« PreviousContinue »
iting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children."'
It was thus that Jehovah set forth his nature to Israel, and commanded her to do likewise, as it were, observing in her human conduct what would be pleasing to him. But what would please him? "I am Jehovah, thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage"; here is the statement, and the commandments flow from it. "Thou shalt have no other god before me." Surely not, for Jehovah is the sole deliverer; let Israel not seek other gods in foolish ingratitude. Nor let her make any graven image. Such images the Egyptians made of their gods, who aided in the oppression of Israel. And what image could represent the might and mercy of Jehovah ;-an image, the work of man's hands! Nor shall Israel take the name of Jehovah her God in vain,—a thought which a devout people would keep far off. And the Sabbath day they should remember to sanctify it. Had they not had all days of labor in Egypt, with no rest, nor opportunity to worship their God as they would? Now shall they every seventh day both rest and worship him, for so is his service mercy, bringing good to his worshippers even in the act of worship, and keeping them strong together as a people. And then, further demands on them as God-fearing men, who would not live lives repugnant to the nature of Jehovah as revealed through his merciful acts: they should honor their fathers and their mothers; they should not kill, nor commit adultery; nor steal, nor bear false witness; and beyond these matters, since Jehovah was a God of righteous heart, and to follow him the heart must be kept pure, they should not steal nor kill even in spirit—neither their neighbor's house nor wife should they covet.
The character of Moses cannot have differed essentially from that given him in Exodus. Only a great man would have assumed the leadership in such a crisis; only 1 Ex. xxxiv, 6.
to a great man would the leadership have come. must have been that in early life Moses could not endure the oppression of his people; it might be Moses. that he would not restrain his hand from smiting the oppressor-then out into the desert, there, as of course, to tend flocks, there as of course to marry, there as of course, and by the highest necessity of his nature, to commune with God, and know his presence, gain his instructions, hear his commands, and, after doubts of self and misgivings, thence to return with Jehovah's mission to deliver Israel. Such a man, strong in himself unconsciously, but most consciously reliant on Jehovah, would not hesitate to announce deliverance to his people, would not fear to stand before Pharaoh. And how can a man lead unless he be stronger than his flock? It needs must have been that the people would stand fearful, in front of them the sea, behind them the Egyptian host:Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward! It was Moses' greatness that heard such words, and had need to hear them always. Then, his was grand enduring patience amid despondent murmurings. Moses could not without this have led the people on. It was a patience steadfast not in itself, but in its power of appeal to God.'
Yet Moses sometimes felt the burden of his people to be more than he could bear. He too can murmur against his mission given him of God, as he hears the people weeping and complaining, forever looking back to Egypt's fleshpots. Such human depression would come. And again, another failing, necessarily a man's who in Egypt could not endure to witness the sufferings of his people, who indeed under God would deliver them,—the failing of wrath. If his heart sank within him at their weak complainings, so might it surge in wrath at sight of their brutish blindness, wilful failure to see and know Jehovah, so almost inconceivable to him who lived in Jehovah's presence. But then there must have come to 'Cf. Exodus xvii, 4.
Numbers xi, 11-14.
him, especially after times when he had desponded or broken forth in wrath, a sense of his own unworthiness to fulfil a mission from the unfailing, almighty, and longsuffering Jehovah; and he must have felt humbled within himself. Surely unerring was the main tradition regarding Moses' character, that he was a meek man. And finally, he loved his people in the stern, old way, not of plenteous, pitying words, but of ready self-sacrifice and strivings even with God. Humbled at himself, how he must have felt the sinfulness of Israel; the people surely had fallen into crying sins wherein he had not sinned with them; Jehovah must be ready to destroy them for their iniquity, the golden calf; and he entreats Jehovah for them till his prayer is heard.' Then, drawing near and beholding the great sin, he gives way to wrath. And as needs was, he caused a slaying of the wicked, but then only to feel more keenly the approach of divine punishment and the need of intercession, so that again he beseeches Jehovah to forgive, with entreaties rising to the height of offering his life for an atonement: And Moses returned unto Jehovah and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin,—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
Israel was brought forth from Egypt under a leadership which should not only conduct the people through the desert, but lead them upwards towards righteousness through a fuller understanding of Divine and Jehovah. Moses set the face of Israel aright. Human. But his leadership was not thought to rest on his own ability and wisdom. His greatness lay in the intensity of his realization of Jehovah's nearness to his people. And in so far as Moses was enabled to impress himself on Israel, Israel could not but recognize Jehovah as her guide and ruler. So Israel became conscious that the highest leadership was direct communication of 1 Exodus xxxii, 7–14. 2 Ibid., 31, 32.
