§ 5. Deuteronomy.
The last book of the Pentateuch is as definitely marked as each of its predecessors. It alone was written in view of Israel's crossing the Jordan and entering on the land of their inheritance. It is therefore wholly different from Genesis which has a primary character, and is all but universal in its range, the word of Him Who knows the end from the beginning. Neither does it converge on redemption from Egypt, like Exodus; nor on access to Jehovah, like Leviticus; nor yet on pilgrimage through the wilderness, like Numbers. The title in the A.V. follows the Latin Vulgate, as it the Septuagint, but is at least nearer the mark than in the other cases; for the book largely consists of a special recapitulation of the law. Only we must allow for the divine affluence of scripture; which, when interpreting a vision, or a parable, or even a particular symbol, not merely repeats but adds very strikingly.
If we believe the book (and he is God's enemy who does not), Moses spoke and wrote on the eve of his approaching death. This could not but impart a peculiarly earnest and solemn tone. Ethic, affectionate, and expostulatory elements predominate beyond what we find in any other of the five books. As Moses says, in closing the brief preface of Deut. 1:3-5, he began to declare or expound this law. Obedience is urged continually, and the spirit of it in the heart. It is the people as a whole therefore, who are in general addressed directly throughout, on their responsible tenure of the land. Typical teaching is comparatively rare, moral abounds, not without prophecy at the close especially. "The priests, the Levites" only appear for specific reasons, and Levites also as such. But the people are regarded as under the moral government of Jehovah their God in the land; and this accounts for its characteristics. Those born in the wilderness had been uncircumcised, and so disqualified for the privileges of Israel. This was no longer to be tolerated. Israel must henceforth take their normal place of obedience in Jehovah's land. So the book urges anticipatively.
From Deut. 1:6 to the end of chap. 4 is an introduction, in which Moses first sketches in the rest of chap. 1 the journeying from Horeb to Kadesh, with the previous choice of rulers to judge, and the subsequent one of the spies, their rebellious unbelief, and its punishment. Then in Deut. 2, 3 we have their final advance, after long abidings and marches in the wilderness. They were not to meddle with Edom, Moab, or Ammon. When Sihon and Og opposed, they slew them and their people, taking all they had as spoil on that side of Jordan, and giving their lands and cities to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, who were as eager to possess at once even outside Canaan, as Moses pleads in vain to go over and see the good land. Deut. 4 turns shameful Baal-peor into an appeal to obey Jehovah's word, neither adding nor diminishing; as they alone have Him so nigh with His statutes and judgments, heard His voice, yet saw no similitude. Therefore were they called to abhor every image and created object, lest Jehovah should expel and scatter them among the idolatrous nations. But even there are they encouraged to turn and obey Him. The chapter closes with three cities chosen for the manslayer in the country beyond Jordan taken from the Amorite kings, Sihon and Og. Such a refuge was due to Jehovah, Who would not tolerate the shedding of man's blood on the one hand, nor on the other allow mischance to be dealt with as murder. Where His people dwelt, even though outside their proper barrier, His rights must be respected. We may observe how distinct is the setting of these refuge cities in Numbers, where they are given within the portion of the Levites, and in view of the decease of the anointed priest: a typical connection of which Deuteronomy here shows no trace, but has its own appropriate reason. What a testimony to the divine inspiration of both! What we have had hitherto suits no book but the one that has it.
From Deut. 5 to the end of 11 are given the general moral principles on which Israel were set before Jehovah. Deut. 12 - 26 are rather the special terms in statutes and judgments made with the people.
In Deut. 5 Moses repeats the law according to the Horeb covenant, made not with their fathers but with them; as was said just before in the face of Beth-peor to impress their danger, but in the land they had won to cheer them. Similarly to the fourth commandment is annexed, not the recall to creation as in Ex. 20, but the remembrance of His deliverance from Egypt Who now commanded its observance. Deut. 6 is a homiletic application of the first commandment, as Deut. 7 is of the second. Deut. 8 impresses the whole from their wilderness experience of God and of their own heart with Canaan in view. Deut. 9 reminds them of their weakness, though assured of victory by Jehovah's grace, and of their grievous sins and rebellion, of Moses' own indignant smashing the tables though inscribed by God's own hand, yet of his deprecating divine wrath; so that he came down after other 40 days and nights with freshly written tables for the ark, as he states in a parenthesis of Deut. 10 from verse 1 to 9, the more singular for containing another parenthesis in 6-9. For if Aaron died at a later day, Levi "at that time" gained a good degree by devotedness, and Jehovah gave the tribe an honoured place of service. Obedience therefore is insisted on most touchingly; and in Deut. 11 love too in presence of His wondrous ways of mercy as well as judgment, and this to their enjoying the good land. He repeats therefore in conclusion the all-importance of keeping Jehovah's words, they and their children, as in chap. 6, that they might be blessed and their foes put down, instead of reaping a curse on their disobedience.
Now there is no place in the Pentateuch, nor in all the Bible, where such appeals are so suitable as in the last words of the prophet and legislator. The very repetitions are not vain but deeply pathetic, and only despicable in the eyes of men as stiff-necked as those who kicked against them of old. It was the adaptation of the law to the new need of the generation about to enter and possess Canaan; but no language is clearer than its claim to be of Moses. If this be untrue, the book is an imposture; if true from Jehovah, what are they who undermine and defame it?
This design accordingly governs the enactments. They regard Israel as if in Canaan. This determines which reappear, and which do not. It has nothing to do with later times or various authors; nor is there real discrepancy with the previous books. For Jehovah's land is required for His people obedient and true to His relationship, eschewing false gods and images, with one centre to His name for their sacrifices, and their offerings, or either; yet with leave to kill and eat flesh (not the blood) within all their gates (Deut. 12). For the same reason, prophet or dreamer that enticed to other gods must be put to death; so must be the nearest relative that enticed, however secretly; and if a whole city were thus drawn away, it must be devoted to destruction, as a traitor to Jehovah (Deut. 13). As sons of Jehovah they must adopt no foreign custom, nor eat unclean food, but were to truly tithe corn, wine, oil, and first-fruits, bringing them or their value to Jehovah's central place. Even another tithe at the end of three years is claimed for their homes, and for the Levite and the sojourner, the orphan and the widow, besides that carried to the holy centre (Deut. 14). For the people would thus be shown in immediate relationship with Jehovah, while His sanctuary had its place also. What a witness of the book's divine design is this added tithe, here only in the Pentateuch, where alone it could be! It is the people's joy in fellowship with Him Who not only redeemed and kept them, but gave them the land, the Levites etc. (who had none) being graciously prominent. Deut. 15 follows this up by release of a debtor by a neighbour at the end of seven years, and by a call to constant liberality, as a people blessed of Jehovah. For which reason also the hallowing of male firstlings from herd and flock is here pressed for Jehovah's centre; but if a defect existed, to be eaten within their gates as hart or gazelle.
