Friday, December 03, 2010

Edith Hamilton, Spokesmen for God

Edith Hamilton, Spokesmen for God; The Great Teachers of the Old Testament, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, 1936, 1949 (This book includes material originally published in 1936 under the title The Prophets of Israel)

The Old Testament is not an easy book to read; often it is exceedingly difficult. Many men of many minds wrote it and not only wrote it but rewrote it. [15] … One result of this freedom to make additions was that conflicting statements crept in, to the reader’s distress. It is baffling and irritating as well to come upon a verse which is a flat contradiction to what another verse has just said. (15-16)

The problem the book propounds is the same as in Ecclesiastes: How can justice be ascribed to God? The spirit, however, in which it is put forward is the very reverse of the good-humored [20] make-the-best-of-it attitude which stamps that genial essay in cynicism. Job finds nothing good anywhere. In God is only irresponsible power. There is wonderful writing in the book; much of it is poetry of a high order. (20-21)

This powerful and despairing presentation of [21] the basic problem of human life was not only given a conventional moral preface, but two different endings were added to it, (21-22)

God…gave Job fourteen thousand sheep and six thousand camel and a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand she-asses, two thousand more in all than those he had lost. And for his dead children, seven sons and three daughters, God gave him an exact numerical equivalent; he had seven more sons and three more daughters. … It is clear that the poet of the great nature poem was never responsible for this part of the story. A very naïve and prosaic soul produced that proof of God’s justice. (22)

And after the even worse indictment of God, when Job says sternly, “Let him slay me. I have no hope, but mine integrity I will maintain in his very face,” someone tried to nullify the words by adding, “He also shall be my salvation” for an hypocrite shall not come before him.” The most familiar passage in the book, the one oftenest quoted, is the work of a pious emender and a very good writer. Originally the text read: “Why do ye [23] persecute me as a stag, and are not satisfied with my flesh? Ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me.” These two sentences, clearly consecutive, are now separated by five verses in which are the well-known and beautiful words beginning, “I know that my redeemer liveth.” That emendation saved the book more than all the rest put together. It proved that Job in spite of his better resentment was really a good and God-fearing man. (24)

It is curious that these champions of orthodoxy never, apparently, altered or omitted statements objectionable to them. They seem to have felt free only to add corrections. (25)

It is truly remarkable that although the Old Testament writers were preoccupied with God, although everything turned upon Him, they did not care to give any consistent account of Him. … Except for their monotheism, an orthodoxy was required only in the realm of conduct. (25)

Even so, the Prophets remain very hard reading. Partly the reason is that one grows weary of exhortations and denunciations, a method of writing which they prefer to any other and which of all methods is perhaps the least appealing to us today. … Not one of them makes any attempt to lead his hearer up to a height of indignation. They start us on the height and expect us to stay there. (26)

It is a long time before the most ordinary morality is ascribed to Him. In the second book of Samuel God bids David to number the people, but when the census is taken, even though He commanded it, He is angry and sends a pestilence [36] which destroys seventy thousand people. The injustice of this procedure is apparent to David, and he asks God why they who had nothing to do with the census should suffer. “What have they done?” And he prays as a man of honor, “Let thine hand be against me, and against my father’s house.” This story was too much for a later writer. In Chronicles, written hundreds of years after Samuel, it is retold, but Satan, not God, moves David to take the census. (36-7)

Any reader can see without benefit of scholarship that more than one man had a share in Genesis. Besides the two Gods, so obviously the product of different minds, there are two quite distinct accounts of the way the world was created. The first chapter and the first three verses of the second chapter are a hymn of the creation which reaches sublimity, a paean of praise to the Creator, Who in the beginning created the heaven and the earth; Whose Spirit moved upon the face of the waters when the earth was without form the void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; Who said, Let there be light: and there was light. The other account takes up the rest of the second chapter. It is immeasurably below the first. There is no poetry in it; it is pedestrian throughout. In the first chapter “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created them.” In the second, “The [41] Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. … And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: And he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman.” Man made in the image of God, a great conception greatly phrased, gives way to a tale told in all accurate and impossible detail as if to children. (41-2)

But most of them all Moses stands out as a completely consistent person down to the last particulars. He is a man of marked individuality, notably unlike any other Biblical character. It is clear too that he was great enough to stamp his personality upon his own age so powerfully that later and inferior additions would not be tolerated. /
He led his people into the wilderness out of the civilized world to which they belonged, with a determination that never wavered, and yet in the record he has no self-confidence, no desire whatsoever to be a leader, indeed, a great reluctance [44] to put himself forward. His distinguishing characteristics were humility—meekness, the chronicler calls it—and its close companion, disinterestedness, qualities so foreign to the conception of leadership from his day down to ours, it is incredible that they could have got into his biography for any reason except that they were pre-eminently his. (45)

He seeks God’s favor for them, never for himself. “Pardon our iniquity and our sin,” he prays after the idol worship. /
Two little incidents recorded of him are striking illustrations of his selflessness, his pure disinterestedness. (46)

