IT is generally accepted that the earliest biblical records were written a considerable period after the call of Abraham, but into this and other questions as of their authorship and authority, it is not necessary here to enter. They were written, under general Divine direction and guidance, to the end that the covenant people might have some knowledge of God's dealings with men from the beginning, especially of His dealings with Abraham, and thus learn their own place in His purpose. To this end, He makes known to them the creation of the earth and of the first man, his fall into sin and its punishment, and some leading events in the history of his descendants down to the call of Abraham. We see the gradual falling away of the sons of Adam from the truths he had taught them, the loss of the knowledge of one God, the growth of polytheism, the growing corruption of morals and worship, and the judgment of the Deluge. But these could not be written down with any fulness of detail, supposing the writers to have had full knowledge, for if this had been done, the book would have failed to answer its end of general instruction through its very bulk. Many events in the remote past are not recorded, for a knowledge of the multifarious details of history down to the time of Abraham was not needful for the covenant people; but we are to note that much that is now obscure to us in regard to the genealogies of peoples, and their local and political relations to one another, was plain to them in the earlier centuries.1
But the knowledge given us in Genesis of God's dealings with men in the earliest times, limited as it is, is necessary to explain His subsequent dealings. Nor was this knowledge needful for the Jews only. It is needful for all, even to the end that they may understand God's dealings in their unity, and the work of the Incarnate Son in His especial relation to man.
Considering the high place of man through his relation to the Incarnate Son, and the wondrous dealings of God with him, we may believe that his history from the beginning will have value to all rational beings.
1 It is characteristic of biblical history that many things are passed over in silence which have great interest for us, an instance of which we see in the Gospels, all omitting to give any account of the Lord's life from His childhood to His entrance on His ministry; and three of them passing over in silence the events of that first year. God gives to those who write or speak of Him a spirit of wise reticence, as seen in His Son, who knew many truths which He did not speak.
It is not too much to hope that knowledge of the primitive age and its peoples, and of later generations down to Abraham, may yet be given us far more fully than the brevity of the biblical narratives permits; and this be effected through the records of themselves made by the chief peoples from Adam downward. It is not without a Divine purpose that these ancient records were made upon the almost imperishable clay tablets, and have been preserved in such large numbers (hundreds of thousands, it is said), and that we are now learning so fully of the social and political and religious life of the oldest peoples. Doubtless we shall learn much more from them, many historical gaps will be filled, and when these records shall be fully read, we may see the isolated events which stand like disconnected mountain peaks in the early sacred narratives, united into a connected historical whole. Already we have learned through the deciphered tablets and records of Babylon and Egypt, and of other peoples, not only the degree and character of their civilisation, but much of what most concerns us,—their religious beliefs; and are able to trace in outline the winding way from Eden to Babylon, and follow the gradual fall from primitive monotheism into polytheism and idolatry. We may, then, wait with patience till we can come to some more definite and certain results.
That we meet in this earliest period many problems, chronological, ethnological, historical, all know—problems that cannot be solved in the present state of our knowledge. But a few words may be said on the matter of time in human history in its bearing on man's development.
It is comparatively unimportant how long man has been upon the earth, and there is nothing in the biblical records which determines this. Regarding the history of our race as a moral trial, it would be highly presumptuous in us to say how long a period God would employ, whether five, or ten, or twenty thousand years, or more. It would be as long as would suffice to manifest in action all, both of good and evil, in the human heart, under all the possible conditions of life. But there are certain points to be kept in mind in judging of this period—that Adam's descendants were for a long time only few in number, that patriarchal or family government was all that could have place, that the industrial arts were but slowly developed, and that states and kingdoms with ordered systems of government and populous cities must have been of comparatively late origin. But we must guard against the error, a very common one, of looking upon primitive men as savages or barbarians. This arises from a notion that civilisation is synonymous with human progress, and is necessarily a matter of time, and may be compared to a river which, rising in a little fountain, deepens and broadens as it runs. Primitive men must, it is said, have been uncivilised, and therefore in the lowest stages of humanity. But what is meant by civilisation? It is a complex and vague term, denoting etymologically the condition political and social of those gathered in cities. But it has no uniform and permanent form, no inherent law of progress. It is relatively to a people what dress is to the body, having certain permanent features, yet ever changing, as we see in the Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilisations. It is the best that a people can attain to in government, arts, arms, and social life.1
1 If we go back to primitive man, we may, if we please, call him uncivilised, for the necessary conditions of civilisation are wanting; but not a savage, or a barbarian. These terms carry with them the idea of brutality, ferocity, cruelty. A savage or barbarous life is one of violence and bloodshed; but we may not associate this idea with our first parents, or with primitive man. To those who accept the animal theory of the origin of man, the earliest history of our race is buried in thick darkness, and out of that darkness we hear the howlings of the hungry beasts, and the shouts and cries of halfbestial and famished men, fighting together for their common food with tooth and claw, and club and stone. Less intellectual, with less knowledge, rude in manners and customs, as was the early man, his consciousness of God as the Supreme Lord may have been as deep, his reverence as great, his obedience as faithful as that of the most highly civilised. Barbarism is not the primitive stage, but comes later in human history. Savagery, as we meet it, is the product of a long period of moral deterioration and debasement. A civilised man is not necessarily a virtuous man; indeed, a high morality hardly enters into the common estimate of civilisation, except in that form of it which we distinguish as Christian. In no other may personal morality be called an essential element, and even here it is by no means dominant. We may believe that in no part of the world does the eye of God see more to offend Him, than in the splendid cities and polished capitals of civilised Christendom.
Beginning with the expulsion of Adam from Eden, we enter upon the history of man as no longer in unity with God and in communion with Him.1 But the human race was not left to perish in its sinfulness—it was put under a dispensation of grace. God was pleased to give to the race a new probation.
A.—From Adam to Abraham
Turning now to the probation given to the race as fallen, we note that the great point at issue was the same as in the probation of Adam—should the will of the Creator or of the creatures prevail—obedience or disobedience. It was a personal trial; no one was condemned because inheriting a fallen nature, but because he failed to obey God so far as he knew His will, whether through His law as written in man's heart, or declared in His Commandments, or made known by inspired men. Doubtless it was not so much the manner of obedience as its spirit, and of this only God could judge. It would, therefore, be highly presumptuous in us to say what is the standard of the Divine judgment, and how many or how few in the days prior to the call of Abraham were accepted by Him; and the same is true of the uncovenanted peoples at this day. "In every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to Him" (Acts 10: 35, R. V.). However great the ignorance of the Divine Person and ways, if the spirit of obedience is found and righteousness is wrought, He will be gracious and forgive.
1 May we not apply the words of the poet to the history of our race, its native goodness, and its speedy fall?—
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy.
fl?he youth, who daily farther from the East
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day."
