Introduction to the Study of the History of Israel and Judah
In my study of the Historical Books of the Bible I had frequently wished for some clue to their writer, or writers, for I could never feel satisfied that the various sections of the first six of them, from Joshua to the second Book of Kings, were each of the product of separate Authors, living in long-divided ages, or that those of Joshua and Samuel were autobiographic memorials of those two statesmen, for internal evidence was against such a conclusion, and was decidedly impossible in the case of the Second Book of Samuel, which deals with events after that Prophet's death. The Book of Joshua also I could not regard as an Autobiography, for in more than one passage the Writer refers for the accuracy of his statements to older writers and public records. The style and evident object of the whole series impressed me as being the same, and to clearly indicate a single writer as the Author of the whole history from the death of Moses to that of Hezekiah. However, no critic or commentator I had come across in my reading seemed to throw light on the question, either from tradition or analysis of the various sections of the narrative. I was puzzled, but the solution of my anxiety arrived in a most unexpected manner.
One day, whilst reading the Second Book of Chronicles in the Hebrew, I met that solution in its 32nd Chapter and the 32nd verse, like a sudden flash of electric light, in the following words;—"The remainder of the actions of Hezekiah and his beneficial rule, are recorded in the Visions of Isaiah-ben-Amotz, the Prophet, upon the History of the Kings of Judah and Israel."1
The flood of mental light from those three lines dispelled my perplexities, and enabled me to see the great object of the six-sectioned History, by discovering its Writer. Wondering that none had previously seen this, as far as I was aware, I turned and went to my book-shelf and took down the Authorised Version, and found that its translators had entirely, by inserting the little word "and" after the name "Isaiah the son of Amoz," altered the structure and purport of the sentence as it stands in the original Hebrew, and thus destroyed the key it gave to the moral object and lessons of the historian, and to the identity of the Writer of the Six Books.
I was delighted at the discovery, and a renewed study of those six books confirmed in my mind the accuracy of my conclusion by enabling me more clearly to see the unity of style and aim of their writer, Isaiah, which undoubtedly was for them to serve as an introduction to the two succeeding volumes of his Exhortations to the Hebrews, and the adjacent Nations, to religious moral and political Reformation, contained in the First Book of his Prophecies; which also denounce swift-coming punishment as the result of a rejection of his warnings.
And also in the Second Book, in which he records the opening of his mind, by Divine inspiration, to foresee in the far-distant future of human history the advent of a Consecrated Messenger from God, the Messiah, who would bring renewed hope to the souls, and consequently to the minds and bodies, not only of Israel, but of all Peoples, who having taken warning by the exhortations of the Prophet's First Book had changed their minds from a desire for Sin to a desire for Righteousness. By that change of mind Isaiah announces to mankind the gift of a renewed Divine Life, communicated through the Messiah, and thus men would be evoluted in the course of progressive ages, by the hereditary practice of the laws of God, back into the original state from which they had fallen by the practices of ages of hereditary sin.
I therefore now suggest that Isaiah wrote this History of the Hebrews as an introduction to his warnings to his Nation, and to explain what would be the blessings he foretold, if it repented; for had he not done so by showing its former glorious condition and subsequent crimes, those warnings and promises would have been incomprehensible to the mass of his readers in his own day, and far more so to us. Consequently it is a mistake to read the books from Joshua to the end of the 20th Chapter of the 2nd Kings as merely a political History of Israel and Judah by several different writers, as all former students have done, for they were clearly composed for a single purpose, and meant to be the Philosophy of the History of the Hebrew Race, and to point out the sources of their national prosperity, and the causes of their decay, paralysis, and ruin at the time of the Teacher and Prophet,—for he was both,—and not only to them, but to the whole human race, by a general Divine Inspiration.
In his history he tries to make this object clear, by constantly referring his readers to the National Records, or to former historians whom he cites, for any information they might desire about merely political events.