Into his mouth was put the endless series of minute rules and regulations which fill many long chapters in the Pentateuch, never ascribed to Moses himself, but to God, Who dictated them to him. Apart from these all that he said bears his won stamp. (47)

In the eighth century before Christ, all over the civilized world form had taken the place of substance in men’s creeds. The splendors of worship grew more splendid, the multitudes of priests and devotees perpetually greater; … And then something happened, one of the most important events that ever happened, … In a little country of no consequence whatever to the ruling powers, to the two-thousand [69] year-old mother of civilization, Egypt, to the fearful, irresistible war-machine, Nineveh, to the caravans and fleets of Babylon the great, a man arose, one man, all alone, to set himself against the force of the whole world’s conviction; and after him another and then another, each always by himself against the nations, in all a mere handful of men, (70)

There is nothing resembling the Old Testament prophets in all the literature of the world. They were prophets, but in a sense peculiar to themselves; their words still embody men’s ideals. They say, What ought to be shall be, and the assertion seems not an expression of an unreal optimism, a dream of happy impossibilities, but a prophecy, a demand which commands our allegiance, an obligation we must struggle to fulfill. But they were not prophets as the term is usually understood. They were no dreamers preoccupied with futurity and aware that as long as they stayed there they could not be refuted. Above all, they were not men claiming magical powers. They shook off magic when the whole world was dark with it. Amos, the first of the prophetic [70] writers, lived a hundred and fifty years before Thales, the father of Greek science. The Greeks then were in a magical world where anything could be the cause of anything else. … There are no marvelous happenings in any of their books, with a single exception now held to be a late addition, the turning back of the shadow of the sundial for Hezekiah. Jonah’s whale and Daniel in the lions’ den are old tales revived by writers who lived centuries after Amos and the others, and who have nothing in common with them, even though they are usually reckoned among them. (71)

Intellectually they were far above their neighbors of their conquerors, above all the rest of the world, indeed, for hundreds and hundreds of years. As early as the eighth century Isaiah spoke with scorn of “them that have familiar spirits, and wizards that peep and that mutter” (71)

From Amos, the first, to Malachi, the last, there was a succession of great religious teachers who never declared that they could perform a miracle, and around whose names no miraculous stories, with that single regrettable exception, were allowed by their followers to grow up. (72)

What was new in this conception was not the idea of righteousness. That had long been in the world. In the ancient Egyptian and Chaldean records are found here and there expressions of truly disinterested action, of honor and personal integrity and kindness and even high responsibility for others in the obligation to help the unfortunate, but nowhere can a trace be found of the idea that these were more important than or in any sense distinct from what the temple services and the priests demanded. One of the best, morally, of the Babylonian record runs: /

Thou shalt not slander. Speak what is pure.
Thou shalt not speak evil. Speak with kindness.
If in anger, do not speak out.
Approach thy god daily with sacrifice and pure incense.
Fear of the gods begets favour.
Offering increases life. /

And in Egypt the soul pleads before Osiris: “I have not oppressed the poor. I have not made any to weep. I have not diminished the supplies of temples. I have not defrauded the Nine Gods of the choice parts of victims. I have given bread to the hungry, sacrifice to the gods.” (78)

Some real idea of moral obligation had begun to elevate worship. Men had risen to a point in their thinking when righteousness, too, was demanded along with the ritualistic demands, but they had not even approached to where they could see which was important and which was not. Everything a man was called upon by his religion to to lay on the same level, all jumbled together in one undifferentiated mass. Amos was the first to make the distinction, (79)

Amos was closely followed by three men who equally with him tested worship by the conduct of the worshipers and whose standard of what was and was not important agreed with his: Hosea, Micah, Isaiah. In their writings appear clearly the two highways henceforth to be trodden in the name of religion: worship desirable for its own sake, an end in itself, and worship as a means, good only when it results in practical good, its aim to do away with evil. (80)

This new vision of what God required brought with it a new vision of what God Himself was, in Whose presence was no place for trivialities. From spectacle and show He was completely aloof, from colorful trappings and sonorous formulas and elaborated intricacies of movement and all the rest that made up the drama of worship, so dear to [82] human performers and spectators. He wanted one thing only, men of good will. To worship God was to do what God commanded, and His commandment was to bring about justice and mercy, just precisely this and nothing else. His worship had no connection whatever with anything done in a temple. (83)

The superiority of the celibate and the solitary was never even conceived of by the men of the Old Testament. Life was a matter of human relations. (93)

Is the earth really flat? they asked. Is the sun in very truth Apollo in his car? And what are all these notions we talk about so easily—justice, temperance, friendship? Learning and being able to explain was a passion with them. This state of mind was unknown to the Hebrews. They never looked for explanations or tried to find a cause for anything. Why shouldn’t they? The one and only cause was the Almighty God, Creator of all that is. They scorned the idea that mere man could father the universe. (94)

The Greeks, that other nation of antiquity in which we are spiritually and intellectually rooted, had also a strong sense of the sublime, but they were able to express it in human terms. The Hebrews turned away with horror from any attempt to do this. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above”—all transcendent excellency, all that we call divine, was so immeasurably above the human that to conceive of it under any human semblance would be to falsify it completely. (95)