But we know that "the vision splendid" is yet to come, the vision of Him who brings with Him, not the light of common day, but the "light that never was on land or sea."
We must, then, consider the period, longer or shorter, from the fall of Adam to the call of Abraham, in the light of this probation. The Son, not yet Incarnate, but acting as the Word, began immediately the work of redemption. What was the manner of that work? It doubtless had the same general features that characterised His work after the call of Abraham.
As fitting to the infancy of the race and its early development, we might expect that there would be a manifestation of God to man's senses. In Eden there had been a local and visible manifestation. Adam was, indeed, expelled from the Garden, but we cannot doubt that the remembrance of it as a place made holy by the tradition of the Divine Presence—a sentiment of reverence often seen later in the erection of altars—continued with the children of Adam, at least for some generations. Many commentators have thought that the angelic order of the Cherubim placed at the gate remained visible there until the Flood, and that before the gate, the pious patriarchs offered their sacrifices. This is quite in accordance with God's subsequent dealings with men, appealing to their senses, as seen in the Visible Glory in the Tabernacle and Temple, and culminating in the Word made flesh (1 John 1:1).
How far the Son in His offices of Mediator and Redeemer was made known we may not say, but it is certain that there were in earliest times priesthood, animal sacrifices, sacred times and places, fixed rites of worship, probably tithes and first-fruits, which we must believe to have been of Divine appointment. These were doubtless more fully developed when the covenant relation was established, but were appointed at the first, or as soon as the gradual increase of numbers and moral development permitted.
Keeping in mind that the redemptive work of the Son began immediately after the Fall, and had certain elements essential and permanent, we are able to account for the many points of likeness between the worship and religious observances of the Babylonians and Egyptians or earlier peoples, and those later appointed through Moses to Israel. The redemptive work had the same character in its initial as in its last stage. Its end was the same, its teachings, and the ritual in its leading features. But the children of Adam did not desire to keep a holy God in their remembrance, and fell into many errors in their conceptions of Him and in their relations to Him. The truths known to them they perverted and corrupted, and "their foolish heart was darkened." But when His time came, He would purify these truths from error and restore His appointed rites to their original meaning and purpose. This was done chiefly through Moses. We may admit that his work was not so much the bringing out of things absolutely new, as freeing the old from their corruptions and bringing out their true meaning.
We have, therefore, to keep clearly in mind that the prehistoric period, so-called, was the first stage of the Lord's redemptive work, and that the truths then revealed, and the rites and observances appointed, were such as should prepare men for further and higher revelations. They were not left in ignorance of the Divine purpose and of their duties. If the religions of the earliest descendants of Adam did not show in general the redemptive features just mentioned, and they appeared only in a later stage, it would present a strong objection to the belief that the Son had been acting as the Redeemer from the fall of Adam, and in the unity of His work. As "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," His sacrificial and mediatorial work was set forth to all from the first in symbols and rites.
It is admitted that great obscurity rests on the history of the earliest generations, and that there are points at present insoluble. God made Himself known to Adam in Eden, and this knowledge would be in a measure handed down from Adam to his children, to be enlarged by new theophanies and symbols, by manifestations of the Divine character in His moral government, as seen in His dealings with Cain, and through teachings by inspired men and appointed rites of worship—all being suited to man's stage of moral development.
When we study the later Babylonian and Egyptian religious records, we find a confused mingling of truth and error. There are in both many right conceptions of a Supreme Being, of His righteousness, justice, and goodness. The duty of worship is recognised, and humble confession made of man's dependence upon a God, and care shown for public morality. But there was no recognition of one God, Creator of all, with one law, one worship. In Egypt, monotheism was swallowed up in polytheism, and polytheism led to pantheism. It is said by Professor Sayce (Religions of Egypt and Babylonia) that "Egyptian religion became pantheistic; the Divinity was discovered everywhere, and the shadowy and impersonal forms of the ancient deities were mingled together in hopeless confusion. . . . The gods were but the manifold forms in which the unchanging Divine essence manifested itself."
Keeping in mind the descent of all from one, we can readily picture to ourselves the early patriarchal conditions, when the families, increasing in number, began to seek out new habitations and to take possession of the lands contiguous to Eden. We have seen in our own day in the early Western pioneers, and in the mountaineers of Virginia and Kentucky, the effect which such a diffusion of population has had upon the moral and social life of the scattered ones—the growing ignorance, rudeness of manners, decay of religious belief, growth of superstition, and a general tendency to lower conditions of life. Yet the truths the patriarchal families had received, and the religious rites handed down, remained, but corrupted. As the numbers increased, small states or principalities appear, like the nomes of Egypt, gradually developing into kingdoms, as those of Sumir and Akkad, of Babylon and Assyria, of Upper and Lower Egypt. A worldkingdom was the dream of the more ambitious, but was brought to naught through confusion of tongues. The state of things thus produced is that presented by the recent discoveries in Babylon and Egypt—truths and rites transmitted from Eden, but perverted and mingled with many errors.
In a word,—for the details of the gradual falling away cannot be here given,—moral alienation from God and spiritual separation from Him brought with it that very condition of things which the earliest records of our race make known to us— a general deterioration following upon the dispersion of Adam's descendants, and a moral progress again upward caused by the growth of kingdoms and cities. It may be that further discoveries will show us more clearly the religious character of the prehistoric times; but the more Christian truths are found in them, the stronger the evidence that the Son was then carrying on His redemptive work, making the Father and His ways known.
B.—From Abraham to Moses
Some centuries after the Flood, when men had again multiplied on the earth and cities had been built and kingdoms established, God entered upon a new stage of His redemptive work. Now He would take a people to stand in especial relationship to Him, to whom He would give larger knowledge of Himself and of His purpose in His Son than was given to other peoples, and through ordinances appointed by Him, prepare them for His coming as the Redeemer and Messiah. Of the manner in which this was effected through the choice of Abraham and the training of his descendants, and the selection of a land for their habitation, we cannot speak in detail. After a long sojourn in Egypt, the Hebrews were led by Moses to Mount Sinai, where the covenant relation was established, and thence through the Wilderness to the Promised Land.
What knowledge of God as the one Supreme and Holy God, Infinite and Eternal, and of His moral attributes, Abraham may have had at the time of his call, we cannot say. We are told that his ancestors served other gods (Josh. 24: 2), and his own conceptions of the Deity were probably at first very imperfect. But God saw in him one who, through spiritual receptivity, would prove a fitting instrument for the work to which He called him. For this work he must be educated, and this God did by revealing Himself to him in the Person of the Son as the Word, and entering into a covenant with him (Gen. 17: 1-8). The manner in which Abraham speaks of God as the Almighty God, and the largeness of the promises of the covenant, both temporal and spiritual, and the declaration that "all the nations of the earth should be blessed in him," show that he recognised in the God who spoke to him, the Supreme God, the Ruler over all the earth, and all nations (Gen. 17: 6). The relation of Abraham to Melchizedek, and the payment of tithes, show a definite apprehension of the priestly office, and of its high dignity. His knowledge of God, greatly enlarged by repeated theophanies, and of His purpose in His Seed (John 8: 56) was transmitted to his children, the patriarchs, and further enlarged by God's dealings with them.
