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their voice and cry aloud to Jehovah the God of mercy
and justice (§ 595).

§ 601. Note the following series of related facts which,
by various paths, lead to the heart of the social and moral
problems of ancient Israel. (1) Religion, simple as it is,
includes, as one of its indispensable and essential elements,

1 On the other hand, the fine picture of an ideal prince drawn in Ps. ci.
(cf. Ixxii. 4, 12-14) is more than matched in realistic and discriminating
detail by the portrait of a just and noble judge and elder given in Job
xxix. 7 ff.


regard for the poor and the distressed. " Kindness " or
mercy is one of the ^Drophetic graces indispensable to re-
lio-ion, but hard to find among the leaders of Israel (Mic.
vi. 8; vii. 2 ff.)- (2) But the possession of this general
virtue is brought to a practical searching test when fellow-
ship and sympathy with the unfortunate are held to secure
the favour and protection of Jehovah (Ps. xli. ; Prov. xiv.
21; xix. 17; xxviii. 8, 27 ; contrast Ps. x. 3; xxxv. 10; xli.
5 ff. ; Prov. xxi. 13 ; xxii. 16, 22 f.), and to be of themselves
an indication of religious character and standing (Ps. xli. ;
Prov. xiv. 31 ; xxix. 7 ; ctr. Ps. x. 9 ff.). (3) The " poor "
are actually made synonymous with the "righteous," as
(§ 598) the "rich" with the "wicked" (Psalms, passim;
Prov. xiii. 23; xix. 1, 22 ; cf. Isa. liii. 9). (4) The " poor "
are engaged in an unequal struggle with the "wicked,"
which, however, is bound to terminate in their ultimate
triumph ; in particular, they are contending for the posses-
sion of "the land" (Ps. xxv. 13, 15 ff.; xxviii. 3 ff. ; xxxvii.
3, 9, 18, 25, 34 ff.; xlix. 10 ff. ; lii. 5 ff. ; cf. Prov. x. 3, 7 ;
xiii. 22 f. ; xxi. 12; xxiv. 15 ff.). This issue is manifestly
raised in consequence of the judicial oppression of the poor,
and the extension of the estates of the rich and powerful
(§ 580 ff.). (5) The conflict was more than a material
one ; it involved also religious advantages. Partly through
impoverishment, and partly, it would seem, through violent
exclusion, the true representatives of Jehovah were some-
times excluded from the Temple services (Ps. xiii. ; xliii. ;
Ivi. 8, 12 f. ; cf. xxvii. 3 ff. ; Iv. 6 ff., 13-18). (6) But the
religious life generally being bound up with access to re-
ligious services, local or central, the right to such spiritual
privileges is an inalienable prerogative of true followers of
Jehovah, to be rightly withdrawn from their persecutors
and the ungodly generally (Ps. i. 5 ; v. 4-7 ; xv. ; xxii.
25 f. ; xxiv. 3-6 ; xxvi. 4 ff. ; xxviii. 2 ff. ; xxxi. 19 f . ; lii.
6-8 ; Prov. xv. 9 ; xxi. 27 ; Isa. xxxiii. 15-17).

§ 602. The above citations may suffice to set forth the
position of the "poor" and " righteous " in society, and


their attitude, theoretical and practical, towards the relig-
ious and moral issues of their country and time. Here we
stand within the threshold of that arena upon which the
first great decisive contest was waged, upon eternal prin-
ciples, for humanity, justice, and freedom. The urgent
practical problem was, how to live under the social system
of the Hebrew monarchy, and retain that for which life
was worth the living. This was to the ti'ue Hebrew, (1)
the possession of his patrimony ; (2) the conservation of
his family and family rights ; (3) his religious privileges.
All of these were, as we have seen, impaired by the
oppressiveness and godlessness of the leaders of the com-
munity. It is now plain enough how the material interests
of life were inseparably interwoven witli the interests of
the kingdom of Jehovah. It was this that made the issue
eternal. It was Jehovah's rights that were being infringed,
and his claims that were being denied, when wrong was
committed against any of his true worshippers. When
they were deprived of their property, it was He who was
defrauded of his proprietorship. When the poor were
mulcted and pillaged by judicial process or arbitrary en-
croachment, it was his words that were outraged and his
guardianship that was assailed (Ps. xii. 5). When they
were hindered in the performance of those religious rites
which made up so much of common life, it was his true
worship that was contemned. When the purity of
Jehovah's service was marred, either in form or spirit,
eitlier in local shrines or in the central sanctuary, it was
his true followers that were repelled and their consciences
that were wronged.