The Greeks did not want an escape. The world was beautiful and interesting to them and they rejoiced to live in it. (96)

Hebrews…could not see man’s grandeur, but only his misery. They felt a deep compassion for human wretchedness, far beyond what the Greek felt, with the single exception of Euripides, but they could not feel exalted by the tragedy of a great soul suffering; they could not feel fired by a hero’s death. they were prevented [96] by their nature from every finding heroes of great soul. (96-7)

Hebrews…Their intellectual interest was human beings, looked at as a man looks at his neighbors, individuals more or less faulty, each one like, but also unlike, all the rest. This strong bent to individualize did not belong to the Greeks. They were not concerned to note the peculiarities and minute distinctions that mark off one person from another. Their turn of mind was largely scientific and philosophical and a particular man considered as different from everybody else is not a subject for either way of thinking. (97)

Moses, the greatest man of the race, is never presented in a heroic light, from the moment he is first told to “bid Pharoh to let my people go,” and, terrified at the perilous mission, begs off until “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses,” to the end, when he must die as a punishment for sin without entering the promised land. /
David, embarking upon a course of mad adventured, killing Goliath, stealing by night into the tent where his arch enemy lay surrounded by soldiers, and carrying off “his spear and the cruse of water at his bolster” to prove that he had had him at his mercy, risking his life perpetually in hair-breadth ‘scapes, a shepherd boy who ended as a king, would have become in any other nation in the world a shining figure of romance, only his deeds of glory remembered. But in the Old Testament he is chiefly human, very imperfectly heroic. [98] This most contemptible act of his life, the murder of Uriah, hard to surpass in point of contemptibility, is written out in detail with no attempt at extenuation. And the Hebrew father teaching his son would call upon him to mark well the story, and realize that “there is none that is righteous, no not one, save only the Lord God.” (99)

Amos…belief in God’s mercy never interfered with his worship of God’s power. It was one of his younger contemporaries, Hosea, who caught a glimpse of the contradiction. He declared, the first man in the world to declare it, that love and not fear was the force that could draw men away from evil to good. Not power but love was the distinguishing characteristic of Hosea’s God. This conception had two tremendous implications and Hosea recognized them. He perceived that a loving God could not exercise omnipotence. Love could not compel. [111] … And Hosea was able to dispense with omnipotence, a fact which marks him out from all the other great leaders in religion. /
The second implication of this idea of the preeminence of love was that God was a suffering God. When love meets no return the result is suffering, (112)

This was a conception as new as that of Amos of the important and the trivial in religion, and it went deeper. It did away with the entire foundation of the worship motivated by fear. It failed, of course, to win a following. Fear continued to [112] be the motive power used by the God men worshiped, but just as in the case of Amos, Hosea’s words were never allowed to drop altogether from men’s minds. They could not be forgotten. (113)

The man who set forth these ideas 2700 years ago had left behind him the briefest and most unsatisfactory record of himself. His little book is barely seven pages long and much of it—as translated—is quite unintelligible. …That kind of thing makes discouraging reading. (113)

It is perfectly apparent that his conception of God was in line with his character; it came to him naturally, as a result of the way his mind worked and also of the way his life led him. The story has to do entirely with his marriage, how he married a woman who was false t him. She had many lovers and he put her away, but he still loved her. She was “beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress,” and when her lovers left her and she said, “I will go and return to my husband for then was it better with me than now,” he took her back. That is the whole of it. … where Amos repeats over the word transgressions, and Micah denounces especially lying and deceitfulness, and [114] Isaiah is hottest against greed and arrogance, Hosea sees his country as one that has “gone a whoring from their God,” (115)

Hosea makes God say that he will not mark out unchaste and faithless women for punishment because the men are equally guilty: “I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom nor your wives when they commit adultery, for the men themselves consort with lewd women and they sacrifice with harlots.” This is an astonishing point of view to be found seven hundred and fifty years before Christ. (115)

Micah, who came shortly after Hosea and some twenty-five years after Amos, was disciple of them both. (119)

Neither Amos nor Micah ever saw the contradiction involved in their conception of a God who was to be obeyed because He could “cause the sun to go down at noon” and “make the mountains molten” beneath Him, and who nevertheless did not want from men the kind of obedience that is given to overwhelming force but “required” of them “to love mercy,” to have “justice well up as waters,” the free and spontaneous offerings of the heart. Only Hosea realized it. (120)

Isaiah was an important figure in the politics of his day as neither Amos nor Hosea nor Micah was. He was the first of the three prophet statesmen, over a hundred yeas earlier than Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the two others. (123)

…in his old age Jerusalem escaped the same fate only by a miracle, a veritable, supernatural miracle in Isaiah’s eyes. [123] … Indeed, the final miracle that saved the city was, so to speak, necessary only because his advice had not been followed. (124)

They were hardly wars, border raids, rather; the kings not much more than tribal chieftains or the lords of little cities, but each victor in turn was merciless… That was the way local politics were run in Palestine. World politics differed only by their grander scale. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, were all perpetually maneuvering against each other and [124] usually fighting. Babylon just then was the least important of the three, and the countries in Asia Minor, looking for a protector from their neighbors, wavered continually between Egypt and Assyria. … “The King of Assyria carried Israel away into Assyria—away out of their own land unto this day,” and the ten tribes were lost to history. /
That was in the year 722 when Isaiah was a young man in Jerusalem. (125)

