James Frederick McCurdy.

History, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) online

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remnant there may bear the Temple and the house of
David safe through the overwhelming floods. For Sa-
maria there is to be no reprieve. The retribution that
comes upon her from without only anticipates the work
of death carried on by invisible foes fondly cherished
within her own bosom.

§ 382. In the eighth century B.C., which was the era
of written Prophecy in Israel, began also the most impor-
tant and far-reaching political movements of the ancient
world. The century which witnessed the founding of


Rome and the rise of Sparta and Athens, was also signal-
ized by the organization of the Assyrian empire. It was
no mere coincidence that Amos and Isaiah appeared in the
same ag^e and in the same historic region as those which
produced Tiglathpileser III and Sargon II. In the first
half of the century Prophecy attests its political insight
by the announcement of the revival of the languishing
power of Assyria ; during the second half that revival was
completely accomplished. The idea of political and mili-
tary force was familiar to the Prophets. They recognized
its mission in the world as one not wholly fraught with
evil. It was an instrument in the hands of Jehovah, whom
they acknowledged and proclaimed as the God of the whole
earth. Their own race and nation were to feel its crush-
ing weight, Jehovah's people though they were, and
dwellers in Jehovah's land. The Prophets alone could
explain the anomaly. It was a higher principle that was
claiming and vindicating a right to rule, the universal
principle of righteousness, divine and human. In its
majestic progress it would utilize the Assyrian and then
supersede him. What the earlier Prophets had most at
heart in their political interests was the outcome of the
increasing complications between Israel and the dominating
power of the empire of the Tigris and Euphrates. His-
tory has approved their discrimination, verified their judg-
ment, and justified their prevision. The involution of
petty states like Israel and Judah in the movements of the
gigantic power of Assyria was indeed a matter of com-
paratively little moment as a mere political incident. But
a significance even larger than that attaching to the deeds
of all world-rulers was lent to the fate of Israel by those
seers of the race, who discerned behind and beneath all
these events the outstretched arm of Israel's God. Since
the fate of Israel was the fate of Jehovah's earthly king-
dom, its fortunes became of infinite moment. They teach
us also to look beneath the surface of the current of
Asiatic affairs. Even the monotonous annals of Assyria's


vainglorious rulers now become of importance. We read
there between the lines the underlying motives that
guided their policy. These motives are invested for us
with a living interest, for they determined in varied and
persistent action the destiny of Israel. The relations of
the subject states of the empire to the sovereign power;
the conditions of protection or of tolerance on the one
hand, and of repression or of obliteration on the other;
the degrees of subjection ; the civil and religious obliga-
tions of the dependent peoples, — these conditions, learned
from the chronicles of the governing nation, assume now
a dignity and importance which in their immediate setting
they could never deserve. They are brought close to the
immortal and priceless words of the Prophets of Israel,
and both together furnish the key to the history of those
memorable times.

§ 383. The ruler of the new Assyrian empire, when he
came upon Syria and Palestine soon after his accession,
found there a changed condition of affairs. Damascus
had in the peaceful interval recovered a part of her
former strength, and all of her old self-confidence. Israel
and Judah, so soon to be divided in fate, were now also
divided in spirit and in national aims and interests. For-
tune had dealt hardly with the Northern Kingdom. In its
decline, as well as in its beginning, it was torn asunder
by faction, and irreparably weakened by internal violence.
Dynasties lasting a year or less made a suggestive con-
trast to the unshaken steadfastness of the "house of
David," in the sister kingdom. After the permanent an-
nexation of North and Middle Syria, Tigiathpileser moved
upon Damascus and Israel, since both of them were con-
structively the derelict vassals of Assyria. He was bought
off at a heavy price, but returned four years later. Now
he finds Northern Israel in alliance with its ancient rival,
Damascus. This portends a combination of the south-
western states against the Assyrian power, and thus
affords a pretext to the invader for subjugating the


