are used to problems of this kind, and quite understand the method of dealing with them; but we cannot often work out our simpler questions with this astonishing precision. Nor do I feel sure that our critical friends have quite reckoned with some of the facts. For example, the eighth-century prophets come forward as reformers of an old religion, and must have had fair ground for their evident belief that the popular worship not only was an offence to Jehovah, but had been recognized as such by serious persons for a long time. Again, if we are told that Leviticus belongs to the second temple, while that of Solomon had a simpler ceremonial, or if we hear that Deuteronomy dates from the age of Jeremiah, I will demur no further than to hope that reasonable account is taken of the older documents and older customs and ideas traceable in the Law. Thus the story of the Creation seems ultimately Chaldean; but if anyone believes that it was not borrowed before the Captivity had made Chaldean religion to stink in Jewish nostrils, I can only say that his faith is more robust than mine. But granting the late date of the Law, I cannot help thinking that there is a much older, clearer, and more ethical monotheism behind it than some of the critics allow.6 Again, I am afraid too much is made of discrepancies. Thus I cannot see any inconsistency between the two views of the monarchy, as God's gracious gift and as a monument of the people's unfitness for something better. May we not—must we not—view every constitution of Church or State in precisely these two lights?—as so good, because it is God's gracious gift of law and order; and as no better, because we are not worthy of a better. Yet again, I am not sure how far some of the chief arguments are sound. Thus the Second Commandment is dated late, on the ground that we find it ignored, and that (so it is said) no attempt was made to enforce it till Hezekiah's time. The narrative says otherwise, of Asa for example7. However, this is disputed, so let it pass. Only, if the verse be set aside as a consequence of a theory, the absence of it must not be used as a proof of the theory. Certainly, the conservative position implies a most illogical state of things, with an acknowledged law universally ignored; and some have pronounced it for this reason impossible. But a student of the Middle Ages will be slow to think it even unlikely, for he finds it a very common state of things. In one conspicuous case the parallel is exact. There were graven images in every church, and idols in every high place. The excuses for idolatry are much the same in all ages, and the only substantial difference I can find is a Christian label, and perhaps a little more decency. Nor did the reformers of those ages find any offence in it. Cluniacs and Cistercians and Mendicants took it as a matter of course, and the councils of Constance and Basel made no attempts to reform it. Even saints like Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Thomas à Kempis himself raise no objection to it. Must we not as good critics conclude that the Second Commandment was invented, no doubt for edification, in the sixteenth century? We should have to revise our early church history and criticize some of the literature of the Middle Ages; but we know that it is quite possible to bring down the origin of Christianity itself to the twelfth century by a sufficiently courageous revision of documents, for the thing has actually been done.
Now do not mistake me here. I do not want to discuss the date at all; only to tell you why one particular argument does not seem quite so sound as, tight be wished. With the rest of the arguments that bear on the date I have no concern just now. Still less have I any desire to throw indiscriminate scorn on opponents of the conservative position. If some of them are a reproach to criticism, others give us as sound scholarship and as deep religion as the best of us; and if they think fit to keep criticism separate from devotion, they are not unaware that historical questions involve spiritual forces as well as purely literary considerations. But every army has its camp-followers; and sometimes the excesses of the camp-followers check real sympathy with the army.
The crux of the matter is the origin of the conception that God is holy (so that man also should be holy), which grew up in Israel and nowhere else. If some of the other nations made their gods in the image of man, and even strove like the Greeks to find the excellence of deity in the highest qualities of man, they never succeeded in reaching an ideal at once moral and personal. The gods in Homer are personal enough, but they are not more moral than the men. Their distinctive immortality is a thing which superhuman beings may have, but which they cannot be. And by the time the philosophers found out the mistake they found also that good and bad were too closely joined in men to be clearly separated in the gods. Thus every attempt to reach a worthier ideal than the Zeus of Homer either sharply opposed it in a deistic way to everything human, or more commonly blurred the clear lines of personality by bringing in more or less of the pantheistic confusion which abolishes good and bad together. Fate as a power above the gods is neither moral nor personal; and even those who personified justice or goodness did not thereby reach the idea of a just or good Person.
In strong contrast to the gods of the nations, the God of Israel stands out in clear and vivid personality, separate indeed from men by his infinity, but essentially opposed only to sin wherever found. The distinction of men as men from men as sinners is clearly drawn by the prophets, who build all their teaching on a true communion of God with holy men, though it was forgotten or distorted when the growth of dualistic legalism threatened to make an absolute separation between God and man. Amos already believes8 that “the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets”; and the second Isaiah tells us9. how the high and lofty One that in habited eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells not only in the high and holy place, but with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit. Thus the differentia of the divine nature is not in its contrast of genus with human nature as a whole, but in a moral contrast with sin. Greece and Israel were heartily agreed that man is in part divine; but while the earlier Greeks took small account of the part which is undivine, and their successors were disposed to explain it as ignorance or sense or finiteness, the prophets of Israel with keener insight fixed on sin as the one true evil in the world, as being the one thing inconsistent with its divine order.
Whence then came this great illuminating thought, that so far as man is unlike God, the essential unlikeness is not in sense or finiteness, but simply in sin—the breach of a personal relation to a personal God? This is the central question; but if we set it aside for a moment, the rest of the religion of Israel seems as much a product of evolution as that of Greece—in the same sense human, and more divine only in the sense that it rose higher and has been a more central part of the general evolution of religion. Whatever be its origin, all parties are agreed that it was first the worship of a clan-god, that the clan-god became a national god when a nation was formed, that it had a long struggle with a paganismus, and that it was enabled by its conception of holiness to overcome the paganismucs and to reach the idea of a Lord of all the earth. So far there is nothing to suggest any special exceptional or miraculous element in the history. The peculiar idea of holiness is enough to account for the peculiarity of its development.