This point of view, I think, is well worth the attention of students and critics, as well as theologians. In the old Hebrew arrangement of the Books of the Bible these Historical Books stand immediately before the Prophecies of Isaiah; which confirms my view, and the statement of II. Chron. , Ch. 32, v. 32, already cited.
After long study of Isaiah's History of Israel, and also comparing it with the historical writers of every other land, whether Asiastic or European, Ancient or Modern, I have come to the conclusion that he was the Father of Historical Philosophy, and of the Analysis of the principles of Sociology. Personally, he was a man of the highest birth, a Statesman, Philosopher and Poet of the greatest genius and highest literary culture, and all these gifts brought to their perfection by a Divine Inspiration, which gave him clear insight into the times in which he lived, and also lifted him in Spiritual Vision to search into the future and to see and record for long ages of the human race the paths which would lead it, or nations of it, to ruin and destruction, and those which would bring all nations to prosperity, happiness and salvation; his visions closing in a rapture as he was shown the coming of the Messiah, the Consecrated Messenger of God, who would restore Mankind from their long devolution to misery, through the hereditary practice and devotion to Sin, by recommunicating a new life to their paralysed minds and souls; and thus lead them by ages of progressive evolution, through the practice of righteousness and virtuously beneficient life and resistance to Sin, to the ability to gain a restoration to the condition of their creation. That St. Paul also saw all this in the Prophet I am satisfied by the general impress left upon my mind during study of that great Apostle, and by several definite statements of his.
But even viewing Isaiah simply as a Philosophic Historian, the handling of his matter is masterly. It will be seen that he does not deal with history by the lives of persons, as if history consisted of a series of biographies. On the contrary, he divides the whole course of Hebrew history into well-defined periods of Evolution or Decay, according to the mental objects of the people and its Leaders, as indicated to his reflective student's eye. The Period of Conquest is summed up under the title of The Book of Joshua and his Generals, probably running for 100 years after that great Commander's death, of which year he gives no details.
In Judges we have what I would call the Colonial Period, during which the Israelites were engaged in a desperate struggle with the Aborigines of Canaan for life and safety in every village and farm, until all leisure for national cohesion was lost, and the hero of a few villages, who during his lifetime kept the natives at bay around his farm, was looked upon as a wonder. In this period frightful anarchy and crime seem to have been rampant, except in such petty temporary Chieftanships, till at last the whole of the Hebrew Colonies seem to have sat down in despair under the restored tyranny of Aboriginal Despots. Here Isaiah closes his Second Period, with the Book of Judges.
With the appearance of Samson, who, by his furious strength of mind and body, showed his Race that the Philistine was not invincible, Isaiah's philosophic eye saw the re-awakening of the National spirit and hope; and in the life and policy of Samuel, that the idea of Social and Political Organisation, founded upon a restoration of the Faith of their Fathers, had begun to breathe again in the long paralysed minds and souls of the Children of Israel. He consequently begins a fresh Book with the name of the Period of Samuel, and divides it into two sections. The First, recording up to the death of Saul and the Defeat at Gilboa, which practically ended what, for want of a better name for the fact, I would call the Parliamentary Period of Hebrew life, during which the Civil President of the Commonwealth, called The Man Of God, with the advice of an elected Parliament of seventy-two men, chosen by sixes from each Tribe, governed the Nation, and appointed, as Moses had done, a Generalissimo to execute his orders in war.
