C Piepenbring.

Theology of the Old Testament online

. (page 2 of 26)
Online LibraryC PiepenbringTheology of the Old Testament → online text (page 2 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

fact with certainty. We shall, therefore, at most, be
able to arrive at the spirit of Mosaism, at its funda-
mental principles, by induction, starting from early
prophetism and the religious and moral condition of
the times following those of Moses. These principles
we shall seek to unfold in the following paragraphs.

It will be understood, after what has just been said,
why we have not begun our discussion with the patri-
archs, as it has been the custom to do. Since it is next
to impossible to distinguish with certainty historical
data from later additions in the accounts respecting
Moses, there can be still less hope of being able to
make such a distinction in the narratives in Genesis
relating to a more remote epoch. The contents of Gen-
esis are certainly, to an even greater degree than those
of the other books of the Pentateuch, a reflex of later
times. We are able to learn from them what was the
religious and moral ideal of the Israelites at the time
when these various stories had their origin, but not
what was the religious and moral life of the patriarchs

Certain isolated passages of the Old Testament teach
us that the ancestors of Israel were devoted to the
idolatrous usages of the other Semitic peoples until
the time of Moses and Joshua.^ As all subsequent his-
tory shows us that the inclination to idolatry remained
dominant in Israel until the Exile, in spite of the ener-
getic and incessant efforts of the prophets to extirpate

1 Josh. xxiv. 2, 14, 23; Amos v. 25 f. ; Ezek. xvi. 20 ff., 26 ff.;
XX. 6 ff., 15 ff., 24 ff. ; xxiii. 3, 8 ; comp. Gen. xxxi. 19, 30 ff. ; xxxv.
2 ff. : Ex. xxxii.


it, we may conclude that these isolated references are
perfectly historical, and that the picture of the religion
of their ancestors that later generations painted and left
us is an ideal picture.


Moses was not only the first legislator, but also the
first genuine prophet of his people.^ There is no doubt
that he sought to impress his spirit upon the elect of
his nation and thus provide himself with successors in
his work. We read in the book of Numbers that, while
he was yet living, the spirit of God and the gift of
prophecy were bestowed upon a certain number of the
elders of Israel.^ It is therefore very probable that
Moses had immediate successors, and that, beginning
with this epoch, the succession of prophets was unin-
terrupted, though the early traditions of Israel, which
are rich enough in military and political details, have
preserved on this more spiritual subject only very vague
and incomplete references.^ Jeremiah expressly says
that, after the exodus from Egypt, Jehovah constantly
sent prophets to his people.* In the times of the Judges,
however, the prophets seem to have been few in num-
ber.^ Except Deborah, who is called a prophetess,^ there
is mention of a prophet only in Jud. vi. 7 ff. and 1 Sam.
ii. 27 ff. But these various data do not furnish us exact

1 Hos. xii. 13 ; Deut. xviii. 15, 18 ; xxxiv. 10.

2 Chap. xi. 24 ff.

3 Reuss, Les Prophetes^ I. pp. 5, 7 f . ; idem, Gesch. der h. Schriften
A. T., § 115; Schultz, Old Testament Theology, I. p. 239.

* Jer. vii. 25. ^ 1 Sam. iii. 1. ^ Jud. iv. 4.


and reliable indications touching the character and in-
fluence of early prophetism. It appears to us, with
somewhat distinct outlines, first in Samuel, who is
incontestably the most conspicuous personage, after
Moses, in the history of Israel.

Samuel enjoyed a high degree of consideration among
his people.^ The best proof of this is the fact that
"two rival dynasties appeal to him to establish their
right to the throne." He performed the functions of
a judge.^ But he was greatest of all in the religious
influence that he exerted. He contended vigorously
against idolatry and all unfaithfulness to Jehovah.^ His
chief work, from a religious point of view, was the
foundation of the schools of prophets, by which he
became the promoter of a movement of the greatest
importance for the future of the religion of Israel.