But now we must come to the point by asking how that idea itself arose. On any theistic view it must be a divine revelation; and primâ facie the case is very strong for supposing it suggested in a miraculous way. There is a prodigious difference of degree, and at first sight a difference also of kind, between the prophetic ideal of holiness and such Greek types as the Olympic gods, the good citizen, the mystœ of Eleusis, or the wise man of the Stoics. Even if the ethical relation of that ideal to right be thought not greatly to excel Stoicism, its religious relation to a personal God is altogether on a higher plane than anything we find in Greece. And if Greece will not bear comparison with Israel in this respect, certainly no other ancient nation will.
Nor does the idea look like an ordinary national growth in Israel. It is very plain that we can no more judge the people by the prophets than the common churchmen of early times by the great Fathers. If the best in Israel rose far above the best in Greece, the worst in Israel was even more unholy than the worst of Greece. Corinth was not so bad as Tophet. Greece was not free from human sacrifices; but she had no Moloch, passed no children through the fire, and would scarcely have understood the murderous fanaticism of a Manasseh. Athens was less tolerant than Ionia—witness Anaxagoras and Socrates; but the one great persecution which stains the annals of Greece was done on Syrian soil, and the zeal of Epiphanes was rather for Greek civilization than for Greek religion. Whatever ideals the prophets cherished, holiness is not an idea we should expect to find growing up in so corrupt a city as Jerusalem. In the desert, or on some simple country side, it might seem more natural.
The contrast with other nations is very great; and we cannot suppose that so isolated a result was reached in Israel without some particular divine or providential guidance. But what form did it take? In the first place, the idea that such a development must have been made by insensible steps is one carried over from biology, where it seems untrue, to history, where it is quite contrary to experience. So gifted a people as Israel cannot have failed to produce great men at intervals to mark—and to deflect—the line of motion. There does not seem to be much legend about the story of David; and if Moses and Abraham are more or less idealized, they need not on that account be unhistorical. If we accepted without criticism all the current stories about King Alfred we should get some serious anachronisms, but by no means an entirely untrue picture of him. A man is not proved to be legendary if a good deal of legend has grown up round him. Great thoughts—and surely the unity and the holiness of God are great thoughts—call for great men to declare them. They are not impressed on common mortals by cold reasoning and dry-as-dust antiquarianism, but only by the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of men who live by truth, and count all other things as loss if they may gain truth. Great men are not merely the straws that shew us which way the current flows: they are more like the winds of heaven striving on the deep, and often beating dead against the current. And as the wind bloweth where it listeth, so is the coming of a great man. It is chance in the sense of being due to obscure causes; but no theist can allow that it is chance in the sense of coming to pass apart from the ordered guidance he is bound to find in history. Thus there would seem to be nothing of itself unlikely in the tradition that there were great men holding some such places in the evolution as are assigned to Moses and Abraham.
Perhaps even the historical evidence for it is rather stronger than is sometimes supposed. The evident belief of the prophets in the antiquity of their teaching must count for something: and it is confirmed by the double source JE of the Pentateuch. As this represents an earlier phase of religious thought than the prophets, it ought not without strong reason to be crowded down on the generation before them. Unless there was a strangely rapid development in the ninth century, it might just as well be dated back to Solomon's time. And as it is agreed that the stories are tradition, not pure inventions of the writers, they must reflect the belief of a considerably older period. If this be so, we get a clear ethical monotheism, doubtless inferior to that of the prophets, but still of a pretty high sort, thrown so far back into the past that the main “conservative” position—of dating its origin long before the Conquest—becomes fairly credible: provided always that we do not turn Moses and Abraham into finished Christians.
Similarly we must allow that remarkable events are possible as well as remarkable men. Are they not rather to be expected in the course of so remarkable an evolution? Some of those claimed as miraculous may very well bear a different explanation; but if others remained, I should still prefer to look at them from the side of providence, rather as steps of a divine plan which might need to be declared, than as exertions of a divine power which could not need to be further proved than it was already. However great may be the mighty hand and outstretched arm, still greater is the guiding and directing power which any theistic belief compels us to see in the general course of the history. Supposing, for example, it could be shown that the various ideals of the future found among the prophets converge on that which was real in Jesus of Nazareth, this would be to thinking men a more impressive fact than the fulfilment of particular predictions in particular events of his life. Instead of merely proving foresight, it would raise questions not easily answered about the correspondence of a historical person to the highest aspirations of past ages. Were miracle ever so true, its miraculous aspect could not be more than secondary. This is plainly stated in more than one saying ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth,10; and I think is not obscurely hinted by the Old Testament writers, who seem generally more anxious to impress on us that an action was divine in origin than that it was miraculous in form.
But the strongest imaginable primâ facie case for miracle could not do more than remove primâ facie objections, and leave a clear space for such positive evidence as there may be. We cannot begin by summarily taking it for granted that so particular or providential a guidance cannot have been given without miracles. Lofty as the teaching of the prophets is, it has its echoes elsewhere. The Spirit which rested on Isaiah was not a stranger to Æschylus and Plato. Nor do we want for signs that religion grew in Israel under the influence of history very much as it grew in other nations, though it succeeded much better in turning the physical holiness of separation into the ethical holiness of purity and truth, and the ceremonial requirement of clean hands into the moral requirement of a clean heart. The general course of the development is much the same as in Greece, though on a higher plane. First come the lower conceptions, then the higher, and in later times a phase of scepticism represented for Israel in Job and Ecclesiastes,11 and atlast it withers into Pharisaism. Neither Israel nor Greece could save the ancient world, and Christianity which answers for the modern is rather a branch from the roots of the old tree than a continuation of the stem.
