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The law of Sinai, and its appointed times online

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improved cultivation and drainage, are adjuncts which
modern discoveries have given to man to render him
more capable of supplying by increasing harvests the
increasing millions which cover the globe. Commerce,
too, so much more profitable than agi'iculture, manufac-
tures, so necessary to commerce, and therefore so exten-


sively carried on, subtract thousands both of acres and
of hands from farming, and thus render it the more
imperative that the few cultivators should be able to
raise enough to maintain not only themselves but those
engaged in commerce and manufactures. But in Ca-
naan, the case was altogether different. There, the peo-
ple were entirely agricultural ; each family lived on the
produce of its own land, and as within certain limits
this land was inalienable, there was less need of aug-
mentation of soil being commensurate with family
enlargement. There, too, civilisation was only in its
dawn, knowledge had not investigated the fields of
science, and the earth, being in no way renovated, was
impoverished by its own fertility. It was necessary,
therefore, to guard against this latter contingency, and
to prevent men from destroying their resources through
ignorance. This was effected in a wa}^ consonant with
free will and with morality. Every seventh day had
been set apart for devotion, to withdraw man from too
incessant association with worldly matters, and to give
his soul a resting-place from which to wing its flight to
heaven. Every seventh year was now set apart for the
renovation of the soil, and in order that avarice might
have no excuse for violating a command so apparently
antagonistic, and yet so really necessary to its enjoyment,
charity, the sublimest of virtues, was made the vehicle
for ensuring obedience. The Israelites were not to be
instructed in secular knowledge by the Divine code ;
spiritual and moral knowledge was the end of the Mo-
saic dispensation ; for, while the cultivation of the mind
may be effected by human agency only, thus leaving
to man all the merit of the achievement, the cultivation
of the soul, depending as it does on truths which could
never be known but through revelation, can be effected
only by Divine interposition. Hence, in ordaining
the cessation of the seventh year, it was not withi^


the scope of the Mosaic dispensation to assign scientific
reasons for its observance. Religious reasons were
enough, and what inducement more strong than the
doubly blessed virtue "which blesses him who gives
and him who receives ; " what proof more convincing of
sincerity of belief than the faith, which voluntarily sub-
mitted to the loss of a year's labour, and relied on Pro-
vidence to make the produce of the sixth year last
till the ninth. We shall be able to adduce additional
reasons in favour of this view when we discuss the in-
stitution of the Jewish festivals ; meanwhile it is suffi-
cient thus to show the completion of the chain by which
man is bound to Heaven. Sanctified by ordinations
that attached his soul to immortality (the Ten Com-
mandments) ; sanctified by judgments that rendered
his body not the independent agent of its own plea-
sures, but the chord that was to harmonise its require-
ments with the pleasures of others ; man became alike
the faithful interpreter to God of his desire for salvation,
and the exponent before man of his connection with the
great human family. Thus, true religion engendered
veneration without superstition, worship without bigotry,
fervour without intolerance ; and thus, by direct com-
mand, and by indirect implication, it taught that man's
reward from Heaven was to depend on his own personal
merits and on his estimation by his neighbours. It
taught the value of faith not as a merely abstract idea
but as a practical illustration of life ; a faith w^hich acts
and is judged by its acts, and not an abstruse mystery
which justifies means by the end ; a faith, which is so
simple in its morality and so pure in its reasoning,
that it never assumes to call wrono- risfht because done in
what may be an honest cause, but which knows good
only as good, and evil only as evil ; a faith, which while
it raises man's eyes towards Heaven, does still not so
withdraw them from earth as to prevent their beholding


with kindness and sympathy the struggles, the wants, the
troubles of his fellow creatures ; a faith, which, while it
purports to be eternal and of Divine origin, still arrogates
to itself no peculiar claims to exclusive salvation, but is
content that every human being shall worship God after
his own fashion ; a faith, which, while it cheers by its
comforting influence here, its blessed hopes for hereafter,
still allows others to enjoy in their own way the privi-
leges of tliis world, nor presumptuously denies them a
share in an eternal future.


