« הקודםהמשך »
ten by himself, or by some of those singers who were employed in the worship of the tabernacle.
Whatever traces of inimitable beauty we are enabled to discover in the Psalms ; there is no reason to doubt, but much more could be discerned, if we were, in all cases, acquainted with the subject to which they refer, and the occasion on which they were composed. Much of the harmony, propriety, and elegance, of the sacred poetry, must pass unperceived by us, who can only form distant conjectures of the general design, but are totally ignorant of the particular applications.
David has predicted so much concerning evangelical times, that, in the opinion of some commentators, every Psalm has a reference to the Messiah.
If we trace the history of the chosen people, from the days of Abraham to those of Solomon, we shall find them assuming a considerable variety of forms. For the three first generations, they were only one pious family, with a venerable patriarch at its head; subject to none of the princes of the earth, and usurping no authority over its neighbours. Next, they became a distinct race of subjects to the Pharaoh's"; at first, treated with friendship, then with oppression, and at last, with extreme cruelty. Then for forty years they subsisted without harvest or vintage; a military wandering nation, supported by miracles. From their invasion of Palestine to the death of David, they were equally devoted to agriculture and to war ; sometimes trampled on by their enemies, but ultimately victorious. During the reign of Solomon, they were a commercial, rich, luxurious people; enjoying the respect, rather than exciting the fear, of surrounding nations.
The Jewish kingdom, or rather empire, now extended from the banks of the Euphrates to the frontiers of Egypt; and numbered among its subjects, many kings of the remaining Canaanitish nations, many Syrian princes, and, probably, all the cmirs of Arabia. The kings of Tyre and of Egypt, and the celebrated queen of Sheba, were included in the list of allies. From the cities of Elah and Ezion-Gaber, they navigated the whole of the Red sca, and appear to have extended their commerce from Sofala to India ; their caravans passed through Palmyra, to distant regions of the east; the spice trade of Arabia enriched them by its tributes, while they derived considerable emolument from their performing the office of carriers between the Egyptians and the Syrians.
The incredible abundance of wealth, which was derived from all these sources, and from the plunder of those cities which had been taken by David, was employed by Solomon in erecting several public buildings, of which the most celebrated was the magnificent temple of Jerusalem. This wonderful pile of building consisted of the inner temple, or oracle, which was esteemed the most holy place ; of the outer temple, or holy place, which was separated from the former by chain-work; and of the several courts, for the accommodation of different worshippers. The prayer which Solomon offered on the dedication of this holy edifice, would have given us a high idea of his piety and wisdom, though he had left us no other memorials : he is, however, the author of three books of scripture, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles.
The Proverbs of Solomon are a work consisting of two parts. The first, serving as a proem or exordium, includes the pine first chapters ; and is varied, elegant, sublime, and truly poetical : the order of the subject is, in general, excellently preserved, and the parts are very aptly connected among themselves. It is embellished with many beautiful descriptions and personifications; the diction is polished, and abounds with all the ornaments of poetry; insomuch, that it scarcely yields in elegance and splendor to any of the sacred writings. The other part, which extends from the beginning of
the tenth chapter to the end of the book, consists, almost entirely, of detached parables or maxims, which have but little in theni of the sublime or poetical, except a certain energetic and concise turn of expression.