It is, no doubt, Samuel to whom must be attributed
this remarkable institution. Before him there is no men-
tion of it. There is, in fact, as we have seen, little
reference to prophets as a class. Samuel, on the other
hand, appears at the head of a guild of prophets,* schools
of whom are found chiefly in the districts and places
where he resides and pursues his calling. They are
mentioned in connection with Gibeah, near Ramah,
Bethel, Jericho, Gilgal ; ^ that is, places chiefly in the
mountains of Ephraim.^ Now it is this region, and
generally the places mentioned, in which we find Sam-
uel sojourning. He had his house at Ramah, where he

1 1 Sam. iii. 20 f. ; ix. 6 ; xii. 3-5 ; xxv. 1 ; xxviii. 3 ; Jer. xv. 1.

2 1 Sam. vii. 15. ^2 Sam. vii. 3-6 ; xv. 17 ff. * 1 Sam. xix. 20.

5 1 Sam. X. 5, 10 ; xix. 18-20 ; 2 Kings ii. 3, 5 ; iv. 38.

6 2 Kings V, 22,


usually lived, and where he was buried.^ From Ramah
he betook himself every year to Bethel, Gilgal, and
Mispah, to judge the people.^ At Gilgal he often
gathered great popular assemblies.* We see him also
at Gibeah.*

Maybaum always contends that Samuel did nothing
but reform the schools of the prophets, which existed
before his day ; that he combated the art of divination
which had thus far been chiefly cultivated therein;
that he stamped them with a character more elevated,
more ideal ; and that thus he gave to prophetism the
impulse resulting in the greater spirituality of later
times.^ This statement is not absolutely improbable ;
but it is not perfectly established, as it cannot be, since
the positive data are too meagre on this point.

The pupils of these schools bore the name of sons
of prophets,^ and their teachers probably that of fathers.'^
These sons of prophets, sometimes also called simply
prophets,^ were very numerous. They are mentioned
by hundreds.^ They were of course mostly young per-
sons,^*^ but there were married men among them.^^ Later
we find Elijah and Elisha at their head.^^ After these

1 1 Sam. vii. 17 ; viii. 4 ; xix. 18 ; xxv. 1 ; xxviii. 3.

2 1 Sam. vii. 15 f.

8 1 Sam. X. 8 ; xi. 14 f. ; xiii. 18 ff. ; xv. 33.
* 1 Sam. xiii. 15.

^ Eritwickelung des isral. Prophetenthums, pp. 38 ff.
6 1 Kings XX. 35 ; 2 Kings ii. 3, 5, 7, 15.

■^ 1 Sam. X. 12 ; 2 Kings ii. 12 ; comp. vi. 21 ; xiii. 14 ; Prov. i. 8 ;
iv. 1.

8 1 Sam. xix. 20 ; 1 Kings xx. 35 ; comp. vv. 38, 41.

9 1 Kings xviii. 4, 13 ; xxii. 6 ; 2 Kings ii. 7, 16 ; iv. 43 ; vi. 1.

10 2 Kings V. 22 ; ix. 1, 4. n 2 Kings iv. 1.

12 2 Kings ii. 15 ; iv. 1 ff., 38 ; vi. 1 ff.


two great prophets, history makes no further mention of

What was done in these schools of prophets, and
what was the object of them ? The sacred text teaches
us next to nothing on this subject. One can gather
from 1 Sam. x. 5, at most, only that the pupils of the
prophets practised vocal and instrumental music. It
may be taken for granted that in their meetings they
practised, also, reading, writing, and speaking ; that
they were instructed in religion, social ethics, and law ;
that among them were preserved and developed the
principles of Mosaism.^ The essential object of these
associations was evidently that pursued by Samuel,
Elijah, Elisha, and all the genuine prophets of Israel ;
namely, the maintenance of the worship of Jehovah
against the ceaseless attacks of idolatry. It was a
grand task to which they were devoted in these schools
of prophets. But they probably also practised the art
of divination, which, as we shall see, was inseparable
from ancient prophetism.