Isaiah’s self-imposed task, to keep his people from throwing off the Assyrian yoke, required all he had of character, vision, intellect. For every reason Assyria was hated, and everywhere. No other conqueror in those cruel days approached her cruelty. Egypt was infinitely to be preferred. … In all the world she was the representation of civilization, the center of learning and art and culture and wisdom, venerable, magnificent. There was magic in her very name. [126] … He could see beyond her splendor to her feebleness. First to last he was opposed to any dealings with her. (127)

But then for some unknown reason things went wrong: Isaiah was no longer listened to. The pacifists were defeated and Jerusalem threw in her lot with the confederacy against Assyria. It was an act of folly so great as now to seem incomprehensible. A few years before, when Babylon was keeping the Assyrian armies busy, there might have been a chance of success, but by now she had been defeated with the thoroughness peculiar to the Assyrian. (128)

Assyrian king… Sennacherib… besieged the city, but he did not capture it. Herodotus in Egypt two hundred years later was told a story of an army of mice having devoured all the leather parts of the Assyrians’ armor so that they could not fight. (129)

We read him under terrible disadvantages. Many writers had a part in the book called by his name. The last twenty-six chapters are now believed to have been written in large part by a nameless author, the second Isaiah, so-called, with interpolations by other authors, most of whom lived at least two hundred years later than Isaiah himself, and, some say, as much as three hundred. Even among the earlier chapters there are insertions not by Isaiah. One will be reading about Assyria and suddenly come upon a mention of the conquests of the Medes, … Even in the parts that seem clearly Isaiah’s own the chronology is confused. … Most bewildering, for instance, is his assertion often repeated that Jerusalem will never be destroyed and the assertion, still oftener repeated, that she shall be utterly destroyed, (131)

…no attentive reader of Isaiah can put up with the conclusion that he was a man of muddled mind who did not see when he was contradicting himself. He was one of the great minds of the world, and the way his book has been edited wrongs him. (133)

Amos and Hosea are distinct personalities. Though they wrote so little and were far from thinking of giving an account of themselves, the kind of men they were comes through unmistakably. But it is not so with Isaiah. … Statesman and prophet have so few points of contact, it seems impossible to combine them. Isaiah in his foreign policy was a man of cool worldly wisdom… But this common-sense [133] acceptance of the inevitable in foreign affairs was diametrically opposed to what he thought ought to be done at home. … he set himself against the men of wealth and position who must be, from any common-sense point of view, her chief defenders. … Far from working for a united front in the city at a time of such danger, he stood forth to demand changes in her social structure which were guaranteed to split her apart. The princes that oppressed the fatherless and the widowed, the priests that ministered to a shall and heartless worship, he declared must go. [134] … Outside Jerusalem he was a statesman; inside he was a prophet. (135)

When he was young, perhaps eighteen to twenty years old, standing entranced in the temple he had a vision of God Himself attended by wondrous being he calls “seraphim,” one of whom touched his mouth with a burning coal. The voice of God reached his ears asking, “Whom shall I send?” And Isaiah cried out, “Here am I; send me.” … There for a moment Isaiah himself is seen, but everywhere else he remains a shadowy form that towers up and away from us. (138)

As compared with the brevity of Amos and Hosea he is a continuation of them. (138)

This is not a system of thought. There is no attempt in Isaiah to give a coherent account of God and man and the world. He is not a theologian. He is not interested in explanations, not even of the contradictions he is perpetually emphasizing between what men do and what they want, between God’s omnipotence and men’s power to thwart Him. He gives no definitions and no formulas. All he does is to assert with the utmost majesty and grandeur of which language is capable, that the purpose behind the universe is good and that men can help or hinder its fulfillment. Therefore Isaiah’s words still have meaning. Explanations never hold for very long. The more precise and perfect they are, the more quickly they are discarded. (143)

Other, lesser men would get ideas fro them and take infinite pains to explain them, but the prophets themselves were not teachers; they were discoveres. Something that had been hidden they uncovered, and it was there for everyone to see. No logical commentary could add force to “What mean ye that ye grind the faces of the poor” (144)

Jeremiah was the world’s first apostle of pacifism. That singular Egyptian, Akhenaton, who was born some thousands of years too early, appears to have acted like a pacifist, but nothing in the great sun hymns shows him a deliberate advocate of peace. The post was created by Jeremiah, and when he died it was long left vacant. /
Pacifism, however, as he initiated it, differed from the kind general today. It was not a protest of the conscience against the evil of war; it was a declaration of the enlightened reason about the folly of war. A hundred years earlier, Samaria, the chief town of Israel, had been destroyed for trying to shake off the yoke of Assyria and Israel [147] had dropped out of history. Jeremiah had that object lesson before him when he began his great campaign to show Jerusalem that it was the part of common sense for the weaker always to submit to the stronger, and that it was better to be slaves than to be dead. (148)