Deut. 16 is so weighty a proof of the same design, that it claims a little farther notice. It enjoins the three feasts of the year which gathered all the males to Jehovah's chosen place in the land, and not empty but according to His blessing given them. It is not the full typical circle of God's ways as in Lev. 23, nor the witness of God's worship yet to be rendered on the earth as in Num. 28, 29. In our chapter we have, first redemption, then the liberty of grace, and lastly, after the harvest and the vintage, the "whole joyfulness" of glory. Yet even so only the seven days are here, because it looks not beyond the blessing of Israel in the land, the scope of Deuteronomy. The close from ver. 18 takes up the means of sustaining the people in righteous order and in abhorrence of idolatry before Jehovah. Deut. 17 first commands integrity of conscience in sacrifice, then joint clearance of disloyalty to Him; and if any had recourse to the priests, and to the judge in those days, with meekness to bow to that decision. This leads to the question of a king, who from them was to be chosen of Jehovah, to avoid fleshly and worldly ways, and to write a copy of the law for his personal guidance. Then we have the priests, indeed the whole tribe of Levi (Deut. 18) with their dues. Next are denounced for Israel, the heathen abominations for which the Canaanites were dispossessed; and the promise of the great Prophet from their midst is given. Acts 3 is conclusive authority that Christ is meant; and so is Acts 7: both Peter and Stephen attesting that Moses so said to Israel.
The same principle applies to Deut. 19. They when possessing the land were to separate three more cities of refuge for the unwitting slayer: the murderer must surely die. Landmarks were not to be removed, and testimony guarded. In Deut. 20 we see how the fear of Jehovah controlled war, both within and without. It was not a rival to be got rid of, but the abominable races who in fact held the land, to be destroyed by and for Israel to whom the land was divinely given. But Deut. 21 presents moral truths of interest in the man found slain, the captive woman, the child of the hated wife, and the rebellious son: if these refer to Israel in the land which Jehovah will have hallowed, and to inconsistency judged, the close (we know) points to Him Who became a curse in infinite grace to deliver the people and bless the land: the contrast of all who defile it.
On the other hand Deut. 22 fosters gracious and even delicate feeling, forbids mixture of principle, punishes impurity, and protects the weak innocents against brutality. Again, in Deut. 23 relation to the congregation of Jehovah is guarded, making a difference, and the seemliness even of the camp maintained; the runaway slave shielded from oppression; prostitution and its gain scouted, and interest too from a brother; vows established; kindness enjoined as to vineyard or field, but selfishness forbidden. In Deut. 24 divorce was allowed under law; but the Lord brought in better things under grace. Many and various ordinances follow keeping flesh in check to the end of Deut. 25.
This is closed by the unique worship in Deut. 26 where the Israelite in possession of his inheritance puts the first of his fruits in a basket, goes to the chosen place, and says to the priest that shall be in that day (for Deuteronomy is the anticipation of faith), "'I profess this day to Jehovah thy God, that I am come unto the land that Jehovah swore to our fathers to give them." Then the priest takes the basket and sets it down before Jehovah's altar. And the offerer says, "A perishing Syrian was my father, and he went down to Egypt" etc. "And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, Jehovah, hast given me." This set before Him, the Israelite worshipped: else he was free and called to rejoice in all the good which Jehovah had given him and his house, "thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in thy midst."
Can any thing be conceived more Deuteronomic? Or more distinct from the preceding books? To call these specialities inconsistent with foregoing observances is absurd and wrong. Are critical eyes evil because Jehovah's eye is good? Hope and its accomplishment call out gratitude and generosity, as in the tithes of the third year, a characteristic institution beyond the ordinary Levitical tithes and its tithe to the priests. It was the festive and overflowing joy of the people before Jehovah when put in possession of His land. Amos (4:4) alludes to it ironically, because the people were steeped in transgression which tainted all; Tobit (i. 7, 8), though of no divine authority, relates the fact, as does Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, § 22). It is worship, not intermediary in the sanctuary but direct, personal or household. But the priest in the sanctuary remains none the less; to set the one against the other is only rationalistic shallowness and ill-will. The joy of communion with Jehovah's manifested goodness is provided for in the new order of things assured.
The chapters which follow are in the exactly right place. Deut. 27 and Deut. 28 are supplemental, and each where it should be. They express the sanction of the law. First, on passing Jordan into the land, great stones were to be set up and plastered, with "all the words of this law" written on them; an altar of kindred nature also for Burnt-offerings and Peace-offerings. But a most solemn sign followed: six tribes told off to bless on Gerizim; six to curse on Ebal. Yet, whatever might be the fact, the chapter gives the Levites loudly proclaiming to all Israel nothing but the curses. Such is the basis of the apostolic word to the Galatians (Gal. 3:10), "As many (persons) as are of works of law are under curse;" not merely those who transgressed, but all on that principle, like the Galatians bewitched. Spiritually, it was no use to tell us of the blessings on Gerizim. Deut. 28 speaks, not of the personal curse, but of governmental blessings or curses and therefore temporary; whilst Deut. 29 applies all to the conscience: only the last verse refers to the secret or hidden things belonging to Jehovah. This is of the deepest interest. The things revealed were as to the law; but there were secrets in divine purpose, only alluded to prophetically till the rejection of Christ, when they too were revealed. Deut. 30 illustrates this, if we compare with it the apostle's words in Rom. 10:4-9.
Moses then in Deut. 31 announces Joshua, not himself, as their leader over Jordan under Jehovah; and exhorts them to be courageous and strong in His going with them. "This law," it is definitely said, Moses wrote, and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, and to all the elders of Israel, with the command (at the release of every seven years, when all Israel met before Jehovah at His chosen place) to read it in their ears, men, women, children, and even the stranger within their gates. Then Joshua receives his charge at the tent of meeting and, as Jehovah directed, Moses wrote that day a prophetic song, His witness against the sons of Israel. Indeed "this book of the law" too was to be put by the side of the ark for the same purpose. For Moses well knew their rebelliousness, and the evil to befall them at the end of days; but he rejoiced that Jehovah's purpose is unfailing and irrevocable.
Deut. 32 begins with the song, before which Horace's lyrics are flat and Pindar's froth. Its holy grandeur has no equal. Its prophetic insight justifies the present grace to Gentiles (21) during the hiding of Jehovah's face from His ancient people, and His future vindication of Israel when humbled and believing (35-42); and then will be the fulfilment, not inchoate but complete, when the nations shout for joy [with] His people, or speak aloud their praises, as some Jewish versions say, and in substance the Vulg. but not the Sept. Yet all point to the glorious future. It is utterly groundless that the stand-point is other than Moses then took whether on Jehovah's side or on the people's, though anticipating, as indeed is the aim of all Deuteronomy, their entrance on their predestined inheritance. Alas! they disobeyed and became idolaters; but Jehovah abides, and will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance to His adversaries, and will make expiation for His land, for His people. After a few words more from Moses to the people, Jehovah bids him go up Nebo, and when he had seen the land, to die.
But this was not before blessing the sons of Israel in Deut. 33. His blessing is in view of Jehovah's government of His people in relationship with Himself in the land, the key-note of the book. In this way it differs from Jacob's in Genesis, which is historic and prophetically complete. Yet there is no inconsistency, but each true to its own divine design. What triumphant fervour in both the exordium and the conclusion! and what critical shortsightedness in thinking that it was not suitable to the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy to say, "He thrust out," "and said, Destroy," and "Israel dwelleth" or any other form in 27, 28!