The one thing needful is to keep all these questions firmly to the ground of history. If I believe that God space these words, in the sense that he gave them as a law to Israel, I leave it so far open whether he declared then in thunder from the cliffs of Sinai, or spoke them in communings of the heart to them of old. This is a question of fact, to be decided on grounds of reason from the whole of the evidence—neither by the tyranny of an unreasoning traditionalism which sees nothing divine except in signs and wonders, nor by the special pleading of a mechanical criticism which ignores human nature in its chase after literary possibilities, and can only make out a plausible case by first assuming unlimited falsification and then correcting it with unlimited guesswork. We sometimes wonder whether the guesses are truer than the lies. Criticism of this kind is a return to the stage of the Ptolemaic astronomy, which gave a purely formal and geometrical account of planetary motions, without any attempt to discover the forces which determine those motions. In the same way these critics carve out the books before them in a literary and formal way without seriously considering what men are likely or unlikely to do. Likely or unlikely is all the same to them, so long as there is a literary possibility.
If some of you think I have taken too seriously what may seem to them self-evident absurdities in the conservative position, I would answer that we are not wasting time in trying to see something of the bearing of these things. Opinions may be false, they may even be absurd; but I cannot bring myself to set down for self-evident absurdities beliefs on which our fathers lived, which still find scholars to defend them. Such a book as Christus Comprobator may be one of the last I could agree with; but it is also one of the last I should care to treat with any disrespect. These questions of Old Testament criticism are not the vital things which partizans are bent on making them; but if the conservative view is largely mistaken, it stands at all events for the truth that all our knowledge is quite as much given to us from above as won by efforts of our own: and no serious person can doubt that we greatly need the reminder.
If we have spent a long time in settling our general view of the history of Israel, we have also come to some conclusions on the main line of advance in the conception of the knowledge of God. Unless we assume a primitive revelation, the beginnings of the religion of Israel must have been rude and low. But this is a prehistoric stage. If we take our stand on the Pentateuch (omitting the Priestly Code and Deuteronomy) as in the main a production of at least the ninth or tenth century, and fair evidence for some time before it, we get an ethical and practically monotheistic conception of God. Ancient or forbidden superstitions may be relics of an older state of things; but that state of things is prehistoric. The divine names do not stand for powers of nature; and if the plural Elohim points to polytheism, it points to an advanced and reflective stage of polytheism, in which the gods form a class, and therefore to a long development. But if Elohim is God, Jehovah12 is Elohim in Israel. By whatever process Jehovah became the national god of Israel, this too belongs to a past which was ancient in the eighth or ninth century. Identifications with Baal or Moloch, or with some Kenite or some Assyrian god, are not convincing. So far as we know, the worship of Jehovah is purely Israelite; and if it still (in the eighth century) has some totemistic features, the actual totem, if there ever was one, has utterly disappeared. Of course there are guesses; but guesses are guesses—the one thing certain is that they are uncertain.
The totemistic features we mean are three—that Jehovah is the only native god we can trace, that the ordinary sacrifice is a feast of communion with him, and that he is in some sense placed on a level with the gods of the nations. But this needs explanation. In saying that Jehovah was the only native god, we mean that the other gods worshipped by individuals were foreigners. Though there was a constant tendency to worship Jehovah in the same way as the other gods were worshipped, there does not seem to have been much wish to make one of them the national god instead of Jehovah. The chief attempt was made under the influence of Jezebel, herself a foreigner. They were worshipped before him, or in his presence—less as rival gods than as patrol, saints or guardian angels, who might help certain persons, or anyone in certain cases. And in saying that Jehovah was the God of Israel, as Chemosh was the god of Moab, we do not mean that he was in the same way the God of Israel. As far as the relation of protection goes, there may have been little difference. Mesha gains his victories by the help of Chemosh, much as David gained his by the help of Jehovah. But a god who is set forth as the creator of man, the sender of the Flood, the caller of Abraham, the deliverer from Egypt,—above all, a God to whom the daring challenge is addressed, Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?—such a God is lifted by his righteousness and world-wide power far above the local and unrighteous gods of other nations. We can imagine a Moabite song of victory—
So let all thine enemies perish, Chemosh!
but they would scarcely have added—
But let them that love him
Be as the sun when he goethe forth in his might.
Simple and anthropomorphic as the Israelite conception may be, and not free from limitations and imperfections, still it is mainly ethical, and therefore essentially ethical. Its origin lies further back than we can trace; for it is not only no invention of the writers, but must be older than the stories in which we find it. Now this conception of God shaped the whole development of religion in Israel. Everything was involved in it from the first, and everything was evolved from it by the training of Israel's history. A subordinate ethical element in the conception of the divine is not uncommon, and may remain undeveloped; but a God who is mainly ethical must sooner or later be recognized as wholly ethical. Righteousness cannot be partial: it must have all or nothing. A righteous God must be a jealous God who abolishes first unrighteous rivals, then unrighteous conceptions of himself, till he shines out in that perfect righteousness which is perfect love, and calls for perfect love from men. This conception also determined the meaning of the belief in Israel's election from the nations, which is just as much an integral part of the old traditions. Such an election means first that the electing; God is Lord of all the earth; but an election by Chemosh would only be to private favour, and an election by a righteous God might possibly be the reward of Israel's righteousness. So Israel was always disposed to think. But what was to be said when calamities seemed to skew that Israel was anything but righteous? The election, then, could only be one to service for the good of the whole world. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Even the Deuteronomist may not quite rise to this, though he repeatedly says, Not for thy righteousness; but this is the only theory of election consistent with the righteousness of God. We find glimpses of it in the earliest writings of the Old Testament, and clear statements in the later; and if the Scribes and Pharisees rejected it, the spirit of the old religion is more truly given by Simeon's Light to lighten the Gentiles,13; and by St. Paul's discussion of Israel's rejection.