§ 603. We can now, perhaps, somewhat better appre-
ciate the yearnings of prophets and psalmists for a reign of
justice and freedom. Such aspirations assumed a charac-
teristically Hebrew form and expression. So deep and
certain was their consciousness of the divine righteous-
ness, and the persuasion of its vindication and of its
triumph over injustice and impiety, that these became


fixed articles of faith and the watchwords of the party of
Jehovah. Intermediate stages and auxiliary movements
were ignored. The intensely realistic imagination of the
poet and the seer brought the new era at once within the
range of sight (§ 13). The long and weary night-watches
had not blenched the steady gaze of faith ; it only made
the eye quicker and keener to discern amid the thickening
gloom the signs of the coming of the " Sun of Righteous-
ness." Naturall}^ the restorer of Israel must be a king.
For the king is all in all. A good elder, judge, counsellor,
or minister of state might reform his own smaller or larger
jurisdiction. But the king is historically (§ 36, 49 ff.) and
potentially (§ 63-1 ff.) elder, counsellor, and judge in one.
He alone could reform the state throughout. He would
indeed defend the nation from the dreaded Assyrian and
give peace to the people (Mic. v. 5). And so he would
be a godlike hero and a prince of peace. But when he
should take the government upon his shoulders, he would
uphold the kingdom with justice and righteousness ; and
so he would be "a wonder of a counsellor and an ever-
lasting father" (§ 430) to his people (Isa. ix. 6 f. ; of.
xxxii. 1 f.).

§ 604. The cry of the afflicted and the oppressed had
long been uttered in vain. At the best, the most worthy
judges only heard the cases that came before them. For
the oreat multitude for whom no man cared there was no
advocate, no daysman. This was the burden of the pro-
phetic complaint and appeal : " Inquire into justice, set
right the cruel, do justice to the fatherless, take up the
cause of the widow" (Isa. i. 17). The expected Ruler, as
king and judge in one, was to fulfil this ideal (Ps. Ixxii. 4,

12, ff.):

" He shall jxidge the afflicted of the people ;
He shall save the children of the needy ;
And shall crush the oppi'essor.
He shall deliver the needy crying for help,
And the afflicted when he has no helper.
He shall have pity upon the poor and needy ;


And the souls of the needy he shall save.

Against fraud and wrong he sliall champion their life,i

And precious shall their blood be in his eyes. "

Thus the Messianic hope, the anticipation of the " king
who shall reign by righteousness," was not merely cher-
ished as a stay and bulwark against the shock of war and
the impending invasion of the Assyrians (Mic. v. ; Isa.
vii. f.). It was an image evoked by mingled despair and
trust, by baffled and yet irrepressible faith, of One who
should right all social and civic wrongs, and bring Israel
to its own again. Under him " Judah and Israel should
dwell safely, each one under his own vine and his own fig-
tree, none making them afraid" (1 K. iv. 25; Mic. iv. 4),
enjoying the labour of his hands amid peace, order, good-
will, and plent3^

§ 605. It will be proper at this point to anticipate the
conclusions of our review of the literature of Israel, by a
remark as to the period of Psalm composition. There is
no need of going into the vexed questions that belong
rather to special treatises. It is, however, most pertinent
to our present discussion to say a word upon that division
of the literature to whicli we have been so much indebted
for illustration. The main consideration is that the domi-
nant note of the Psalms is one of stress and conflict. So
is it perhaps with the deepest and most moving religious
poems in any age or nation. They are no nursery plants ;
they are the growth of a soil watered with blood and tears.
So was it above all with the hymns of the ancient Hebrews.
It was at midnight, and in the prison-house, that the faith-
ful of Israel, like the apostles of the early Church, "prayed
and sang hymns unto God" (Acts xvi. 25). We have
seen how an understanding of the social question fur-
nishes the key to the interpretation of many of the Psalms.
It is manifest from the large place which is taken in the
collection by the Psalms Avhieh we have been considering

1 " He shall be the ' Goel ' of their soul " ; of. § 426.


