Charles Foster Kent.

The Making of a Nation The Beginnings of Israel's History online

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selection in the moral and religious world and taught it as a
divine principle. It is, therefore, one of the most suggestive and
interesting of the writings of the early Israelites.


VI.

THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST IN SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LIFE.

From our modern point of view, the ancient Hebrew writers had a far
deeper knowledge of moral and religious questions than of natural
science. They had a far keener sense of what was socially
beneficial than of what was scientifically true. However we may
estimate their knowledge of geology and biology, we must grant that
their beliefs regarding the good and ill effects of human action
have in them much that is universally true, even though we may not
follow them throughout in their theories of divine wrath and
immediate earthly punishment of the wicked.

But is it not true almost invariably, if we look at social
questions of every kind in a comprehensive way, that the survival
of the fittest means the survival of the morally best? That the
religion which endures is of the highest type? Business success in
the long run, is so strongly based upon mutual confidence and
trust, that, especially in these later days of credit organization,
the dishonest man or even the tricky man cannot prosper long. A
sales manager of a prominent institution said lately that the chief
difficulty that he had with his men was to make them always tell
the truth. For the sake of making an important sale they were
often inclined to misrepresent his goods. "But nothing," he added,
"will so surely kill all business as misrepresentation." Even a
gambling book-maker on the race tracks in New York, before such
work was forbidden by law, is said to have proudly claimed that
absolute justice and honesty toward his customers was essential to
his success and had therefore become the rule of his life.
Although it is sometimes said that the man who guides his life by
the maxim, "Honesty is the best policy," is in reality not honest
at heart, it must nevertheless be granted that in business the
survival of the fittest means the survival of the most honest
business man.

It may perhaps have been true in the days of Machiavelli that
cruelty and treachery would aid the unscrupulous petty despot of
Italy to secure and at times to maintain his dukedom; but certainly
in modern days, when in all civilized countries permanently
prosperous government is based ultimately upon the will of the
people, the successful ruler can no longer be treacherous and
cruel. Even among our so-called "spoils" politicians and corrupt
bosses, who hold their positions by playing upon the selfishness of
their followers and the ignorance and apathy of the public, there
must be rigid faithfulness to promises, and, at any rate, the
appearance of promoting the public welfare. Otherwise their term
of power is short.

If we look back through the history of modern times, we shall find
that the statesmen who rank high among the successful rulers of
their countries are men of unselfish patriotism, and almost
invariably men of personal uprightness and morality, and usually of
deep religious feeling. Think over the names of the great men of
the United States, and note their characters. Pick out the leading
statesmen of the last half century in England, Germany and Italy.
Do they not all stand for unselfish, patriotic purpose in their
actions, and in character for individual honor and integrity?

The same is true in our social intercourse. Brilliancy of
intellect, however important in many fields of activity, counts for
relatively little in home and social life, if not accompanied by
graciousness of manner, kindness of heart, uprightness of
character. It may sometimes seem that the brilliant rascal
succeeds, that the unscrupulous business man becomes rich, and that
the hypocrite prospers through his hypocrisy. If all society were
made up of men of these low moral types, would such cases perhaps
be more often found than now? In a society of hypocrites, would
the fittest for survival be the most skilful deceiver? Or, even
there, would the adage, "There must be honor among thieves," hold,
when it came to permanent organization? But, whatever your answer,
society fortunately is not made up of hypocrites or rascals of any
kind. With all the weakness of human nature found in every
society, the growing success of the rule of the people throughout
the world proves that fundamentally men and women are honest and
true. Generally common human nature is for the right. Almost
universally, if a mooted question touching morals can be put simply
and squarely before the people, they will see and choose the right.

Fortunate it is for the world that the lessons taught by the early
Hebrew writers regarding the survival of the moral and upright are
true, and that good sense and religion both agree that in the long
run, honor and virtue and righteousness not only pay the
individual, but are essential to the prosperity of a nation.

_Questions for Further Consideration_.

Had most primitive peoples a tradition regarding the flood? How do
you explain the striking points of similarity between the flood
stories of peoples far removed from each other?