There is no need whatever to take Deut. 34 as written by Moses before his death. Others followed inspired like him. But, as to the contents, Jehovah buried the dead law-giver; and Jude tells us what none had revealed till then. Satan would have turned a willing people to idolize him dead, whom living they strove against. No man knows his sepulchre unto this day. The testimony to the blessed man of God, as in Num. 12:3, better suits the successor to whom it was given of God.
§ 6. JOSHUA.
The book of Joshua is closely akin to the last book of the Pentateuch, which it immediately follows; but it has its own proper design impressed by God. It is no longer the mediator, no longer the apostle and high priest, but typically the power of Christ in Spirit leading His own in conflict with spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenlies. The book does not prefigure the personal presence of our Lord appearing from heaven, when He takes the inheritance of the universe in power and establishes the undisputed reign of His glory at the end of the age. Joshua represents the intermediate action of Him Who, dead, risen, and ascended, works by His Spirit in His saints to realise their heavenly title and inheritance in the face of their not yet extirpated enemies. What can be clearer than that Eph. 6:12 warrants, as well as suggests, this as the just application?
It is not heaven now entered individually after death, nor the enjoyment of God's rest when we are all conformed to the image of His Son and are with Him in the Father's house; but our death and resurrection with Christ, and sitting in the heavenlies in Him, with our consequent responsibility to wrestle against the world-rulers of this darkness on high, who strive to hinder our laying hold of our heavenly blessedness in Christ. If the popular Puritan allegory expresses evangelical shortcoming (to say the least), the Romanist and even the Catholic view is still darker. Both ideas betray the loss in this respect of the due and characteristic privilege of the Christian and of the church, developed specially in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
How inimitably Joshua 1 prepares the way necessary to God's design! On Moses' death, Joshua is called to "arise and go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, unto the land which I do give them." For the people redeemed from Egypt the wilderness was not Jehovah's purpose, only His way. Compare Ex. 3:8, 17, Ex. 6:4-8, Ex. 13:3-5, Ex. 15:13-17. The Jordan sets forth our death and resurrection with Christ, as the Red Sea does Christ's death and resurrection for us. Energy and courage were imperative and unswerving adherence to the word. So it is for the Christian; he is set free, yet bound, to obey God.
In Joshua 2 how bright the accompanying grace to a hitherto worthless and despised Gentile! Salvation to her, and even to her house, was attested by the scarlet line. She believed Jehovah, and this likewise in the midst of His people, before a blow was struck in Canaan. Then in Joshua 3 came the wonder wrought in Jordan when it overflowed all its banks: the ark of the covenant was borne in by the priests, and the waters fled before it, till all Israel passed over on dry ground. It points to the new position with and in Christ for the heavenly places, as the Red Sea prefigured our justification by His death and resurrection, needful even for our pilgrimage through the wilderness. The latter was out of Egypt, as the former into Canaan under Joshua. We died with Christ and were raised together with Him; and therefore should we mortify our members that are on the earth (Col. 2, 3). So we see the full witness of life out of and over death in the memorial of the twelve stones of Joshua 4 and the circumcision of Israel in Joshua 5 at Gilgal, when, and not before, the reproach of Egypt was rolled off. Thus "the old things passed away; behold, new things are come; but the whole, of the God that reconciled us to himself through Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17-18). The passover was kept as the Lamb's death. Next, the resurrection food, the old corn of the land, took the place of manna. In fact and in spiritual force this could only be now. Compare 2 Cor. 5:16. As in the wilderness, we eat the manna, and we celebrate His death; but as heavenly (for "all things are ours"), we feed on Him risen and on high.
Thus, after the vision not of the unconsumed bush for the desert, but of the Captain with drawn sword for Canaan and holiness in His presence, we have in Joshua 6 the first and greatest lesson of Jehovah in Jericho's fall: absolute subjection on man's part; the means seemingly unmeaning or absurd; but Jehovah the real accomplisher, as Joshua learnt of Him and told the people before the siege began. But man as he is was faithless; soon the wickedness of Achan brought defeat on Israel who failed to enquire of Jehovah before assailing Ai. That sin must first be sifted out and judged. Even then self-confidence is rebuked in Joshua 8: for all must march even against so small a place, and a special ambush be laid, and a signal appointed by Him be obeyed, when victory comes.
But the land was owned as Jehovah's according to Deut. 21:22-23, and by the altar of Ebal which proclaimed Israel's responsibility to obey. Gibeon in Joshua 9 disclosed that the chiefs failed in vigilant faith; for Israel was then deceived into an oath to spare a race whom Jehovah had devoted to destruction. But Joshua 10 shows a mighty discomfiture of the hosts that gathered against Gibeon, when sun and moon, or rather Jehovah, hearkened to Joshua's voice, who passed on, smiting the whole country, the mountain and the Negeb, and the lowland, and the slopes, and all their kings. He let none remain; but he utterly destroyed all that breathed, as Jehovah the God of Israel commanded. There was no more doubt of their wicked abominations than of his divine warrant to execute judgment. Thence is the return to Gilgal, whence he went up: there, was the memorial of death and resurrection; there, the mortification of the flesh. When weak, then are we strong. A new combination by the king of Hazor (Joshua 11) only brought the word of Jehovah for a complete victory to Joshua till the land had rest from war. Chap. 11 rehearses the conquest and the land acquired.
Yet the second half of the book tells us how imperfectly man's part was done. The failure was assuredly not in Jehovah, but in His people: so it ever is. Caleb received his portion, but not even Judah made good his lot by dispossessing the enemies of Jehovah. Ephraim and half Manasseh did no better. On these details, so full of interest to those who will re-enter and never more leave the land, one need not dwell now. Who but God could have given us such a book, on the surface so simple, but with depths beyond man's plummet? So Caleb was not forgotten, neither were Zelophehad's daughters; nor did Joshua show favour to the sons of Joseph, but faithfulness. At length also he rebuked the slack tribes, in order to taking possession by lot, as we learn in Joshua 18, 19.
The cities of refuge were appointed (Joshua 20) on this as on that side of Jordan; and the Levites received their forty-eight cities with their suburbs (Joshua 21), and the two tribes and half were sent away (Joshua 22). But they built an altar before crossing Jordan, which roused the alarm of Israel, who sent Phinehas and other representatives to remonstrate. On disclaiming any thought save of a witness between them and their God, that they too had portion in Jehovah, peace prevailed.
In Joshua 23, Joshua 24 are two charges of Joshua, the first more general, the second more detailed and emphatic, in which the departing leader set blessing and warning before them, but not a word about his own achievements in either. In the latter he reminds them how Abraham was chosen out of an idolatrous house; how Egypt was plagued, and Israel brought out; how the Amorites opposed and were effaced; how Balaam was forced to bless; how the nations in Canaan were delivered into their hand. Then he puts their danger from all false gods, avowing fidelity to Jehovah from him and his. On the people declaring their loyalty, Joshua owns his just fears, whilst they repeat their allegiance; and a covenant was thereon made in Shechem. The book closes with the death and burial of Joshua in the hill-country of Ephraim: so Joseph's bones had been laid there too, and Eleazar's also, each in its own quarter.
Not only was the book of Joshua of the highest interest and importance to Israel as the evidence of Jehovah's accomplishing in power what His mouth had promised; but it sets out to the Christian the present privilege of realising our spiritual blessing in the heavenlies as in no other part of the O.T. If the types in the first half reveal the mighty work of God in Christ risen and ascended, the second speaks most practically to our souls also. It was written by one who "passed over" Jordan that day (Joshua 5:1); but it was and must be by God's unerring hand and mind and love, let unbelief rail as it may.