The line of advance from the primitive position to a higher one is clearly marked out by the First Commandment, which must be early too.14 It summarily sets aside the usual pleas, that other gods are real, that they have power, and that they may sometimes help. It simply forbids their worship as treason to Jehovah. Men who trusted in Jehovah would soon find out that the unholy gods have no power at all—that they are nothings, and therefore shames and abominations. The downward path is equally clear. Men need not renounce Jehovah, or cease to worship him. Only let them forget that he is righteous, then there will be no reason why Chemosh or Baal should not be worshipped along with him or in his place. The prophets took one road; the people went the other.
In early times the will of heaven was not sought solely by ethical means, but largely also in the pagan fashion by dreams and omens, in divination by Urim and ephod, by casting lots or in similar ways, and often on similar practical questions. Saul's case is enough to shew that there were some who looked on the prophet as a sort of wizard, whose advice might in any case be worth his quarter of a shekel of silver. Nor is there much idea yet of any inspiration but that of a temporary possession by the deity. Prophecy in Israel never quite lost this ecstatic character; and this gave it both strength and weakness in the world, for while some admired in Eastern fashion the man that was beside himself, others never ceased to mock the prophet's rough coat of sheepskin, his strange preaching and wild excitement, his oracular sentences and harping on evil to come, and most of all the uncouth symbols he used. Some of them we can hardly suppose literally carried out; but even the accounts of them must often have struck the profane as bad practical jokes at best.
The first great epoch of Hebrew prophecy is the age of Samuel. We find individuals before, like Deborah; but now it is organized in schools, most likely by Samuel himself. The main purpose of the schools would seem to have been the cultivation of prophecy and religion generally. In some ways they may have been like the modern dervishes; but they seem to have had a higher tone, and so far as we know had no esoteric mysticism. Neither were they monks, for they married,15 so that they must have been free to live in the world. If their life was austere and simple, it was not ascetic. They seem also16 to have provided a new sort of public instruction, distinct alike from the ritual of the tabernacle and from the sacrifices that were offered all over the country.
But prophecy had also a political side. If Israel was a chosen people, the prophet who spoke for God had to keep them faithful to their calling and election. And if Israel was a chosen people, the earthly king could not be more than a deputy of the heavenly King, subject in matters touching the theocracy to such special orders as the prophets might deliver. For some time king and prophet agreed very well. Saul's failure was rather personal than official: and if the prophet rebuked David's sins, he was too loyal to go after Absalom or Adonijah. The rift between them became visible when Solomon went astray and actively promoted the worship of strange gods. How far it was widened by Jeroboam is a disputed question; but it does not concern us just now, for the calves were at any rate not other gods. There was no intention of forsaking Jehovah till Ahab, or rather Jezebel, brought the question to all issue.
But if Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel, he left the calves and the irregular sacrifices on every high hill and under every green tree; and presently it became evident that the worship of Jehovah might be just as demoralizing as that of foreign gods. It was not the name of the god, but the sensuous and immoral conceptions of him, that led to sensuous and immoral worship and sensuous and immoral living. We have no more than a thread of history for the dynasty of Jellu; but when we get fuller information from Amos we hear very little more of the sons of the prophets. The evils of calf-worship were no longer masked by those of Baal-worship: and if the prophets shut their eyes to them, they ceased to be witnesses for truth. Prophecy had to fall back on faithful individuals, and to renounce the hope of reforming the state by such another revolution as that of Jehu. The prophets were still statesmen: but if force had shewn its impotence to cure moral evils, nothing was left but persuasion; and if the people refused to be persuaded, they must eat of the fruit of their doings. The righteousness of Jehovah required that an unrighteous kingdom should perish; and if it was to perish, it must perish in the way rotten kingdoms perished in that age. “Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.”17
But if the State was doomed, the individual remained. Assyria did for Hebrew thought something like the work which Macedonia did for Greek thought. The ancient landmarks of the nations vanished in the universal ruin—Calno and Carchemish, Hamath and Arpad, Samaria and Damascus; and at last the primeval power of Egypt went down before the might of Esarhaddon. And the Assyrian brought neither culture like the Greek nor peace like the Roman: his work was mere destruction and uprooting. It was a return to savage warfare when the gods of the nations were burned with fire, and scattered groups of broken men with faith confounded soon forgot them in a land of exile.
So too must it be with Israel. Written prophecy begins with a grand picture of God's righteous judgment of the nations. “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn it back”;18 and so in the same words, of Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, Israel, for there is no respect of persons with Jehovah. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”19 At first the threat was vague; but it was not long before the prophets came to see that the Mysterious it could only be the flood of Assyrian conquest. Israel's doom was the same—yet not the same—as that of other nations, for Israel's God was not like other gods, local and unrighteous. If Israel would only rise to this old teaching, the kingdom might fall, but a church of Israel would still be the kingdom of God. Israel would not listen; therefore the northern kingdom passed away for ever.
Things were rather better in the South. The monarchy stood firmer, the nation was more compact, and in Jerusalem it had a better capital than Samaria, and one less exposed to foreign influences. The priests also were stronger, for they were not creatures of the king as in the North. If Jehoiada is no such glorious figure as Amos or Isaiah, he rises far above Amaziah the priest of Bethel; and the overthrow of Athaliah by the priests must have made them the strongest power in the State. Remiss as they were, mere interest must have made them use their influence to keep the government from tampering with foreign gods. So four successive kings, from Joash to Jotham, are said to have “done that which is right,” but in each case it is implied not with a perfect heart. If the outside was fairly correct, the inside was another matter.