Is there geological evidence that the earth, during human history,
has been completely inundated?

What do you mean by a calamity? Is it a mere accident, or an
essential factor in the realization of the divine purpose in human
history?

Are appalling calamities, like floods and earthquakes, the result
of the working out of natural laws? Are they unmitigated evils?
Were the floods in China and the plagues in India, which destroyed
millions of lives, seemingly essential to the welfare of the
surviving inhabitants of those overpopulated lands?

What were the effects of the Chicago fire and the San Francisco
earthquake upon these cities? How far was the development of the
modern commission form of city government one of the direct results
of the Galveston flood?

To what extent is the modern progress in sanitation due to natural
calamities? What calamities?

Is a great calamity often necessary to arouse the inhabitants of a
city or nation to the development of their resources and to the
realisation of their highest possibilities? What illustrations can
you cite?

How do changes in the environment of men affect the moral quality
of their acts? How do circumstances affect the kind of act that
will be successful? During the Chinese revolution of 1912 in
Peking and Nanking, looting leaders of mobs and plundering soldiers
when captured were promptly decapitated without trial. Was such an
act right? Was it necessary? What conditions would justify such
an act in the United States? Would the same act tend equally to
preserve the government in both countries?


_Subjects for Further Study_.

(1) Flood Stories among Primitive Peoples. Worcester, _Genesis_
361-373; Hastings, _Dict. of Bible_ Vol. II, 18-22; Extra Vol.
181-182; _Encyc. Brit_.

(2) The Scientific Basis of the Biblical Account of the Flood.
Ryle, _Early Narratives of Gen_. 112-113; Davis, _Gen. and Semitic
Traditions_ 130-131; Driver, _Genesis_ 82-83, 99; Sollas, _Age of
the Earth_, 316 ff.

(3) Compare the treatment accorded their rivals and competitors for
power in their various fields by the following persons: Solomon,
Caesar Borgia, the late Empress Dowager of China (Tz'u-hsi),
Bismarck, the great political leaders of today in Great Britain and
the United States and the modern combinations of capital known as
trusts.

I Kings 1; Machiavelli, _The Prince_; Douglas, _Europe and the Far
East_, Ch. 17.

Did these different methods under the special circumstances result
in the survival of the fittest? The fittest morally?




STUDY V

THE PIONEER'S INFLUENCE UPON A NATION'S IDEALS.

ABRAHAM, THE TRADITIONAL FATHER OF HIS RACE. - Gen. 12:1-8; 13:1-13;
16; 18, 19; 21:7; 22:1-19.

_Parallel Readings_.

_Hist. Bible_ I, 73-94.
_Prin of Pol_., 160-175.

Jehovah said to Abraham, Go forth from thy country, and from thy
kindred, and from thy father's house, to the land that I will show
thee, that I may make of thee a great nation; and I will surely
bless thee, and make thy name great, so that thou shalt be a
blessing, I will also bless them that bless thee, and him that
curseth thee will I curse, so that all the families of the earth
shall ask for themselves a blessing like thine own. So Abraham
went forth, as Jehovah had commanded him. - Gen. 12:1-4. (_Hist.
Bible_.)

By faith Abraham when he was called, obeyed to go out into a place
which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out not
knowing whither he went. By faith he became a sojourner in the
land of promise as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with
Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he
looked for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker
is God. - _Heb_. 11:8-10.

He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life
for my sake shall find it - _Matt_. 10:39.


I.

THE PROPHETIC STORIES ABOUT ABRAHAM.

