J Hannah.

The relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. online

. (page 13 of 30)
Online LibraryJ HannahThe relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. → online text (page 13 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

broad light afforded on such occasions as the baptism
of Christ, or in such forms of Christian language as
the institution of baptism or the apostolic benediction.
The doctrine of a future life, again, was taught so
obscurely, that Christ is said to have ' brought life
and immortality to light through the gospel.' b Pass

a Above, p. 49. b 2 Tim. i. 10.


from the doctrines of theology to the laws of civil
organisation, and Christ teaches that these were modi-
fied in the Mosaic code for temporary reasons. The
obligation of the original marriage law was lightened,
because of the hardness of the hearts of the people. a
The slave law, we may add, was permitted to be
harsher than it might have been under a different
social system, or in different relations toward sur-
rounding races. b Parental authority, though cautiously
qualified, was entrusted with larger power than it can
claim in days which pay more scrupulous regard to
all classes of social and individual rights c (2).

But supposing it granted that an explanation can
be given for the gradual development of divine know-
ledge and the temporary defects of positive enactments,
yet what answer can be made when we are pressed with
such moral difficulties as meet us in the first seven
books of Scripture ? Did the God of truth approve
and bless the falsehoods of the ' Hebrew midwives,'
or the falsehood of Rahab at Jericho ? Did the God of
righteousness tell His people to spoil the Egyptians?
Did the God of mercy inspire the blessing which is
uttered by the fiery-souled prophetess over the treach-
erous murder of a trusting foe? d These, as you know,
are only specimens of the questions by which this
difficulty is brought under our notice : questions which
are sometimes urged with a superfluity of rhetoric;
yet certainly not without the clearest right to a fair
consideration and a candid answer (3).

a Matt. xix. 8. b Ex. xxi. 4, 20, 21. c Deut. xxi. 18-21.
d Ex. i. 20 ; Josh. ii. 4 ; vi. 25 ; Ex. xi. 2 ; xii. 3G ; Judges v. 24.


I need scarcely remark, that whatever answer we do
give, it must be one which shall approve itself to the
enlightened Christian conscience, and not endanger
the first, principles of right and wrong, by suggesting
that the Divine command could be employed for the
purpose of turning evil into good. Whenever apolo-
gists attempt to force back the difficulty into the very
sanctuary of the Godhead, we can only rejoin that they
are seeking for soundings in very dangerous waters,
where it is wisest to decline to follow them (4). It is
a more hopeful course to ask, whether the conditions
under which the recovery of mankind was brought
round would not lead us to expect that the training
of God's people in those early days would exhibit a
mixture between good and evil, which our clearer
light will enable us to analyse, by a discrimination in
which we can apportion the good, as is most due, to
God, while we ascribe to man himself the evil inter-
mixture which debases it. Let us examine some of
the alleged difficulties by the light of this suggestion ;
and let us enquire whether the leaven of truth may
not have been sometimes intermingled for a time with
the mass of error which it was ultimately designed to

The answer is often expressed by saying, that
the earliest morality, even in Scripture, was imper-
fect (5). Perhaps it would convey a clearer meaning
if we affirmed that, to a certain extent, it is — not so
much imperfect as — fragmentary. In other words, its
several portions were for a time detached and unor-
ganised. God's earlier people grasped moral truths


strongly ; but the pressure of surrounding evil some-
times prevented them from giving sufficient weight to
those needful counter-truths, which claim an equal
recognition at their side. Sin was to be crushed ;
therefore they slew the sinner, without weighing in
all cases whether the blow could be struck justly by
unauthorised hands. God's work was to be done at
all costs; therefore they were not careful to observe
whether their hasty obedience might not sometimes
trample on other laws which were equally divine — the
laws of truth, of brotherhood, of scrupulous tenderness
for common rights and duties. Their conduct thus
presents a blended texture of good and evil. On the
side of good we rank the strong faith in God, the
strong resolve that righteousness should conquer, the
steady determination to root out wickedness. The
evil was, that righteousness was not always tempered
by mercy, nor faith by truth, nor retaliation by justice.
But so far as any of these acts received the expression
of God's approbation, we may rest satisfied that His
blessing lighted simply on the virtue, while His
patient forbearance with His creatures' ignorance
forgave them the accompanying sin.