whole. Judah, however, refuses to join the league.
Against it the allies declare and begin war, and are
joined by Edoni, its vengeful enemy, now again freed from
the yoke of Uzziah. Ahaz of Judah invokes the aid of
the Assyrians in opposition to the counsel of Isaiah, whose
career as prophet and statesman is now well begun. The
fateful bargain is struck. Judah becomes the vassal of
Assyria, and the great conqueror becomes for the time
its champion. It is rescued from a doubtful danger with
the certain penalty of religious and political degradation.
Damascus, as an ancient inveterate rebel, is annexed, and
many of its people deported. Samaria, as a revolted trib-
utary, is shorn of half its territory. Its ruler is deposed,
and a successor appointed on rigorous sufferance.

§ 384. Other conquests bring all Palestine to look
upon Assyria as its suzerain. The degree of subjection
varies from the voluntary vassalage of Judah to the com-
plete incorporation of Israel north of Jezreel. But in
general the Ninevite may take toll and keep the peace as
far as the borders of Egypt. One insurrection more, and
the remnant of Israel will disappear from among the na-
tions. Independent or hostile action in Jerusalem will
make of Judah a suspected and amerced instead of a
protected and favoured vassal. The fate of the two He-
brew communities is very different. While Judah endures
a century and a half longer as a kingdom, ten years make
up Samaria's day of grace. Her fall is hastened by a for-
eign ally, whose friendship never boded well for Palestine.
The empire of the Nile has a national revival also, like
the empire of tlie Tigris, and the new Ethiopian dynasty
resumes the old interest in the affairs of Asia. The mo-
tive, however, is largely the sense of danger from a power
which has already crippled Egypt in her Arabian posses-
sions. Intrigue against Assyria is actively set on foot in
Palestine. Judah is kept clear for a time through the
counsels of Isaiah. Samaria ventures the last fatal step
after the death of her conqueror. She is besieged by his


short-lived successor, and falls after a three years' block-
ade, sustained without the promised help of Egypt. With
the accession of Sargon II, the obliteration of the kingdom
of Israel is complete.

§ 385. We have thus reviewed in long perspective the
events and conditions that gave to the ancient history of
Western Asia its enduring significance. We bear in our
minds the image of a multitude of petty nations rising
and falling, struggling for existence or for short-lived
power, all of them overshadowed and absorbed by a
mighty civilization and a colossal empire whose imperial
aims are pursued with the persistency of fate. Far from
the original seat of this world-ruling community a place is
prepared for a people equally unique and potentially more
important. We have a glimpse of the outward condi-
tions by which, through stage after stage, this petty nation
was prepared to grow into a type of society higher than
any which rested on force or culture alone. We have
observed, also, that this consecration of Israel to the ser-
vice of the world only began when the motives of the
larger inclusive history of Babylonia had long since come
into play. We have followed the development of the
Babylonian idea, as transferred to the empire of the Tigris
with its more practical conceptions of conquest and gov-
ernment. We have traced the changeful fortunes of the
Palestinian states till they became meshed in the net of
the Assyrian spoilers, till one Hebrew community is made
actually their prey, and the other virtually their prisoner.
The fate of the Northern Kingdom is decided forever;
that of the Southern not obscurely indicated. Here we
are brought to a pause. The problem of Israel is not yet
solved. We need light for the full understanding of the
past; light also to make plain the future. We feel that,
after all, we have not yet got to the heart of the matter.
The events and conditions we have noted seem to be
but the limbs and outward flourishes of the subject. We
have seen to some extent the " how " of the process ; but