The theory of religion having been established in its two-
fold relation to Grod and to man, it became necessary
that the practice should be defined. For, as we have
before said, so enslaved is man by the material, that it
is questionable whether any principles could obtain
among the multitude, except through the medium of ex-
ternal objects, cognizant to the senses. Hence, we must
not be surprised that, in this portion, we find the Divine
Legislator proceeding directly, from the precepts that were
to bind the Israelite to his Maker and his fellow-creature,
to the erection of the sanctuary wherein those precepts
were to find exponents. To leave the practice of
religion to individual caprice was scarcely consistent with
the wisdom which was so apparent in the Sinaitic revela-
tion. Besides, as it was intended that the prescriptions
of Moses were to be handed down from parent to child,
not only as a part of education, but as a religious duty, it
was but reasonable that the types by which the future was
to be instructed, should have the same uniformity that was
apparent in what they typified. Thus, we have the first
establishment of public worship.

Of all the institutions by which society is held together.


there is not one that exercises a more healthful influence
than public worshij). Although it is true that the heart
is the real temple of God, and the spontaneous effusions
of the contrite spirit His best offering, it is no less true
that men cannot penetrate into that temple — the world is
not benefitted by that offering. In the headlong rush
after the realities of life, so infinite a diversity of interest
arises, that there scarcely exist two individuals (not of one
family) who find many common bonds of union. For the
advancement of civilization it is better that this is so.
While the physical world presents so many phenomena
for science to investigate, while the social world demands
so many requirements which must be satisfied, while the
great world of circumstances jiroduces so many emergencies
which must be met, it is advantageous that the energies
of men should be devoted to the fulfilment of the nu-
merous duties thus imposed. But the gi'eat moral and
religious world is pei-manent and unchangeable. The
truths of Sinai are the truths of to-day. The obligations
of the liberated Isi^elites are as incumbent on us as on
them ; to permit the indiscriminate employment of human
industry on these eternal spiritualities, would be to en-
danger their existence by reducing them to the level of
temporal wants which change with every generation.
Besides, there is much in a type ; its very beauty often
depends on its significance. Surely, therefore, if it be
conceded that from revelation are derived the fundamental
principles of morality and religion, it will not be denied
that from the same source should we expect the best ex-
ponents of those principles. Hence, when w^e find that
the Divine Legislator has condescended to enter into the
details of the service which He will consider most accept-
able, we cannot refrain from giving to those details all the
importance of the object which they are designed to illus-

But, as we have before observed, although true devotion


does not consist in form or in external show, still man is
so constituted as to be most impressible through his
senses. In all ages, it has been found advisable that
religious worship should be expounded by certain recog-
nised ceremonies. These become valuable not only as the
means for expressing man's obligations to Heaven, but as
the symbols by which he was to set an example to his
fellow-men. They became respected in the process of
time for their universality and for the seal which growing
antiquity was setting on them. True, in this as in other
worldly affairs, some confusion arose as to the precise
limits of the earthly and the heavenly. In the lapse of
years, too, the darkness of one generation, the necessities
of another, the bigotry of a third, impressed certain minute
changes, in themselves scarcely observable, but in the
aggregate, of sufficient magnitude to become important.
These changes gradually intermingled with the original
forms, till, at last, it was all bvit impossible to determine
either when and where the junction had been effected, or
indeed, if it^ had been effected at all. But while these
complications only proved the impossibility of drawing a
line of demarcation between the real and the ideal, tliey
also proved that mankind acknowledged the necessity for
some recognised form of service, which we designate
public worship. And this acknowledgment was of the
same benefit in a spiritual sense that the diversity of
views in human affairs was in social progress. While
mundane things constantly present new aspects, the soul
is always tending to one goal ; while there are thousands
of paths which genius, intellect, or enterprise, may tread
for the general good, the road to heaven ever terminates
in one direction. While, therefore, change is compatible
with worldly progress and indeed essential to it, per-
manence and uniformity are the characteristics most
necessary to public worship as conducing to spiritual pro-
gress. The Almighty deigned to sanction this view when