Is this, then, a fair parallel to the other difficulties
which I mentioned, and which seemed to admit of
an easier solution; namely, that theology was un-
folded only by degrees, and that the Law obscured
the sanctity of marriage, and the manhood which is
the inalienable right of the slave? It might be
objected, that the analogy cannot be stretched to
defend an inferior morality ; that there can be neither



more nor less in right and wrong. The one of these
illustrations, it might be said, is mainly intellectual;
the other deals with arrangements, which national
customs regard as in some degree conventional.
How can they be used to palliate what will after
all be represented by many as the Divine toleration
of a lower moral standard, in those who were
honoured by God's special approbation? "We reply,
that even if the moral truths were severally perfect,
the separate excellence of detached precepts is no
guarantee for the presence of a complete and co-
herent morality; that there can be no difficulty in
comprehending how the gift of discrimination might
be wanting in those darker days; and that men
need not be supposed to have put faith in falsehood,
because they could only command disjointed truths.
A solitary truth may indeed become most injurious,
if it is used as the instrument of a selfish purpose;
but when coupled with the one great central virtue
of faithful obedience, it may be the germ of the
most hopeful promise, and may raise an entire nation,
as such truths raised the nation of the Jews, far
above the standard of less favoured peoples, who
possess no such talisman of spiritual power. Yet
all the while, such principles, though severally
cogent, might lack the completeness which can only
be attained by their combination in an ordered

If we further consider the brevity with which
some of these complex actions are recorded, we
cannot allege that, in cases where ignorance did


amount to actual sin, the sinful element failed to
bring that certain train of punishment and grief
which is annexed to it by the just judgment of
God. If the narrative extends to further detail,
and enables us to see remoter consequences, the
application of the law, that sin works sorrow, is
emphatically proved. There are several of the more
mixed characters in Scripture, hi whose cases a
general uprightness of purpose and strength of faith
was occasionally crossed and discoloured by sin or
weakness, where the course of the history seems
to have been governed by the very intention of
introducing the discrimination which was needed,
and showing with how sure a step the sin found
out the sinner in the shape of fitting retribution.
It has thus been often pointed out, a that the early
deceit of Jacob was avenged through all his later
years by the withering influence of the fear of man ;
and that the one great crime of David caused the
evening of his glorious day to be darkened by the
clouds of lust and blood. Such was the discipline
by which God at once chastised the offender, and
warned others against being polluted by the example
of his sin. Now there may have been, in other
cases also, a similar adjustment, which the brevity
of the narrative has concealed from us; cases in
which a mixture of sin with the motives was followed
by a mixture of evil with the reward.

In proceeding to examine one or two of the more

a Especially in Blunt's Undesigned Coincidences, pp. 46, 145.

N 2


perplexing instances in fuller detail, I must repeat the
warning which I have already ventured to suggest,
against the error of treating all parts of Scripture
as though they stood on one and the same level,
forgetting that its composition spans the whole range
of utmost antiquity, and stretches onward, from the
rudest ages, to days when the ancient culture which
succeeded was already beginning to decline. We
cannot understand it as a whole till we have learnt
the relations of the several portions, and can dis-
criminate between the lessons which they were
respectively commissioned to convey. The Gospels
are filled with the living brightness of our Saviour's
teaching; ; as when He tells us how the Samaritan
forgot his deep national animosity, and proved him-
self to be true neighbour to the suffering Jew. The
Mosaic history relates to days when the love which
comprehends our enemy would have been rather
despised as a weakness than fostered as a grace.
And yet, between these two strongly contrasted
periods, there lies, we may rest satisfied, the deep
harmony of Scripture, which enriches those old
times, that looked so unloving and relentless, with a
treasure of instruction to be blended with the lessons
of the Gospel.