§ 7. JUDGES.
Is this book less marked by the finger of God? Here it is not slackness but growing failure, and grievous forsaking of Jehovah; and Bochim succeeds to Gilgal, so that He sold them into heathen hands. Yet it attests His ear open to their cry, and deliverers raised up in answer. It is the book beyond all others of revivals on God's part, when to His mercy His people appealed out of their misery from their shameful sins. Historically and morally the book could only be where it is; the divine design is exactly suited to the facts.
To Judges 3:7 is an introduction, as Judges 17 to the end is a dark yet needed appendix. Joshua's death did not hinder Jehovah's blessing when He was looked to by Judah, and for Simeon too. Othniel's early story is repeated. Yet did they all like Benjamin fail in energy: so too did Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. Nor was it felt, till Jehovah's angel (Judges 2) came up from Gilgal to Bochim with the dread word that He would not drive out the accursed race whom they had spared. Thus they sunk lower and lower, as each deliverer died. Tears cannot do the work of faith. The evil was within and against Jehovah. Humiliation came from heathen without, instead of self-judgment by the word.
Their first oppressor was Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, till the Spirit of Jehovah wrought in Othniel, and the land had rest for forty years. Then came the dominion of the Moabite Eglon, till Ehud was raised up, and the land rested eighty years. Shamgar followed for deliverance from the Philistines (Judges 4). Again Jabin of Hazor mightily oppressed Israel twenty years, when Deborah was used by God to subdue the Canaanite through Barak; and they sing Jehovah's praise in the noble ode of Judges 5.
On fresh evil Jehovah delivers Israel into the hand of Midian; but when they cried to Him, Gideon was raised up to be a saviour. But what lessons of faith to make the weak strong in Judges 6, 7, 8! Yet never were the people lower morally. And so it came out openly when Gideon died; and retribution fell on Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Judges 9).
Afterwards as we read in Judges 10 came Tola, and Jair with his thirty sons; but when Israel sank into the worship not only of other strange gods but of those of the Philistine and the Ammonite, Jehovah sold them into the hands of those neighbouring peoples; and their cry arose, and His soul was grieved for their misery. Jephthah (Judges 11) the despised became their leader, on whom was the Spirit of Jehovah; and Ammon was subdued. But the haughty men of Ephraim, graciously answered by Gideon, met a severer judge in the Gileadite; after whom came Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (Judges 12).
A worse relapse brought a stern and nearer chastening from the Philistines. Here therefore the deliverer was a Nazarite: separation to Jehovah was the condition of suited mercy. Yet Samson was weak enough morally, and his work more individual, and rather prowess physically, than in any previous case. His strength lay in maintaining the secret of Jehovah; and when he gave it up basely, he became as another man for a while, but his vision gone, till God visited the vain-glory of the Philistines with a disaster at his hands greater in his death than the victories of his life (Judges 13-16).
The tale of Micah in Judges 17, Judges 18 is not in chronological order, but here given after the history, to lay bare the lawlessness in religious matters which prevailed in the days of the judges; as that in Judges 19-21 lets us see the frightful demoralisation in those days, and the calamities it brought on Israel, when Benjamin was all but extinguished as a tribe. How marvellous the grace which turned their shame to profit, both in self-judgment from God, and in recovery of fraternal affection! Who but Himself could or would thus have lifted the veil off His people for good?
§ 8. RUTH.
It is not our task to search into the motives which led the later Jews to take the book of Ruth from its place, as indicated in our Bibles as well as in the Septuagint (the Greek Version rendered long before our Lord came), and class it with the Lamentations, Canticles, Esther, and Ecclesiastes, as the five Megilloth, part of the Khetubim or Hagio-grapha. Following Judges and preceding the books of Samuel, it is just where it should be. It falls within the days of the judges, and most fittingly points on to the Beloved whom Jehovah chose to be His anointed, coming to the throne when Saul fell.
But what a contrast with those old anomalous days, especially with the horrors of the appendix! The Holy Spirit here brings before us from within that period a tale of surpassing beauty, in particular of her whose name is the title.
The death of Elimelech ("whose God is King") left Naomi a widow, the type of Israel. Her two sons also died, and she returns from among strangers to the land of promise, hearing that Jehovah had visited His people in giving them bread. Only did Ruth cleave to her. So it will be after the people's sins and desolations: a remnant will return, after Lo-ammi had been long written. This is vividly typified by the Moabitess daughter-in-law; but meanwhile Naomi owns herself as yet Mara, not "my pleasantness" but "bitterness." But come back to Bethlehem, they meet with Boaz ("in him is strength"); and Naomi, encouraged by his kindness and character, instructs Ruth to claim her Levirate title. Another, who represented the nearer claim of the law in flesh, refuses to take the inheritance with Ruth; while Boaz represents the risen Heir, and as the kinsman-redeemer accepts the widow to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. And out of their union sprang Obed, father of Jesse, father of David. So it will be in the last days, when the godly remnant will be owned in grace by the Redeemer, before the kingdom is established in power and glory. Types of the Kingdom will soon appear in the books that follow this: personally in David the warrior king and in the son of David, the man of peace, both needed to give an adequate view of the Messiah in relation to Israel.
That these anticipations of Holy Writ are true can readily be proved to men of faith. All men however have not faith; but if the words are of God from first to last, if they will be surely fulfilled in the grand events of the latter day, what can one think of the spirit, aim, and state of those who, bearing the Lord's name, strain every nerve to darken and destroy these living oracles, reducing them to legends haphazard and of varying merit, but really denying that God wrote them by His inspired servants, that they might be worthy of all acceptance?
§ 9. 1 SAMUEL.
The wisdom of God is no less apparent in these four books, which are parts of the same design. They open with the failure of the priesthood, as distinctly as the people had failed both in the wilderness and in the land. "By strength shall no man prevail." Since sin entered, and death through it, grace alone avails, as in Hannah (1 Sam. 1, 2), and expressed in her prayer-song, and by the man of God prophetically to Eli in the marked change of even the faithful priest walking before Jehovah's Anointed for ever. Thus was the King foreshadowed in sovereign grace, before the evil heart of unbelief wearied of Jehovah, and would have "a king like all the nations." Hitherto the high priest was "the anointed." Soon was there to be the anointed King before whom the priest would walk, which finds its complete realisation only in the Lord Jesus.
