« ÎnapoiContinuați »
of the sacred annalist with the inspired utterance of the prophet.
According to 2 Chron. xxix., Jehovah was wroth with Judah and Jerusalem because they had not burnt incense, and offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel.' Hezekiah, who did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord,' rivalled Solomon in sacrificial ritualism, pouring forth the blood of bullocks, and of lambs, and of goats as burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the Lord.' These, according to the sacred annalist, were works of piety wrought during the lifetime of Isaiah in harmony with the will of Jehovah. But what says the prophet? Hear the word of the Lord, give ear unto the law of our God. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me ? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. Bring no more vain oblations ; incense is an abomination unto me ; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with ; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth : they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.'1
If sacred annalists and inspired prophets thus differ in defining Hebrew piety, who shall disclose to us the will of the Hebrew God ?
Hezekiah having been succeeded by two wicked kings, we again have a pious monarch in Josiah, zealous in the extirpation of idolatry and the restoration of
1 Isa. i. 10–14.
Judaism. During the execution of repairs in the temple, Hilkiah the priest said unto Shaphan the scribe: • I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord.' The king, terrified by the imprecations contained in this mysterious volume, consulted Huldah, an inspired prophetess, and learned with dismay that the most appalling curses ever uttered by human lips ’ were to be inevitably inflicted on the people for not obeying the words of a book the contents of which were unknown to them. What further interest could the doomed nation, therefore, feel in the worship of a Deity whose inspired prophetess had thus annulled his promises, and rendered the future ministration of prophets a mere mockery of men who had finally lost all the hopes of religion ?
The theory of divine intervention in Hebrew politics becomes even more confused when we read of Josiah, a monarch surpassing even David in piety, prematurely slain in battle in violation of the inspired prediction of Huldah, that he should be borne to his grave in peace.
The tragedy of Judah now hastens to a close, under the auspices of Jeremiah, the most fanatical of all the Hebrew prophets, who discloses, in his varying moods, all the symptoms of insanity. He tells us that the Lord put forth His hand, touched his mouth, and
him supreme control over the prosperity or destruction of kingdoms and nations.: Anon, he suffers inevitable reaction from this mental exaltation, curses the day of his birth, and anathematises all who differ from him in
1 2 Kings xxii. 8.
3 Jer. i. 9, 10.
opinion;1 and yet some eminent commentators see in this poor victim of cerebral disease the veritable type of Jesus of Nazareth !
Earlier prophets had encouraged national repentance, and sustained national hope, by depicting Jehovah as the divine partisan of their race, ever prepared to miraculously resist foreign invaders in fulfilment of his solemn covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but, marvellous to relate, Jeremiah suddenly announces : • Thus saith the Lord, I have made the earth, and given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now I have given all this land into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant. The nations and kingdoms which will not put their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them with his hand.”? Is not this the language of insanity ? Could foreign nations know or accept the decrees of the Hebrew God, of whom they could only have heard as the spiritual enemy of their race? Could the heirs of Abraham believe that Jehovah had doomed them to appalling calamity for reliance on the divine promises ? Jeremiah might proclaim Nebuchadnezzar as the chosen servant of God, but rival prophets uttered conflicting oracles, the inspiration of which could only be tested by waiting for their fulfilment or the premature death of the prophets : meanwhile, the responsible rulers of the country might passively await impending destruction.
Can we wonder if the men, whose common sense approved the Egyptian alliance as the only means of
escape from Babylon, denounced Jeremiah as a traitor whose advocacy of non-resistance to foreign aggression was demoralising the warriors of Judah? The prophet was, however, no suborned traitor, but an honest fanatic, who, mistaking the merely human forecast of Babylonian conquest for divine revelation, attributed impending events to the decree of Jehovah ; and thus finally disposed of the theory of a Chosen Race by depicting the national God as the author of national ruin.
The inhabitants of Judah were at length carried captive into Babylon, where under a stable government they developed those habits of enterprise and industry so conspicuous in their modern descendants, and attained a material prosperity which rendered them quite as unwilling to return to the Holy Land as their brethren of Israel, who had been already absorbed within the national life of Gentile civilisation. When, therefore, the prophets of the Captivity proclaimed a new exodus, the opulent Hebrews remained with their possessions, and witnessed the departure of their poorer brethren devoted to the hopeless task of, some day, restoring the empire of Solomon through supernatural assistance.
The entire body of Hebrew emigrants consisted of about forty-two thousand. At a remote period of their history, at least two millions of the children of Israel set out from Egypt with the same design of obtaining possession of the Promised Land ; and now, after the lapse of nearly a thousand years, the national roll-call of a people, who were to have counted as the sands of the sea-shore, could only assemble numbers equivalent to the population of a modern country town.
If the prophecy of Jeremiah respecting the return
from Babylon within seventy years be not a vaticinium ex eventu, then the prediction produced its own fulfilment. Daniel declares that he learned the predestined period of the Captivity from the writings of Jeremiah. In due time, therefore, the Jews who were desirous of restoring Jerusalem brought before Cyrus the alleged prophecies of Isaiah, in which the Hebrew Deity addresses that monarch by name nearly two hundred years before his birth : .I am the Lord, that saith of Cyrus he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.' And again : “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, I will go before thee, and give thee hidden treasures, that thou mayest know that I the Lord which call thee by thy name ain the God of Israel.' The obvious inconsistency of this predictive accuracy with the customary vagueness of Hebrew oracles, discloses the presence of pious fraud, interpolating Isaiah to win the co-operation of Cyrus in the patriotic design of rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem.
On this subject we hold the independent testimony of Josephus, already cited in Chapter VII. of this work, according to which the fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy meant the study of ancient bards and the deliberate accomplishment of their supposed predictions. How marvellous that the candid admissions of the Hebrew historian have not, long since, revealed to Christian theologians the vanity of prophetic pretensions to the miraculous !
i Dan. ix. 2.