Throughout these years, certainly well on to forty, Jeremiah never ceased exhorting king, princes, people, to submit to Babylon. The word of the Lord came to him, he tells us, bidding him to speak. … Not he, but the Lord God of hosts demanded the surrender of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar as a punishment for its wickedness. (150)

Hebrews… No other nation has ever accounted for its sufferings in the same way. They blamed themselves and no one else for what happened to them. Even when Assyria, the detested and detestable, crushed Israel, the Hebrew historians’ only comment is, “For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God.” They do not denounce Assyria at all. … they found the reason in their own wickedness, never in another’s. (151)

Jeremiah …dull flat, not to say ignoble, political expediency [152] and common sense. Never again did pacifism look quite so mean and poor-spirited, and never has there been such a lonely pacifist. “Everyone doth curse me,” he said. “I sat alone because of thy hand.” It was too much for him sometimes, but never for long. (153)

It was not only that he claimed to speak for God; they felt the flame of God within him. “He was a burning and a shining light,” as he spoke to them. Nothing else can explain his strange immunity. But to leave Jeremiah alive was to have to listen to him. (154)

Nevertheless, with all this emotional intensity his judgments were based upon his reason alone. He saw the heroic defense of the city without a throb of admiration for its reckless courage; recklessness was wicked foolishness. (159)

It is clear that the Babylonians had heard of him. “The captain of the guard said to him, If it seem good unto thee to come with me to Babylon, come and I will look well unto thee.” To accept such an assurance of safety and well-being was most certainly the course dictated by the good sense, reasonableness, expediency, Jeremiah was forever urging upon others. But when it was a question of himself alone he could never be guided by them. In the conduct of his own life they played no part at all. He would have none of that promised ease. (162)

The governor appointed by Babylon was assassinated was stricken with terror and decided to flee to Egypt. Again Jeremiah was in the opposition, and again he was the whole of it. … But the frightened, broken people would not listen, and they forced him to go with them. (163)

How long he lived in Egypt is not known. Eighteen years after the fall of Jerusalem the Babylonians invaded the country as he had foretold, but he must have died before they came. (164)

Instead of an enraged people falling on Jeremiah and killing him when Jerusalem was captured—the only appropriate death—they forgot all about him, and he was sitting dully and unimportantly in the prison-court when the Babylonians entered, an anti-climax typical of his whole life. So much so that [165] the tradition of his dramatic end by stoning in Egypt seems more in accordance with the bright-colored records of the early Christian fathers, through whom it has come down, than with the sober narrative of the Old Testament. We may believe without stretching probability that he died lonely and neglected, no doubt, but undramatically in bed—and certainly with his spirit unbroken. (166)

Ezekiel’s claim to greatness rests on an altogether different basis from that of the other prophets. His book shows a great falling off mentally and morally from them, from Jeremiah whose contemporary he was, as well as from the earlier men. … He was the initiator of the separatist movement which preserved the Hebrews as a distinct people after they had lost their freedom. (171)

His mind was bent with fierce concentration on the God of power. The threats that [172] fill chapter after chapter of what God’s implacable anger will bring down on man’s wickedness outdo Isaiah and Jeremiah together. (173)

In those days gods shared the fate of their worshipers. If a country was defeated so too were her gods. … So Ezekiel must emphasize, almost to the exclusion of everything else, God’s eternal, omnipotent power. It is true that God’s eternal, omnipotent power. It is true that God’s city lies in ruins, God’s people are helpless captives, the heathen have triumphed, religion is trodden under foot. Well, what is proved thereby? Nothing, answers Ezekiel, nothing at all—against God. (173)

The Hebrews are suffering now because they are worse than the others in that they knew God and turned from His righteousness, but all the other nations shall be punished in like measure and shall learn by the fury of His wrath that this God of shamed and enslaved people is the Lord God of heaven and earth… (173)

Marvels… Ezekiel. He is given over to that sort of things to such a degree that whole chapters of his book seem to belong not to the Old Testament, but to the world of Oriental fantasy and magic, so foreign and hateful, for the most part, to the Hebrew writers. He was perpetually visited by the most extraordinary visions. Only a very determined and exceptionally visions. Only a very determined and exceptionally ingenious symbolist can do anything with them. (174)

Ezekiel was an exile in Chaldea. He was one of the band carried to Babylon before the fall of Jerusalem… On nearly every page of his book are touches that show his loneliness and his homesickness. The strange country he found himself in was “a dry and thirsty ground,” … There he, a hillsman, was to spend the rest of his life. In his thoughts, turned ever toward his home, little craggy Palestine became transformed into a land of great mountains and rushing rivers, a land fresh and green, … No other book in the Bible has anything like so much about hills and valleys and shade trees and water; [175] … Water is even more in his mind. Of course the canals of the Euphrates were there fore him. The little town he lived in, near Babylon, was beside one of them. Babylon itself was far from a dry and thirsty city. But ditches full of a brown sluggish liquid were not what he meant by water. … longing for home… is practically all that he gives us of himself and it does not take us very far. He never speaks directly of what he felt about anything (176)