During most of the period now before us, the descendants of Abraham were in Egypt. Of the ends to be attained through the long sojourn there we know little; but it will be remembered that there was much in the advanced culture of the Egyptians at that time that would tend to stimulate and instruct the less cultured Hebrews and to help them to prepare for their place as an independent people.
All who believe in a God who has a definite purpose in human history, and who knows the end from the beginning, will believe that the going down of Jacob and his children into Egypt was not undesigned, but Divinely ordered. We may then ask what was the purpose of God in it? As we know in general that His purpose was to prepare a people to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," we may believe that the long abode in Egypt had a bearing upon this. It was a means to aid in preparing them for their future service. But the information we possess of this period is very scanty, both of the religious condition of the Hebrews themselves and of their relations to the Egyptians. Carrying with them the knowledge, handed down from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of God as One and Supreme, and of His covenant relations to them, the consciousness of their high place and calling may have been developed and strengthened. Their close contact with the Egyptian polytheism and its animal worship would tend to make more real to them the truths they held of the Divine unity, and of the sacredness of His worship.
The Hebrews were also so far separated from the Egyptians that they were not exposed to the religious temptations which social equality and familiar intercourse would have brought with them. It is said by Professor Sayce (The Higher Criticism and the Monuments): "Their numbers were comparatively insignificant, their social standing obscure. They were doubtless as much despised and avoided by the Egyptians of their day as similar Bedouin tribes are by the Egyptians of the present day. . . . They lived apart from the natives of the country."
This separation would tend to prepare them for their later isolation when fulfilling their calling— a people not known among the nations (Ex.
The promises of God to Abraham in regard to the possession of the land of Canaan were remembered and acted upon by his descendants in the burial there of the patriarchs, thus showing their faith (Gen. 25: 9; 49: 29; 50: 13). It may be that they had traditional remembrances of the intercession of Abraham for the cities of the plain (Gen. 18: 23), and may have recognised in this a prefiguration of their own high calling. The spirit of prophecy was not wanting, as we see in the utterances of Jacob respecting the future of his sons (Gen. 49). It is likely that we very much underestimate the knowledge which Abraham and his children possessed of the purpose of God in calling them into special relations to Himself.
Whilst readily admitting that the Hebrews learned much from the Egyptians, especially as to the industrial arts, we must note that they rejected some of their most generally accepted beliefs. An instance of this is seen in their belief in the life after death. It will be remembered that no nation of antiquity had so definite conceptions of a future life, especially as to a judgment immediately after death, when rewards and punishments were to be meted to the good and evil. But with this belief were connected many errors—the transmigration of the soul into animal bodies for purification, the annihilation of some, and the final absorption of the good into the Divine essence. The embalming of the body is believed by many Egyptologists to show a belief in a future bodily resurrection, but not till after a period of three thousand years in the disembodied state.
If to the Egyptians a life after death, with rewards and punishments, was so familiar, it may be asked why so little is said of this future life in the Old Testament. It could not have been from ignorance, it must have been intentional. The answer is simple. God would not have His people look to death, but to life in the Messianic Kingdom. Not a dismembered and, therefore, imperfect, but a perfected immortal humanity was before Him in the constitution of man. Death was His punishment of sin and, therefore, abhorrent to the Living God; and this is everywhere emphasized in the Mosaic ritual and in the Law. Beside this, the obscurity of Hades opened the way to all kinds of speculation as to the condition of the dead. From all errors of this kind God would keep His people free, not as ignoring the life after death, for this is everywhere assumed, but of its nature in detail. As has been said, "a long life with the Egyptians was one preparation for death"; with the Hebrews it was waiting for the Messianic Kingdom; with the Christian it is preparation for Christ's return and life in the heavenly Jerusalem.
C.—From Moses to the Monarchy
Being brought by Moses under Divine direction from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, a solemn covenant was made between the people and Jehovah. They should be a peculiar people unto Him above all the nations that were upon the earth (Deut. 14:2). But the condition of their election was their obedience. Having promised obedience, "all that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient" (Ex. 19: 5; 24: 7), the Ten Commandments were spoken, sacrifices offered, and the people cleansed by the sprinkling of the blood (Ex. 24:8).
The covenant being thus concluded, God through Moses gave command that the people make Him a sanctuary that He may dwell among them (Ex. 25: 8). This dwelling among them involved some sensible manifestation or symbol of His Presence. This symbol was the Glory above the mercy-seat between the cherubim. "There I will meet with the children of Israel, and the Tabernacle shall be sanctified by My Glory" (Ex. 29: 43). That part of the sanctuary in which He manifested His Presence was the Holy of Holies.
This Glory, or to use the Hebrew term, the Shekinah, is to be distinguished from the pillars of cloud and fire which went before the people when God brought them out of Egypt, and which were visible to all (Ex. 13: 21). This appears also from the words,"The Glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud," but as something distinct from it, and from the pillar of fire (Ex. 16: 10; Lev. 16: 2).
We need not suppose that this Glory was continually visible in the Most Holy Place, since it was entered but once a year, by the High Priest only, who then burned the incense before the Lord, "that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat . . . that he die not" (Lev. 16: 13). The Glory in the Tabernacle was, we may believe, the same which was manifested in the Person of the Son on the Mount of Transfiguration, an ineffable "brightness," not to be identified with created or terrestrial light. The light that then made the Lord's face to shine as the sun was not a reflection of the bright clouds which later overshadowed them (Matt. 17: 1-8). As the Lord after His Resurrection appeared to His disciples only at intervals, so the Visible Glory may have been seen in the Most Holy only at certain appointed times.
This dwelling of God, in the Person of the Son, in His sanctuary is always to be understood and kept in mind as a reality, in considering the history of Israel (Ex. 25: 8). It was, as we shall see, His visible Presence that was the condition of the fulfilment of the promise to the nation of its high calling; and when He forsook His sanctuary, and it was no longer sanctified by His Presence, the hour of its destruction could not be far distant.1
There are several points of view from which the covenant of God with the Hebrews may be regarded. That which first presents itself to us is the Divine purpose in their election. This, as has been said, was in general that He might prepare a people to receive His Son when in the fulness of time He should be born of the Virgin, and that in them under His rule all nations might be blessed. But they had a special present mission. He called them to be "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation," and this not in the future, but in the present (Ex. 19: 6).
