James Frederick McCurdy.

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"prophetism" in its manifold representation in all depart-
ments of the Hebrew literature. He will have accom-
plished the next great step when he has learned how


Jesus could say that He came to fulfil the Law and the
Prophets. Then already he ^yill have traversed the most
decisive stages in the long and winding, but certain and
invincible, progress of the altruistic idea. Our present
task is the humbler one of showing that it is contained
implicitly in the teachings of the religious and social re-
formers of the monarchical times of Israel, and that it was
nurtured and promoted by the internal movements of
ancient Hebrew society. One illustration may be cited
of the potentiality and truly " prophetic " character of
that teaching and those movements ; and it is taken, not
from the later, but from the earlier days of the prophetic
epoch, in the middle of the ninth century B.C. It is re-
lated (2 K. vi. 20 ff.) that certain troopers of Damascus,
during the terrible hereditary wars between that country
and Northern Israel, found themselves on one occasion un-
expectedly made prisoners in the city of Samaria, through
the agency of the prophet Elisha ; " And the king of Israel
said to Elisha, when he saw them. My father, shall I
slay? shall I slay them? and he answered. Thou shalt
not slay them ; wouldst thou slay those whom thou hast
taken captive with thy sword and thy bow? Set bread
and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and
go to their own master. And he prepared for them a
bountiful repast ; and when they had eaten and drank, he
sent them away, and they went to their own master." We
hear nothing of an exchange of prisoners, or of holding
them for ransom. But naturally enough it is added :
" And the raiders of Damascus did not continue to come
into the land of Israel."

§ G13. Some of the features of this moral and social
evolution may be briefly summarized. (1) INIoral issues in
Israel distinofuished it from all other communities, ancient
or modern, as regards its relative place in the evolution
of society. In Israel they come early to the front. Other
communities, with a long history behind them, are just
now learning that it "pays" to be just and humane.


(2) Recognizing the validity of the evolutionary law of
the struggle for existence, we notice that the decisive
conflict in Israel was of a different kind from that waged
in any other society. Others were fighting communities.
" States are cradled and nurtured in continuous war, and
grow up by a kind of natural selection, having wrested
or subordinated their competitors in the long-drawn-out
rivalry through which they survive." ^ And hardly differ-
ing in kind, but rather in degree of barbarit}^ is the com-
mercial war by which, as a rule, civilized nations have
been endeavouring to starve and cripple one another be-
yond recovery. In Israel, also, were greed and the lust of
power. But though these controlled the outward forms
of society, they were not the characteristic social forces
which survived to tell the tale of Israel's struggle for
humanity. (3) The cause of virtue and righteousness in
Israel did not, as in Greece and Rome, occupy the
thoughts of an exclusive set of philosophers, moralists,
and rhetoricians. It was the persistent intellectual and
moral pursuit, for centuries, of a distinct class of people
in the community. (4) The moral and social problems of
Israel were, for the most part, wrestled with and solved,
and their solution put on everlasting record, by poor, ob-
scure, and unfashionable people, in spite of the inveterate
prejudice of themselves and their fellow-countrymen that
prosperity was a mark of divine favour. (5) What has
been not inaptly called "ethical monotheism" was asserted
and vindicated, for their own time and forever, by the
Prophets of Israel. And yet the belief or doctrine was
not and could not have been a creation of the Prophets.
These champions of the people simply brought to the
front and immortalized the moral and religious issues
which were involved, and which were felt by every true
follower of Jehovah to be at stake, in the wrongs of civil
misgovernment, judicial oppression, and social injustice.
(6) The problems which occupied the Old Testament law-

1 Kidd, Social Evolution (1894), p. 46.


makers and prophets are those which still press most
urgently upon serious men. Deceit, selfishness, lust, with
the innumerable forms of treachery, cruelty, and dishon-
our, which are their perennial offspring, are still active
everywhere, openly as savage brutality, or disguised as
hypocritical finesse. These issues have never been dealt
with again in any literature or any national history as
they were dealt with in the Old Testament and in the
personal life of the ancient Hebrews. Hence the Old
Testament cannot be dispensed with, in our time at least,
either as a work of classical literature or as a manual of
moral and sociological principles.