To get a somewhat adequate idea of this prophetism,
which was far from being of the dignity of that of later
times, one must not lose sight of what is reported
(1 Sam. xix. 20 ff.) of an assembly of disciples of
prophets, over which Samuel himself presided. We are
told that Saul sent thither, three times, persons to take
David, and that these messengers, seeing the assembly
prophesying, were themselves also seized by the spirit
of God, and, in their turn, made to prophesy ; that
Saul, also, upon betaking himself thither in person, fell

1 Reuss, Les Frophetes, I. p. 11; Geschichte, § 119; [Robertson,
JEarly Beligion of Israel, pp. 91 f£.].


under the same influence of the spirit of God, and
prophesied, stripping, like the others, his garments from
him, and remaining a day and a night stretched naked
on the ground. Hence we see that, anciently, those
who wished to prophesy put themselves into a state
of religious ecstasy or exaltation, which was induced
by the aid of music, songs and probably instrumental
accompaniments to dancing, and which might produce
the strangest effects, finally resulting in complete and
prolonged prostration.

Prophecy, thus understood, could not consist of dis-
courses like the prophetic preaching, since prophets,
gathered in great numbers, prophesied at the same time.
Reuss, therefore, here and elsewhere, renders the word
prophesy by sing \^chanter']. The correctness of this
rendering appears from 1 Sam. x. 5, where reference is
made to a band of prophets coming down from the high
place, preceded by the lute, the tambourine, the flute,
and the harp, and prophesying. Reuss, on this pas-
sage, makes the following remark : " The band, preceded
by instruments, sang hymns, sacred songs, probably
dancing and evincing by gestures a certain momentary
exaltation. There is the less reason for thinking of
discourses, since the prophets, who are numerous, all
speak and have no hearers." We see from 2 Kings iii.
15, that, still later, music was considered an indispensa-
ble means of producing prophetic inspiration.

The fact that all sorts of eccentricities were mingled

with ancient prophetism, is evidently the reason why

the prophets are sometimes treated as fools or madmen. ^

The curious symbolic acts that they employed to express

1 Hos. ix. 7 ; Jer. xxix. 26 ; 2 Kings ix. 11.


their idea the more picturesquely, also helped to gain
them this reputation.^

Beginning with Samuel and the appearance of the
schools of prophets, one meets prophets in Israel for
several centuries. The most influential of those who
belong to our period seem to have been Elijah and his
disciple Elisha. We do not, however, consider it
necessary to dwell on everything that is reported con-
cerning them. For it is clear that, when the historical
books that tell us of them were edited, their deeds and
teachings were to some extent colored by the influence
of later prophetism. We come to perceive this in the
period following, and by the help of the most reliable
documents; namely, the writings emanating from the
prophets themselves. For the present we shall confine
ourselves to noticing the features peculiar to ancient
prophetism of which we have not thus far spoken.

In ancient times it was customary to go to consult the
prophets as diviners. They were considered as, first of
all, seers,2 men who saw things that others were not able
to see. Thus Saul went to Samuel to learn from him
what had become of his father's stray asses ; ^ Jeroboam
sent his wife to the prophet Ahijah to ask what would
happen to his sick son ; * and Benhadad, king of Syria,
sent to consult Elisha as to whether he should recover
from his sickness.^ It appears also, from these three
and other cases,^ that the profession of a seer was a
remunerative one.

1 1 Kings xi. 29 ff. ; xx. 35 ; xxii. 11 ; 2 Kings xiii. 15 ff. ; Isa. viii.
1 ; XX. 2 f. ; Jer. xix. 1 ff., 10 ff. ; xxvii. 1 ff., 12 ff. ; xxviii. 10 ff. ; xliii.
8 ff . ; li. 59 ff. ; Ezek. xxiv. 15 ff. ; xxxvii. 15 ff.

2 1 Sam. ix. 9. 3 chap. ix. ^ 1 Kings xiv. 1 ff. ^2 Kings viii. 7 ff.