— those whose theme is abuse of justice, the crimes of the
rich, and kindred modes of wrong-doing — that such social
iniquities and misfortunes must have characterized a
lengthy portion of the history of Israel.

§ 606. We naturally look for confirmation to the his-
torical, and especially (§ 14) to the prophetical books.
We find there indeed that the evil was chronic, that no
age was free from its blight and curse. But there is a
difference. There is a fairly well defined period in which
the sufferings of iiidividuals are brought specially into
prominence. Roughly speaking, the time thus indicated
is what we may call the middle period of the monarchy.
In the histories it is introduced by the judicial spoliation
and murder of Naboth (§ 239) ; in the prophecies by the
denunciations of Amos. The cycle begins with Amos and
runs through Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Before this era
the evils were gross enough. But in the semi-tribal con-
dition of the people there was less scope for intrigue and
rapacity in high places. After the period in question,
international entanglements brought more fully into view
the struggle for national existence in the surviving king-
dom of Judah. Social and internal evils are still rife, but
they do not take the leading place. They are, moreover,
dealt with less as sins in themselves than as causes of the
collapse of society and the state, or, after the Exile, as
imperilling the reconstruction of the community (Neh. v.
9). Now look at the Psalms once more. Speaking again
roughly, we find that most of those above reviewed belong
to the two earlier books. The last three books have just
that national or general character which has been here
attributed to the later prophecies. There is not in them
so much of the personal confl.ict, not so much of the con-
sciousness of individual wrongs. In the earlier books, Ps.
xliv.-xlviii. are marked by a wider outlook ; but their ex-
ceptional character is strikingly conspicuous. Now such
Psalms as we have been examining are confessedly the
most original and, as we may say, the most characteristic


of the whole collection. To think of them as having been
written objectively, and from a purely literary impulse, is
to postulate for them no adequate motive. We must regard
them as being just as much the outgrowth and effluence of
their time as are the corresponding prophetic outbursts.
That is to sajs they must as a whole belong to the same age,
the golden days of Prophecy, the period reaching from Eli-
jah to Micah, from the time of the complete realization of
monarchical ideas until the era of the Assyrian domination.
§ 607. We must not overlook the intimate connection
of the present question with that of the development of
the religious life. After what has been said it is super-
fluous to point out the religious aspects of the social
struggle in Israel. It is not too much to say that this
conflict, intense, uninterrupted, and prolonged, is the very
heart of the religion of the Old Testament, its most regen-
erative and propulsive movement. To the personal life of
the soul, the only Imsis of a potential world-moving religion,
it gave energy and depth, assurance and hopefulness, repose
and self-control, with an outlook clear and eternal. Its vital-
izing sustaining principle of faith in the " name " and the
"faithfulness," or the character and consistency of Jehovah,
was at once the quickening sap of the tree of life and its
richest flower and fruit. Baffled and thrown back in the
struggle for justice, the party of Jehovah and righteousness
clung all the more tenaciously to the earlier beliefs and ex-
periences — always inward and practical, never theoretical
or rationalizing — of their God's protection of his followers,
and made tliem the controlling and impulsive forces of
their lives. Let us try to realize their situation. We
shall thus cret to the radiatino^ centre of tlie light and

o o o

power that came to the moral heroes of the Old Testa-
ment, ^ and through them to all the tried and strenuous
souls of succeeding: generations.

1 It is at the conclusion of one of these Psalms (xlii.-xliii.) that the
poet, persecuted and exiled from his home and .lehovah's land and sanc-
tuary (§ GOl), prays that Jehovah might send his light and truth to guide


§ 608. The sjjiritual sense was quickened and deepened
because there was little in the state of Israel social and
political to invite active interest or to inspire with hope
and courage. The great proportion of the toiling masses
were absolutely cut off from the life of the community.
Among them there was no wholesome discontent that
could make itself felt among the governing classes, or
that might ensure progress in spite of official evils by
gradually effecting a change in public opinion. They
were compelled to fall back upon their spiritual franchise,
upon their citizenship in the kingdom of God, and their
membership in his household (§ 407). There was no per-
sonal intercourse between the governing and governed
classes. The magnates did not know how the common
men lived, except as to their ability to pay usury or taxes,
or to hold on to their coveted patrimony. There was no
reciprocal service in the state to evoke mutual confidence
and helpfulness. Hence the struggling and the despised
formed a community of their own (Ps. xiv. 4, 5 f . ; Ixxiii.
15), which became more exclusive than even the opulent
and fashionable circles of the capital.