the will of Jehovah, and that the lower form of leadership, which still might lead aright if humbly and obediently, was leadership by men not themselves interpreters between Jehovah and his people, but endowed with wisdom and skill enabling them to follow Jehovah's word when spoken through a prophet. It may be that the people, Israel, never felt Jehovah so near to them as in the wilderness ;-the sky is very near the earth in the early morning. Afterwards, many of them were at times to be far from Jehovah; yet the highest consciousness of the race never fell from the thought that all true leadership and rule can be but a reflection of Jehovah's righteousness and a doing of his will.
The experience of the Exodus and the thought of the sole leadership of the one God, Jehovah, would bind the people into one. But the race would disintegrate when established in Canaan. Then there would be no longer a sole Jehovah-leadership under a Moses, but rather local leaderships, and local cares for settled homes. Israel had as yet no conception of a stable government; she knew only such government as sprang from the needs of occasional leadership, and, those needs ending, ceased. In Canaan, the people naturally fell back into their narrower tribal groups. Then came the Canaanitish influences on a severed people, with the lures of easier and more settled life. And doubtless, too, misfortunes came, clouding the vision of Jehovah's guidance, driving many to idolatry with the peoples of the land. Naturally, there followed temporary loss of race unity and strength, while, conversely, there was no influence more disintegrating than local idolatries taking the place of the worship of Jehovah. Rightly Deborah sang:
1 Judges v, 8. These lines are the germ of the oft-recurring moral of the Book of Judges, -the children of Israel did what was evil in the sight of
Still, for the most part, in those times of the Judges, when every man did what was right in his own eyes, what there was of temporary leadership against Israel's foes was thought of mainly as coming Samuel and a King. from Jehovah. Needs must the prophetess Deborah arise "a mother in Israel" to inspire Barak to lead the tribes against Sisera; and even then Barak would not move unless the prophetess went with him. Likewise not of himself, but commanded by Jehovah, Gideon marches against the Midianites. His glory lies in his faith, and the Midianites are overthrown by sound of trumpet before they are smitten by "the sword of Jehovah and of Gideon." As for Samson, he was a Nazarite, and his strength was not his own. All these men are instruments. The highest type comes at the last, the single-minded, blameless prophet, whose life is a communion with Jehovah, and a declaring of his will. As the child's voice answered, so answers the man's endeavor: Speak, for thy servant heareth."
Throughout much of Samuel's life, Jehovah's commands to judge the people aright and admonish them to serve their God were matters bringing no great hesitancy to the prophet. But there came an occasion of doubt; and he waited anxiously for Jehovah's voice and perhaps for Jehovah's reiteration, before complying with what seemed contrary to the early sanctioned course of Israel. The people demanded a king, whose authority should enforce itself throughout the land and hold the people united against the foe. Only a king could make Israel equal to the nations about her. It may be that Samuel doubted, held back reluctant; he may have felt that the people should serve Jehovah and be ruled by his direct commands, declared by his prophets; and again, he may have foreseen royal oppression and revolt against it, and
Jehovah, and he delivered them into the hand of this enemy or that. This moral is thought, by many, to have been pointed only by much later times; but Deborah's lines suggest it.