He said : " And it shall come to pass in time to come
when thy son shall ask thee, What is this service to you ?
that you shall say to him, It is because of that which the
Eternal did to me when I went out of Egypt." Now as
this answer concerning the departure from Egypt could
only directly refer to the generation that actually crossed
the Red Sea, it follows that its indirect reference to the
successors of that generation not only presupposed the
Exodus to be as much a mercy to all future Israelites as
to those who immediately benefitted by it, but that it
ordained the permanence of the " service " by which the
mii-aculous deliverance was to be celebrated. The same
may be said of other ceremonial ordinances, and hence it
may be inferred that public worship is a desideratum, the
import of which depends mainly on the permanence of its

But, in order that public worship may be duly per-
formed, there are needed, a place in which to perform it,
and ministers by whom it should be performed. The
place should be appropriate to its object. It should be
distinguished from buildings devoted to secular purposes,
and it should be calculated to inspire respect by its pecu-
liar adaptation to its end. The Almighty, we have shown,
permitted many customs of surrounding nations to be
engrafted on Judaism, taking care only to sanctify them
by elevating them to his service. The Israelites had seen
the stupendous temples of Egypt ; they had beheld those
vast and magnificent edifices of which even the ruins are
almost of fabulous grandeur and extent. They had doubt-
less become impressed by the magnitude of these erec-
tions, for the human mind receives a strong bias from
any thing beyond ordinary range. The grandeur of these
places of idol worship, so attractive to the eye of the
unlearned mass, had also contributed to intensify the
respect in which they were held. In designing the
sanctuary for his service, God adopted these attributes of


places of worsMp within such limits as time and place

The Israelites were wandering in a wild and unculti-
vated desert, and their house accommodation was limited
to their narrow and easily moveable tents. They had no
means for any of that high architectural development
which was displayed in Egypt, and it was necessary,
therefore, that while their tabernacle should be both large
and grand, it should also, like their houses, be easily
moveable. In this light we shall at once understand the
description in this portion. The precious things which
had come to them from the anxious Egyptians were to
testify alike their willingness to give their valuables to
God, and their desire to have for his worship a place in
which his glory might, without impropriety, dwell. Gold,
silver, copper, fine linen, purple and scarlet, scarce woods
and choice furs, were the materials used, and, from the
description given, we cannot fail to j)erceive that if the
tabernacle of the congregation did not realise the gi-andeur
of an Egyptian temple, it certainly exceeded in splendour
all that the Israelites had ever seen of their o^vn.

There was one peculiarity also which deserves particular
notice, as showing how admirably Divine wisdom knew
how to deal with human weakness, and to raise it above
itself Man is ever impressed by the mysterious ; what
is beyond and above hioi inspires a kind of awe which
often takes the place and form of veneration. No one
recognised this failing better than the priests of old, and
no one ever made use of it more successfully. The pene-
tralia, the shrines, the oracles of the idolatrous world,
were only so many secret recesses of their temples, open to
a privileged and initiated few, but carefully screened and
jealously guarded from public inspection. These con-
cealed the nothingness of their secrets, and therefore
mysterious recesses were the great reserve on which priest-
craft fell back in difficulty or danger ; by them the