The word of Jehovah meanwhile calls Samuel, to whom He revealed Himself for all Israel (1 Sam. 3); and the ark abused by selfishness passes to the Philistines (1 Sam. 4). But if this was Ichabod for people and priests, the enemy and their idol were forced to bow before the vindicating judgments of Jehovah, only too glad to send the ark away with their guilt-offering (1 Sam. 5, 6). If the men of Beth-shemesh indulged in profane curiosity, a yet more severe blow befell those who ought to have known better. To Kirjath-jearim is the ark brought, and abides there twenty years. It never returns to the old order, and only enters its due place when David's son set up in peace the picture of glory, which still awaits the people under Messiah and the new covenant. When Israel lamented, Samuel calls them to repentance and gathers them to Mizpah where his prayer rises because of a counter gathering of the Philistines, who were driven out into their border (1 Sam. 7). But if Samuel judged in faith, he could not make his sons judges beyond the name, when Israel, revolting from them, revolted also from Jehovah (1 Sam. 8); and He putting aside Samuel's indignation, gave them a king in His anger and took him away in His wrath, as says Hosea. This episode occupies to the end of the book; but within it is the tale of him who was made the type of the true Beloved, His king, to sit on His holy hill of Zion. Saul was the chosen, higher than any of the people, according to the heart of Israel (1 Sam. 9), saluted as king, by all save some base fellows (1 Sam. 10), and achieving a crushing victory over the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11). Samuel, acknowledged to have been faithful, warns them of their responsibility, but assures them of his continued intercession (1 Sam. 12); whereas Saul after two years is heard summoning "the Hebrews," as a heathen might say who believed not that they were Jehovah's people (1 Sam. 13), and offered the burnt-offering in his disobedience. Jonathan wrought with God, his father Saul only spoiling the victory and only kept by the people from making Jonathan the victim of his superstition (1 Sam. 14). Samuel let him know, on his fresh disobedience as to Amalek, that Jehovah rejected him from the throne of Israel (1 Sam. 15).
Jehovah in 1 Sam. 16 takes the initiative, and has Jesse's youngest son anointed by the prophet. Meanwhile he is sought to soothe with the harp the king troubled by an evil spirit. Then follows his victory over Goliath in 1 Sam. 17, with Jonathan's love, and Saul's jealous hatred, Merab given to another, Michal to him as a snare, but only proving Jehovah to be with David who escaped the king's murderous hand (1 Sam. 18, 19). In 20 Jonathan, slow to believe his father's ill-will, renews his covenant with David, who becomes now an exile, and receives the show-bread from the priest with Goliath's sword. This brings death on the sons of Aaron at Doeg's hand (1 Sam. 21, 22) and gives occasion to many a psalm of plaint and praise, as David hides in Keilah, Ziph, and Engedi (1 Sam. 23, 24). Nabal's folly is as plain as Abigail's faith in 1 Sam. 25. But if David's generosity puts Saul to shame at Hachilah (1 Sam. 26), his faith breaks down in 1 Sam. 27, and an interval in no way to his praise follows in Ziklag. Saul seeks the witch of Endor, when Samuel's soul appeared, not her familiar spirit, and tells him the approaching doom (1 Sam. 28). David is refused as an ally by the Philistine lords, and returns to find Ziklag burnt, and the families of him and his men captive (1 Sam. 29, 30), but defeats the Amalekite spoilers, as the Philistines smite Israel, Saul, and his sons on Gilboa (1 Sam. 31)
§ 10. 2 SAMUEL,
The second book (1) opens with David's resentment at the stranger who falsely taxed himself with the slaying of Saul to please him, and with a genuine lament over the fallen house. In 2 Sam. 2 at the word of Jehovah he goes to Hebron, and reigns over Judah seven years and a half. For two years reigns Saul's son Ishbosheth over Benjamin and Israel generally, through Abner's influence, with whom Joab contends. David only had title from God who let the hindrances pass, without the least sympathy on his own part with the guilty instruments (2 Sam. 3, 4). In 2 Sam. 5 all the tribes come to him in Hebron, and anoint David king, who reigns in Jerusalem over all Israel thirty-three years more. The stronghold of Zion falls; and Tyre sends gifts. In vain the Philistines gather against David, who enquires of Jehovah, instead of going at once in the confidence of prowess and old victories. Again they come; but David only acts as Jehovah commands. Still the ark remained in Abinadab's house; and David desired its presence (2 Sam. 6). But he did not enquire, nor did he search the scriptures, how it should be done. So it ended in death, as it began in error. And the ark was carried into the house of Obed-edom for three months of blessing to all the house. Tidings of this awakened the king to the homage of faith; and the ark was duly carried into the city of David with joy. It was not yet the temple, but the provisional tabernacle beyond which David could not go. The rest of glory was reserved for Solomon, type of Christ in peace, as David was of His wars. All this appears clearly in the prophets who came afterward; here its analogue comes historically; but who could have done either but the Holy Spirit? David is not viewed as a priest on his throne, but acts by grace as a servant, and so thoroughly as to rouse the fleshly anger of Michal, who pays the penalty of her contempt.
How proper did it seem as we read in 2 Sam. 7 to build Jehovah a palace as the king had done for himself! But Nathan the prophet is corrected by Jehovah the same night: David's son, who shall be Jehovah's son, is to build that house; and his house shall be established for ever. So it shall be in the most glorious way. If this be the truth, who but God could have so revealed? and how perfectly in keeping with the divine design in this book! David could no more build the temple than Moses could enter the land. Hence we may note his subduing the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, etc., in 2 Sam. 8. He typifies the warrior still. The man of peace shall build. Christ will answer to both in the fullest perfection. David's grace to Jonathan's son shines in 2 Sam. 9. But 2 Sam. 10 shows how the type fails; 2 Sam. 11, how far he fell shamefully; and 2 Sam. 12, how the sword should never depart from his house in Jehovah's moral government. What a rebuke was Amnon's lust in 2 Sam. 13! What another was Absalom's blood-guiltiness! Nor was this all. For if through Joab Absalom returns (2 Sam. 14), his rebellion breaks out, as 2 Sam. 15 shows, and David's flight in 2 Sam. 16. Ahithophel comes to nothing in 2 Sam. 17; and Absalom perishes by Joab's hand in 2 Sam. 18. Touching is the king's sorrow; but he returns in 2 Sam. 19. Sheba's rebellion ends with the traitor's death, but not without Joab's guile and cruelty in 2 Sam. 20; as 2 Sam. 21 gives the striking proof that Jehovah punishes in king Saul's house perfidy toward even the accursed Hivites of Gibeon.
Then how remarkably comes in here David's song of deliverance from all his enemies and Saul too (2 Sam. 22)! followed by his "last words" in 2 Sam. 23 when he long reigned, but also had the grief that "his house is not so with God;" and though he could say the covenant was all his salvation and desire, yet "He maketh it not to grow." Judgment must intervene; which Christ alone could execute perfectly. Who but God could have so written? even as He will accomplish all in its day. Then follows the roll of David's worthies on the one hand, and the plague that devoured the thousands (2 Sam. 24), about whose numbering he sinned in the pride of his heart, in painful contrast with Him Whom he foreshadowed so much. But even there mercy glories against judgment at Jerusalem, and the threshing-floor of Araunah becomes the site of the altar to Jehovah, the meeting-place of reconciliation for His people for ever.
Directly and indirectly we thus see that the books of Samuel are God giving man's choice of a king superseded by the figure of the true Beloved, reducing His enemies to subjection; as the Lord will when He comes in power and glory at the end of the age, before He reigns in peace.
§ 11. 1 KINGS.
The first book of Kings pursues the history of the kingdom, not only to the division under Rehoboam, but to the death of Jehoshaphat and the reign of Ahaziah. A design similar to 1 and 2 Samuel pervades it and its successor. So in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate they are together entitled the Four books of Kings. But they essentially differ from all other annals, in that prophets in this case were the historians: a character which rationalism does its utmost to doubt, darken, and destroy, but in vain. Only Christ stands, and will, in every relation in which the first man failed; and as king it will be displayed power and glory on earth as in the heavens. Who but an unbeliever cannot discern a greater than David in Him Who, delivered from the strivings of the people, is made Head of the nations?