Then came the crash in the reign of Ahaz, and the siege of Jerusalem by Rezin and the son of Remaliah, as Isaiah contemptuously calls him. But Judah's doom was not yet spoken, and Isaiah's word on the counsel of Pekah and Rezin is clear and confident. “Thus saith the Lord, It shall riot stand, neither shall it come to pass.”20 Nor did it. Only the sarcastic unbelief of Ahaz calls out the tremendous prophecy of Immanuel. Its colours deepen from devastation to captivity: yet the dark picture is lighted up with sure and certain hope. If the nation is carried away, a remnant shall return, for God is with us; and the remnant shall take root downward, and bear fruit upward. The great tree of David's house may be cut down to the ground; but a root shall spring up from it, “which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.”21
Hezekiah's reign gave a breathing-space before the second Assyrian crisis: and now we see the policy of the reformers, to abolish the scattered sanctuaries where all sorts of immoralities were practised, and allow no sacrifice but at Jerusalem, where good order could be kept. Hezekiah began the work,22 but a stronger hand than his was needed to finish it. There was wavering and faithlessness and tampering with Egypt; but in the day of decision Isaiah kept the city true, and his policy was gloriously vindicated by the overwhelming blow which crushed Sennacherib's host. It was some time before the next Assyrian army came filing past the Nahr-el-Kelb.
“In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” The passing of the earthly king was the revelation of the heavenly; and the death-throes of the earthly kingdom were the birth-pangs of a church. On the little band of Isaiah's disciples23 burst the horrors of Manasseh's persecution; and for two generations a murderous and filthy paganismus was supreme. A monotheism which could survive this must have been more deeply rooted than some of the critics allow. When the reforming party raised its head again it had in Josiah the most resolute king of David's line, in Jeremiah a prophet hardly second to Isaiah, and in the newly found Book of Deuteronomy a clear plan of reform. Josiah carried it out with ruthless energy. The high places and the local altars were dismantled and defiled, and, so far as public authority could compass it, an end was made of sacrifice outside Jerusalem.
Desperate diseases call for desperate remedies. The great reformation was carried through at last; but at a fearful cost, for it was as much a work of violence as Jehu's. It was work that had to be done, like the Reformation of the sixteenth century; but the shock of the change was even greater. The extinction of local sacrifices would seem to multitudes the extinction of religion outside Jerusalem; and there must have been widespread and real spiritual distress. We might see something like it now if we could imagine the next ex cathedra decision of the Pope to close all the churches, and order that masses should never more be said excepting at St. Peter's. In fact, what represented public worship was suppressed all over the country; and the gap was not yet filled up by synagogues. If the local worships were full of scandals, they were not made up of scandals. They stood for high truth—that Jehovah is not the local god which the reforming party seemed bent on making them; but on the other side, it was rightly felt that these worships had proved incurably immoral, and would have to be abolished. So the work was a sword of division in the State, for we may be sure that Shaphan's was not the only great house divided against itself: and when Josiah's resolute guidance was lost, and lost by what must have seemed even to some of those who loved him best a judgment of heaven on his rashness, we see not simply a reaction of the usual sort, but a debased reaction marked in the princes by factious violence, in priests and prophets by a league of falsehood24 in Jehovah's name, in the people by a new growth of fanatical trust in the temple of the Lord—the temple they were making a den of robbers. The anarchy of unruly princes, lying prophets, and noisy patriots was quieted for a time by the fate of Jehoiachin; but Zedekiah was not the man to keep it quiet, and when it burst out afresh it swept away the State.
In truth, the dilemma was hopeless. When once the nation had been thoroughly debauched by Manasseh there was no lifting it to better things without removing the high places, no removing them without an unsettlement of opinion which led to even worse things. But if the reformation was too late to save the State, it was not too late to save religion. Only, the knowledge of God had to be put on a new footing. If the nation had sinned, a righteous God could not hold guilty such individuals as had not been partakers of the sin; and if so, the calamities which came on them along with others could not be for them any sign of divine wrath. So Jeremiah marks a greater change than Isaiah. He sees the weakness of reformations from the outside, like those of Jehu and Josiah. Even a divine law will not be obeyed till it is written in the hearts of men. Now this is the change from collective to individual religion, from objective to subjective. If God writes his laws in the heart, he must deal with men singly, so that the knowledge of God must be direct and personal, and essentially independent of all action of other men. And this was a position the prophets never again abandoned. Even Jesus of Nazareth never preached the religion of the individual with more deliberate emphasis than Ezekiel; and the second Isaiah has the whole doctrine in his promise, All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.25
If the exiles in Babylon sought the peace of the city in which they dwelt, their hearts were with the city that lay in ruins.26 They were a better sort of people than the refuse of rebels against God and man that went down into Egypt with Johanan the son of Kareah, and many of them must always have been loyal to Jehovah. Why then had this evil overtaken them? They had time to think out the question, for they were abiding many days without a king, and without a sacrifice, and yet without an image, and without ephod and teraphim. The results of their thinking are embodied in the prophecy of Ezekiel, the compilation of the Books of Kings, the prophecy of the second Isaiah, and in some of the Psalms. It also seems likely that a good deal of the material of the Priestly Code was now collected.
In the first place, they had no doubt that they were even now the people of Jehovah. If he was righteous, he must care for those who were faithful to him; and if he was the Lord of all the earth, he was able to care for them even in a land of exile. If the city was in ruins, it could not be the one place he favoured with his presence; and if sacrifice had ceased, it could not be the one means of approach to him. The knowledge of God must be direct and spiritual; though if his grace is not tied to outward rites, it did not follow that men should undertake to abolish them.
When the more earnest of the exiles looked back on past history, they were soon satisfied that the calamity was a punishment for worship of other gods and immoral worship of Jehovah, for the oppression of kings, the lawlessness of priests, the transgression of the people. Now therefore how to put an end to these things? Clearly, the worship of Jehovah must be so regulated in all its details as to leave no excuse even for carelessness, much less for worse things. Ezekiel has drawn at length his ideal plan for the restored Church and State.27 About half of it is devoted to the measures of the temple; then come the ordinances for the priests “the Levites, the sons of Zadok,” while the Levites “who went astray after their idols” are degraded to the lower offices of the ministry. With these come commands moral and ceremonial together, but reminding us rather of Deuteronomy than Leviticus. There is no king; only a prince of David's house with a modest revenue and chiefly sacred functions, so that he cannot become an oppressor in the style of Jehoiakim.28 Then, to put an end to the old tribal jealousies, the land is redivided by lot, and the city is made a national capital belonging to no tribe, and given a new name,—Jehovah is there.