6 Num. xxii. 7 ; 1 Kings xiii. 7 ; 2 Kings v. 15 ; Mic. iii. 11.


In ancient times dreams and visions must have
played an important part in the activity of the prophets.
An old passage, indeed, attributes to Jehovah these
words: "When there is among you a prophet, in a
vision will I, Jehovah, reveal myself to him ; in a dream
will I speak to him." ^ Visions and dreams, as means
of revelation, occupy a large place even in the history
of the patriarchs.2 There are references to dreams of
this kind also in Jud. vii. 13 £f. and 1 Kings iii. 5 ff.
Finally, another old passage, 1 Sam. xxviii. 6, mentions
dreams as employed by Jehovah equally with urim and
prophets. Later, however, there seems to have been
great distrust of this means of revelation.^

It is evident that ancient prophetism was not clearly
distinguished from the art of divination as it was prac-
tised among almost all the peoples. This explains why
it was admitted in Israel that Jehovah spoke by the
mouths of foreign diviners, by that of Balaam, for exam-
ple ; ^ that the priests and diviners of the Philistines
were able to make truthful announcements ; ^ that God
was able to reveal himself in dreams and speak to Gen-
tiles as well as to the patriarchs.^ Moses and his mira-
cles are placed upon almost the same level as the magi-
cians of Egypt and their prodigies.'^

All this, moreover, finds confirmation in some other
usages of which this is the place to speak. Thus, the

1 Num. xii. 6 ; comp. Joel ii. 28 ; Job xxxiii. 15.

2 Gen. XV. 1 ff., 12 ff. ; xxviii. 12 ff. ; xxxi. 10, 24 ; xxxvii. 5 ff., 9 ff. ;
xlvi. 2 ff.

3 Jer. xxiii. 25 ff. ; xxvii. 9 ; xxix. 8 ; Zech. x. 2 ; Deut. xiii. 1 ff. ;
Eccl. V. 7.

4 Num. xxiii. 5 ff.; xxiv. 2 ff. 5 i g.jn. yi. 2 ff.

6 Gen. XX. 3 ff.; xl. 5 ff.; xli. 1 ff. 7 Ex. vii. 11 f. ; viii. 3, 14.


direction of Jehovah was asked in difficult circum-
stances, in embarrassing situations.^ This was ordinarily-
done at the sanctuary and through the mediation of the
priest.2 Yet, according to document A, the people con-
sulted God also by the aid of Moses,^ who, besides, as
we shall see, performed sacerdotal functions and, as we
have already seen, was a prophet. Samuel also was at
the same time priest and prophet. Generally speaking,
as long as the prophetism of Israel was more or less con-
founded with the art of divination, the priests and the
prophets did not form two distinct classes of men of
God : every priest was a prophet or diviner, and every
prophet was a diviner and a priest, as was the case
among most of the peoples.*

In consulting Jehovah, urim and thu7nmim were em-
ployed. "The word urim by virtue of its etymology
points to the enlightening effect, thuminim to the cor-
rectness and reliability, of the divine response." ^ This
oracle was employed from the earliest times, as is appar-
ent from an old passage, where it appears as a means of
revelation with dreams and prophets ; ^ and as indicated
by Deut. xxxiii. 8, it was early entrusted to the sacer-
dotal caste. According to document C, the high-priest
alone could be its guardian, the urim and thunmhn
forming part of his sacerdotal dress.*"

1 Gen. XXV. 22 ; Ex. xviii. 15 ; Josh. ix. 14 ; Jud. i. 1 ; xx. 23 ; 1
Sam. X. 22 ; xxiii. 2 ; xxviii. 6 ; 2 Sam. ii. 1 ; v. 19, 23 ff.; xxi. 1.

2 Jud. xviii. 5 f. ; xx. 18, 27 ; 1 Sam. xiv. 36 f. ; xxii. 9 1, 13.

3 Ex. xviii. 15 ; xxxiii. 7.

4 Wellliausen, History of Israel, p. 396 ; Maybaum, pp. 7 ff. ; [W.
Kobertsoii Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 285].

5 Oehler, Old Testament Theology, § 97. « 1 Sam xxviii. 6,
■^ Ex. xxviii. 30 ; Lev. viii. 8 ; Num. xxvii. 21.


The archseologists have been at great pains to ex^jlain
of what this oracle consisted, and how one proceeded
to learn by its aid the will of God. It is probable that
the response was given by means of the lot ; ^ for the
Israelites made use of it from the remotest antiquity in
the conviction that the result obtained from it con-
formed to the will of God and the truth.^

In consulting God, the epJiod, also, was employed.
This term ordinarily designates a sacerdotal garment.^
But it seems also to have denoted a carved image, or
rather the plating that covered this image, which was an
object of adoration, and probably a symbolical represen-
tation of Jehovah.4 This is the case, also, 1 Sam. xxiii.
9 ff., XXX. 7 f., where the ephod appears precisely like
an oracle.^ One may suppose that the lot also was used
when God was consulted by means of the ephod.