We may learn from St. Paul's argument to both
the Romans and Galatians, that man's first step back
toward the Paradise which he has forfeited must
be taken in the conviction of sin. Now this is
precisely the feeling which the earliest books of
revelation arc most fitted to arouse. The Law itself,


with all its elaborate ceremonial and rich typical
significance, was 'added because of transgressions.'*
It was a bridle to curb that wayward race, to which
the guardianship of the promise had been given. It
moulded their religious knowledge by the element
of restraint and severity, which is a feature of law
within the moral sphere. And that training pro-
duced the Jewish zeal, which finds so glowing an
expression in many a fervid hymn and psalm: in
language which may render us the deepest service,
if it strikes through the hard crust of polished
unreality, which too often supervenes on the placid
decorum of our civilised life ; and if it warns us
how we ought to treat the deadly principles of wrong
which lurk in our own fallen hearts. The tone of
severity is not peculiar to the Pentateuch, While it is
gradually divested of its earlier harshness, it pervades
all Scripture in the character of zeal against evil.
We trace it onward from Moses to David, from
David to Ezra, from Ezra to the greater authority
of the Divine Teacher, on whose lips it was purged
from the last lingering resemblance to hmnan in-
firmity b (6). And it fails to effect its proper purpose
with ourselves, if it ever leaves us exposed to the
influence of that spurious charity toward offenders,
which is equivalent to an indifference for the mischief
which they cause.

The most striking instance of the difficulty which
I have been describing is to be found in the song

a Gal. ui. 19. b Ps. cxxxix. 21, &c. ; Ezra x. 17; Matt, xxiii., &c.


of Deborah, and in the blessing which she pronounced
upon an action which seems to us a piece of signal
treachery (7). Let us devote to this instance, then, a
more detailed examination ; as it will be acknowledged
that the views which it suggests may be ajiplied to
a number of less remarkable cases.

The common chronology places the date of
Deborah at a full century earlier than the subject
of the oldest uninspired heroic poem. We have no
secular poetry which can be proved to go back to
so remote a period (s). And this date is especially
important. It is above all things necessary, as I
have said, that when we wish to form a judgment
of its character, we do not forget with what part
of history we are dealing. While no literature of
any age has given birth to a grander effort of lyrical
poetry, we yet know that it belongs to a period
when the fair fabric of classical civilisation was
utterly unthought of and unknown — a period when
Greece had not yet spoken any word that time has
spared, and some centuries before the earliest ances-
tors of the Latin race had built their first huts
among the hills of Rome. Now this fact, which on
mere literary grounds would be remarkable, on moral
grounds becomes particularly noteable. When we
are looking at the points of difficulty which the
history involves, it is indispensable to recollect that
those servants of God were fighting His battles in
an age when the world was still lying in the
profoundest darkness — in an age still earlier than
those heroic days, in which the utter recklessness


for human life, which is shown even by their noblest
characters, supplies so serious a drawback to our
admiration for their various manly virtues.

I need scarcely say that the whole period of the
Judges contains much to perplex us (9). It is indeed
the chief arena for those moral difficulties with which
we are now dealing, and which emerge through all
parts of that record in their strongest and most
striking forms. Evils had risen to a height so ap-
palling, that God used instruments of rudest temper
for their overthrow, such as confound the calcula-
tions of the calmer judgment, which is trained in the
pure light of happier days. Such preeminently was
Samson, the fit type of times when mere strength had
its direct and special use in smiting down the powers
of darkness. But indeed throughout those ages there
was a closer connection than there now is between the
internal and the external ; while principles of ever-
lasting obligation were veiled under the ruder forms
of time. It was not so much that men could not see
more than half the truth, but that they saw truths, as
I have said, hi fragments, rather than as connected
portions of an ordered system. They saw them, too,
confusedly, and without discrimination — saw them, as
we might say, with their colours blended; just as in
pure theology the doctrine of the Trinity was taught
less clearly than the doctrine of the Unity of God.
We may note this in the very framework of the Jewish
polity. The nation and the Church were one. The
foes of Israel were the foes of God. There was no dis-
tinction, therefore, between public policy and religious