priestly authority was supported and strengthened, and
many instances are recorded of the good service so ren-
dered. God adopted this idea, but he hallowed and
rationalised it. The Holy of Holies took the place of the
idolatrous shrine ; its mystery was to be in the sanctity
it derived from the visible presence of the Divine glory,
and not from any unexplained and inexplicable imagina-
tive fortn. The fictitious and ambiguous jargon which
assumed the name of an oracle, and which destroyed
volition by the influence of superstition, was replaced by
the genuine and simple language in which God warned
and admonished free will by pointing out the inevitable
results of sin and evil. But it was necessary to pre-
vent the priesthood from making the design of heaven
subservient to its own policy; for such is opportunity
that it frequently converts the best intentions into the
worst executions. Hence, even priests were forbidden
to render themselves (as did idolatrous priests) an integral
portion of the mystery of the Divine sanctuary. They
could not, at will, retire within the otherwise impene-
trable precin(rts, either thus to clothe themselves with a
panoply of superior communion that awed the multi-
tude, or to delude their blind followers by behests
pretended to be derived from sources open only to them.
The Holy of Holies was sacred even from the priests ; as
the ineffable name of the Eternal was never to cross
mortal lips except on the one day of Kippur, so the inner-
most sanctuary of the Most Holy was never, except on the
same occasion, to be passed by human footstep. On that
day, without secrecy, without mystery, but for a purpose
known to all the nation, and the result of which became
visible through the change in the scarlet thread, the higli
priest was allowed to go into the dread presence that
hovered within the veil ; and although the people stood
awe-stricken, the priest himself was no less filled with
terror at the thought of the trial before him. In this


distant age, surrounded hj circumstances so widely differ-
ent, and accustomed to address the Eternal in the simple
language of our liturgy, we can scarcely realise the scene
of that holy and terrible day ; but we can well imagine
the feelings of both priest and people when we read that
his exit from the sanctuary without hurt was considered
a cause for so much congratulation that he was conveyed
home with every demonstration of happiness, and that the
people gave vent to the exuberance of their joy in songs of
praise and thanksgiving. Beautiful contrast ! the mean-
ingless mummery of ignorant idolcraft and the impressive
ceremonies of enlightened God-worship ; that degrading
its votaries through tlieir mental blindness, this elevating
its followers by communion with the All-wise. When in
the depths of the Red Sea the miraculous guiding pillar
of cloud passed between the host of Israel and the
armament of Egypt, it showed fire to the former and
darkness to the latter. Was this not a true type of the
condition of the two peoples, the one receiving light from
Heaven, the other " dragging heavily " through the
shadows of death ? And such was the difference between
the fabrics erected to man's images and the temple raised
to the Eternal ; those awed by a mystery which was
terrible because reason and intellect were left without
means for judging, while fancy conjured its own distorted
images ; this awed by the knowledge that man was
permitted to stand and live in the immediate presence of
that Omnipotent Being whose glory filleth the whole

The external and internal structure of the tabernacle
being described, the Divine legislator directs attention to
th-e service and the ministry. Wc shall have abundant


opportunity for speaking of the service when we investi-
gate the Levitical laws ; meanwliile it will suffice to make
a few observations on one peculiarity specially ordained in
the portion be>fore us : —

" Over against the altar, which is by the testimony,
Aaron and his sons shall arrange the light, that it may be

When we reflect that the commands of Heaven are,
even in their minutest detail, designed to appeal to our
reason for the promotion of our happiness, and that they
are not behests capriciously ordained without an object,
we must conclude that the perpetual light had some sig-
nificance beyond the mere ceremonial observance per-
formed in its maintenance. Let us endeavour to show
this significance to be twofold, real and typical.

The nations of those days, among which the lot of
Israel was cast, were steeped in the grossest idolatry.
Tiie mass were ignorant and degraded, and were the blind
slaves of a tyi^annic hierarchy. It was in the interest of
this ruling power to maintain its authority at any cost.
Hence, every means tliat cunning could devise for rivet ting
the fetters of an illiterate people was at different times
adopted. Nor was it difficult to multiply these means,
owing to the utter mental prostration which then uni-
versally prevailed ; for it is the peculiarity of ignorance,
when once under control, to yield itself willingly to the
yoke imposed on it, and rather to glory in its servitude
than to seek to throw it off. But the religion of Moses
was to open a new career to man. It was to spread the
knowledge of God, not among Jews only, but through
the whole world. It was to disseminate the principles of
the immortality of the soul, of man's responsibility, of his
creation in the Divine image, and, therefore, of his capa-
bility of approximating himself to the perfection of that
image. It was to appeal to the higher faculties of
humanity, and to rule them through their superiority over