Here we have the type set in responsibility, blessed and a blessing in the measure of fidelity, and bringing in ruin through unfaithfulness till there was no remedy. But Jehovah cannot fail nor His Anointed, as the consummation of the age will prove to a wondering world. These books testify what the kingdom was in its decline and fall with the assured promise of the "morning without clouds," when judgment clears the way for His reign Whose right it is. Such is the divine design of all four: in the first two, David's history in this point of view; and now Solomon's, who is seen established on the throne, the more for Adonijah's rebellion, in which fell crafty Joab, and later, Shimei, with Abiathar the priest (1 Kings 1, 2) in God's righteous government. Though affinity with the Gentile has its expression in 1 Kings 3, and Solomon was blessed with wisdom and much more, a feebler faith appears in his cleaving to the brazen altar and the great high place in Gibeon, as compared with David's appreciation of the ark. But the splendour of the kingdom was great, the peace maintained, Israel prosperous and glad, the Gentiles filled with his fame, and subservient to his glory (1 Kings 4, 5). Then follows (1 Kings 6, 7) his building in seven years the temple of Jehovah, himself but a shadow of Him Who is to sit and rule, a priest on His throne, according to Zechariah 6; his house in thirteen years, and that of the forest of Lebanon, with the porch of judgment, and a house for Pharaoh's daughter. In 1 Kings 8 at the feast of Tabernacles he dedicates Jehovah's house in prayers, to which Jehovah answers (1 Kings 9) in language only to be fulfilled in Christ's reign when His world-kingdom is come (Rev. 11:15). And the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) prefigures the Gentile powers coming to the brightness of His rising Who is far greater than Solomon. But darkness falls on the king in 1 Kings 11, and prophecy tells of approaching judgment. So it is with the first man.
Under his son Rehoboam it comes in part and soon; for Jeroboam rebels with the tribes of Israel, leaving Judah. Rehoboam must bow to the word of God (1 Kings 12). Prophets rise into marked prominency, and especially in Israel now apostate and idolatrous; as Jeroboam was made to feel (1 Kings 13, 14), though he adheres to his sin. Abijam follows Rehoboam in evil; Asa shows piety, but trusts in a Syrian alliance to his sorrow (1 Kings 15). The godly Jehoshaphat succeeded, though he too failed in allying with Ahab and Ahaziah. At this time was the ministry of Elijah the prophet and of Micaiah (1 Kings 17-22). But we need not dwell on the details, of wondrous interest and instruction though they be.
§ 12. 2 KINGS.
Ahaziah fights against Jehovah and perishes (2 Kings 1). Jehoram is no better. Where the king, as in Israel then, was not a link of relationship with God, but rather a witness against Him as being idolatrous, the prophet was so in extraordinary grace. But now Elijah was to be caught up, yet not before Elisha is called, as it were from that ascension, and hence has a character of grace as marked as his in righteousness who retired to Horeb, confessing that all was over as to Israel. Jericho is relieved from the curse, though the mockers are punished (2 Kings 2). Moab fights in vain (2 Kings 3). Miracles of mercy abound, even to deliverance from death and to the outside Gentile (2 Kings 4, 5); so that the baffled foe comes no more. The famine yields to unexpected plenty (2 Kings 6, 7). Israel will yet be restored (2 Kings 8), whatever humiliation may be even for Judah, whatever changes in Israel (2 Kings 9, 10). Judah seemed menaced with the destruction of the royal house: but a branch is hid, the pledge of sure blessing (2 Kings 11) at the end, and of judgment preceding. The Syrians meanwhile oppress both Judah (2 Kings 12) and Israel (2 Kings 13), though dying Elisha helps the king who failed in faith to consume the foe. The pride of Judah's king received its humiliation (2 Kings 14); and Jehovah relieved the bitter afflictions of Israel.
Then the Assyrian is bought off by Menahem, during the long reign of Azariah (or Uzziah) over Judah (2 Kings 15). But Pul is followed by Tiglath-Pileser who sweeps into captivity the north of the land. In Jotham's time the kings of Syria and Israel begin to act against Judah; but in the days of Ahaz, wicked as he was (2 Kings 16), Jehovah pronounces the failure of their confederacy. Yet later, in the reign of Hezekiah is Samaria taken, and Israel as a whole carried away (2 Kings 17), according to Jehovah's judgment of their apostasy; whereas the Assyrian Sennacherib has his blasphemy punished by an unexampled blow from Jehovah in one night, as he was slain afterwards by his own sons in the house of Nisroch his god (2 Kings 18, 19). The trustful son of David typified the final fall of that power, when Messiah shall reign, great even unto the ends of the earth (Micah 5:1-6). But his rising as it were from death is followed by vainglory before the ambassadors from Babylon; when the prophet announces Judah's captivity to this power, not to the Assyrian (2 Kings 20).
The revival in that day no doubt gave rise to fond hopes; but it is succeeded by the enormous wickedness of Manasseh (2 Kings 21), and his imitating son, Amon. The pious fear of Josiah (2 Kings 22, 23) was but a brief stay of the impending ruin, which was hastened by the iniquity of those summed up in Matt. 1:11 as "Jechoniah and his brethren." Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar might contend for a little while; but the divine design had long been uttered. Out of Egypt Israel was called; into Babylon Judah must go (2 Kings 24, 25), and now, utterly corrupt and apostate, became the slave of the patroness of corruption; till all her graven images were broken to the ground, and the avenger said of Jerusalem, She shall be built, and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. This however was but providential.
Grace only can really meet the need to the divine glory, crushing all the power of Satan; though for the earth God will be glorified in Israel. This Christ takes up in Isaiah 49 where He substitutes Himself for the utterly ruined people; while His rejection and atoning death become the pivot for deliverance and righteousness, power and glory. What design so worthy of God, so blessed for man and Israel? And this it is which runs through the four books just surveyed. All the wit of man would have failed to conceive or express the ways of divine government here traced. God alone was capable of forming such a moral already accomplished in the realities of that land under the sway of kings (for the most part failing and judged), but with ample foreshadow of overturning, until He come Who alone is worthy, to Whom the kingdom will be given.
§ 13. 1 CHRONICLES.
That there is a purpose in the book of Chronicles, now divided into two, distinct from that which runs through the preceding books of Kings, is unquestionable. No "And" connects their beginning, as before. But the Septuagintal title of Παραλειπόμενα, "Things deficient or omitted," fails to describe it adequately. A great deal is repeated though not without characteristic differences, while very much is fresh with notable omissions of a markedly homogeneous kind. The introductory genealogy from man's existence on the earth ought to have shut out the notion of a mere supplement, and prepared for a special design of God; Who here points out, in the midst of general ruin, His sovereign mercy and blessing bound up with the house of David and the tribe of Judah, whatever His chastenings because of their sins. They were a spiritual retrospect, like Deuteronomy, which also is not in continuity with its predecessors, though to the believer undoubtedly of Moses, as the Chronicles in all probability of Ezra, both admitting of a little inspired addition to complete them. But there is no such ground to insist on Ezra here, as on Moses there, who claims the book with unusual precision; so that one must accept this, or treat it as a fraudulent romance and risk the consequence both now and before the judgment-seat of Christ.