Many Biblical scholars claim that the data point to variant
versions of the different stories about Abraham. Thus, for
example, there are two accounts of his deceptions regarding Sarah,
one in 12:9-13:1, and the other in 20:1-17. The oldest version of
the story they believe is found in 26:1-14 and is told not of
Abraham but of Isaac, whose character it fits far more
consistently. Similarly there are three accounts of the covenant
with Abimelech (Gen. 21:22-31, 21:25-34, and 26:15-33). The two
accounts of the expulsion of Hagar and the birth of Ishmael, in
Genesis 16:1-16 and 21:1-20 differ rather widely in details. In
one account Hagar is expelled and Ishmael is born after the birth
of Isaac, and in the other before that event. Do these variant
versions indicate that they were drawn from different groups of
narratives? The differences in detail are in general closely
parallel to those which the New Testament student finds in the
different accounts of the same events or teachings in the life of
Jesus. They suggest to many that the author of the book of Genesis
was eager to preserve each and every story regarding Abraham.
Instead, however, of preserving intact the different groups of
stories, as in the case of the Gospels, they have been combined
with great skill. Sometimes, as in the case of the expulsion of
Hagar, the two versions are introduced at different points in the
life of the patriarch. More commonly the two or more versions are
closely interwoven, giving a composite narrative that closely
resembles Tatian's Diatessaron which was one continuous narrative
of the life and teachings of Jesus, based on quotations from each
of the four Gospels. Fortunately, if this theory is right, the
group of stories most fully quoted and therefore best preserved is
the early Judean prophetic narratives. When these are separated
from the later parallels they give a marvelously complete and
consistent portrait of Abraham.


II.

THE MEANING OF THE EARLY PROPHETIC STORIES ABOUT ABRAHAM.

Read the prophetic stories regarding Abraham (_Hist. Bible_ I, 73,
74, 79-81, 84-87, 90-92). Are these stories to be regarded simply
as chapters from the biography of the early ancestor of the Hebrews
or, like the story of the Garden of Eden, do they have a deeper, a
more universal moral and religious significance? Back of the story
of Abraham's call and settlement in Canaan clearly lies the
historic fact that the ancestors of the Hebrews as nomads migrated
from the land of Aram to seek for themselves and their descendants
a permanent home in the land of Canaan. Abraham, whose name in
Hebrew means, "Exalted Father," or as it was later interpreted,
"Father of a Multitude," naturally represents this historic
movement, but the story of his call and settlement in Canaan has a
larger meaning and value. It simply and vividly illustrates the
eternal truths that (1) God guides those who will be guided. (2)
He reveals himself alone to those who seek a revelation. (3) His
revelations come along the path of duty and are confined to no
place or land. (4) For those who will be led by him God has in
store a noble destiny. (5) Blessed are the peacemakers for they
shall be called the children of God. (6) Blessed are the meek for
they shall inherit the earth. Thus this marvelous story presents
certain of the noblest fruits of Israel's spiritual experiences.
Incidentally it also deals with the relationship between the
Hebrews and their neighbors, the Moabites, across the Jordan and
the Dead Sea, for Lot in these earlier stories stands as the
traditional ancestor of the Moabites and Ammonites. It is evident
that, like the opening narratives of Genesis, this story aimed to
explain existing conditions, as well as to illustrate the deeper
truths of life.

Similarly the story of the expulsion of Hagar, it is thought, aims
primarily to explain the origin of Israel's foes, the nomadic
Ishmaelites, who lived south of Canaan. In the inscriptions of the
Assyrian king Sennacherib, Hargaranu is the name of an Aramean
tribe. A tribe bearing a similar name is also mentioned in the
south Arabian inscriptions. The Hagar of the story is a typical
daughter of the desert. When she became the mother of a child, the
highest honor that could come to a Semitic woman, she could not
resist the temptation to taunt Sarah. In keeping with early
Semitic customs Sarah had full authority to demand the expulsion of
Hagar, for in the eye of the law the slave wife was her property.
The tradition of the revelation to Hagar also represented the
popular explanation of the sanctity of the famous desert shrine
Beer-lahal-roi. Like most of the prophetic stories, this narrative
teaches deeper moral lessons. Chief among these is the broad truth
that the sphere of God's care and blessing was by no means limited
to Israel. To the outcast and needy he ever comes with his message
of counsel and promise. Was Abraham right or wrong in yielding to
Sarah's wish? Was Sarah right or wrong in her attitude toward
Hagar? Was Hagar's triumphal attitude toward Sarah natural? Was
it right?