the other attributes of life. It was not only to be distin-
guished from idolatry, by elevating man above himself
through the medium of the Eternal, instead of debasing
him by dependence on things of his own fashioning, but
it was also to be distinguished by awakening the soul to a
consciousness of its own powers, and by teaching it to
soar into the realms of everlasting light, instead of plung-
ing into the darkness of endless perdition. While, there-
fore, mystery was a characteristic of idolatry, openness
was to be a feature of God- worship. Mystery might be a
conveffiient tool in the hands of a knave to hide his
villainy, or to screen his chicanery from the eyes of his
dupes, but it was of no avail to the honest minister of
Heaven, who was to be the friend and adviser of his
flock, the exponent and expounder of the principles he
professed, and the mental educator as well as the spiritual
teacher of the people. Openness might be antagonistic to
the mummeries by which idolatry sought to mystify the
grovelling, but it was only an ally to the ceremonies by
wliich religion assumed to typify the duties of the soul.
Hence, while the Almighty in so far adopted the custom
of the temples of those times that he established a Holy of
Holies, or innermost tabernacle, he entirely changed the
character of it. The idolatrous shrine, the penetralia,
was secret, dark, and mysterious, only because light would
have exposed its nothingness ; the deepest recesses of the
tabernacle were to contain a perpetual light, that there
might be no mistake in the nature of their sanctity.
Adopting this view, we have a clue to the real significance
of an otherwise meaningless ceremony ; we shall now
show its typical significance, and, connected with it, the
vocation and functions of the priesthood.

Israel had seen much of other priests. Already, so
early as the days of Abraham, Melchizedek, " priest of
the most high God," occupied a position of influence. In
Egypt, the highest honour that Pharaoh could confer on


Joseph waa to permit him to marry into the priestly
caste. The greatest privilege that Joseph granted to
famishing Egypt was the exemption of the sacerdotal
office from royal tribute. There seems little doubt also
that the wise men and magicians of Egypt were priests.
Israel, therefore, had been accustomed to behold a priest-
hood, separated by social distinctions from the mass of
the people, and isolating themselves still more by the
mysterious privileges which they arrogated in virtue of
their office. These priests assumed authority, in all cases,
over the worldly circumstances of their flocks, and, in
many cases, over their eternal welfare. They communi-
cated their knowledge to none but members of their own
body, and thus, while experience and constant intercom-
munication tended to increase their own capabilities, the
world was not only not benefitted, but was even purposely
continued in a state of mental and intellectual darkness.
They commanded the best things of earth by pretending
to hold the keys of heaven, and thus even the fruits of
personal industry were not secure from their grasping
influence. With the priesthood of Moses all this was to
cease, except in so far that the Almighty sanctioned the
wisdom which assigned to priestly duties a definite
amount of preparation and study, and did not leave them
open to ad captandum adoption. Like the hierophants
of Egypt, the priests of Israel were to form a distinct
class j they might intermarry with the females of other
tribes, but the males of the family of Aaron could not
alienate themselves from the tasks im^^osed by their birth.
Thus, even from childhood, the future ministers of religion
were aware of their distinction, and were doubtless, there-
fore, trained with a view to its fulfilment. But, as we
have said, this distinction was not to be one of isolation,
of personal worldly advantage, or of mysterious assump-
tion. The priest was to be the educator of the people jn
that moral and religious knowledge that was to be found



in the written law, and which was to be the basis on
which man was to establish his temporal welfare and
his eternal salvation. He was to be the depository of
those traditionary precepts (the Oral Law), the correct
retention and practice of which, and their intact delivery to
his posterity, were so necessary to a uniform and proper
observance of the ceremonial statutes. He was to be the

Online LibraryMoses AngelThe law of Sinai, and its appointed times → online text (page 12 of 32)