This was the appointed Constitution given through Moses, but seems to have practically lapsed after the death of Joshua and Kaleb, owing to the general insurrection of the Aborigines, and the life and death struggle of the Colonists2 to ward off their own extermination. Samuel, also, after the inhabitants of the District around his home at Shiloah, which he seems to have freed from the Philistine oppression, had demanded from him the appointment of a General, or Military Leader—for that is the meaning of the title "Melek" in Hebrew—appears to have had inspired into his mind the idea of restoring the old Constitution in practice, and attempted it by the appointment of Saul as his Generalissimo. But Saul, as soon as he felt the elation of military success, evidently conceived the design of seizing supreme power and abolishing the Civil President's authority. This struggle between him and Samuel, the President, came to a crises and open rupture by Samuel forcing Saul to show his object through the order he gave to him in the campaign against Agag to deprive the Army of their accustomed prize distribution, their only pay, by commanding the slaughter of not only the captives, but of all the cattle, of every kind, as recorded in Chapter 15th of 1st Samuel. Saul undoubtedly found it impossible to make his men obey such an order, and probably never tried to enforce it. But this open disregard of the Civil Authority showed Samuel that, as he had feared, the Military Leader had determined to become his master, or at least only to leave him the position of a nominal President. The skilful old Statesman was not, however, to be shaken off, and he and the Generalissimo to the end of his life were at deadly feud, and the Constitutional form of Government continued to drag on a feeble life until the death of Saul, and the seizure of Absolute Power by the great military genius of David, who united to the talents of a warrior even greater talents as a Statesman and Organiser. But still an acknowledged Despotic Monarchy was not established in full swing, until after David had nominated his son Solomon to the Throne without the slightest consultation with the National Parliament, or Priesthood. There the philosophic eye of Isaiah saw the end of the Representative Constitution, and accordingly made his record of it and his Fourth Book.
However, in the Monarchical Period, dealt with in the First Book of Kings, Isaiah saw the Ideal of the divine Hebrew Statesmanship; the establishing of an organised National Government over a wide extent of territory, and various pre-existing Tribes; the object of whose Statesmen should be the promotion of Industry, as the first aim of National Policy; and the pure administration of Justice between all classes, to give the necessary security to industrial life and pursuits; and whose Administrators should never forget, or violate, the Divine Doctrine that Governments were made for the benefit of the Governed and not for that of the Governors, who are to regard themselves as the servants of God appointed for the benefit of His people. In Solomon he saw its glorious fulfilment in practice as well as theory, and he delights in the sublime spectacle, as shown by the exultant tone of his narrative.
In this Divine Revelation of Constitutional Government war was never Deified or worshipped, as it always was, and is, in all Pagan lands, and in our Modern Half-Pagan European ones and their offshoots—except the English-speaking ones—as the Chief object of Nations; nor is it condemned as totally illegal; but ordered only to be used as a means of obtaining peace and protecting Industry by the punishment, and, if needed, the extermination of men of violence and bloodshed. Our Statesman Poet, John Milton, epitomised this doctrine as the National British motto,—when he dictated the superscription for Cromwell's coinage, Pax per Bellum;—the securing an extended area of Peace through War, to be its only legitimate use, as directed from God Himself.
In the Second Book of Kings Isaiah deals with the terrible punishments inevitably brought upon his people, and all nations, by a disregard of the Divine Principles of National Polity revealed to Moses, and with tragic sobs follows the fall of his Race to corruption and ruin through that disregard which he was given to foresee brooding over them, in spite of the noble efforts at reform and restoration made by his friend and relative, Hezekiah, with whose death his narrative ends.
In concluding my introduction to the reading of Isaiah's work, I will only add that I consider it the most perfect model of philosophical history, and of analysis of the principles of national life and death, the writers of the History," directing all its events upon Eternal laws of equity, and by equally eternal laws punishing the breach of the laws of morality and equity upon all nations; and that the repudiation of Divine Laws by Statesmen is shown to be the sin of the Nation, for as statesmen are simply the servants of the national will, without the tacit sanction of the people they could never disregard those laws. Isaiah's whole induction from the facts he tried to deal with may be indeed summarised in the epigram of his Ancestor, the great Thinker and Statesman, Solomon,—
"Righteousness exalts Races,
But Vice destroys the nations."
—Prov., Ch. 14, v. 34.
The student of Isaiah must not, however, suppose that the prophet was simply a Moralist dealing with the personal acts of the wicked or vicious, or criminal; —fields of instruction that no one saw more clearly than he were those of the Priest, Preacher, and Administrator. He was by no means blind, how-ever, to the necessity of education in social and domestic morals, but he himself was essentially a Statesman, and as a Statesman dealt with the fundamental laws of life and social organisation, as Moses had done, seeing,under the expansion of his genius by Divine inspiration, that the moral life and habits of the individuals constituting a Nation are originated or repressed by the acts and policy of the Governing Class, or it may be by the personal influence of the holder of the chief Representative power in a State for the time being.