§ 609. But still more was religious life intensified and
nourished by the direct pressure of personal trial. The
hardships of their lot had, to be sure, the effect of embitter-
ing the sufferers against their prosperous oppressors ; but
it strengthened also their faith and trust in God (Ps.
xxxvii.). Enduring, as they often had to do, want and
privation in the midst of plenty and luxury, they found
all the more satisfaction in appeasing the hunger and
quenching the thirst of the soul (Ps. xlii. 1 ; Ixiii. 1, 5).
Sincerely and rightly persuaded that the grasping and
cruel grandees were wicked and godless (§ 698), they
were encouraged all the more to cultivate piety and the
fear of God. Uncompromising as they were in resenting
their Avrongs, they were yet poor in spirit towards God.

him back to the tabernacle of God, "the gladness of his joy." This pas-
sage contains the essence of the Hebrew religion.


Debarred as they were from the pompous sacrifices in the
national sanctuaries, which were offered by the rich for
the propitiation of the offended and alienated Jehovah,
and even, as it would seem (§ 601), excluded sometimes
from access to the sanctuary, they learned all the more
readily to offer the more pleasing sacrifice of a broken and
contrite heart. The vexing problems of their existence
and of the contradictions of their lot drove them to self-
examination and the discover}' of their own sinfulness.
So habitual and so trying was their experience of trouble
at the hands of the " wicked," that scarcely a psalm of the
personal life is devoid of allusion to it. And yet, on the
other hand, confession and penitence seem impossible to
them without their bringing their own sinfulness into con-
nection with the wickedness of their adversaries (see, e.g.^
Ps. xxxviii. 4ff. ; 12 ff. ; xxxix. 6 ff. ; xl. 12 ff.). Thus
we find ourselves here in the atmosphere and environment
in which the religious life received its richest and most
energizing development.-^

§ 610. A word or two in conclusion as to the bonds
which unite our modern social and moral ideals and prob-
lems with those of ancient Israel. I do not refer to the
practical lessons which we learn from the use made of the
Old Testament in devotional reading or edifying discourse.
Nor have I in mind altogether the applications which are
or may be made of Old Testament principles to the con-
ditions and problems of civic government and social
reform. The value of such deference to the Hebrew
writings is much more talked of than verified or appre-
ciated. It would probably become more of a reality if the

1 We may remark, by the way, that we have here also a key to many
of the difficulties of the Psalms. The remarkable judrrments passed upon
the "rich," for example, and the predicates applied to them, have been
noticed above (§ 508). Of more subjective value to us, perhaps, is the
explanation, now available, of the juxtaposition of expressions of deep
devotion and the bitterest animosity {e.g. Ps. xxxvi. ; cxxxix.), and of
the psychological and spiritual phenomena of the "vindictive Psalms"



historical character of the Biblical teaching were more
intelligently apprehended. Certain leading considerations
must be kept in view. (1) A large portion of the civil
code of the Pentateuch was proleptic and disciplinary, and,
as far as we know, never carried into judicial effect (§ 586).
Just how much was actually in practice is difficult to
ascertain, and may be best inferred from the historical and
prophetical books. (2) Nevertheless the most wholesome
provisions of the " Law " are the reflex of sentiments and
convictions cherished in the inmost heart of Israel, evoked
from and wrought out in the stress and conflict of national
life. (3) In the same way the moral canons laid down by
the Prophets were the expression of ideals to which the
majority of the nation never practically attained. (4) The
special legislation of the Hebrews not only corresponded
to the moral advancement of the best portion of the
iiation, but was accurately adjusted to its needs. (5) The
political and social collapse of Israel was due not so much
to the admitted inadequacy of its political institutions as
to the failure on the part of the leaders of the people to
act according to their best lights. (6) The products of
Hebrew thought and wisdom best worth preserving for
the uses of the world are not the incidental and temporar}'
enactments of the " Law," but the eternal principles of the
"prophetical." literature, Avhether found- in the , histories,
the prophecies, or the poetical books. (7) The duty of
our modern statesmen and social reformers towards the
sociological and moral teaching of the Old Testament is
to study its special " legislation " mainly in as far as it
illustrates the dominant and moving principles that in-
spired it, and to make these principles, as they are amply
illustrated and unfolded in Hebrew history and literature,
controlling and guiding forces in their own public life
and action. 1 They cannot do better than to defer to the