He never says anything against Chaldea, except by interference, and, still more surprising, he never says anything at all about Babylon. … Strange sights filled his eyes wherever he went; he never speaks of these either. One cannot help conjecturing that the portentous visions he had were suggested to him by monstrous fantasies of decoration and prodigious gods he saw as he walked in court and street; but this again is only an inference. He tells us nothing even indirectly about what is called in the book of Isaiah “the golden city, Babylon, the glory of kingdom, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ excellency.” (177)

But it is a curious circumstances that the one part of his book which gives us a vivid picture of that remote, strange world, is a detailed and glowing description of the commerce of Tyre. [178] … It was in the streets of Babylon that Ezekiel saw what he transferred to Tyre because he would not seem to admire the hated city—and how he admired what he saw in her! (179)

Luxury, full grown, and commerce of an Oriental richness and splendor make their first appearance in Ezekiel, foreshadowing the destiny of his race. The Hebrews’ future share in the work of the world is to be seen in these chapters. In the countries to which they would wander they were fated to find themselves shut out from any share in the land, forced to give up the pastoral life they had lived for unnumbered years. They were to be not creators of wealth as in a humble way [181] they had always been, but distributors, especially of beautiful and costly objects like those that so stirred Ezekiel to admiration. They were to be the purveyors to the world of the superfluities of life, in most singular contrast to the setting and the spirit of their literature. (182)

It was he who laid down the liens along which the Hebrews were enabled to remain. Hebrews although millennia were to pass before they again became an independent people. When Jerusalem fell freedom ended for them. A little nation, quite insignificant politically, neither strong nor rich, [182] was conquered; her capital razed to the ground; her population enslaved and in large part carried off to the country of her conquerors. It would seem past belief that she could keep her identity, a handful of helpless captives in the midst of the ruling power of the world. One would suppose them foredoomed to disintegrate and disappear. That is what happened to the other nations that went down under Nineveh and Babylon, often great and powerful nations, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Phoenicians, and many another. They and the two mighty cities that conquered them have no place in our world today except in the libraries. (183)

He was a priest, the only one of the prophets who was, except Jeremiah. Priest and prophet do not go well together. In Jeremiah’s case the prophet do not go well together. In Jeremiah’s case the prophet very early drove the priest out; with Ezekiel it was the other way about. (184)

Isaiah and Jeremiah, for all their longing that Jerusalem, for all their longing that Jerusalem should be saved… both believed that the Hebrews were not worth saving unless they lived as the God of righteousness would have them. Authority meant nothing to any of them, except the authority of God, … Authority… could not produce or assist in producing a just and merciful man. (184)

With all of his dreams and visions he was exceedingly practical. The combination is not as unusual as it may seem at first sight, … a man convinced that he has actually seen the truth, and at the same time with the ability to make the truth work efficiently. St. Paul was like that and so was St. Augustine. Luther is an example too and Mahomet supremely so. These men were triumphantly successful organizers. (185)

…imminent peril of God’s people being obliterated, becoming one with their conquerors. Amos and Isaiah would have said that even so, God’s work alone must be done with a single purpose; but to Ezekiel, agonized to save the broken nation, … That was the matter of first importance at the moment. Justice and mercy must come second. Somehow, the deadly process of growing friendliness to the Chaldeans through sharing common interests with them must be blocked. The nation must be bound indissolubly… (187)

He was perfectly right as he saw the situation. He could not trust to justice and mercy alone; they would never have kept the Hebrews a distinct people. They are not dividing forces; they bring men together. What separates is the sense of superiority, (188)

…circumcision. Amos, Isaiah, and the rest, it goes without saying, completely ignore it. Ezekiel emphasizes it far and away beyond any other book in the Old Testament. Only the circumcised can enter God’s sanctuary. … So, too, keeping the Sabbath, which Isaiah had denounced and none of his three fellow seers had urged or even mentioned, Ezekiel preaches the necessity of in the eyes of God. (189)

…denounces them that “eat with blood,” that is, eat what is not ritually correct. Needless to say, no prophet before him had ever referred to this practice, let alone recommend it as a way to please God. … But Ezekiel had the spirit of the ritualist. There was a whole class of acts which were “holy” and “clean” without having any bearing whatsoever upon life. (190)

In a sense Ezekiel’s foundation was ready laid for him. What he did was to focus the attention upon the regulations that were most conspicuously Hebrew and so simplify the issue for the mass of the people. (192)

Above all, Ezekiel was backed by the delightful persuasion of exclusive superiority. All the weight of the great prophets could not hold that down. As Ezekiel preached it, the little band of captives ceased to be hopeless, humiliated slaves. They were given an exhilarating and fortifying sense of being lifted above their conquerors and banded together against them. The foundation for that triumph of exclusiveness, (193)

The prophets taught that God was for the poor [199] and the weak and against the rich and the powerful. Wealth they said, in effect, was always the result of injustice. In Amos it is only another term for wickedness. Isaiah and Micah, who agree with him, put the aristocrats in the same class. (200)