In fact this is the great doctrine upon which he never ceases to insist throughout his History, and in his Prophecies. His teaching is that contained in the rule of our modern Law of Nations, "Religion follows the Government"; but Isaiah carries the doctrine to a yet wider sweep, and adds to it, "and Morality follows Religion; and the prosperity and happiness of Nations is the outcome of their religion, and their ruin inevitably follows vice and sin." His doctrine was not new, but simply a revival of the Divine Law revealed to Moses at Sinai, and it is as true now, and as vital to the life and happiness of nations, as it was then. To enforce the fact is the great object in the eyes of the Prophet from the beginning to the end of his History of his race. He illustrates it in action by showing how the depreciation of its ancestral religion invariably brought national disaster and social misery. He does not, however, teach, as all commentators have foolishly attributed to him,that at a minute's notice, upon the personal whim or vicious inclination of a Chief or King abandoning public respect to Jehovah, and professing devotion to Baal, or some other heathen Imagination, that the whole of the Hebrew nation did the same; or that when his successor at the head of public affairs upon attaining the chief Magistracy reverted to the public profession of the worship of God, that all the population followed in a moment. Such an idea and doctrine is that of idiots, or monks, whose minds have been narrowed by isolation and ignorance of the facts, of life to the condition of children. Isaiah's teaching is, on the contrary, twofold: first, that the Government of a Nation being in all cases the Incarnation of the National Thought and Will, its acts are mentally those of the People it represents, and therefore the Nation is guilty of its sins, and is consequently rewarded or punished for them by God. The absolute truth of this doctrine is witnessed for by all human records.
The second line of his instruction is :—That the first duty of a Government consequently is to support, teach, and practise the Religion of the Nation, by public recognition and honour paid to it in the outward forms of its worship,and by using it as the groundwork of the education of the people; and by putting a social stigma upon all deviation from it. If this is not done, the Prophet-Statesman shows that from the tendency of men to follow the mode of life of the Court and those socially above them, the irreligion of the Monarch or President rapidly spreads to the lower strata of social life; while at the same time an opposite current is developed amongst the people,especially of the lower classes, who, in their earnest desire to preserve the faith of their fathers, separate themselves from the Constituted Authorities,and make the destruction of those Authorities the devouring passion of their lives, even if such destruction involves the ruin of their Nation; and in opposition to them the apostate or sceptically indifferent Governors become,step by step, savage persecutors, and call foreign allies to assist in suppressing the old National Faith which alone they find themselves unable to suppress.
Thus the Nation becomes divided into two parties, whose objects are, not the defence of their Country, but the extermination of each other; and in its distraction the land becomes the prey of its neighbours and rivals, with all the horrors of national degradation and personal slavery to follow.
To listen to these lessons and be taught by them is as important to ourselves as it was to the Hebrews of Isaiah's time, and if we neglect them, or turn in scorn to ridicule them, the same fate will be ours as fell upon the Hebrews.
These may not be the fashionable doctrines of our day, but are those of the great Prophet whose teachings I am endeavouring to point out.
The work of Isaiah, then, would seem to end with the 20th Chapter of II. Kings, and the remaining four chapters to be the product of a later hand, of a date after the Babylonian Captivity.
Probably they were by Nehemiah, written as a supplement to Isaiah's history. The style and tone is different, and the wide views of the lessons and philosophy of history contained in the work from Joshua to the 21st of Kings are wanting, and the difference in the dramatic power of the narrative in the four concluding chapters is also noticeable. I would, therefore, head them "Supplementary Chapters to Isaiah's History of Israel."
1 II Chronicles, Ch. 32, v. 32.
2 The name "Hebrim," The Hebrews, means Colonists, if we translate it into English.—F. F.