duty; and the soldiers of the state were at once
ministers of justice and public guardians of the sacred
laws. We may note it, again, in the connection which
existed between obedience and prosperity. It would
be too much, perhaps, to say with some, that the
rewards and penalties, by which alone the Jews were
actuated, were only such as this world could furnish.
Such a limitation would be inconsistent with the
paramount appeal to God's approbation, as the chief
motive which was perpetually put before them. And
yet it is certainly true that prosperity and adversity
were the great badges and representatives of the
favour of God (10). It is certainly true that the
spiritual eyesight was not yet quickened to appreciate
the rewards and penalties of an eternal life. In like
manner the law of duty was enforced with a sternness
and simplicity which left scarcely room to discriminate
between the sinner and his sin. It was as though the
ancient Jew had to hew down the rude primeval
forest, that he might lay the deep foundations for the
future temple of the Lord. Such a labour would call
for unwearied vigour, for unconquerable zeal, for
unhesitating obedience : but it would leave little room
for the nicer and more accurate discrimination, which
we are at once privileged and bound in duty to
employ. In this, as in so many other aspects of the
older history, we are reminded of our Saviour's
words : ' Blessed are the eyes which see the things
that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets
and kings have desired to see those things which
ye see, and have not seen them ; and to hear


those things which ye hear, and have not heard
them.' a

We find the most conspicuous proof of this in the
invariable sequence which then connected the exercise
of courage with external freedom, and the indulgence
of cowardice with external bondage ; and that, not
only, as it might still happen, in the regular issue of
national policy, spun out through a course of com-
plicated action, but ready, instantaneous, and constant,
as though in the unquestionable relation of effort and
its reward. The Israelites had entered on the pro-
mised land (11). In some instances, they carried out
at once their mission ; and in such cases we read how
the Lord was with Juclah, and how the Lord was
with Joseph. 13 But in many other instances they
made peace with the enemies whom they had been
commissioned to destroy. Benjamin did not drive
out the Jebusites ; Manasseh did not drive out the in-
habitants of Bethshean or Taanach ; Ephraim did not
drive out the Canaanites of Gezer ; nor Zebulon the
people of Kitron and Nahalol; nor Asher the coast-
men of what was afterwards Phoenicia; nor Naph-
tali the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and Bethanath ;
but they ' dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants
of the land.' c Toleration soon changed into an un-
hallowed alliance, when they took the daughters of
the Canaanites to be their wives, and gave their own
daughters to their sons, and served their gods. d There-
fore came that stern message of the Lord at Bochim,

a Luke x. 23, 24. b Judges i. 19, 22.

c Judges i. 21, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33. d Judges iii. 6.


that these nations should be as thorns in their sides, and
their gods a snare. a Soon followed the actual proofs
of God's anger, when His hand was against them for
evil, and they were sorely distressed. In quick suc-
cession came the tyranny of various oppressors: first,
eight years of slavery to the King of Mesopotamia,
from which they were freed by the bravery of Othniel,
which gave the land rest for forty years. Next,
from the south-east, sprang the tyranny of Moab,
which was ended, after eighteen years, by the ven-
geance of Ehud; and the land had rest fourscore
years. Next, as it would seem, there was persecu-
tion from Philistia. b And then came that despotism
from the powers on the north-east, which is unfolded
in completer detail, and which it was the boast of
Deborah and Barak to destroy. A king of Canaan,
under the old name of Jabin, still reigned from the
site of that same Hazor Avhich ' beforetime was
the head of all those kingdoms,' when it was seized
and burnt by Joshua. Jabin had nine hundred
chariots of iron; and for twenty years, through his
captain, Sisera, he mightily oppressed the children
of Israel. His fastness lay above the waters near
the sources of the Jordan, whence Sisera poured
down his chariots into that great plain, which was
traversed by the torrent of the storied Kishon before
it issues into the sea beneath the heights of Carmel.
The hymn of Deborah supplies many minute details,
which prove the oppressive sternness of his rule.

a Judges ii. 3. b Judges iii. 8-11, 12-30, 31. c Josh. xi. 1, 10.