§ 614. I need hardly say that the position liere taken
with regard to the place and influence of the Old Testa-
ment among the forces that make for righteousness and
mercy does no injustice to the New Testament revelation
and teaching. But while recognizing the indispensable
part played by both of these mighty agencies in the social
regeneration of the race, it is equally necessary for us to
see how they are related to and supplement one another.
This is particularly expedient at the present time, when
we are beginning to review the whole moral history of
the world from a new standpoint, when we are trying not
only to ascertain the movements and tendencies of past
ages which have made the world actually and potentially
what it now is, but also to measure their relative vitality
and momentum. Moreover, it is now honestly fashionable
to ignore the Old Testament as a factor in the uplifting of
human thought and the energizing of human endeavour.^

1 Mr. Kidd, in his Social Evolution (1894), p. 126, says truly enough
that "we have in the religious beliefs of mankind apparently the charac-
teristic feature of our social evoh^tion." And we may not quarrel with'
his broad working generalization, that "an ultra-rational sanction for the
sacrifice of the interests of the individual to those of the social organism
has been a feature common to all religions " (ibid.). But we must demur
to his beginning his outline sketch of the historic inlluence of the domi-
nant religion of the world (p. l.SM ff.) with "the new force which was
born into the world with the Christian religion." The omission is made


Hardly any more convincing fact than this can be adduced
to show that the scientific study of the Bible is as yet only
in its initial stage.

§ 615. An estimate of what it would seem right to
hold upon this vitally important question may be given
very summarily as follows: (1) Both the Old Testament
and the New have a twofold moral and sociological
function for humanity. They contain, on the one hand,
precepts, counsels, warnings, in short what we may call
teaching. On the other hand, they present pictures of
social life and conduct which either illustrate the teaching
or point its moral. (2) As regards the teaching of these
two collections of Hebrew literature, it may be affirmed
that while the New Testament shows an advance upon the
Old, the distinction between them is not that the former
propounds an entirely new theory of life and morals. It
rather illustrates the law of ethical progress under new
forms of social life and under a new inspiration. ^ To
maintain the contrary is to ignore the soil from which the
New Testament sprang, its preparation in the minds of
men educated as Hebrews of the time ; and, above all, its
adoption of the moral and sociological principles of the
old Hebrew reformers. The ethical system of Christianity
was never claimed by Jesus, or by his disciples of any age,

all the more glaring by the fact that the author, in speaking of the influ-
ence of Christianity, mentions "the nature of the ethical system associated
with it " (p. 140 f.) as one of the characteristics " destined to render it an
evolutionary force of the highest magnitude."

1 A notable and widely read article by Goldwin Smith in the North
American Bevieio for December, 1895, entitled " Christianity's Millstone,"
is worth alludhig to in this connection. It treats the Old Testament as
if it were one book instead of being a collection of books, whose produc-
tion reaches over many centuries and diversiiied moral and social con-
ditions. It makes it oiU to be at once about the worst and at the same
time the best production of antiquity. It employs arguments against the
authority of the Old Testament equally valid against the New, which it
holds up to us in contrast. Its cardinal and fatal defect is that it recog-
nizes no law of evolution or of historical development in the composition
of the Old Testament. Such an essay belongs genealogically to the earlier
half of the present century.


as a new force, or a new idea, or a new revelation given
to the world for the first time at the beginning of the
Christian era. Jesus spoke with original authority, but
he abrogated no whit of the universal and characteristic
teaching of the Old Testament. The precepts of the
Sermon on the Mount are to be found implicitly or ex-
plicitly in the Old Testament or in the best thought of the
noble-minded teachers whose training was entirely pre-
Christian, legal, and prophetical.