1 I may refer to a special instance. Interest has often been and still is
stirred up in behalf of the system of land tenure in Israel, as a possible
norm or guide for modern special legislation. Such a use of what may be


patriot prophet and " inquire after the old paths " ( Jer.
vi. 16).

§ 611. Finally, we may inquire as to the place of the
Old Testament sociological and moral teaching in the
evolution of human society. Only one aspect of the mat-
ter can here be touched upon. Whether the Hebrew liter-
ature and society have contributed anything of permanent
value to the higher and controlling' thought and sentiment
of the race, and if so, what it is and what is its value, are
questions which are open to a very simple test. We ask :
what is now the most precious moral possession of the
race ? what is the great saving moral and social principle
of the world of men at the end of this nineteenth century
of the Christian era ? And further : in what nation or
society in the olden time was this surviving principle
asserted as cardinal and vital, and placed on enduring

learned about the question is neitlier wise nor desirable. But a study of
the provisions that grew out of the fundamental postulate that Jehovah
was the ultimate owner of the land, with their regard for the rights of
tenants, of the poor, and the stranger (548 ff., 576 ff.), is in the highest
degree instructive and liberalizing. I may venture a word more. It may
be that the Old Testament is neglected by modern reformers not nierelj'
because it is imperfectly understood, or because its standard of public con-
duct seems impracticably lofty, but also because it does not offer any spe-
cific remedies for existing ills or practical suggestions for reform generally.
They therefore virtually dispense with it. A traveller gi-oping his way
through the forest might as well dispense with the daylight, by whose help
alone he can find his bearings. It is remarkable, and not very creditable
to the thinkers and critics of the day, that elaborate attempts to grapple
with tremendous social problems are dealt with mostly from the point of
view of feasibility alone, apart from the wholesome moral inspiration
which most of them afford. A notable instance is Bellamy's Lookinrj
Backward, w-hich has been the butt of numberless able reviewers, large
and small, who contemptuously dismiss it from consideration because its
scheme of social reorganization is impracticable. They ignore, or perhaps
fail to perceive, that what has really " carried " the book, and given it an
epoch-making significance, is its recognition of social defects and its sym-
pathy with the victims of organized oppression and selfishness. In this,
it and kindred works are an echo of, or rather a response to, the voices
that proclaimed " mercy and justice " as the essence of the old-time relig-
ion of Jehovah.


record ? Probably it will be agreed that the sense of jus-
tice and the impulse of mercy form in their just combina-
tion the strongest influence for good, the chief regenera-
tive force, in any modern community. Moreover, it has
been found by long experience that the first sentiment
cannot flourish without the second. This has been proved
by the awful tragedy which reconciled the divine govern-
ment with human redemption, by the practical relaxation
of stern religious creeds, and by the costly experiments of
barbaric and semi-barbaric legislation. The crowning re-
sultant we call altruism, or the humanitarian spirit. And
we are wont to count it a modern or rather a contemporary
achievement. For it comes upon us with the freshness
and energy of youth, and the inward exultation of a novel
moral excitement. And in truth it must be something
new to the great world ; for it has not become fashionable
or even tolerable beyond the narrow limits of social rela-
tionship. Its application to political life or even the com-
moner processes of commercial and business dealing is
scarcely dreamed of except by a few unpopular enthu-

§ 612. And yet altruism is not new. It was and is a
product of the Old Testament religion. The humanita-
rian spirit was no symptom of a transient sentiment, no
" fad " of a clique or set. That which gives character
and immortality to a national literature must have had a
strong, wide, and steady development. Our review of the
history and the concomitant literary monuments has not
yet brought us to its fullest development and articulate
expression. But of its germinal beginnings and its rich
promise we have already had more than a glimpse. Its
persistence and expansion to the present hour may be his-
torically traced. There is no better or more useful task
for the social evolutionist. Let him begin by studying

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 21 of 39)