The highways were forsaken, and travellers pursued
their stolen journeys through the byways. The
inhabitants of the villages had ceased. War was in
the gates. No shield nor spear was seen among
forty thousand in Israel. The very draw-wells, as the
old interpretation seems to run (12), were disturbed
by the noise of the archers of Canaan. a Such was
the state of God's people under the ojipressors, until
Deborah arose as a mother in Israel. The prophetess
and Barak gathered against Sisera the tribes which
filled the centre of the promised land. There were
Ephraim and Benjamin, and chiefs sprung from the
son of Manasseh, Machir. b 'The princes of Issachar
were with Deborah.' ' Zebulun and Naphtali were a
people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in
the high places of the field.' What wonder is it
that she classifies the sons of Israel as good or evil,
according to the zeal which they showed hi coming
to the help of the Lord against the mighty? What
wonder that she records for their shame the councils
which detained the distant Reuben, the indolence
of Gilead who abode beyond Jordan, of Dan who
remained in ships, of Asher who clung to his rich
possessions by the sea? What wonder that she calls
down a special curse on Meroz, if the position of
that place caused its neutrality and indifference to
be a peculiar disgrace to the national cause? And
what wonder, we now ask — to come to the point
which has for us the deepest interest — what wonder

tt Judges v. 6, 7, 8, 11. b Gen. 1. 23; Num. xxxii. 39, 40.

188 lecture vr.

that she gives high praise and benediction to that
daughter of the Kenite, whose act seems to us so
merciless and treacherous, for dealing death on the
flying oppressor of the race which she had taught
to conquer? All other questions were absorbed and
lost in this grand issue : — Who had been on the Lord's
side? Who had been against Him? For the former
she had blessings ; for the latter she had the sternest
condemnation. In the glowing exultation of her
triumph over the despot, she could no more see sin
in any action by which his ministers were extermi-
nated, than she could see cruelty in the stars which
fought in their courses against Sisera; or in that
ancient river, the river Kishon, which swept in its
swollen flood their dead bodies to the sea. a

Now can we doubt that this high spirit of heroic
zeal, of devotion to God's service, of relentless hatred
to His foe, was a divine element of true inspiration,
which God sent to strengthen the good and crush the
evil, at a time when there was great danger lest the
evil should triumph and obliterate the good ? Can
we doubt that God was leavening His people with
that nobler temper, which was indispensable to secure
the very existence of their national life, as the wit-
ness to God's truth in the midst of darkness ? We
must keep prominently before our thoughts the real
wickedness of the Canaanitish people, and the un-
doubted necessity that they should be crushed before
Israel, lest the truth itself should perish in the over-

a Judges v. 14-31.


whelming flood of sin (13). To represent the matter,
therefore, in such an aspect as our own position would
suggest, we must alter the terms of the compa-
rison, and state them in a different form. We live
under the law, ' I say unto you, Love your enemies.'*
In its direct sense, then, we are not concerned with the
benediction of Deborah, as she hailed the blow that
smote the tyrant. But let us state the matter in this
way : — Our oppressor is Satan. Those bad passions
which he seeks to rouse within us are the iron
chariots by which he would crush out the fair work
of God within our hearts. His evil emissaries are
like archers of the Canaanites, who keep watch and
ward to slay our souls, beside the very wells of living
water. The war which Israel had to wage against

o o

Canaan must not be regarded as a mere struggle
between nation and nation, but as the resistance, in
the cause of universal humanity, of God's law against
the rebellion of the wicked ; of God's work against the
work of Satan. It is in this sense that these things
were our ensamples, and have been written for our
admonition by the Holy Spirit. 15 We are not to
look merely at man as against man, but at the up-
holders of righteousness, who were bound subjects to
a loftier cause than they could comprehend, as
against the upholders of idolatry and rebellion from
God, whose destruction was rather an act of the
Divine vengeance than the operation of a human
policy. Or, again, we might express it in this

a Matt. v. 44. b 1 Cor. x. 11.


manner: that the struggle is not between man and
man, but between principle and principle. We shall
fail to understand its nature if our thoughts rest only
on the human agents. These were, as we might say,
mere accidents in that great battle, in which Israel
was fighting the wars of the Lord. It matters not,
then, that there were sins on the side of the earthly
armies of Jehovah, or that the infant children of their
enemies did not deserve, as man would speak, the

Online LibraryJ HannahThe relation between the Divine and human elements in Holy Scripture : eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXIII .. → online text (page 13 of 30)