In the story of the destruction of Sodom Lot appears as the central
figure. His choice of the fertile plain of the Jordan had brought
him into close contact with its inhabitants, the Canaanites.
Abandoning his nomadic life, he had become a citizen, of the
corrupt city of Sodom. When at last Jehovah had determined to
destroy the city because of its wickedness, Abraham persistently
interceded that it be spared. Its wickedness proved, however, too
great for pardon. Lot, who, true to his nomad training, hospitably
received the divine messengers, was finally persuaded to flee from
the city and thus escaped the overwhelming destruction that felt
upon it. What was the possible origin of this story? (_Hist.
Bible_ I, 87.) What are the important religious teachings of this
story? Were great calamities in the past usually the result of
wickedness? Are they to-day? Do people so interpret the
destruction of San Francisco and Messina? The great epidemic of
cholera in Hamburg in 1892 was clearly the result of a gross
neglect of sanitary precautions in regard to the water supply. At
that date the cholera germ had not been clearly identified and
there was some doubt regarding the means by which the disease was
spread. Was sanitary neglect then as much of a sin as it would be
now? May we properly say that the pestilence was a calamity
visited on that city as a punishment for its sin of neglect?

Why did the prophets preserve the story of the sacrifices of Isaac?
Compare the parallel teaching in Micah 6:6-8.

With what shall I come before Jehovah,
Bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
With calves a year old?
Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams,
With myriads of streams of oil?
Shall I give him my first-born for my guilt,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Which is the most important teaching of the story: the importance
of an unquestioning faith and obedience, or the needlessness of
human sacrifice? Does God ever command any person to do anything
that the person thinks wrong?


III.

THE PROPHETIC PORTRAIT OF ABRAHAM.

In the so-called later priestly stories regarding Abraham (see
especially Gen. 17) he is portrayed as a devoted servant of the
law, chiefly intent upon observing the simple ceremonial
institutions revealed to him in that primitive age. With him the
later priests associated the origin of the distinctive rite of
circumcision. In Genesis 14 Abraham is pictured as a valiant
warrior who espoused the cause of the weak and won a great victory
over the united armies of the Eastern kings. Like a knight of
olden times, he restored the captured spoil to the city that had
been robbed and gave a liberal portion, to the priest king
Melchizedek, who appears to have been regarded in later Jewish
tradition as the forerunner of the Jerusalem priesthood. In the
still later Jewish traditions, of which many have been preserved,
he is pictured sometimes as an invincible warrior, before whom even
the great city of Damascus fell, sometimes as an ardent foe of
idolatry, the incarnation of the spirit of later Judaism, or else
he is thought of as having been borne to heaven on a fiery chariot,
where he receives to his bosom the faithful of his race. Thus each
succeeding generation or group of writers made Abraham, as the
traditional father of their race, the embodiment of their highest
ideals.

The Abraham of the early prophetic narratives, however, is a
remarkably consistent character. He exemplifies that which is
noblest in Israel's early ideals. How is Abraham's faith
illustrated in the prophetic stories considered in the preceding
paragraph? His unselfishness and generosity? His courtly
hospitality? Was his politeness to strangers simply due to his
training and the traditions of the desert or was it the expression
of his natural impulses? Was Abraham's devoted interest in the
future of his descendants a noble quality? How are his devotion
and obedience to God illustrated? In the light of this study
describe the Abraham of the prophetic narratives. Is it a perfect
character that is thus portrayed? Is it the product of a primitive
state of society or of a high civilization?


IV.

THE TENDENCY TO IDEALIZE NATIONAL HEROES.

Is Shakespeare right in his statement that "The evil that men do
lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones"? Why
do men as a rule idealize the dead? Does the primitive tendency to
ancestor worship in part explain this? Is the tendency to idealize
the men of the past beneficial in its effect upon the race? What
would be the effect if all the iniquity of the past were
remembered? The tendency to idealize national heroes is by no
means confined to the Hebrews. Greek, Roman and English history
abounds in illustrations. Cite some of the more striking. Why are
they often thought of as descendants of the gods? Compare the
popular conception of the first president of the United States and
his character as portrayed in Ford's "The Real George Washington."
The portraits of national heroes, even though they are idealized,
exert a powerful and wholesome influence upon the nations who honor
their memory. The noblest ideals in each succeeding generation are
often thus concretely embodied in the character of some national
hero. Compare the great heroes of Greek mythology with the early
heroes of the Old Testament. Do these differences correspond to
the distinctive characteristics of the Greeks and the Hebrews? Are
these differences due to the peculiar genius of each race or in
part to the influence exerted by the ideals thus concretely
presented upon each succeeding generation? Is it probable that in
the character of Abraham the traditional father of the Hebrew race
was idealized? Is it possible that teachers of Israel, consciously
or unconsciously, fostered this tendency that they might in this
concrete and effective way impress their great teachings upon their
race? If so, does it decrease or enhance the value and authority
of these stories?