The Israelites sometimes asked God to reveal to them
his will by a certain sign. Eliezer did so, that he might
recognize the young woman who was to be the wife of
Isaac; 6 and Gideon, that he might be assured that
Jehovah was speaking to him, and had chosen him to
deliver Israel.^ Or God himself designated the sign by
which his servants might perceive what they were to

1 Riehm's Handworterbuch, pp. 916 f. ; [W. R. Smith, Old Test.,

pp. 42 1] .

2 Josh. vii. 14 n. ; xiv. 2 ; 1 Sam. x. 20 ff. ; xiv. 44 f. ; Num. xxvi.
55 f. ; Prov. xvi. 33 ; xviii. 18.

3 1 Sam. ii. 18 ; xxii. 18 ; 2 Sam. vi. 14.; Ex. xxviii. 6 ff.

4 Jud. viii. 27 ; xvii. 5 ; xviii. 14, 18, 20 ; 1 Sam. xxi. 9 ; xxiii. 6 ;
Hos, iii. 4.

sReuss on the passages cited, and Gesch., § 139; Vatke, Bibl.
TheoL, pp. 267 ff. ; [Montefiore, Hibbert Lectures, 1892, pp. 43,
67, 69].

6 Gen. xxiv. 14 ff. ' Jud. vi. 17 ff., 36 ff.


do. It was such a sign by means of which Gideon
knew who were the men that he was to select to con-
tend with the Midianites,^ and obtained the assurance
that Jehovah had delivered the hostile camp into his
hands ; ^ such a sign also notified David of the moment
when Jehovah would march before him to smite the

We might mention, further, among the usages of
this kind, necromancy, which is also found employed
by other peoples of antiquity.* We learn from 1 Sam.
xxviii. that, toward the end of the reign of Saul, when
Jehovah no longer answered the king by dreams, or by
urim^ or by the prophets, the king betook himself to a
woman of Endor, who summoned the dead, that she
might cause Samuel to rise before him; and this, accord-
ing to the narrative, actually took place. From the
same passage we learn that Saul had previously ban-
ished necromancers from the country, which proves
that anciently this means of divination was employed
in Israel. Finally, we see that the editor of our narra-
tive believed in the possibility of summoning the dead
and obtaining through them knowledge of the future.
In later times this means of divination again came into

1 Jad. vii. 4 ff. 2 j^d. vii. 9 ff. » 2 Sam. v. 23-25.

* Winer, art. ToUenheschwbrer ; [Smith, Dictionary of the Bible,
art. Divination\.

^ 2 Kings xxi 6. ; xxiii. 24 ; comp. Isa. viii. 19 ; xxix. 4 ; Deut.
xvHi. 11 ; Lev. xix. 31 ; xx. 6, 27.



This idea is fundamental in the Israeli tish as in every
other religion. In order to find a safe point of departure
for it, we shall begin by considering the religious
thoughts that are expressed in the song of Deborah.
It is generally admitted that this passage is the oldest
document of any importance in Hebrew literature that
has been preserved to us, and that it dates from the
very epoch to which it relates.

In this poem, Jehovah is called the God of Israel,^
and Israel the people of Jehovah.^ The victory of
Israel is due to Jehovah, who, for this reason, is exalted
by our song.^ The cause of Israel is the cause of Jeho-
vah, the enemies of the one are the enemies of the other,
the succor lent to Israel is lent to Jehovah.* Jehovah
is regarded as dwelling on Sinai, whence he comes
across the Southland to succor his people, making the
earth and the heavens tremble.^