No man can accuse of mere ritualism a prophet who sees clearly like Ezekiel the need of a new heart and a new spirit before men can walk in the statutes of God and keep his judgments.29 In this he rises above Isaiah, and stands abreast of Jeremiah with his promise of the new covenant written in the hearts of men. Yet we cannot but feel that if ritual is no more than a means to Ezekiel, it is too much of an indispensable means, so that after all he is the first step in the long descent from the prophets to the scribes and the Pharisees. Not so the second Isaiah, the last creative genius of the Old Testament. He has the advantage of time over Ezekiel, for he writes near the end of the Captivity. The night was far spent, the day was at hand, so that he was able to look backward on the goblins of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Prophecy rises in him to its highest idealism, and speaks in him the noblest words of living power that it spoke before the Man of Nazareth took up the parable.
The prophets of Israel are all at one in telling us that a time shall come (in this world, not another) when God will do for men something better than the best which they can ask or think. But the ideal can only be reached by idealizing history, so that its form develops with the growth of history. Isaiah pictured an ideal king and an ideal kingdom of peace and prosperity; and when the real kingdom was fallen, Jeremiah and Ezekiel figured an ideal church of regenerate men. Both of these ideals are imperfect, for it is hard to keep the kingdom free from sinners, or the church from becoming self-righteous. The second Isaiah rises above them both. No man denounces more indignantly the emptiness of religion without righteousness. “Is it such a fast that I have chosen?” But this is not new: it only expands the old word of Samuel.30; No man pictures the mission of Israel to the world with such vivid splendour; but this again was implied from the first in Israel's election by a righteous God, and is already recognized by Amos, or at any rate by Micah.31 No man felt more keenly that the Captivity was the just reward of national sin. But it was still a problem, why the righteous had gone into captivity with the wicked. In old time the answer was ready, that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge; but the difficulty became greater than ever after the emphatic declarations of Jeremiah and Ezekiel32 that every one shall die for his own iniquity, the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon hint. The second Isaiah made a great stop towards an answer.
The exiles in Babylon would soon have been absorbed by their neighbours if they had not been kept separate by their worship of a righteous God. Many no doubt were so absorbed; but the main body held its way through much suffering,33 and became more and more a faithful remnant. With the third generation came a change of outlook. If they had not ceased to be victims of war, they were also witnesses for Jehovah. Even in Babylon their lofty monotheism found admirers, as it always did till Christianity outshone it. So sons of the stranger joined themselves to Jehovah,34 and even common men began to feel that Israel was the Servant of Jehovah, who should bring forth judgment or the knowledge of Jehovah to the Gentiles. But this made the difficulty greater than ever. Why does Israel suffer, though he is the Servant of Jehovah? Nay rather, replies the prophet, Israel suffers just because he is the Servant of Jehovah, and his sufferings are for the healing of the nations. The proselytes he has made in Babylon are no more than the firstfruits of a world of Gentiles that shall be won to the service of righteousness by the suffering of Israel. Ought not the Servant of Jehovah to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
The Servant of Jehovah is Israel, but of course not Israel in his actual state of sin, for which the Servant has to make atonement. Nor does he seem to be the godly part of the nation: he is rather Israel in an ideal state personified. His kingdom is not of this world. He rules not by force but by the willing submission of the nations. His glory is not the royal glory of a Solomon, but the more than royal majesty that is won by suffering; and his redemptive work is not for the weak and the ignorant only like the Law, but for the rebels and blasphemers who are beyond the mercy of the Law.
The Christians very commonly apply all this without more ado to Jesus of Nazareth; and on their theory it is an excellent application. Nothing can be more in the spirit of the Servant of Jehovah than the saying which suns up the Gospel, that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. On this shewing there is a truth here that must reach the very ground of human nature; and it certainly agrees well with the fact we traced before,35; that the suffering of the innocent for the guilty is the method of their moral restoration. That fact the second Isaiah saw with vivid clearness; but did he see all that the Christians have drawn out of him? The picture on the screen is an idealized Israel: does a future individual shine through it? It is hard for us to distinguish a personification from an incarnation of an ideal, and perhaps the writer's own mind was not perfectly clear. It may be as rash to deny as to maintain that somewhere in that gifted mind there was a dim feeling that if God is man's redeemer, a divine necessity will some day upon this earth of ours fulfill the divine ideal in some one living child of man. Such a belief will seem strange, if not absurd, to the pantheistic thought of our time, which may or may not believe in the race, but admits no possibility of perfection in the individual; but it is in perfect harmony with the monotheistic thought of Israel, which never presumed to find a limit for the possibilities of that which God may do in man for men.
The Old Testament conception of the knowledge of God rises to its highest in the second Isaiah; and after him nothing comes near his level but some of the later Psalms. The Book of Job, if this be its date, is magnificent as poetry; but as a contribution to the knowledge of God it must rank below the Prophet of the Exile. The only new thought of deep significance which came in after the Return is that of a future life. It must always have been familiar, if only as an Egyptian belief, so that the marked silence of the prophets must mean that they preferred unconditional trust in God to any attempts to pierce the secret of that which will be after death. And is not this trust in any case the highest ground to take? So when the doctrine came, it made less difference than we should expect. It was not universally accepted; and it rested on no definitely alleged historical fact like the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Moreover, men were too busy with religion in other directions to see either the full cogency of the arguments for it or the full extent of the consequences that follow from it.