1 It will be well at this point to bring together the accounts of the entry of the Visible Glory into the Sanctuary.
When Moses had completed his work, we are told that the Glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle, and Moses was not able to enter into it because the cloud abode thereon (Ex. 40: 34; Num. 9: 15). When the Temple was built, the Lord gave the same sign of His dwelling in it as before in the Tabernacle: "And it came to pass when the priests were come out of the Holy Place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the Glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8 : 10, 11).
Of the return of the Glory to the new Temple it is said: "The Glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. . . . And behold the Glory of the Lord filled the house" (Ezek., 43 : 2, 5).
Of the departure of the Glory from the first Temple mention will be made later.
Thus the covenant people occupied from the first a high and unique position—to be the mediator of His grace to all other peoples. For this high spiritual office they must be prepared by special ordinances of His own appointment. The high place given to their priesthood makes a brief examination of its nature necessary.
Priesthood in its principle was not something new. It had existed among all the early peoples. The Babylonians and the Egyptians had priests (Gen. 47: 26). Mention is made of Melchizedek, "a priest of the Most High God," of Jethro, as "a priest of Midian," the patriarchs were priests in their own households (Job 1:5). How far priests constituted a distinct class among the Hebrews before the covenant is in doubt. The sense of sin and defilement, and consequent unworthiness to approach God, and, therefore, the need of some mediatorship, which is the basis of priesthood, has been seen in every stage of human history, beginning with Adam (Gen. 3:8). But priesthood as developed by Moses took on itself a peculiar character, both as regards the classes into which the priests were divided, the place given them in the national life, and the duties assigned them. But priesthood was not confined to the priests (Num. 16: 3). The whole nation was a priestly nation of which circumcision was the sign, but all who performed distinctively priestly functions were chosen by God (Ex. 28:41; Num. 18).
We may now ask how the people could be prepared for their priestly calling. Of the special relation of the priests to the Hebrew worshippers it is not necessary here to speak in detail. Those acting as mediators between men and the Holy God must themselves be holy, not in the ceremonial sense only, but in heart and truth. "I am holy, be ye also holy." How could this holiness be effected? In the Mosaic ritual, all consists of certain external acts—slaying of animals, sprinkling of blood, burning of flesh, offering of incense. Could the use of these rites make the worshippers spiritual, or have any ethical value? Many have denied this, and some have affirmed that the whole ritual is anti-spiritual, and not of Divine appointment. But this is to import into man's religious constitution a dualism between the sensible and the spiritual which does not exist. The outward act, no less than the spoken word, is the expression of the inward feeling, and in its expression it intensifies that feeling. He who, feeling himself a sinner, brought the victim to be slain as a substitute for himself, could not but have his sense of sin deepened in this act, and could not but realise in the sprinkling of the cleansing blood the peace of sin forgiven. Though in itself "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins," yet as pointing to the blood to be shed on Calvary, it had by Divine grace a present cleansing power. The Law was a shadow of good things to come, and could not make perfect, but its forms were not empty and idle. The sincere worshipper, though ignorant of the purpose of God in His Son, did receive spiritual grace through the ordinances appointed, for in all these was the Spirit of Christ. No other proof of this is needed than the holy lives of many who lived under the Law (Heb. 10), and the utterances in the Psalms.
It was thus through rites of worship and not through words addressed to the intellect, or abstract principles, that the Hebrew people were to be prepared for their priestly duties. In the order of these rites, they are taught the Divine purpose to be realised in the Incarnate Son. Through the two altars—burnt offering and incense—were prefigured the great facts of Atonement and Intercession. These, indeed, could not be realised till the Messiah came, who should offer Himself as the whole burnt offering—the Lamb without blemish or spot—upon the altar of sacrifice; and then entering within the veil burn the incense upon the golden altar. To both these duties as prophetic types were the covenant people called, and thus taught their meaning. They must first offer themselves upon the altar of sacrifice, confessing their sins, and giving themselves unreservedly to do His will—a whole burnt offering. Cleansed by the sprinkling of the blood, they could then enter upon their office of prayer and intercession.
Such being the Divine way in which God would educate His people for their high calling, we cannot wonder that the building of the sanctuary in which He would dwell and be worshipped could not be left to human wisdom and skill, but must be made after a pattern shown to Moses in the Mount (Ex. 25 :9, 40). Students of the Tabernacle have found depths of meaning in its threefold division, and in the furniture of each, and also in the various materials used; but of these we have no space to speak. Its threefoldness—Outer court, Holy and Most Holy places—was employed by Luther, and by many, as showing our trichotomy or threefold constitution, body, soul, and spirit; and by others as showing the respective works of the Trinity in man's redemption.
Of the place of the prophet in the work of redemption, some things have already been said. That there were those making known the mind of God from Eden downward, we cannot doubt, but they had a more important part in the education of the covenant people. Abraham is called a prophet, and there were prophetic utterances through Isaac and Jacob, but not till the time of Samuel, himself recognised by all Israel as a prophet of the Lord, do we read of "the schools of the prophets" (1 Sam. 3 : 20). Into the constitution of these schools we are not called to enter, but all will readily understand that in uttering the prophetic word, two things were needed: a knowledge of the covenant relation of God to His people, that the prophetic words might be in harmony with it; and such spiritual discernment and self-control on the part of the prophet as to enable him clearly to distinguish his own thoughts from the suggestions of the Spirit, and to speak only what was given him to speak. It was not enough that prophetic gifts were possessed. There was much room for instruction as to their right exercise, and this, we may believe, was given in the schools. A great point to be guarded against was the prophesying out of the prophet's own heart.
It is to be kept in mind that foretelling the future was but a small part of the prophet's work. God gives from time to time, as He sees fit, the knowledge of what He is about to do, that His people may be co-workers with Him; but the larger work of the prophets was to enforce upon the people the keeping of their covenant. Having spiritual discernment, they were able to see all failures, whether of the kings, the priests, or the people, to fulfil the covenant obligations. They could call all to repentance, and warn of coming judgments. As the spirit of disobedience spread more and more, and His authority was more despised, the more earnest was God to warn them through His prophets. "I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but ye would not hear" (Jer. 29: 19). We cannot but remember, the pleadings of the Son,—His words spoken at Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets .. . how often would I have gathered thy children together . . . and ye would not!" (Luke 13: 34).