The thought that Jehovah is the God of Israel, is
here expressed with a conviction so firm, that it cannot
be of recent date, but must certainly go back as far as
Moses, if not farther. The first words of the decalogue :
" I am Jehovah thy God, who caused thee to go forth
from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage ;
thou shalt not have other gods before my face " — these
words, which contain the fundamental law of Israel,
may, then, well be Mosaic. The same may be said of
the theocratic idea, which constitutes the essence of the
religion of Israel, the idea that Jehovah is the veritable

1 Jud. V. 3, 5. 2 ^, 11. . 3 ^^. 2 f., 9, 11, 13.

4 vv, 23, 31. 5 vv. 4 f.


king of his people, and that he directs all that concerns
them ; for it is implied in this declaration of the deca-
logue, and it is an evident inference from the song of
Deborah. When Gideon declines the crown, saying to
his fellow-citizens, '' Jehovah shall be your king " ^ he
tliereby announces a Mosaic principle. Samuel also
conforms to this principle when he opposes the estab-
lishment of the monarchy in Israel.^ The words put
into the mouth of Jehovah and addressed to Samuel :
" It is not thou whom they reject ; it is I whom they
reject, that I may no longer reign over them," admirably
describe this ancient point of view.

Though this idea, that Jehovah alone is the God of
Israel, and that the Israelites should not worship other
gods, can be traced to Moses, we cannot place the date
of absolute monotheism so early. It certainly did not
appear in Israel until much later. We see, indeed, that
not only the people, but the kings, even Solomon him-
self, who had had a temple built for Jehovah, were de-
voted to the worship of strange gods, or favored it.
This proves that they attributed a real existence to these
gods. We know, moreover, that, in antiquity, a people
that had frequent intercourse with other peoples readily
adopted, besides its national god or gods, the god or
gods of a friendly nation, or a nation that had conquered
them, or that they themselves had reduced to submis-
sion. The Israelites, in following this custom, did not
mean to desert Jehovah, nor did they wish to be un-
faithful to him ; they merely associated with him other
gods, practised what has properly been called syncretism.
Though the sacred authors of a later epoch, taking the
1 J»d. viii. 23. 2 1 gam. viii.


point of view of pure or absolute monotheism, very
severely reprobated this way of thinking and acting, the
early Israelites doubtless judged otherwise concerning
it, because they did not see in foreign gods purely imag-
inary beings, least of all abominations, as they were
afterwards called, but real gods as able as Jehovah to
protect and bless their worshippers.

We see that the most faithful Israelites shared these
ideas. Thus Jacob seems astonished at the presence of
Jehovah on a foreign soil.^ He promises to take him
for his God if he will grant him protection.^ This
implies the possibility of a different choice and the exist-
ence of other gods. When, at a later date, this style
of thought was attributed to the patriarchs, the most
enlightened in Israel had evidently not passed this
point of view.^ This is proven by several other notable
examples. Thus Jephthah recognizes the actual exist-
ence of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites.* Joash,
the father of Gideon, says : " If Baal is a god, let him
plead his own cause, since his altar has been over-
thrown."^ If, by this speech, Joash does not seem
exactly to recognize in Baal a god, he at least admits
the possibility that there may be other gods than Jeho-
vah. David himself seems to believe, with his contem-
poraries, that it is not Jehovah, but other gods, who
rule, and can be worshipped outside the land of Canaan.^
He conveys the thought that the God of Israel is a

1 Gen. xxviii. 16. 2 Qen. xxviii. 20 ff.

3 Baudissin, Studien zur semitischen Beligionsgesch., I. pp. 61, 157 f.;
[W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, pp. 53 ff. ; Montefiore, Lectures,
pp. .34 ff.].

* Jud. xi. 24 ; comp. Num. xxi. 29.

5 Jud. vi. 31. 6 1 Sam. xxvi. 19 t


national God.^ Naaman thinks that he must carry to
Syria some of the soil of the land of Canaan, in order
to be able to rear an altar in honor of Jehovah ; ^ '•'• he
feels himself in the domain of Jehovah only on the soil
of the land of Israel," ^ and Elisha seems to agree with
him, since he makes no objection. Naomi and Ruth
think that, in the land of Moab, one must, of necessity,

Online LibraryC PiepenbringTheology of the Old Testament → online text (page 2 of 26)