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Egyptian court, not to proclaim Jehovah as the supreme Ruler of the universe claiming the worship of all mankind, but as the national God of Israel, admitting the existence, and competing for superiority over rival deities holding local jurisdiction in Egypt.
If the ambassadors of Jehovah could change a lifeless rod into a living serpent, the representatives of Egyptian gods could accomplish similar results, varying only in the inferior species of reptile produced. And if Moses and Aaron changed the water in all the rivers, streams, ponds, pools, buckets, and pitchers into blood, the Egyptians accomplished the still greater miracle of changing blood to water, and water to blood.?
Jehovah possessed the power of influencing the heart of Pharaoh, and could therefore have thus ac complished the immediate deliverance of the Israelites, but he postponed the Exodus that he might be personally glorified through the appalling suffering inflicted on the innocent inhabitants of Egypt, because their king did not do that which Jehovah Himself prevented.
Let us try to form some faint conception of this revolting tragedy, enacted among men and women formed of the same flesh and blood as modern Humanity, and living the life of social refinement depicted on the monuments. Water changed to blood, houses filled with frogs, air swarming with flies, cattle destroyed by murrain, vegetation devoured by locusts, land swept by mingled fire and hail, day and night confounded in impenetrable darkness ; men, women, and children covered by vermin, or festering with loathsome ulcers, and death finally destroying all the first-born in the
| Exod. vii. 10, 11.
2 Exod. vii. 19-22.
land! For what purpose these hideous plagues? Why these appalling sufferings of tender women, of innocent children, of defenceless age? To prove that the Deity, who can inflict the greatest calamities on mankind, exceeds in glory the gods who, although successful producers of frogs, fail in the creation of vermin!
Truly, if the author of Exodus had been possessed of the genius of Swift, and designed a malignant satire on the God of the Hebrews, he could have produced nothing more terribly true to his malicious purpose than the grotesque parody of divine intervention in human affairs, depicted in the revolting details of the Ten Plagues ruthlessly inflicted on the Egyptian nation.
Are not our sympathies, however, wasted on imaginary sufferings? Are not the miraculous plagues of Egypt as mythical as the Fall of man or the reign of the giants ? And if not the fantastic creations of a barbarous piety, would not the annals of antiquity record the total depopulation of Egypt by famine and pestilence, inevitably following the appalling sufferings of the doomed inhabitants ?
Can we trace a higher ideal of providential action in the career of famous prophets ?
Ahaziah, King of Israel, having met with a serious accident, sent messengers to inquire from Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether he should recover. The Angel of the Lord instructed Elijah to meet the messengers, and announce a fatal termination to the illness of the king, who therefore sent one of his captains with fifty men to arrest the unfriendly prophet. The captain and his troop were simply fulfilling the duty of obedi
1 2 Kings i.
ence to the command of their king, but were nevertheless consumed by fire evoked from heaven by the frightened Nâbi, who repeated the tragedy with a second troop, and would have even massacred a third captain with all his men, but that the Angel of the Lord assured him of personal safety. Thus, avenging thunderbolts were placed at the disposal of a rash and erring mortal, and supernatural injustice but tardily arrested by a voice from heaven. And yet this was the crowning act of Elijah's career, who was forthwith transported by a whirlwind to heaven.
Elisha, however, proved more cruel than his master ;1 for he had but just received the mantle of Elijah when he summoned, by imprecation, two providential bears, to vindicate prophetic claims on the vengeance of God, through the slaughter of Innocents guilty of making merry at his eccentric appearance-a tragedy which he witnessed with such callous indifference that he forthwith departed for Mount Carmel, leaving the mangled bodies of his victims in the highway. Well may we ask, is this a page from revelation, or the interpolated fiction of some malignant old scribe who hated children, and desired to establish among them a reign of terror as durable as the annals of Judaism ?
Thus far we have shown that the thoughts, words, and actions of the Hebrew Jehovah are not consistent with the attributes of Infinite Divinity;' but this conclusion will receive further confirmation in the ensuing chapters.
1 2 Kings ii.
II. Is the divine origin of Hebrew morality attested by superiority to all human systems of ethics?
Popular piety assumes that the Ten Commandments are the superhuman source of all the virtues ; and that the ancient Hebrews possessed in their precepts a divine revelation of the whole duty of man.
Their annalists, however, record individual and national conceptions of morality which never rose above the measure of their progress in civilisation ; and a comprehensive study of universal history tells us that modern ideals of morality are the product of the ages, reaching us rather through Aryan than Semitic channels.
The first three commandments, in which Jehovah admits their existence through his jealousy of other gods, are addressed, not to mankind, but to the chosen race of a tribal Deity. The fourth involves no principle of morality, and is simply an arbitrary decree of the Mosaic dispensation based on the fiction of six days' creation. We moderns all feel grateful to Moses if he, indeed, was the original inventor of a weekly holiday; but if this welcome rest now involved loss of all individual freedom of action for four-and-twenty hours under penalty of capital punishment, we would
assuredly prefer working seven days in the week to incurring the risk of being stoned to death by our friends and neighbours.
It is recorded that the children of Israel found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, and brought him to Moses, who consulted Jehovah, and received the inexorable command to have the poor wretch stoned to death. 1 Was there no plea of extenuating circumstances? Was the unhappy culprit young and foolish, erring without a thought of consequences ? Was he in the full vigour of manhood, boldly testing his right to individual opinion on the observance of the Sabbath ? Was he feeble and decrepit, wearily gathering fuel to warm the withered hands of age? Had he father or mother, brother or sister, wife or children? From the vast multitude, did no compassionate voice utter a plea for mercy? Vain and irrelevant questions! What matters it who or what the man is, he gathered sticks on the Sabbath day-away with him to summary execution !
But have these amateur executioners never tampered, in the privacy of their tents, with the fourth commandment? Are they all so innocent of Sabbath-breaking that each may hasten with savage piety to cast the first stone ? No time is given for inconvenient reflection ; the homicidal instinct is awakened ; the tragedy hastens to its conclusion; and on the blood-stained sands rests a ghastly form once human, now crushed out of the semblance of humanity. Was there no Seer in Israel who, lifting his eyes from this Mosaic tragedy, could see with prophetic vision the form of the Son of Man
1 Numb. xv. 32–36.