V.

THE REASONS FOB MIGRATION.

In the early history of most countries there comes a pressure of
population upon the productive powers of the land. As numbers
increase in the hunting stage game becomes scarce and more hunting
grounds are needed. Tribes migrate from season to season, as did
the American Indians, and eventually some members of the tribe are
likely to go forth to seek new homes. Later in the pastoral stage
of society, as the wealth of flocks and herds increases, more
pasturage is needed and similar results follow. Even after
agriculture is well established and commerce is well begun, as in
Ancient Greece, colonies have a like origin. In the England of the
nineteenth century Malthus and his followers taught the tendency of
population to outgrow the means of subsistence - a tendency overcome
only by restraints on the growth of population, or by new
inventions that enable new sources of supply to be secured or that
render the old ones more efficient. Emigration and pioneering are
thus a normal outgrowth of a progressive growing people in any
stage of civilization. What does the statement about Abraham's
wealth in cattle and silver and gold show regarding the country
from which he came and the probable cause of God's direction for
his removal?

Immigrants and pioneers are usually the self-reliant and
courageous, who dare to endure hardships and incur risks to secure
for their country and posterity the benefits of new lands and
broader opportunity. The trials of new and untried experiences and
often of dire peril strengthen the character already strong, so
that the pioneers in all lands and ages have been heroes whose
exploits recounted in song and story have stirred the hearts and
molded the faith of their descendants through many generations. In
the light of later history what was the profound religious
significance to his race and to the world, of the migration
represented by Abraham? The Biblical narrative does not state the
exact way in which Jehovah spoke to Abraham. Is it possible and
probable that God spoke to men in that early day as he speaks to
them now, through their experiences and inner consciousness? In
what sense was Abraham a pioneer?

Was it for Abraham's material interest to migrate to Canaan?


VI.

THE PERMANENT VALUE AND INFLUENCE OF THE ABRAHAM NARRATIVES.

Scholars will probably never absolutely agree regarding many
problems connected with Abraham. Some have gone so far as to
question whether he was an historical character or not. Is the
question of fundamental importance? Other writers declare it
probable that a tribal sheik by the name of Abraham led one of the
many nomad tribes that somewhere about the middle of the second
millenium B.C. moved westward into the territory of Palestine. It
is probable that popular tradition has preserved certain facts
regarding his life and character. It is equally clear that the
different groups of Israel's teachers have each interpreted his
character and work in keeping with their distinctive ideals. Each
individual narrative has an independent unity and the connection
between the different accounts is far from close. Some of them aim
to explain the derivation of popular names, as for example,
Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael, the sanctity of certain sacred places,
as for example, Beersheba, the origin of important institutions, as
for example, circumcision and the substitution of animal for human
sacrifice, and the explanation of striking physical phenomena, as
for example the desolate shores of the Dead Sea.

Some of these accounts, like the table of nations in Genesis 10,
preserve the memory of the relationship between Israel and its
neighbors. They preserve also the characteristic popular record of
the early migrations which brought these peoples to Palestine,
where they crystalized into the different nations that figure in
the drama of Israel's history. The permanent and universal value
of these stories lies, however, in the great moral principles which
they vividly and effectively illustrate. The prophetic portrait of
Abraham was an inspiring example to hold up before a race. The
characteristics of Abraham can be traced in the ideals and
character of the Israelites. They were unquestionably an important


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Online LibraryCharles Foster KentThe Making of a Nation The Beginnings of Israel's History → online text (page 4 of 11)