We must recognize in the Scriptures the use of allegory, the peculiar quality of which, as a form of literature, is the double reference which it contains. To interpret the story of the Bramble-King (Judges 9:7-15) or the Parables of our Lord without reference to the double meanings which they involve would be as false and arbitrary as any extreme of allegorizing. The double meaning is of the essence of the literary expression. This does not mean, of course, that the poetry of the Bible, even that of the Prophets and Apocalyptic writers, is to be looked upon as allegorical. On the contrary, only that writing, whether prose or poetry, is to be interpreted in any other than its natural and obvious sense, in connection with which we have definite indications of its allegorical character. Figures of speech and poetical expressions in general, though not intended to be taken literally because they belong to the poetical form, are not to be taken as having occult references and allegorical meanings. Dr. A. B. Davidson thus characterizes the prophetic style (Old Testament Prophecy, 171; see whole chapter):
"Prophecy is poetical, but it is not allegorical. The language of prophecy is real as opposed to allegorical, and poetical as opposed to real. When the prophets speak of natural objects or of lower creatures, they do not mean human things by them, or human beings, but these natural objects or creatures themselves. When Joe speaks of locusts, he means those creatures. When he speaks of the sun and moon and stars, he means those bodies." Allegory, therefore, which contains the double reference, in the sense of speaking of one thing while meaning another, is a definite and recognizable literary form with its own proper laws of interpretation. See ALLEGORY.
More than this, the characteristics, the functions, the dignities of the king are so described (Psalms 102; Isaiah 9:6,7) as to make it clear that the conditions of the Kingship could be met only by an uniquely endowed person coming forth from God and exercising divine functions in a worldwide spiritual empire. Such a King being described and such a Kingdom being promised, the recipients of it, of necessity, were set to judge the present and scrutinize the future for its realization. The conception is, in its original meaning and expression, essentially predictive.
The application of the principle of accommodation to early human experience with a view to progress is accomplished by doing what at first thought seems to negate the very principle upon which the mental and moral life of man must permanently rest.
In both these particulars Scripture has accommodated itself to crude early notions and placed the seal of authority upon principles which are outgrown and discarded within the limits of Scripture itself. But in so doing Scripture has saved the very interests it has seemed to imperil by virtue of two features of the human constitution which in themselves lay hold upon perfection and serve to bind together the crude beginnings and the mature achievements of the human race. These two principles are
Not only has Israel certain fundamental ideas which are peculiar to herself, but there has been an organizing spirit, an "unique spirit of inspiration" which has modified and transformed the materials held by her in common with her Semitic kindred. Even her inherited ideas and Institutions are transformed and infused with new meanings. We note the modification of Semitic customs, as for example in blood revenge, by which savagery has been mitigated and evil associations eliminated. We note the paucity of mythological material. If the stories of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Samson were originally mythological, they have ceased to be such in the Bible. They have been humanized and stripped of superhuman features. (See Fable, HGHL, 220.)
If we yield to the current hypothesis as to the Babylonian background of the narratives in Gen, we are still more profoundly impressed with that unique assimilative power, working in Israel, which has enabled the Biblical writers to eradicate the deep-seated polytheism of the Babylonian documents and to stamp upon them the inimitable features of their own high monotheism (see BABYLONIA). We note the reserve of Scripture, the constant restraint exercised upon the imagination, the chastened doctrinal sobriety in the Bible references to angels and demons, in its Apocalyptic imagery, in its Messianic promises, in its doctrines of rewards and punishments. In all these particulars the Bible stands unique by contrast, not merely with popular thought, but with the extra-canonical literature of the Jewish people (see DEMON, etc.).
Louis Matthews Sweet
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