Perhaps fifty years after Isaiah’s death the temple was being repaired and the high priest sent a scroll to the king with the message that he had found it in the temple and that it was “a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses.” The king received it with reverence and summoning “all the people, great and small,” he read to them “all the words of the book.” /
The scroll is now believed to have been the Book of Deuteronomy, composed by the priests shortly before it was ostensibly discovered. Every word of it purports to have come from Moses. It would be hard to imagine anything better calculated to nullify the prophets’ revolutionary creed. The fundamental doctrine it teaches is that prosperity and riches come to the good as a reward from God, and that poverty and misfortune are the punishment for doing wrong. This was an ancient belief which in its essentials the Hebrews shared with all the other peoples of the earth. When the prophets attacked it they set themselves against an idea that was basic in the thought of the times. When they declared that to be poor and wretched was not the result of God’s anger, but the passport to His favor, they were turning the world upside down. … “Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth. … If thou hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God… the Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy store-houses… and make thee plenteous in goods. But if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord… thou shalt serve in hunger [202] and in thirst and in nakedness.” (203)

The book is magnificiently written. Great men were its authors, only not great enough to see farther than their own interests and to work with the prophets for a new world and a new conception of the justice of God. (203)

The book is addressed entirely to the nonsufferers, to those with “goodly houses” and vineyards and flocks and herds and slaves. Not a word is addressed to the slaves themselves or to the poor. It is assumed that they are to be at the disposal of the rich. /
Under these conditions, the authors show themselves kind and conscientious men in urging a liberal charity—without bounds. There must be no [205] idea of getting rid of poverty: “For the poor shall never cease out of the land.” (206)

The book indeed declares repeatedly, not only that God desires sacrifices, but that He will accept only those offered at Jerusalem by the temple priests. (206)

The men who prayed these prayers of fury had nothing to support them if God’s vengeance was long delayed. They would wait a while, but then they would turn against Him. From other quarters, too, the old religion was in danger. The ideas in Deuteronomy could not satisfy this new world of bewildered pain. /
On writer there was who never flinched before the logic of the argument drawn from experience against the justice of God, the author of the main part of the Book of Job. The conversations between Job and his three friends are generally held to belong to the Exile or soon after. [216] … If this part of the book was in truth written in Chaldea, … It reads like a direct and bitter attack upon Deuteronomy. Job’s three friends who come to sympathize with him in his misery talk to him in just the way the authors of Deuteronomy would have approved. They tell him that since he is wretched he must have sinned; (217)

A long road had been traveled away form the comfortable man in Deuteronomy, dutifully keeping the commandments and contentedly secure in his “houses full of all good things,” his vineyards and fields and live stock, his men servants and maid servants. That ideal had ceased to be relevant for the Hebrew nation. As a nation they were never to be prosperous again. A God Whose rewards were prosperity could no longer meet their needs. In the Exile they found another God. His spokesman was the great poet we call the second Isaiah because he wrote many of the last chapters of that book and we do not know his name. During his life the Exile came to an end. /
Babylon fell before the Medes and the Persians in 539, just about fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem. (219)

…young general, Darius, according to the Bible story the actual conqueror of Babylon, was the same man who later received back a defeated army from the field of Marathon. (220)

The moment when Babylon fell and freedom once more opened out before them was the most exultant in Hebrew history, what Salamis was to the Greeks and the destruction of the Armada to the Elizabethans, but greatly transcending these just as the sufferings before had been incomparably greater. Such times create poets, Aeschylus [222] in Athens, Shakespeare in England, and for the Hebrews the poet known as the second Isaiah, the greatest poet in the Bible. (223)

Indeed, his newness, the difference between him and the prophets before him, is startling. They thunder of God’s vengeance; he sings of God’s kindness. They see the world a place of black evil; he sees it full of gladness, … God… says to man, worm though he is, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions” (223)

…first Isaiah [223] … “Fear me.” “Fear and the pit are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.” In the second Isaiah the words perpetually repeated are, “Fear not,” and, extraordinarily, God, the awful God, is the reason why there is nothing to fear. (224)

For the mountains shall depart,
And the hills be removed;
But my kindness shall not depart from thee,
Saith the Lord that hath compassion upon thee.
Before the writer’s absorption in this great conception what was of first importance to the men before him falls into the background. The case of the poor recedes, along with attacks upon the rich. … It may be that suffering community of captives had been brought to- [225] gether by the sharing in a common pain. (226)

In the same way he dismissed the question of ritual and righteousness which had so fired the men before him. There are verses in these chapters which recall Ezekiel and would have aroused the mighty wrath of Amos: the uncircumcised and the unclean shall not enter the holy city; the man who keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, is blessed; God will accept burnt offerings and sacrifices upon his altar. Still, these are very occasional passages and not to be greatly stressed in [226] view of the fact that it would be a pious act for later generations to add such sentiments to a book that seemed too chary of them … (227)

Next to the tender love and compassion he found in God, joy and pain preoccupied [227] him, this joy at the ending of the Exile, that pain of the Captivity. He saw them not as particular experiences … He looked at them sub specie aeternitatis—in their eternal aspect, as poets do. (228)

