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my hands, then it shall be that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.'
Jephthah returned in triumph from the battle, and beheld his daughter-an only child-coming forth from his house to congratulate him on his victory. There was no means of escape from the tragic consequences of this rash and fatal vow. The doomed maiden at once exclaimed, “My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth, forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies.' How deplorable the superstitious barbarism of the Hebrews, under judges declared to be divinely inspired ! This daughter of Israel believed that human sacrifices were acceptable to the national God, and that her blood was the contract price of supernatural victory over the enemy. She therefore yielded to inevitable destiny, stipulated only for two months' respite, and was then offered up as a human sacrifice to Jehovah by an inspired judge whose faith is eulogised by the apostolic author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Apologetic theologians, scandalised by Hebrew fellowship with the abomination of Ashtoreth and Molech, suggest that a life of imprisoned celibacy was substituted for filiacidal sacrifice: but, if imaginative theories may thus efface the clear and obvious meaning of words, the authority of Scripture is finally lost in the universal right to modify its meaning in harmony with individual fancy. Hebrew writers, seeing the impossi
1 Heb. xi. 32.
bility of disputing the literal fulfilment of Jephthah’s vow, condemn the act as illegal and displeasing to Jehovah. If therefore the Hebrew judge thus erred, why did not an inspiring dream—a voice from heaven —the angel Gabriel, arrest the sacrilegious hand of Jephthah, and announce Jehovah's abhorrence of Molech's favourite rite? In the next chapter but one, the angel of the Lord appeared twice to the wife of Manoah to prescribe a prudent regimen in pregnancy ; and conversed so familarly with both husband and wife that Manoah invited him to a feast. If, therefore, celestial visitants attended to these trivialities in human affairs, how marvellous that not one of the Heavenly Host appeared to snatch the daughter of Jephthah from the flames, and vindicate the national God from the homicidal tastes of rival deities !
Who therefore can question the pernicious tendency of a ritualism of blood ? Tradition depicts the brazen statue of Molech, the national deity of the Ammonites, set up
within the last of a suite of seven chapels. The first was thrown open to worshippers of the god for an offering of fine flour; the second for a pair of turtle doves; the third for a lamb; the fourth for a ram ; the fifth for a calf; the sixth for an ox; and the seventh for the worshipper's own child. Thus was piety measured by barbarians bowing down before a brazen image ; first the fruits of the earth, then a graduated tribute of blood, culminating in human sacrifice as the highest form of human worship. If, therefore, the ancient Hebrews found no divergence in the sacrificial views of Jehovah and Molech until reaching the door of the seventh chapel, were they not liable to assume that the
blood of their children might also be acceptable to their own deity, or that there was no great impropriety in dividing their allegiance with gods who had established so much uniformity in their religion?
We can imagine the perplexity of Solomon when his numerous foreign wives, urgent for permission to worship their national deities, tearfully or scornfully inquired: What is the difference between your God and ours, seeing that all delight in the spilling of blood ?' If the lurid spectre of human sacrifice ever caused Solomon to repent of liberal concessions to his domestic circle, we wonder that so wise a man did not discourage the abominations of Molech and Ashtoreth by the final abolition of a ritualism of blood.
It was, however, reserved for the lofty genius of Isaiah, or rather the “Great Unknown' who spoke in his name, to detect and expose the barbarism of Mosaic ritualism ; and his eloquent denunciation of propitiatory butchery attains a sublimity which commands the admiration of posterity. "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. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts ? 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. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you : yea,
when ye make many prayers, I will not hear : your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes ; cease to do evil ; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.'1
Is this the language of a merely human reformer, whose revolutionary eloquence denounces the cherished ritualism of Mosaic theology, or a new revelation superseding Moses by Isaiah? They are obviously no longer prophets of the same religion. Let us determine which shall be our guide; but if we forsake Moses for the Great Unknown,' we have finally parted with ritualism, sacraments, and liturgies, as objects of withering scorn to Isaiah’s God, and we pass into a theological school whose creed is humanity, and whose religion is virtue.
But believers in an infallible Bible dare not discredit Moses, and yet must sustain Isaiah : they, therefore, tell us that the divine purpose in all this prophetic denunciation is merely to spiritualise the meaning of sacrifice, as if the spilling of blood could ever mean anything but butchery, or the useless destruction of life exercise any but a debasing influence on gods or
Christianity, however, discovers in sacrificial ritualism a series of types foreshadowing the tragedy of Calvary; and apologetic theologians suggest that the mysterious origin of sacrifice is concealed in primeval revelation, through which the Deity influenced mankind to adopt a religious ceremony foreshadowing the
i Isa. i. 11-17.