The so-called first book parts into two sections, 1 Chron. 1-9:34, and 10-29.
In the nine chapters constituting the preliminary section we have the principle long after formulated by the apostle Paul, not first the spiritual but the natural, then the spiritual. Even the general genealogy of 1 Chron. 1 is governed by this divine purpose. That of the sons of Israel from 1 Chron. 2 follows the same rule. In 1 Chron. 3 are named David's sons, born in Hebron and in Jerusalem, Judah thus occupying the space from 1 Chron. 2:3 to 4:23, the sons of Simeon following who were allotted there and were specially associated as in Judges 1. How Reuben, the firstborn, lost the primacy which sovereign grace gave to Judah, though the birthright passed to Joseph, we read in 1 Chron. 5; and Reuben's war with the Hagarites, which leads to a brief notice of the Gadites and Manassites, his neighbours. Then comes the incomparably fuller view of the Levites and Aaron's sons in the long 1 Chron. 6; as those of Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, the other half of Manasseh, Ephraim, Asher, curtly follow in 1 Chron. 7. But Benjamin reappears particularly in 1 Chron. 8 to bring in Saul, his forefathers and descendants. Dan and Zebulun are not even noticed. 1 Chron. 9 sketches the circumstances on the return from Babylon, when some of Israel, but especially the saved and the royal tribes came back, in and near Jerusalem.
We may regard the history opening with Saul and his house in 1 Chron. 9:35, but hastening to his sad end on mount Gilboa, with the Holy Spirit's moral comment on it in 1 Chron. 10. Thereon, for here too the spiritual was after the natural, follows the true king of Jehovah's choice, not in Hebron only but Jerusalem; Zion taken; and his worthies named in 1 Chron. 11, 12. Then we have the ark with the failures that first hindered in 1 Chron. 13, while David was blessed when he was dependent on God (1 Chron. 14); but at length he honoured God in due order and reverence for the ark to the joy of all but Michal (1 Chron. 15) Yet was its place only provisional, whatever the blessing and praise on that day (1 Chron. 16). David's son was to build Jehovah's house (1 Chron. 17), and his thanks rise higher still in the assured and everlasting blessing of his own house.
David's conquests and prosperous reign through Jehovah's favour appear in 1 Chron. 18, and the Ammonite king insults him to the ruin of himself and his allies (1 Chron. 19, 20). David's terrible fall in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba is left out, as well as his tribulations before he reached the throne; not so in the pride that counted Israel, which drew from Jehovah pestilence, arrested at Oman's threshing-floor, Mount Moriah, thereon bought by David as the site for Jehovah's house (1 Chron. 21, 22). The sanctuary then becomes actively his concern, and his charge to Solomon to build it, and to the princes of Israel to help.
Then in 1 Chron. 23 David divides the Levites for their services, and in 1 Chron. 24 the sons of Aaron into their twenty-four courses, as in 1 Chron. 25 the singers and musicians into a like number. The doorkeepers and other officials are seen arranged in 1 Chron. 26. Then in 1 Chron. 27 we have the civil officers for every month, and heads of tribes, and the royal controllers in their several places.
In 1 Chron. 28, 29 the king repeats his charge before all the chiefs as to Solomon and the house to Jehovah's name, with its inspired pattern and his ample store of material, stirring up pious generosity in the men of means, and blessing Jehovah before all with sacrifice abundant. Solomon is again made king, with Zadok priest. And David's close is touchingly recounted, with Solomon reigning in his stead: the twofold type of Christ, as we have seen in Moses and Joshua. The episode of Adonijah, etc., is only in the Book of Kings.
§ 14. 2 CHRONICLES.
The continuation begins with Solomon in the same aspect as David. It is the figure of the kingdom. How blessed when the Great King reigns, with Whom is no failure, but blessing to the full! Solomon's faults, like David's, it was not the point to name, save where otherwise it was required. "Jehovah his God was with him and magnified him exceedingly." But the brazen altar was before him as before the people, rather than the ark, David's delight. He asked wisdom of God, and received also riches and honour beyond all (2 Chron. 1). But the house of Jehovah engaged him rightly, and the king of Tyre helped him, and all the strangers in the land served (2 Chron. 2). This is described in 2 Chron. 3, 4 and the assembly on its completion, with their hallelujahs when the glory of Jehovah filled God's house (2 Chron. 5), for indeed He only is Elohim: so little have diverse documents to do with the terms. And Solomon's prayer goes up with blessing in 2 Chron. 6, and the fire came down from the heavens as answer in 2 Chron. 7. It was the feast of Tabernacles, as well as of the altar's dedication, kept with joy and gladness; and Jehovah appeared to Solomon, but not without solemn warning. The Gentile gives gifts (2 Chron. 8), and Pharaoh's daughter has her separate house; and his fame spreads far and wide, so that Sheba's queen comes with her precious things and proving his wisdom (2 Chron. 9), as indeed all the kings of the earth owned it.
Next Rehoboam fools away all but Judah and Benjamin, and Israel rebelled against David's house (2 Chron. 10); but here the contrast with the preceding books is striking, for we have no account save of what adhered loyally and in faith. Even Rehoboam bowed to the man of God sent to prohibit his avenging Israel's defection (2 Chron. 11); yet afterwards (2 Chron. 12) forsaking the law he was chastened by the hand of Shishak. Abijah, who succeeded and had more faith, inflicted a severe blow on Jeroboam and Israel. So with Asa in 2 Chron. 14, before whom Ethiopia's myriads fell, and who was blessed in hearing Oded the prophet, 2 Chron. 15. But relying on Syria against Israel (2 Chron. 16), he was smitten of God by a lingering death. The bright reign of faithful Jehoshaphat follows in 2 Chron. 17-20, yet with the blot of joining himself with the idolatrous kings of Israel for state purposes to his shame more than once.
Of Jehoram and Ahaziah there is only evil to say in 2 Chron. 21, 22; and the wicked Athaliah seemed to have extinguished the lamp of David's house; but not so: Jehoiada, the priest, conceals the heir in the house of God six years. In 2 Chron. 23 we read how the young king got his own again, and the murderous usurper came to her death. But Joash too forgot his debt to Jehoiada when his son Zechariah was slain by the people at the king's command; and he too (2 Chron. 24) publicly and personally came to grief. Amaziah had a mixed career according to his behaviour and ended ill, 2 Chron. 25; and Uzziah reigned well and long, but he also transgressing in pride became a leper judicially till his death, 2 Chron. 26.
Jotham did better, as we read in 2 Chron. 27, but Ahaz ("that is that King Ahaz") walked in the ways of Israel's kings, and spite of calls of grace (2 Chron. 28), sank lower and lower. His son Hezekiah was simple and strong in faith, as we see in 2 Chron. 29-32, and honoured in the overthrow of the Assyrian. Yet he got lifted up at last; though here again the Spirit omits the details of his sickness, and his vain display before the ambassadors from Babylon, both only touched on in the Chronicles. The horrors of Manasseh's reign are shortly given, and also his repentance and restoration after captivity; Amon's evil follows in the same 2 Chron. 33, but punished by his own servants who were themselves punished.