we cannot be satisfied till we also know a little of the
" why." We look back over the way we have traversed,
and we recognize many peaks and ridges, large and small,
that serve us well as reminders and guides. But these are
something more than mere historical landmarks. They
are the results and tokens of movements below the sur-
face, where hidden forces have been working throughout
the ages. It may be given to us to lay bare the founda-
tions of these everlasting hills of Providence ; to find the
basal granite ; perhaps also to follow the lines of local
disturbance, to trace out the causes and to measure the
force of such monumental upheavals. To set aside the
figures, it is proper, and indeed necessary, to search out
the workings of the inner life of Israel, of which the out-
ward movements and events and conditions have revealed
themselves to us as the symptoms. We must see, if possi-
ble, how the social and j)olitical structure of Israel arose ;
how the external organization came to be the expression
of characteristic underlying causes and principles ; how
the intellectual and religious habits and productions of
the people were the embodiment of sentiments proper to
them and to them alone; how their distinctively Hebraic
elements were differentiated from the antecedent Semitic
inheritance of usage and belief; how Israel alone among
the ancient peoples of the earth was admitted into the
holy place of essential and everlasting truth in the supreme
region of morals and religion. If the tale already told is
worth the telling, much more memorable is the unfolding
of the higher issues yet to be related.

§ 386. In making once more an exclusive claim for
Israel's history and religion, it may not be out of place to
restate, with some emphasis and particularity, the canon
of historical proportion which has been followed in the
present essay (§ 16). In the checkered history of the
North Semitic states the fortunes of Israel furnish the dom-
inant motive and the guiding thread. This is their func-
tion, not so much on account of their immediate importance


or intrinsic interest, as by reason of their implication in
movements of mind and spirit which have transcended all
national and ethnical limitations. It is not the fortunes •
of nations and races in themselves that engage our most
earnest attention ; it is rather the progress of a national
idea invested with perpetual and universal significance.
In like manner the surviving illustrative materials, chief
of which are " Prophecy and the Monuments," perform
their most signal service to " History," the one by indicat-
ing the inner moral import of passing events, the other by
showing us more clearly their causal relations. So also
the great landmarks of our historical survey have their
prominence lent them, not by their direct political impor-
tance as occasions or effects of external changes, but by
their significance in the chain of causes that gave ampler
range and freer scope to the true mission of Israel among
the nations.

§ 387.- Of the justness of these distinctions, our present
standpoint for review furnishes striking illustration. It
is not merely the consequences of the fall of Samaria to
the ruling peoples of the time which mark it out as a
monumental epoch. As we shall have occasion to see,
the empires of Assyria and Egypt were affected in some
measure by the extinction of Northern Israel. And yet,
important as were the immediate results of the conquest
of Samaria, it appears, when viewed in historical perspec-
tive, to be a comparatively slight incident in the mighty
struggle for the dominion of Western Asia. The relations
of Assyria and Egypt with the ill-fated monarchy were
primarily military and diplomatic, and, therefore, in the
main of an external character, affecting only for a time
the troubled currents of Asiatic affairs. A higher signifi-
cance is given to Samaria in its fall when viewed in con-
nection with its own tragic history and with the doubtful
fortunes of the surviving Hebrew state. Yet here again
we must go below the surface for the deeper meaning of
the memorable story. It was not merely or chiefly the


political consequences to Judah of the course of events in
the Northern Kingdom which made the ruin of the larger
state so fateful to the smaller, and so exemplary to all
communities of men in the coming ages. In the little
world of the sister kingdom the ill-learned lessons of Sama-
ria's fate were soon forgotten in the tasks and obligations
of its own hard servitude, and in the throes of its own
impending dissolution. Only the unforgetting sentinels
on the nation's watch-towers kept looking back with fond
regrets over the two centuries of separation, or cherished
alluring visions of a reunited Israel. And these same
events in Israel's history would soon have faded out from
the records and the memory of our race if they had not
been set in the light of a larger illuminating principle.
The informing divine idea in the career of Israel gives
lasting importance only to those political transactions which
illustrate its own vindication, its tardy recognition, and
the first steps of its sure progress towards unchallenged
supremacy. The intimate associations and subtle inter-
actions of Northern and Southern Israel, springing from
community of origin, of worship, and of traditions, would,
to be sure, in any case, have been worthy of the attention
of the later ages. But the story of other peoples also is
full of moving human interest; and the fates of colossal
empires and civilizations would have so overshadowed the
petty fortunes of Israel, that its records, if surviving at
all, would have attracted little regard except from archae-
ological or sociological research. It is the dominating-
moral issues of this people's fortunes that have transferred
its struggles and achievements to a higher region than that
of state-craft and war, have brought them into play upon
a wider arena, and have endowed them with a more endur-
ing potency. Vitalized by the world-moving seers of the
chosen race, they have, with an energy continually trans-
muted and yet perpetually accelerated, given impulse and
direction to the forces of history. And their unrelaxing
momentum is felt to-day more strongly- than ever in the