We shall not need to trace in any detail the long decline of Judaism through the scribes to the Pharisees and Sadducces. The natural man is much the same everywhere; so that the process is very like the long decline of the Latin Church through the scribes of the Middle Ages to the Pharisees and Sadducees of modern Romanism. Judaism, as we may now call it, began during the Exile as a genuinely spiritual faith, but with a strong belief that the best protection from further backslidings is such a system of detailed law as shall put with perfect clearness the conditions of a holy life and worship. The issue of this belief is the Priestly Code, which most likely contains a good deal of old material, but seems in its present form a compilation of Ezra's time, and was only then accepted as God's law for Israel. Then came an age of increasing love of law: the timid legalism of Ecclesiasticus is balanced by the heroic legalism of the Maccabees. The Law was everything: the Prophets were only sacred books. But no code can cover the whole of life with definite rules; so before long tradition was called in to interpret, and under cover of interpretation to make new law. They did well to make a hedge, if the law of the Lord is a dangerous pit and needs to be fenced; but the rabbis were soon so busy making hedges round the vineyard, that they were quite content to let it bring forth wild grapes. Their highest ambition was to keep—nominally the Law, really their own traditions; and the knowledge of God was not in all their thoughts.
There was a further reason for this. The natural result of legalism was that a God separate from sinners was turned into a God inscrutable to men, as in Islam. Prophecy was turned into apocalypse, and the good things of the future were shifted from this world to another. An age of growing formalism was an age of growing transcendentalism. The movements ran parallel in Greece and Israel for a long time before they influenced each other. And an age of growing formalism was an age of growing pride and hatred of Gentiles. True, they were proud of their proselytes—Pharisees would compass sea and land to make a single one, but the pride was in themselves for the proselyte they had no respect. “The proselytes are a scab to Israel,”—and there were worse sayings than this. And when Rome had inflamed every discord to fever heat, the Messianic hope itself became fierce longing to see the wrath of God poured out on the Gentiles. The war with Rome was not the hopeless thing Agrippa made it out to be; or if it was, the reason lay in the savage hatred of Gentiles which of necessity issued in civil strife. A united nation might have withstood Rome herself; but the Law can be a sword of division as well as the Gospel.
In some ways the Old Testament quite reaches the level of the New. No more glorious conceptions of God's all-ruling providence and awful holiness have ever been reached by men, and no more magnificent declarations of his goodness and unfailing mercy have ever come from human lips than those we find in the Prophets and the Psalms. The firmest Christian must allow that Jesus of Nazareth added nothing to Micah's summary of human duty,36—except, he will say, power to act on it. So on the side of duty to man. Even Greece never shewed such goodness to the weak and helpless as we find in Deuteronomy. Some duties, indeed, are more fully declared in the Old Testament than in the New. Thus there was not much room for national duty in Roman times, when all civilized peoples lay inside one long frontier of twice three thousand miles, from Damascus to Carlisle and back again. Not that it is wanting in the New Testament—witness Paul. Jesus himself was an Israelite indeed when he mourned over Jerusalem, and when he refused to hurl a rotten Jewish nation on a rotten Gentile world. But in the Old Testament patriotism is a consuming fire of zeal from first to last. It flashes up at the outset in Miriam's song of triumph over Pharaoh's host;37 and it shines out at the end on the gloom of the gathering storm when the last of the Hebrew prophets, James the Lord's brother, once again denounces wrath from the Lord of hosts on the oppressors of the poor.38 Love of country is consecrated in the New Testament by its consecration of man for whom Christ's blood was shed; but it is not and could not be illustrated so fully as in the Old.
Considered as a revelation or discovery of God, the Old Testament is much the highest of ancient times. No other lays down with equal clearness at once the unity of God as against the polytheism of the civilized world, his personality as against the pantheism of superior people, his holiness as against the debasing conceptions of men who thought him like themselves, and his goodness as against the bodings of conscience wherever it was awake. If the Law was in most respects a decline from the prophets, its connexion with their higher teaching enabled it not merely to call forth a sense of duty—any law whatever may do as much as that—but to turn the sense of failure into a sense of sin against perfect holiness. It neither slurs over the fact of sin like the Greeks, nor makes it part of human nature like the ascetics. By placing it in will and not in sense it opens a possibility that man may cease to be a sinner without ceasing to be man.
A possibility only, for Jesus of Nazareth said truly39 that the Law had begun more than it was able to finish. It was imperfect just because it was a law, and that in more than one direction. In the first place, no law can cover with a sanction the whole ground of right and wrong, for the plain reason that while right and wrong are in the thoughts and intents of the heart, no sanction can get beyond outward actions. Again, as St. Paul reminds us,40 it is not the business of a law to teach right and wrong in a general way, but to declare certain forms of wrong so plainly that the wrong-doer cannot help seeing that he is doing wrong. In these cases it makes wrong visible as wrong; but other cases it will not touch, lest it should do more harm than good: and thoughts, however wrong, it cannot touch at all. It may put beyond denial what we know pretty well already; but even a divine law gives us no such strength as personal influence to do the duty it declares. Yet again, the Law was full of “statutes that were not good,”41 and of laws that were given “for the hardness of their hearts.” In modern language, it was the product of an uncompleted evolution. So it is full of adaptations to Israel, and to Israel at a particular stage of development; and every such adaptation was likely to be unsuitable to other nations, or for Israel itself in another stage of development, such as came when the dispersion had driven most of the foreign Jews into trade, and made any accurate observance of the ritual impossible for them. Yet again, the Law was local, national, relative, while the higher teaching of the prophets was universal and permanent; and the antagonism was coming to a crisis in Roman times. The scribes at Jerusalem were crystallizing the one into formalism, while the Jews of the dispersion were evaporating the other into a vague monotheism. Was it possible to check both degenerations, and to decide between the two ideals? Was the old faith of Israel to be stereotyped in Pharisaism, to be lost in the Greek world, or could it burst its bands and become a universal religion?