§ 616. (3) It therefore does injustice to the New Testa-
ment itself to cut it loose from its moral antecedents.
This is a common habit even with thoughtful writers, who
make a strong point of contrasting it with the dying pagan
civilization which had just preceded.^ This obvious antith-
esis brings out, indeed, most clearly the unique divine
origin of Christianity. But it is of little value either for
historical purposes or for the practical ends which are
subserved l^y the intelligent contemplation of the unfold-
ing in human lives of the divine idea of mercy, justice,
and freedom. (4) What we may call the new life of the
Christian morality was not a new creation, but, rather, a
glorious resurrection. We lose immeasurably if we fail to
trace it to its roots in the truths which were wrought out,
as never before or since, with tears and blood, in the social
and national struggles of ancient Israel. We need to
study the intervening centuries. The polemic attitude
necessarily maintained by Christ and his apostles towards

1 As is done by Kidd, Social Evolution, p. 134. Lecky's classical and
invaluable work, History of European Morals, is almost equally one-sided.
It rarely couples Jews with Christians in their assertion of moral principle
(see one fine instance, however, in vol. i, p. 405). It confounds legal and
ceremonial Judaism with the resultant religion of the Old Testament. It
is unjust to the Old Testament as a whole as to the position assigned by
it to woman. It ignores in its sketch of the history of chastity (i, 103 ff.
and elsewhere) the national example given to the world of that virtue by
the ancient Hebrews — perhaps the most potent and valuable of all its
moral gifts to later ages. On the last-named point, see the essay " The
Education of the World," contributed by Dr. Frederick (afterwards
Bishop) Temple to Essays and Beviews (1860).


Judaic Pharisaism has, with other influences, led to a
popular notion that Hebrew society before their time was
morally and spiritually dead. This is a misconception.
Then, as before and since, the saving remnant never failed.
We regard, and rightly, the Reformation as the renaissance
of practical and social Christianity. Looking back over
the " dark ages," we can see through all their years the
torch of faith and purity, now flickering and faint, now
blazing up in triumphant splendour, and never utterly ex-
tinguished. So was it with the stern heroic virtue ^ of the
true Israel in the pre-Christian times. As the Reforma-
tion was to the Middle Ages, so in its way and measure
was the Christian era to the " silent centuries."

§ 617. (5) As regards the social types and underlying
moral forces of the Old Testament times and people, in
comparison with those of the New, we must bear in mind
that, in spite of all political and governmental revolutions,
society in Palestine remained essentially unchanged. The
ecclesiastical aristocracy only became wider, more complex,
and more arrogant, with the loss of political autonomy.
Especially must we remember that still as of old the
champions and martyrs of justice, righteousness, and meek-
ness were of the classes that counted for nothing in church
or state. If Christ came to the poor and the despised in
the days of his social life, it was because his spirit had always
been with them. The early Christian Church was made
up mainly of such elements as those which, according to
the Hebrew Psalms, constituted the true community of
Jehovah (§ 601). (6) The decisive advance was made
by Jesus through his Word and his Person. He gave a
death-wound to the old-world tyranny of caste and classes
with their cruel prerogative. Ceremonial religion with its
popular doctrine of salvation through ordinances involved
the perpetual religious and social disqualification of the
non-privileged orders. For this Jesus, by the force of his
living word, substituted the idea of personal faith and indi-

1 Read, for example, 2 Mace, vii.


vidual responsibility. To the credit of the Pharisees, be
it said, the way was partly prepared for this saving evan-
gel by their development of Judaism, which insisted on the
individualistic instead of the national view of man's rela-
tion to God. As interpreters of the Old Testament they
could not fail to make this application of the Prophets and
the Psalms and the social provisions of the Law. But (cf.
Matt, xxiii. 3) they could not as a body disentangle them-
selves from the old-time system of Church and State aris-
tocracy, which tended to make every ruler, judge, elder,
and teacher in Israel self-satisfied and exclusive, and there-
fore far from the kingdom of God.