We are told that false prophets were very numerous in the last days of Israel and had great influence over both priests and people. Of the prophets of Baal, we need not here speak. That they were numerous we know (1 Kings 18: 19), but we are to note that of those prophesying in the name of Jehovah there were two classes— those sent by Him, and speaking His word, and those not sent by Him, who prophesied out of their own hearts. Between these two classes, there was all along during the monarchy an earnest contest which was consummated at the destruction of Jerusalem. Of these two classes. Jeremiah and Hananiah were representatives, The point at issue was, "Will God give up the Holy City into the hands of the enemy?" The false prophet, not discerning the sins of the people, but planting himself upon the covenant relation, said, "No, God will never forsake His Temple or give it to destruction." The true prophet, having spiritual discernment of the sins of the people, prophesied its overthrow (Jer. 28). They had not kept the covenant, they had dishonoured Jehovah, they had not harkened to His warnings; therefore, the house of God should be like Shiloh, desolate and without inhabitants (Jer. 26: 6).
Having discernment of the purpose of God in the election of the covenant people, the prophets could discern the sins, in all their changing forms, that hindered its accomplishment. Obedience to the Law of God as given to Moses and the fulfilment of covenant obligations was the great burden of their prophecies.
It is one of the strange fancies of our most advanced criticism that the prophet should be put in order of time before the Law. It would seem that any thoughtful reader of the earliest prophets, Hosea and Amos, must see how full they are of references to the covenant and to the Law. They are not uttering truths wholly new, they assume an authoritative standard of life and conduct as already existing, to which they urge the people to conform. By this standard, their own utterances are to be judged, and their great work was to call the people to its observance.
The error that meets us here is in the belief that God in the religious education of men gave them only some fundamental principles and moral precepts, and left these to gradual development into such practical form as circumstances might determine. On the contrary, God gave to men from the first certain fixed laws, definite institutions, appointed rites of worship, that under them they might learn His way and be prepared for the next stage in His purpose. This is true in the highest measure of His covenant people. Had the Jews rightly used the Law and the Mosaic ritual, God would still have taught them by His prophets, unfolding their spiritual significance and leading onward to further knowledge; but if, as was the case, the Law and the ritual were not rightly used, then was the voice of God heard through the prophets, reproving, warning, and threatening them with His sore judgments.
Of the general meaning of animal sacrifice something has been said. Various forms of it were appointed to the Jews, some for individual sins, some for national sins; but we are now most concerned with the daily morning and evening service, which best represents the nation's priestly office. The brazen altar first meets the eye on entering the outer court. Every day, through its priests, the nation first dedicates itself to God in sacrificial rites, and proceeds to its duty of intercession. Doubtless the sacrifice upon its brazen altar had its application to other nations as a confession of the uersal sinfulness, but it was in the offering of the incense upon the golden altar, the symbol of prayer, that the priestly office in its relations to other peoples most clearly appears. No words indeed were spoken at the golden altar, only the cloud of incense told to God the desires of His people. It was a silent language, an unspoken prayer, but as full of meaning to the Divine ear as if embodied in a thousand words.'
Although the words " Mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is. 56: 7) may have reference chiefly to the future, when the Jews shall be set again in their place (Zech. 14: 16), yet it is clear that the offering of the incense in the Divine Presence embraced in its scope the people of every land. In Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple, He speaks of the stranger coming from afar to pray, and of the supplications to be offered to God as present in His house, that by His answers to them "all the peoples of the earth may know that this house which I have built is called by Thy name" (1 Kings 8 : 41). The Temple at Jerusalem, where God had manifested His Presence, thus became the great central place of worship for all nations, and the sacrifices and prayers there offered by His people served for the blessing of all, though they knew it not.
1 It is to be remarked that the incense burned upon the golden altar was made of four ingredients (Ex. 30: 34), reminding us of the apostle's words: "Supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings" (1 Tim. 2: 1).
Supposing the Hebrews to have been spiritually prepared to fulfil their priestly calling, we ask, How could this calling be made known to the peoples around them? They were to dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations (Num. 23: 9), yet as a nation having a defined territory they could not be wholly hidden away. The question therefore arises: How could their distinctive position be made known? It must be through the dwelling of God in their land and the visible blessings upon it, distinguishing it from all other lands of the earth. It was necessary to the fulfilment of their priestly calling that their worship should go on without hindrance from external enemies, or through domestic calamities. Therefore, God gave to the people a special exemption from hostile invasion. No enemy should invade their land, or if there was an invasion, the invaders should be speedily and triumphantly driven back. The rains should always fall in due seasons, the earth supply abundant food, neither famine, nor war, nor pestilence should have place in the land, their cattle should be fruitful, and the people increase greatly, and be in numbers like the dust of the earth (Lev. 26: 3-13).
We may not suppose that the Holy Land was delivered from that state of Unnature into which the whole earth had come, but that certain physical blessings were promised to its inhabitants as a reward of their faith and obedience, through which only could they be realised. If they walked like other nations in disobedience and wickedness, their land would be like other lands, their enemies would invade it and conquer it, there would be famines and pestilences and all those forms of judgment whereby God signified His displeasure (Deut. 28).
Beholding a land so favoured and blessed in its physical features, all the adjacent nations would know that the Hebrews were under Jehovah's special protection and care, and, if themselves polytheists, be led to ask, "Who is Jehovah? Is He not the one Supreme God?" And if to these visible proofs of Divine favour we add the internal administration of a nation distinguished by its righteousness,—its inhabitants dwelling together as brethren, and in its relations to other nations just and peaceable,—we see what a mighty witness to Jehovah the Hebrew commonwealth might have been to all the peoples of the earth.
D. From the Monarchy to the Captivity
The Tabernacle, a movable tent, was for the Wilderness period; but when the Promised Land was reached and possessed it must be set up in some permanent place. This place was Shiloh, near the centre of the land, and here it remained many years (Josh. 18: 1). The appointed worship seems to have been regularly carried on, but during the priesthood of Eli the ark, taken by his sons as a talisman to insure victory against the Philistines, fell into their hands, and after various changes from city to city, was returned to Israel, and placed by David in a tabernacle which he had pitched on Mount Zion. After the Temple was built the ark was brought and placed in the Most Holy Place (Ps. 132: 8). All this period was one of great political confusion and strife, and there were many and great irregularities in worship—violations of the Mosaic ritual. It was also a time of great corruption of morals, which, as we see from the examples of the sons of Eli and of Samuel, affected the priesthood also.
As the building of the Temple followed soon after the setting up of the Monarchy, we must note the ground on which the Commonwealth gave place to the Monarchy.
The demand of the people for a king, that they might be like the nations around them, was very displeasing to God as a distinct rejection of His theocratic rule (1 Samuel 8: 7; 10: 19). He had chosen them to stand in a peculiar relation to Himself, a relation of the highest honour and blessing, and under Him as their King the tribes became one people.
But this theocratic relation to them did not affect their tribal organisation as a commonwealth. They had no earthly king, no royal family, but each tribe had its prince, hereditary or elective, besides heads of families, and others performing some civil duties. The tribes possessed each a partial independence, which they often exercised, but they generally acted together as a political community. Under Jehovah as their Supreme Ruler, the tribes were united, but His commands were carried out by their own local officers. With the establishment of the earthly Monarchy, the high position of the tribal princes was injuriously affected, and little is said of them in the subsequent history.