In the midst of Judah more and more corrupt, how marked is the tender conscience of Josiah (2 Chron. 34), with boldness for Jehovah's honour and hatred of idolatry and heed to the word of God! so that the passover was kept as not before since Samuel's days (2 Chron. 35). But fighting without divine direction he fell before the then king of Egypt. The evil under Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and the profane Zedekiah brought on the destruction of the kingdom, of Jerusalem and the temple, with the captivity of the remnant in Babylon (2 Chron. 36). "There was no remedy." After seventy years Cyrus the Persian according to the word of Jehovah proclaimed the return and the rebuilding of His house at Jerusalem.
§ 15. EZRA.
This book has its own design from God, manifestly distinct from that of Kings as well as Chronicles, even if the style of the latter did not point to the same writer, "a ready scribe in the law of Moses which Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given." In fact however the book before us was joined, not with the Chronicles, but with Nehemiah, though this was by the governor's hand, long designated together "the Book of Ezra," and it would seem, only late in the fourth century after Christ separated as we now have them. Ezra was not the witness of the facts in Ezra 1-6, as he was of those in the remaining four; but there is no sufficient ground to doubt that he was inspired to give us all.
The overthrow of Babylon was an event of signal moment, not only in itself and its immediate consequences, but yet more as prefiguring the judgment of the Gentile dominion from the God of heaven on the actual apostasy and ruin for the time of Jehovah's people. This is made plain in Isaiah 13, 14 where, as none ought to doubt that it predicts the catastrophe that befell the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride by the Medes, etc., so none should overlook that "the Burden" does not stop short of the final downfall of the power which "the golden city" began. Then will Jehovah have compassion on, not on a mere remnant of Judah chiefly, but "on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land," and "they shall take them captive whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors."
This book of Ezra was of the utmost importance to show the divine account of the intervening provisional state in which they waited for the Messiah, and the fulfilment to the utmost when they are completely restored to the land, under the new covenant, and have the true David and David's Son reigning over them in power and glory. They are meanwhile Lo-ammi (not-My-people); they are (not "were") bondmen of the Gentile power. Compare Ezra 9:9, and Neh. 9:36 which makes the correction certain. Yet Cyrus had proclaimed more than liberty to return and even a charge to build Jehovah His house in Jerusalem according to prophecy. Withal he returned the captured vessels, gold and silver, by Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah (Ezra 1); and the children of the captivity went up (Ezra 2), every one to his city, upwards of 42,000 genealogically reckoned, besides their servants male and female. Most appropriately they set up, not first a wall, but the altar, and offered Burnt-offerings, and kept the feast of Tabernacles (for it was the seventh month), with other dues to Jehovah according to His word, before the foundation of the house was laid. When it was laid before their eyes, greatly wept the old, loudly shouted the young (Ezra 3). But the adversaries were on the alert, first pretending a friendly alliance, next accusing the returned remnant to Cambyses (=Ahasuerus), and as he evidently would not oppose his father's decree, then to Smerdis (=Artaxerxes), who lent them his ear; and the work ceased (Ezra 4). But the prophets, looking to God, re-awakened their zeal by their prophesying (Ezra 5); and the work went on, notwithstanding the opposition of influential antagonists, before the fresh letter to Darius Hystaspis brought out his decided confirmation of Cyrus' original proclamation. The house was finished in his sixth year, and its dedication kept with joy; and remnant though they were, shorn of their chief ornaments, they embraced all Israel in faith and subjection to the word; as in due time they kept the passover duly purified and joyfully, though owning the Gentile king in the bondage to which God had reduced them because of their departure from Himself (Ezra 6).
After these things, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, Ezra the priest went up from Babylon, and with him other Israelites of all grades by the king's favour, and with free-will offerings, and authority for all Ezra wanted for the house of his God, and instruction and judging of the Jews: a witness alike of divine mercy through the Gentile, and of the abnormal position of Israel (Ezra 7). The genealogy follows in Ezra 8 of Ezra's companions, their fears, yet faith, and safe arrival. But this faithful servant of God, when he learnt the affinity of those already in the land with the Gentiles, sat down grieved and overwhelmed until the evening oblation; then he poured out with tears his humiliation to Jehovah (Ezra 9). There Shechaniah confessed for the rest (Ezra 10); and they agreed to put away the evil at a solemn assembly of all by proclamation. So too it was done, though not without resistance; for the sin was widespread, even among the priests
§ 16. NEHEMIAH.
Not less distinct is God's design in the book of Nehemiah. But it is their civil policy, not their religious position. Both must be according to God, but in the lowly estate that became captives returned from Babylon. Pretension in either would have dishonoured God; but obedience is ever imperative: no ruin absolves from its obligation. In this book we have his own touching account of the grief that filled him even at the Persian court in Artaxerxes L.'s twentieth year, when he heard of the great affliction and reproach under which the remnant lay, the wall even still broken down, and the gates burnt with fire. So he gave himself to mourning and prayer to the God of heaven. Still He was God and would hear supplication (Neh. 1). The great king perceived his sadness, though a forbidden thing there; and his cup-bearer, not without fresh prayer, made his request to build the city of his fathers' sepulchres, which was granted, to the vexation of new adversaries. But Nehemiah saw all with his own eyes, though by night; and only then laid his purpose to build the wall before the chief men, who were cheered and strengthened accordingly, whatever the scorn and despite of their neighbours (Neh. 2).
Great things were far from Nehemiah, but jealousy for God and persevering love for Israel in their utter weakness and shame. Neh. 3 is the deeply interesting account of their labours in detail from the high priest down to the least. If nobles failed here, even a ruler's daughter repaired elsewhere. Great was the anger and indignation of Sanballat; bitter the contempt of Tobiah; but Nehemiah prayed and set a watch, and they built with swords girt on, and the trumpeter by the governor (Neh. 4). What mortification and anger, when he heard of Jews exacting usury of their brethren, and even enslaving them as the issue! So he put them to shame and redressed the wrong; as his own unselfishness rebuked them (Neh. 5). Then we see him in Neh. 6 escaping the snare, as before the violence, of the foe; and the wall is finished, in spite of treachery in priests, prophets, and nobles. The genealogy of the returned captives under Zerubbabel here appears in Neh. 7 in connection with his re-peopling Jerusalem and building houses in it.
Next in Neh. 8 we are told, as the seventh month was come, all the people gathered, and Ezra read the book of the law; and when the people wept, they were exhorted to good cheer; for a day that is holy to Jehovah does not call for gloom. But obedience is of all moment always; and so they judged all previous departure, as they had not done since Joshua's time. Neh. 9 shows them fasting shortly after, as becomes them, with a true repentance: so in Ezra's case before. Neh. 10 gives the list of those who sealed the covenant of separation from strangers and of confession of sins from the Tirshatha downwards; as in Neh. 11 we have those who devoted themselves to reside in Jerusalem and its suburbs. Again, Neh. 12, furnishes the names of the priests and the Levites that had first returned, and those descended till subsequent days. The dedication of the wall follows.
The closing chapter brings us down to the time when Nehemiah came again from the Persian court in the two and thirtieth year of the king (Neh. 13:6). Then a fresh effort was made to separate Israel from the strange multitude, the house of God was purged from impurity, the sabbath vindicated, and mixed marriages put an end to. For even the high priest's son was guilty and repulsed by Nehemiah.