§ 618. (7) The supreme innovation introduced by Jesus
was the attracting and unifying power of his own divine-
human Person. There were democrats before his time ; —
such was indeed every true prophet of ancient Israel. But
what with them was an impracticable dream was proved by
Him to be a possibility, and by his followers, through his in-
spiration, to be a glorious reality. In Him men recognized
their moral Ideal to be their neighbour, friend, and brother.
He who was higher than the highest made Himself as low
as the lowest, and took upon Him the form of a slave.
And so all races and classes found their meeting-place in
Him. Since He is all and in all, there cannot be in Him
Gentile or Jew, bondman or freeman. And by being
lifted up on the Cross He has drawn all men unto him.
Thus to the prophetic teaching, which was weak and in-
effective against the cramping withering power of self-
love, working through custom and tradition, there is
superadded a motive which not only opens the eyes, but
melts the heart. When Christ came into the most relig-
ious and moral community the world liad ever known, it
was easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than
for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And
ever since it has been perhaps true that not many wise,
not many miglity, not many noble, are called. But all
things are possible in the moral realm where Jesus is king.


At his touch the old social fabric was dissolved. He spoke
the word, and a new structure began to rise on a broader
and enduring foundation. And, behold, the prostrate pil-
lars of the old shattered edifice have a part, and that a
worthier one than before, in the reconstruction ! The new
society, after all, is a readjustment of the constituents of
the old. The antithesis of the Old Testament community
(§ 598, 601) is annulled: a new tribalism takes its place
(§ 399). The tabernacle of God is with men; and here
the rich and the poor meet together at last. But the con-
dition of membership holds still as of old ; for now the rich
are those who have become poor that they might make
others rich. A standing proof is here that the regenera-
tion of society has begun. Jesus has made it possible for
a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He has induced
men born to wealth and power to regard these endowments
not as rights, but as gifts, as conditions of "godlike hard-
ship," self-imposed for the truth that makes men free, and
for the love that makes them one.

§ 619. Our principal task has been not to trace the old
in the new, nor in the old to find the new, but to test the old
alone by its independent worth for the weal of human kind.
Yet the larger survey is needed, however brief and imper-
fect. In making it, we must learn, like the Master himself,
to look back upon the past in the light of the present. In
the retrospect we cannot but recognize those saving moral
principles which, newly informed and energized by him,
are leavening and renewing the individual and the race.
And so we assent to those words of his which forever bind
the Christian ages to the heart and life of ancient Israel :
"for this is the Law and the Prophets."




§ 620. The fall of Samaria (§ 352 ff.) was a propitious
beginning for the reign of the new Assyrian king. Its
surrender, however, had been assured under the auspices
of his predecessor, and his easy triumph (§ 357) furnished
of itself no indication of a genius for war and statesman-
ship which was to secure to Assyria for a round century
undisputed pre-eminence among the nations of the earth,
and to assimilate, if not to unif}^ the innumerable petty
states of Western Asia. The deeds and policy of Sargon
soon showed him to be the true successor of the great Tig-
lathpileser. In an empire like that of the Assyrians it
was often necessary that military operations should be con-
ducted upon a large scale simultaneously, or in quick suc-
cession, in resjions the most remote from one another. The
generalship of the king was most signally displayed in
massing troops, at the right moment, at the points of ex-
treme danger ; in the rapid marching for which the Assyr-
ian armies were pre-eminently distinguished ; and in prompt
and decisive action upon the field. His statesmanship was
most severely taxed by the problems of repressing discon-
tent among the individual principalities, and preventing
dangerous combinations between them against their com-



mon suzerain. The comparatively abundant records of
Sargon's reign enable us to trace fairly well the military
and civil administration of the empire at this critical period
in the development of the imperial idea among its first
promoters. Nothing better illustrates the urgency of the
tasks pressing upon the new king than the fact that his
principal operations had to be transferred immediately from
the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Persian