It is obvious that such a change from a Commonwealth to a Monarchy was a great one, and must affect the national life both in its religious and secular features.1
The religious condition of the future depended much upon the character of the monarch. He might become a despot, and if himself disobedient to God's laws, he might be a most effective agent to lead the nation into idolatry and all wickedness. It was possible, on the other hand, that he might be a faithful servant of God and uphold His authority, even against the will of the people.
1 The twelvefold tribal division, having its immediate origin in the twelve patriarchs, seems to have a place given it, both in Jewish and Christian history, which indicates a deeper root than numerical symbolism. Jacob tells of the future of the twelve tribes (Gen. 49), and tribal contests play a large part in the biblical historical annals. Ezekiel sees in a vision a new division of the land, but still twelvefold (Ezek. 47: 13, 21). That it will reappear when the Jews shall be restored to their land is a fair inference from the Lord's words to the Apostles that "in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19: 28; Acts 26: 7).
Unmindful of their high calling, the Hebrews would take their place among the peoples around them. The evils which their disobedience in the past and want of faith had brought upon them, the disorders and bloody quarrels under the Judges, their subjection to the Philistines, and consequent miseries, they ascribed to the imperfections of the theocratic rule. They saw not God's punitive hand in their afflictions, but believed that a king would deliver them, and heeded not God's warning words to Samuel (1 Sam. 8: 10).
The evils which Samuel had foretold would follow the institution of the Monarchy, early came upon them. Solomon, forgetful of his duties to God, brought strange gods into the Holy City, and erected temples for their worship. The arbitrary rule of his son, Rehoboam, led to the division of the kingdom, and under Jeroboam, leader of the ten tribes, new places of worship were established at Bethel and Dan within the territory of Israel. The appointed services in the Temple of Jerusalem continued, but united prayer could no longer be offered. The covenant people in both kingdoms became more and more like the peoples around them, and their distinctive position as a kingdom of priests faded more and more from the national consciousness.
The building of the Temple followed soon after the setting up of the Monarchy. It does not appear that God at any time gave direction that it be built, the people being in no condition, as was shown by the wickedness at Shiloh, to take a step forward toward a higher worship (2 Sam. 7: 5, 7; Jer. 7: 12). When, through Divine direction, David had made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom, it was an obvious thought that it be made also the religious centre, a holy city. This was acceptable to God (Ps. 132: 13). But David having been a man of war, the actual building of the Temple was reserved to his son Solomon, the prince of peace (1 Kings 8: 18).'
The general construction of the Temple was the same as that of the Tabernacle—the same threefold divisions,—but doubled in its dimensions. When completed, and the ark which had been in the Tabernacle built by David had been placed in it, it was solemnly consecrated by King Solomon (1 Kings 8:). As at the consecration cf the Tabernacle, so now "the cloud filled the house of the Lord . . . the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord."
1 It is scarcely possible to avoid seeing in this relation of David to Solomon a prophetic type of the twofold stage of the Lord's future work, first, as the Man of War (Rev. 19 : n), then, all enemies being subdued, reigning as the Prince of Peace (Zech. 6 : 12, 13).
In his prayer, Solomon makes distinct recognition both of the omnipresence of God, and of His local presence. "Will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have builded!" Yet toward this house should their prayers be addressed. "Hearken Thou to the supplication of Thy servant, and of Thy people Israel, when they shall pray towards this place: and hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwelling-place." A special Presence of God in the Most Holy was not inconsistent with His uersal presence, and, therefore, supplication should be made by His people toward the place where He had set His name (Deut. 12: 11).
There are questions connected with the relations of the kings to the priests in matters of ritual which it is not necessary for us to consider. It is plain that some of the kings attempted to perform sacred rites which belonged only to the priests. The whole period of the Monarchy, as that of the Judges preceding it, was one of great confusion; neither kings nor priests keeping within their prescribed borders. Into the history of the two kingdoms we cannot farther enter. But the biblical records show us that the people were more and more infected with the superstitions and idolatries of the nations around them and the will of God, as declared by the prophets, was less and less regarded. There were in Judah some God-fearing kings who fought against the spirit of disobedience, and endeavoured to reform the more glaring abuses, but their efforts were of little avail, their reforms were transient. False prophets abounded, and their predictions found general credence. The true prophets were despised and maltreated, and even put to death. The patience of God was at last exhausted. He would no longer spare. He would forsake His Holy Temple, and give it into the hands of His enemies, not for a brief interval only, as He had done for a warning and a punishment, yet not for ever. He would return to it, but not till the Incarnate Son should rebuild it when He had gathered again His twelve tribes from their long dispersion.
Of the departure of the Glory from the Temple before its destruction, we have only the vision of Ezekiel. A captive in Babylon, he was "brought in the visions of God to Jerusalem . . . and behold the Glory of the God of Israel was there" (Ezek. 8:3,4). When those who were to execute God's judgment upon His unfaithful people entered, and stood by the brazen altar, the Glory had gone up to the threshold of the house, and from thence to the East Gate, and the Glory of the Lord stood over the cherubim, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord's Glory. "And the Glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood upon the mountain which was on the east side of the city"—the present Mount of Olives (Ezek. 11: 23).
The departure of the Visible Glory from the Temple as seen in vision by the prophet Ezekiel, followed by its destruction, was the great turningpoint in the history of the Hebrews. Their special priestly calling now came to its end, although the Temple was rebuilded. They could no more stand in their place among the nations as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," and offer the worship God had appointed. The two altars might be replaced, and the blood be sprinkled, and the smoke of the incense ascend, but the Most Holy Place was empty. Only as God dwelt between the cherubim over the mercy seat, was the sanctuary and all its rites made holy. And as the land in which His people dwelt was His, only as they were faithful and obedient would He protect them from all their enemies, and make it possible for them to fulfil their priestly functions.
E. From the Captivity to the Incarnation
Notwithstanding the failure of the people to fulfil their calling, God did not cease to be their covenant God. His purpose in them was not yet fulfilled. To them would He send His Son, for He had a work for them to do under Him after His return in Glory. For this, He would preserve them as a people, though He scattered them among the nations. The kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians (722 B.c.) and the people carried into other lands, but the kingdom of Judah remained till its final conquest by the Chaldeans (588 B.c).