surging and beating of the restless tide of human thought
and endeavour.

§ 388. Such reflections remind us of the unique char-
acter of the task upon which we have ventured. They also
suggest to us in what spirit and temper and with what
mental attitude we should approach the subject. We
have before us a series of complex historical and social
phenomena, in which it is not always easy to find uni-
fying principles. Viewed broadly, however, we have to
do with two communities, the Northern and Southern
Kingdoms of Israel, which arose from a nominal union
of tribes and clans. We have paused in the narrative
of their outward fortunes at the point where an aggres-
sive and all-conquering empire has effaced one of them
from among the nations and made the other its vassal.
The fate of both is contained implicitly in the con-
ditions with which they began their career among the
peoples. As well as we can, therefore, we have to
learn how the people of Israel used their resources and
opportunities, and fulfilled their responsibilities, from the
beginning of their settlement in Canaan till they reached
this period, so fatal and so critical. Primarily, we have to
do with one people, and not with two. But the causes of
the separation run far back, and are in a sense funda-
mental ; and now we have come to a point where they
are parted forever. Looking behind from this epoch,
and again returning to it, we are inevitably more pre-
occupied with the Northern Kingdom, which has played
the greater part and now has vanished from the stage
of history. In dealing with its career, moral judgments
are specially appropriate. We are called upon to sum-
marize the causes that led to its decline and fall, to
trace the progress of the inner motives that determined
its destiny, and to estimate the character and value of the
political and moral legacy which it bequeathed to the sur-
viving nations. The task should not be fruitless, for the
" kino-dom of the Ten Tribes " furnishes within its brief


compass of time and space the most favourable of all
conditions for profitable historical study. It was in
many striking features, which are presented to us with
exceptional fulness, almost a complete epitome of an
Oriental kingxlom, and thus it offers a rare field for the
student of ancient politics. But it was typical and rep-
resentative of much wider and more important human
relations. Perhaps in the history of no other people of
antiquity are the fundamental lessons of social and politi-
cal morality so obvious, so luminously illustrated by con-
crete examples, or so sharply and urgently enforced by
contemporary teacliers. What is true of the Northern
is also true largely of the Southern Kingdom, since they
never ceased to be one people, and in the largest aspect
they present but one great problem. The practical dis-
tinction is that the role of Judah is at this point of time
still unfinished, indeed not more than well begun, that it
soon becomes relatively much more important, and that it
will have to come up again for final review.

§ 389. The reader will mark that we are not setting up
any special exalted standard of national and civic virtue
according to which this moral outcome of Israel's history
is to be valued. A judgment based upon such an ex-
ceptional and invidious criterion would be invalid and
inconclusive to the enlightened modern mind. The
achievements and failures of Israel are to be judged like
those of other communities. We must ask whether its
resources were utilized or squandered, whether its respon-
sibilities were accepted or evaded, whether its ideals were
cultivated and cherished or renounced and discarded. It
will also not be forgotten in the summing up that while
the historian may point out the causes of success or failure
in national life, it is not his duty to praise or to censure.
It is his part to recognize conditions of national growth and
decay as well as to observe their results, and to set forth
the determining causes of the one and the other in the
political and also in the ethical sphere. But the personal


enforcement of the lessons is left to the preacher and the
essayist. To them is remitted the task of applying tlie
conclusions of the history of the past to the problems and
obligations of the present, as also of determining the worth
of our modern civilization and morality as compared with
the achievements and failures of ancient Israel.^ And yet
we must not forget that the great issues of Israel's career
were primarily moral and only secondarily political, and
that therefore the judgments of the historian upon the out-
come of the history must be based upon moral standards.