§ 621. It was indeed in this region that the most doubt-
ful and momentous of Sargon's conflicts were waged. At-
tention has already (§ 223, 293, 340) been repeatedly
called to the growing influence and political ambition of
the Chaldsean principalities lying between Babylon and
the sea. The most important of these had become vassals
of Tiglathpileser III, and were, therefore, of right the
tributaries of his successors. But one of the most ambi-
tious of their rulers, Merodach-baladan by name {3Iarduk-
apil'iddin, "Merodach has given a son"), who is familiar
to us from Isa. xxxix., was not content with this humiliat-
ing position. Along with his patriotic desire to throw off
the yoke of Assyria, he cherished a personal aspiration to
become king of Babylon. He had (§ 340) sworn allegiance
to Tiglathpileser in 731, and for ten years, or until the death
of Shalmaneser, had apparently made no disturbance. But
all the while he had been cultivating friendship with the
neighbouring princes, most of whom were his fellow-sub-
jects, and, what was of more consequence, with the powerful
king of Elam. These friends being thus secured, he was
able, upon the accession of Sargon, to convert them into
active allies in his anti-Assyrian crusade.

§ 622. A striking parallel suggests itself between the
relations to Assyria of the extreme southwest and those
of the extreme southeast. Just as in the West-land, strife
and insubordination were stirred up by Egypt against the
all-devouring realm of Asshur, so in the eastern Sea-land
the same part was played by Elam — a nation of equal


antiquity and with immemorial traditions of a dominion
once extending as widely as that now claimed by Sargon
(§ 106 ff.). Since the expulsion of the Elamites fifteen
centuries before under the great Chauimurabi (§ 117), they
had taken very little part in the affairs of Babylonia,
though at the beginning of the tenth century they gave a
king to Bab3'lon. Still less had they to do with Assyria.
Yet now, when Assyrian conquest was approaching the
Gulf and passing beyond the Tigris, they began to show
themselves formidable opponents of the aggressors, and it
was not till nearly a century after the accession of Sargon
that they were finally subdued. Meanwhile they furnished
aid and comfort to the struggling princes of Babylonia ;
and if the whole truth were known it would probably be
found that with and without these allies they often proved
to be a match for the northern invaders.

§ 623. The first movement of Merodach-baladan was
to take possession of Babylon and make it his capital. He
was there proclaimed king in Nisan of 721, three months
exactly after the fall of Samaria, and precisely at the begin-
ning of Sargon's official reign. As soon as it was possible,
Sargon invaded Babylonia. He was met in battle bj- the
ally of the Babylonians, Humbanigas, king of Elam; and,
though he ascribes the victory to himself, it is plain from
the impartial Babylonian chronicle that the battle was at
least indecisive, and that the Assyrians were compelled to
retreat from the country. The battle was fought without
the presence of ^Merodach-baladan, but when he came to
reinforce the Elamites, the allies were so strong that the
southern portion of Assyria itself was overrun by them, and
great losses were inflicted upon the inhabitants.^ Indeed,
it was not till eleven years after this that Sargon felt him-
self strong enough to venture another attempt to depose his
rival from the throne of Babylon. That the allies did not
pursue their advantage further is probably to be accounted
for by the difficulties which Merodach-baladan had to con-

1 See Note 2 in Appeudix.


tend with in keeping in subjection the ruling classes in
Babylon, which had for some time coveted the protection of
Assyria (cf. § 339, 341). Sargon was sagacious enough to
let the question of the Babylonian succession rest till he
had settled the disturbed affairs of the rest of the empire.

§ 624. He was now immediately recalled to the extreme
west, where the emissaries of Egypt had been plotting
against his authority with a large measure of success. A
combination was formed which it was hoped would unite
all the principalities of the West-land. These were fewer
and feebler than they had been before the conquests of the
great Tiglathpileser. Damascus, now only the shadow of
its former self, and the "Land of Omri," were under Assyr-
ian administration, and Central and Northern Syria had
been so industriously colonized that there would seem to
be little hope of encouraging revolt. But the malcontents
were numerous, and were easily persuaded that the new
untried king of Assyria would have more than enough to
attend to in the north and southeast. Hamath, which had
suffered so severely in the closing daj^s of Uzziah of Judah
(§ 307), became now the centre of disturbance, and, under
the lead of an adventurer apparently of Israelitish origin
(as we may judge from his name, Ilubi'id or Yahubi'id),^

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 22 of 39)