After the destruction of Solomon's Temple, no place of worship existed till the foundation of a new temple was laid by Zerubbabel coming from Babylon, with the help of Jeshua, the high priest. First was builded the altar of sacrifice, and upon it they offered burnt offerings daily and at the feasts. But for sixteen years the work of rebuilding languished, till, aroused by the words of Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets, it was resumed with earnestness, and the temple finished and dedicated. Of the worship for the next sixty years we have little knowledge. Another step was taken when Ezra, the scribe from Babylon, came and with him a small company of priests and Levites (457 B.c). He had in view a reformation of the abuses prevailing at Jerusalem, and to enforce obedience to the Divine Law. Of his work we have only brief mention, and we next hear of him as being, some thirteen years later, with Nehemiah at Jerusalem. But the reforms he had effected were not permanent, and the work of reformation was taken up anew by Nehemiah (444 b.C.). By him the walls of the city were rebuilt. The low condition of the Jews at this time, politically and morally, and their comparative indifference to the Divine Law, is seen in the accounts given us in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and need not be dwelt upon here.
It is to be noted that the Temple was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes (170 B.C.), but afterwards cleansed and reconsecrated by one of the Maccabees. This Temple was rebuilt by Herod with great splendour, and was the Temple in which the Lord worshipped. The worship offered in it was necessarily very far short of that appointed by God. It is said by Edersheim (The Temple):
Confessedly, the real elements of temple-glory no longer existed. The Holy of Holies was quite empty. The ark of the covenant under the cherubim, the tables of the law, the book of the covenant, Aaron's rod that budded, and the pot of manna, were no longer in the sanctuary. The fire that had descended from Heaven upon the altar was extinguished. What was far more solemn, the visible presence of God, the Shekinah, was wanting, nor could the will of God be now ascertained through the Urim and Thummim.
It is necessary in order to estimate rightly the religious life of this period, to keep clearly in mind God's purpose in His covenant people, as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." Two things have been mentioned as essential to the fulfilment of this purpose—the dwelling of God in His sanctuary, and national independence. Both were now lost. When the Visible Glory departed from above the mercy seat, the priestly work of the nation came to its end. It was the turning-point in the religious history of the Hebrews. So long as God dwelt between the cherubim, "the temple was sanctified by His Glory." But of the greatness of their loss, and consequent inability to fulfil their calling, they seemed to have little conception. There was no true sense of the national sin, as causing His departure, though in Ezra (9: 5) we find a humble confession of it, and also in Nehemiah (9: 26-37). But all the subsequent history shows how little the people at large thought of their priestly calling, or of the conditions necessary to its fulfilment. In His last words to them by the prophet Malachi, and especially in those to the priests, God declares that He was not honoured or feared: "If then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?" (Mai. 1 : 6; 2: 8). The priests did not give glory unto His name. They were self-seeking, offering cheap and unworthy offerings, the people neglected the payment of their tithes, and His worship was a weariness.
The effect of the loss of national independence was seen in the position of dependence in which the priests were placed, and especially the high priest, upon their heathen rulers. The office of high priest was by Divine appointment hereditary, but during this period it was frequently obtained by ambitious priests through bribery or crime, or was bestowed by the civil ruler from personal friendship or for political ends. There were also frequent changes. These causes combined to make the office of the high priest of small moral influence, although great care was taken by the priesthood to observe all ritualistic details. All the tendencies of the time were to make the priests venal and worldly, although doubtless, as we see in the case of Zechariah (Luke 1 : 6), there were some walking in all the ordinances of God, blameless.
Among the things wanting in the second Temple, which were seen in the first, the Rabbis mention the holy fire and the Spirit of Prophecy. The holy fire, to be kept ever burning on the brazen altar to consume the sacrifice, was, as has been said, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, through whom only could the worshipper offer himself acceptably to God. After He had left His Temple, God encouraged His people, by prophets, to rebuild it, but later the voice of the Holy Ghost was not heard. The Most Holy being empty, and the Holy Ghost silent, the worship took upon itself a formal character; and while, doubtless, there were many sincere worshippers whose sacrifices were acceptable to Him, the deep sense of sin and its humble confession were wanting, and that perfect consecration which He sought, and which was typified in the whole burnt-offering, was not rendered.
We may not believe that the loss of the holy fire made the sacrifices upon the brazen altar wholly unacceptable to God, for He in His grace accepts the imperfect service when sincerely offered; but the absence of the symbol was a sign that the Holy Spirit was grieved, and could not put forth His full cleansing and enlightening power. He could no more lift up His warning voice to show the people their sins, and call them to repentance, or to make known the purposes of God. The result was inevitable. Judging themselves only by a silent book, and this often misunderstood and perverted through their traditions, they could never learn their true religious condition. This could be made known to them only through immediate prophetic utterance.
When the Holy Spirit ceased to speak and declare the mind of God, and His judgment of their religious condition, the spirit of self-righteousness was more and more manifested. The living voice of the Spirit unheard, they were forced to go back and learn from their study of the Law and the prophets and the historical books, what was His rule for their present conduct. Here a wide field of doubt and discussion was opened. Questions of interpretation arose, schools of theology began to appear, self-appointed religious teachers were more and more numerous and prominent. Scribes, lawyers, Pharisees, Sadducees, confused the popular mind by their disputes. All, indeed, would honour the Law, but they must be its interpreters. There being no one to give an authoritative interpretation, the opinions of the learned, of the Scribes and Rabbis, became authoritative, and were carefully preserved and handed down. Many traditional observances were added to those prescribed in the Law and regarded as of almost equal validity.
To show the impossibility of carrying out the prescribed worship which necessarily followed the departure of God from the Most Holy, we will take the rites of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). It was a day in which atonement should be made for all, both priests and people, to cleanse them from all their sins (Lev. 16: 30 Num. 29: 7)—the only day in the year appointed for humiliation and fasting. Upon its observance, a special emphasis was laid: "It shall be a statute for ever unto you." "It is a sabbath of solemn rest," and whosoever "did not afflict his soul, should be cut off from among the people." On this day only did the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies and burn incense before the Lord, and when the cloud covered the mercy-seat, he sprinkled the atoning blood upon it seven times. This having been done in the Holiest, the blood was taken to the altar of incense and sprinkled upon it, and put on its four horns, and afterward on those of the brazen altar. Thus all parts of the sanctuary were annually cleansed from the uncleannesses of the worshippers, and hallowed, and the worship made acceptable to God.
When, therefore, the rites of this Day of Atonement could not be carried out, when there was in the Most Holy no ark, and no mercy-seat upon which the blood could be sprinkled, only a stone substituted for it, and no cloud of incense arose to cover it, we see that a most important and indeed essential part of the ritual was wanting. And we may not call this a mere ceremonial defect. It touched the very heart of the worship. In their holiest services, the priestly people fell far short of the holiness which God sought in His worshippers, and of this the Day of Atonement should keep them in continued remembrance. All must then humble themselves and confess their sins, priest and people alike, and must be cleansed from their defilement by the sprinkling of the blood of the greater sin-offering; and only as this was done, could their worship be accepted. The due observance, if possible, of the other rites of the day was not sufficient. The Most Holy being empty, the worship lost its spiritual vitality, and there was, therefore, in the post-exilic time, a growing unconsciousness of their sinfulness, and of their inability to fulfil their priestly calling. Pride took the place of humility. They were the children of the covenant, though they kept it not.