Great men and great movements must not be judged simply by what they do, but even more by what they point forward to and help to make possible. It would be folly to judge the French Revolution by the Reign of Terror, or even by its results in France only. So with the Old Testament. We have not done with it when we have weighed its merits and counted up its victories and failures. This imperfect revelation of a God supposed to be perfect was a thing that pointed forward. It held a deeper prophecy than any verification of alleged predictions, deeper even than the convergence of all the threads of ancient history upon the origins of Christianity. The conception of God as holy accounted for the imperfections of the revelation, for perfect holiness cannot be more than imperfectly revealed to men who are not in perfect sympathy with it. But then again, the conception of God as perfect goodness turned every imperfection into a promise and a prophecy of better things to come. Given such a God, the very weakness of the Law was a pledge of hope. And must it not be the same with the shortcomings of all religions which teach that God is perfect?
By paganismus I mean something like heathenism at the end of the fourth century, namely,—a congeries of cults of a lower type, prevalent in the lower classes, but with adherents in the higher, and a good deal of influence on the professed supporters of a higher cult.
This concentration of Israelite life in the city must have been helped first be Sennacherib's devastation of the towns, then by Josiah's limitation of sacrifice to the Temple.
Isa. xxiii. The authorship of the passage matters little in this connexion.
Rom. v 20: νόμος δἐ Πα ρειση̑λθεν.
Isa. xi 11, though connected with Assyria.
Even from the account of Elijah, which does not seem one of the strongest parts of the conservative line, we may take a sample of the difficulties which are not uncommonly passed over too easily.
Even such a thoroughgoing advocate of the “critical” theory as Prof. H. P. Smith allows (O. T. History, 209) that the memoirs of Elijah “could not have been written long after his death,” though he does not seem to accept anything in them as historical beyond Elijah's general opposition to Baal-worship and a part of the story of Naboth. Well, if they be legends, it must be granted that some of them may have grown up within the next generation. But unless we allow a longer time than this, I am afraid the scene on Carmel will became what Gibbon would distinguish as “a public lie.” Mendacity must have human limits, even in the Bible.
1 Kings xv 12.
Amos iii 7.
Isa. lvii 15.
Mt. vii 22, 23; Lu. vii 22 (noting the climax) Joh. xiv 12.
So McNeile, Introd. to Ecclesiastes, 52. “In the mind of Koh. were germinating thoughts which find striking parallels in the fragments of Xenophaues, in the teaching of the early Stoics, and in that of the Sceptics represented by Pyrrho. And this is but a concrete example of the state of mind which must have been widespread in the Hebrew race during the last two centuries before Christ. It shews—not that Koh. came under the immediate influence of any one Greek school, but—that the natural development of the two religions, Hebrew and Greek, proceeded (broadly speaking) on the same lines, and produced certain affinities between them.”
Perhaps we may keep the usual form of the word, though it dates only from 1518, and is certainly wrong.
Lu. ii 32. I make no apology for quoting it as genuine. These intensely Jewish hymns must have been written by Jews, and at a time before Israel had finally rejected Christ—say, before A.D. 62.
Discoveries of earlier decalogues in Exodus are not very convincing. Later decalogues might doubtless be found in Leviticus, if they were worth the trouble.
1 Sam. viii 1; 2 Kings iv 1.
2 Kings iv 23.
Amos vii 17.
Amos i 3 seq.
Amos iii 2.
Isa. vii 7.
Isa. xi 10.
2 Kings xviii 22.
Isa. viii 16.
Jer. v 31, and elsewhere. Not always conscious falsehood, though this too must have been common; but always utter disregard of the spirit of true religion.
Isa. liv 13, quoted in this sense Joh. vi 45.
I need not discuss the theory that there never was a Return. For the credit of the theorists, it is much to be wished that it were somewhat saner. Literary cavils over the very prosaic Books of Ezra and Nehemiah will not prove it without some reasonable explanation of the time and circumstances which made it possible to pass off so monstrous a string of fables.
The reaction against the oppression of the kings is very marked. Deut. xvii 15–20 may be summed up, that the king is not to be another Solomon, though there must have been some later offender in view. If we compare the emphatic command ver. 16 not to multiply horses with Rabshakeh's taunt, 1 Kings xviii 23 (if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them), we may conjecture an allusion to Manasseh. Jeremiah denounces with indignation the oppressions of Jehoiakim; but the memory of Josiah prevents him from denouncing the kings in general.
Ezekiel speaks more generally, and the oppression of kings is very conspicuous with him, as xliii 7–9. Specially interesting, however, is the provision (xlvi 17) for the resumption of the prince's grants (except to his sons) at the jubilee. If we may judge from the analogy of history, the royal estates must have been largely wasted on the turbulent nobles by the sons of Josiah.
Ezek. xxxv 25–27.
1 Sam. xv 22.
Amos ix 12; disputed by some. Micah iv 1–3.
Jer. xxxi 30; Ezek. xviii passim.
If Ezekiel gives us no signs of any special oppression suffered by the exiles, the second Isaiah distinctly implies a change for the worse in their condition.
Isa. lvi 6.
Lecture VIII. p. 213.
Mic. vi 8.
The song in Exod. xv 1–18 must be very old. Without it, Miriam Plays no such part in the Exude as would suggest to Micah vi 4 the idea that “I sent before thee Moses, Aarou, and Miriam.”
Jam. v 1–9. The picture of society is a strong argument for the early date of the Epistle. It agrees entirely with the state of things before the destruction of the city; but the rich class of oppressors must have been thoroughly ruined by the war. The sequel of the Roman destruction cannot have been very unlike the sequel of the Chaldean destruction.
Mt. v 17, not to destroy, but to finish.
Rom. iii 20, vii 7 (διἀ νόμου, anarthrous), 13 ἳνα ϕανῂ ἀμαρτία.
Ezek. xx 25, referring more or less to an earlier state of things.