§ 390. Mistakes and misconceptions are here very
easily made, but at least one very natural and very com-
mon error we must avoid. We cannot with any sort of
justice or propriety transfer mechanically the ethical
ideals and requirements of our Christianized and enlight-
ened age to the social and personal conditions of these
early peoples. It is perhaps even harder to surround our-
selves in imagination with the social and moral atmosphere
of the distant past than it is to appreciate its remoteness
from us in conditions intellectual or material. But it is
just as necessary in the one sphere as in the other. In all
things we must cultivate the historical spirit. We must
not only have the past brought before us, but we must
learn to see it clearly. It should be not merely an exlii-
bition, but a revelation. It is a great gift to us, the heirs
of all the ages, that Oriental antiquity has been disen-
tombed, resurrected, and brought into our very presence.
But it is a gift equally great to have eyes to discern the
inner movements that made its history, and hearts to feel
for the struggles and sufferings, and failures too, of those
who, in the time and within the sphere assigned them by
Providence, lived and wrought for us as well as for them-

1 How our Christian civilization actually compares in some essential
points of morality with the condition of things among the ancient Hebrews
is suggestively set forth in an article in The Thinker of September, 1894
(vol. vi. p. 220 f.), by Rev. W. P. Paterson, B.D., entitled, "The Politics
of the Prophets."


selves. It would be lamentable indeed if, after being
stirred up to something more than a languid interest in
the most instructive of all national histories, we should
exchange the indifferent glance of ignorance for the pat-
ronizing survey of pharisaic self-complacency, or that we
should view these prototypes of ours through the coloured
glasses of fashionable or traditional prejudice. Know-
ledge is the telescope that brings this region of antiquity
into view; but sympathy, intellectual and moral, is the
subtle ethereal medium through which we gain a true in-
sight into its essential character. And since we are bound
by indissoluble spiritual bonds to this very people of Israel,
it is certain that if we fail to do justice to them, we shall
thereby prove our incapacity to do justice to ourselves, in
our relations to the moral obligations of our own time
and our own social and religious environment, which press
upon us with the same inexorable urgency and the same
eternal sanctions.



§ 391. What, then, were the occasions and conditions
of Israel's rise, progress, and decline ? We may naturally
divide them into causes internal and causes external.
Thus far, since our attention has mainly been directed to
the actual events of the history, we have had to dwell
somewhat unduly upon the external motives and influ-
ences which were largely connected with the political
environment of Israel. Now it will be proper to dwell
more upon the inner life and intrinsic qualities of the
people. The whole subject of the political vicissitudes of
Israel, and of the moral and religious issues so intimately
associated therewith, will become clearer if we can succeed
in getting an adequate conception of the processes of the
social and corporate development of the people. We have
to begin this task by a reference to the general statements
that were made (§ 31 ff.) in connection with the discussion
of the founding of civic institutions among the Semitic
peoples. These observations we shall need to amplify and
supplement with some care and detail. The first essential
step is to define the several terms which are employed to
designate the various aggregations of the people, larger or
smaller. One remark it may be well to make at the out-
set. We will do well to remember that the English words
used to translate the Hebrew technical expressions are not
necessarily tlie exact equivalents of the same words used
to describe ancient divisions among the peoples of Europe,
Greek, Latin, Teutonic, Slavic, or Keltic, or contempora-



neous communities among the less civilized races of man-
kind. Each race has its own social instincts, and its own

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 39)