He made no attempt to explain it as chastening from God to make a man better, in the way Deuteronomy had pointed out. … He saw it as a means for enabling men to help each other. … The Jews understand the extraordinary fifty-third chapter of Isaiah (written, of course, by the second, not the first, Isaiah), that immortal picture of one who suffers for the good of others, as describing Israel’s mission to give to the world what they have learned through their ages-long discipline of misery and anguish; the Christians see it as foretelling the mission of Christ. What is certain is that it expresses the beneficence of unselfish pain: (229)

As was the prophets’ way, the writer did not explain. He did not reason out a philosophy of suffering, he showed one who suffered pain undeserved. …
It pleased the Lord to bruise him;
He hath put him to grief…
That the purpose of the Lord might prosper by his hand…
To suffer for others, the hardest part of the human lot, was not to be punished, but to help the purpose of the Lord to prosper. (230)

This chapter is not an attempt to summarize all that the prophets thought, but only what they thought which has value today. Throughout their writings, as has been pointed out, Good keeps on rejoicing in the blood of His enemies, although, indeed, less and less. But that is a left-over from which they could not completely free themselves. It has no meaning now except to the antiquarian and the historian. There is no place for it in an appraisement of the prophets’ achievement. What counts in their idea of God is that they were the first to see that love and compassion must belong to the divine. (233)

Amos is the ancestor of all labor agitators; in his book is the first recorded attack of labor upon capital. (235)

Their practical bias is shown again in their complete disregard of that historical firebrand, theology. They never enunciated a creed or stated a dogma or essayed a definition of anything they believed. The only test of a man’s religion to which they gave a thought was the way that man acted. Christ was so truly a son of the prophets that His words often illustrate their attitude, as in the story of the Good Samaritan when He made a priest and a Levite, types of strict theological orthodoxy, “pass by on the other side” from the man… (235)

And when they said an earthquake happened because God had arisen to shake terribly the earth, they were offering their own scientific explanation which long since yielded to others as every explanation does. Old ideas are continually being slain by new facts. There is nothing stable in the conclusions of the mind, and it is impossible that there ever should be unless we hold that the universe is made to the measure of the human mind, an assumption for which nothing in the past gives any warrant. (236)

And they never said, Believe this and you shall live. … different and not easy: Do this and you shall live. Upon God’s true worshipers rested the tremendous responsibility of making God’s will a reality upon the earth. (238)

The greatness of the prophets consists first of [238] all in their conception of what His will was. They had a vision of what was possible for men, a vision at no time even approximately realized in this nearly three thousand years between them and us, yet so important for human life that it has never been dismissed. (239)

The prophets saw a world where no man was wronged by another, where the strong shared with the weak, where no individual was sacrificed for an end, where each individual was prepared to sacrifice himself for the end of making what God wished become a realized good. … Nevertheless none of them externalized religion into a set of good deeds, drawn up and written down for men to follow accurately. (239)

There is a great deal in the prophets about punishing people into being good, but that again was left over from the old fear worship. Amos’ words that justice must well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream show his clear perception that they would come to pass only when they were the free and spontaneous expression of the desire of men’s hearts. This is the prophetic light at its brightest, (240)

…economics. They saw the matter very simply. All riches came from covetousness. A rich man was one who wanted more than his own share. He wanted other people’s too and succeeded in getting it. This state of things was abhorrent to God… (241)

The prophets’ way was not the way the Jewish religion went. Their way as reinforced by Christ was not the way the Christian religion went. (241)

…prophets’ … There is not a trace in any of them of the idea that the way to do God’s will was to seek for personal holiness. Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Ezekiel too, have not left a word to show that they ever thought about themselves at all. Jeremiah has. He gives us some account of his inner life, of his prayers [242] …

The tone is that of a man who is seeking to understand the world and what he is to do about it. He asks the Lord for information and for guidance, and the answer is invariably to go and do something the Lord wants done. There is not a touch of ecstasy in one of these prayers. They move in the opposite direction to prayer as usually understood, away from the world of the soul to the world outside. The other prophets leave their prayers out and give only what God says, (243)

…good life here on earth. No one ever saw the task as harder than they did; no one ever saw evil more clearly and felt a deeper rejection of it. But they never turned away to think of a world to come where evil could not enter; it never entered their minds to rise above this evil world by despising it and seek their own salvation in an ecstasy of faith. [243] … They felt no contempt for the world. It was God’s; He had a purpose for it; and their part was to help to carry it out. (244)

It is curious … The human heart was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; man was a leaf that withered and was blown away, and yet he and he alone could bring about the will of God; to do so was the obligation God laid upon him. (244)

It is true that they all talk perpetually about what God is going to bring to pass, … but … except for storms and earthquakes and the like, what God does to men is done by men. The Assyrian is the rod of His anger; (244)

There are no marvels in the prophets. They never worked miracles. At the end of the first Isaiah there is a story about his convincing Hezekiah by making the shadow on the sundial go back, but it is a late addition. (245)

The true nature of anything, Aristotle says, is what it becomes at its highest. Nothing shows this more clearly that the Old Testament. [in art, yes; in morality, no. 251]


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