This feeling of complacency and of self-righteousness was due in great measure to the fact that the Divine Lawgiver was no longer with them to make known His will and to show to them, through the priest or the prophet, their continual disobedience. They were, therefore, forced to go back to His commandments earlier given whose authority they recognised, and to make them the rule of their conduct. But of these commandments, their meaning and scope, they themselves were the interpreters and judges. Having no present lawgiver, a hedge of human additions was gradually built around the written Law. There was added to it a multitude of traditional observances, and by their traditions they made it void (Mark 7:3). But this was not their intent. They would honour it in the letter, even to the smallest details. Thus the highest type of piety was the rigid observance of the Law, and of their traditions. The legalistic spirit as seen in the tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, and in washings and fastings, was almost uersal. These they did, but left undone "judgment, and mercy, and faith.'' This legalism found its truest and highest representatives in the Pharisees.
We thus see how, in the absence of God from His sanctuary, and the cessation of prophetic utterance, the legalistic spirit was developed, both in priests and people, and with it the spirit of self-righteousness. Men, judging their moral conduct by a book, will always justify themselves (Luke 16: 15). He must speak whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and whose "word is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword . . . and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart'' (Heb. 4:12, R. V.). Having only a book to judge them, its plainest precepts could be explained away, and the guilty stand guiltless at its bar.
Thus the condition of spiritual blindness, or, as we may term it, of unconscious hypocrisy, became one of the most marked features of the religious life of this period, and was especially manifested in the Lord's day. The Jews in their relations to God believed themselves to be what they were not. How often the Lord speaks of the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites all know, but we cannot well believe that in thus speaking of them He affirmed that all were conscious hypocrites, deliberate dissemblers and liars, pretending to be what they knew they were not. They were scrupulous in their observance of many of the legal precepts, and paid tithes of mint, anise, and cummin. It is not denied that there were some, or perhaps many, conscious hypocrites, but the great body of the people were relying on their covenant relation, and did not think it possible that they were not fulfilling, in a manner pleasing to Jehovah, their covenant duties. Of this unconscious hypocrisy, something will be said later.
This unconsciousness of any departure from God's ways, and of any failure in themselves, was seen most distinctly in the Pharisees and Scribes. In their own eyes, they were the especial favourites of Jehovah, and the guardians of His Law, for they honoured it by its strictest observance and kept themselves from personal defilement by avoiding all intercourse with "publicans and sinners" (Matt. 9: 11; Luke 5: 30; 15:2). Both the Pharisees and Scribes, sitting in judgment upon themselves, had an exalted opinion of their piety, and were angry at the severity of the Lord's reproofs. The Scribes were the copyists of the Law, and gradually became its commentators and interpreters, and their teachings had great influence over the popular mind. As having knowledge of the Law, they were honoured, and their word heard as if almost inspired.
It is plain that among these self-appointed teachers there would be diversities of individual judgment, and, consequently, differing religious schools and parties. These often differed only upon very minute points, but few or none felt the need of any living authority to decide their controversies. They sat in Moses' seat; to them it belonged to judge his words. Nor did the Scribes question their competency to prepare the people for the Messianic kingdom, nor the Pharisees doubt that they were all ready for it. There was no true mourning for the absence of the Spirit of prophecy. The abuses which the Lord so severely condemned in the cleansing of the Temple, they did not see. The spiritual blindness of which Malachi spoke, and the consequent evils, had become more manifest as the years went by.
Still another proof of the Jewish unconsciousness of any loss through the departure of the Visible Glory, is seen in the synagogue and its services. Doubtless the end originally proposed in the establishment of the synagogue was good. So long as the exile continued, and there could be no worship in the Temple, the gathering of the exiles in small companies in the various places of their captivity, to read the Scriptures and to pray, helped to preserve them from idolatry, and to strengthen the consciousness of their covenant calling. And this may be said, also, of the Jews of the Dispersion after the Temple was rebuilt. But the synagogue was no part of the Divine appointment, and is not mentioned in the historical books, or in the prophets. The existence of Temple and synagogue side by side in later times, and the services in both attended by the same persons (it is said that in Jerusalem alone there were more than four hundred synagogues), shows that the place of the old ritual was passing away, and that a need was felt of something to develop more fully the religious life under its new conditions. In the Temple service was no regular teaching, but in contrast with this, the fundamental idea of the synagogue was teaching or instruction. There were, indeed, some elements of worship—prayers, reading of the Scripture lessons, and singing of Psalms. But its chief attractive power was that it served as a place where the teachers of new ideas could present them, and strangers make addresses and comment on the lessons read. The constant use made of it by the Lord, and later by the apostles, is well known, though the Lord also taught often in the Temple (Matt. 4: 23; Acts 13: 5). He may not only have taught in the synagogues, but also have offered the prayers, for these in their contents, so far as we know them, were good, and could well have been said by Him.1
1 It is often affirmed that the synagogue service was much higher than that of the Temple, and that it furnished the model of Christian worship. This is an error. The synagogue was a late addendum to the Temple, and in the providence of God made helpful in the preaching of the Gospel; but the fundamental ideas of the two were wholly distinct. The Temple—one place of worship only for all—expressed unity; the many synagogues, diversity. The Temple services were prophetical and typical; they looked forward; the synagogue services looked backward. In the Temple, the altar of sacrifice was at the entrance, and then the altar of incense; in the synagogue there was no altar. In the Temple, the voice of man was not heard, God's worshippers should meet Him alone, and worship in holy silence. In the synagogue were heard human voices demanding attention, and utterances, often discordant, of human wisdom. In the Temple, there was nothing said or done that was not Divinely appointed; in the synagogue, all was of man's ordering.
This contrast cannot here be carried into detail, but he who studies the synagogue service will find little in it that tended to encourage the hope of the coming of the Messiah, or to prepare the people for it. There was also little to awaken in them the consciousness of their sin in the loss of all that was originally in the Most Holy.
But on this we cannot dwell. A remark may, however, be made upon the disposition of many modern critics to exalt the synagogue over the Temple, as providing a more spiritual worship. The same disposition is seen in the attempt to put as late as possible the utterances of the prophets and the Psalms. In a word, the destruction of the Temple, it is said, is to be regarded as a great gain, and the giving up of its leading sacrificial ideas and forms as necessary to a true and spiritual worship. In this, the spiritual is identified with the intellectual and the immaterial, it rejects the sensible and external—all that is positive and definite,—the last result being that the highest worship is the purely subjective. Every man is his own priest, and finally his own worshipper.