it is believed by many, that the wisdom of the book of Proverbs is no other than the eternal Logos, or word of the evangelist Johu. This book is quoted in Hebrews, in the following words, And ye have forgotten the exhortation, which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him : For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and seourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
There is another didactic work of Solomon, entitled, Kohelet, [Ecclesiastes,] or the Preacher ; or rather, perhaps, Wisdom of the Preacher, the general tenor and style of which is very different from the book of Proverbs, though there are many detached sentiments and proverbs interspersed. For the whole work is uniform, and confined to one object, namely, the vanity of the world, exemplified by the experience of Solomon ; who is introduced in the character of a person, investigating a very difficult question, examming the arguments on either side, and, at length, disengaging himself from an anxious and doubtful disputation. It would be very difficult to distinguish the parts and arrangement of this procłuction ; the order of the subject, and connexion of the arguments, are involved in so much obscurity, that scarcely any two commentators have agreed concerning the plan of the work, and the accurate division of it into parts or sections. The truth is, the laws of the methodical composition and arrangement, were neither known by the Hebrews, nor regarded in their didactic writings. They uniformly retained the old sententious manner, wor did they submit to method, even where the occa-. sion appeared to demand it. The style of this work is, however, singular; the language is generally low ; it is frequently loose, unconnected, approaching to the incora rectness of conversation, and possesses very little of the poetical character, even in the composition and structure of the periods ; which peculiarity may possibly be accounted for, from the nature of the subject. Contrary to the opinion of the Rabbies, Ecclesiastes has been classed among the poetical books ; 'though, if their authority and opinions were of any weight or importance, they might, perhaps, on this occasion, de serve some attention.
There is scarcely any part of scripture, the interpretation of which, has excited more dispute among
Christians, than Canticles, or the Song of Solomon. While some have considered this elegant poem, as affording an allegorical description of the intimate and endearing connection between our blessed Redeemer and liis faithful people : others have assigned to it no higher character, than that of a mere nuptial song, celebrating the mutual affection of Solomon and his Egyptian bride.
In examining attentively the Old Testament history, we distinguish four periods, during which the prophetic spirit appears to have descended with more abundant influence, on the minds of the faithful. For the ease of recollection, we may denominate the first of these, the age of David; the second, the age of Jehoshaphat ; the third, that of Isaiah ; and the fourth, that of the captivity.
The first of these prophetic periods, to which we have attached the name of David, commences with the life of Samuel, and terminates with the reign of Jeroboam. The most distinguished characters of this period, were Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Nathan, Gad, Ahijah the Shilonite, Shemaiah, Iddo the Seer, the man of God who. was slain by the lion, and the old prophet who deceived him : of the four first some notice has been already taken. Nathan was much respected by David, to whom he was the bearer of several divide messages, particularly that which forbade him to erest
a temple, and that which reproved him for the murder of Uriah the Hittite. He is quoted as having written some historical account of the reigns of David and Solomon, which is either now lost, or preserved in the second book of Samuel, and first book of Kings. Gad, who was another of the historians of David, reproved that king, by the divine command, when he numbered the inhabitants of Judah and Israel. Ahijah the Shilonite was commissioned by the Almighty, to promise to Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, the sovereignty of the ten tribes, as a punishment for the idolatry which disgraced the latter days of Solomon. He was, afterwards, the faithful reprover of Jeroboam ; and was consulted by his wife, in his old age, concerning the recovery of the young prince Abijah. He wrote the lives of Solomon and Rehoboam. The chief thing which distinguishes the life of Shemaiah, was his message to Rehoboam, forbidding him to make war on the revolted tribes. He is also mentioned as an historian of that prince. Iddo wrote two treatises ; one concerning visions against Jeroboam, and the other respecting genealogies, which seems to have included the life and reign of Abijah. The account of the two prophets, with whose names we are not favoured, is contained in the thișteenth chaptor of the first book of Kings. In addition to those books, which have been here enumerated as, at present, unknown, may be numbered another, which is entitled, the acts of Solomon.
The age of Jehoshaphat was preceded by a great declension, both religious and political. Rehoboam, the immediate successor of Solomon, and Abijam his son, were both of them wicked princes, and countenanced idolatry. Asa, though the greater part of his reign was spent in the fear of God, did, himself, become persecuting and oppressive before he died. Jehoshaphat was, on the whole, a great, good, and successful prince; but he committed a capital error, in making affinity with Ahab, the most wicked of all the idolatrous princes, who governed the ten tribes of Israel. The division of the Israelites into two kingdoms, caused much of their strength to be wasted in civil contentions, and enabled the kings of Syria to greatly harass both the rival states.
The prophets of this period are Elijah the Tishbite, who was caught up alive into heaven, as a testimony, to the divine approbation, of his distinguished piety; Elisha, his faithful servant, and worthy successor ; Michaiah, the son of Imlah, who predicted the death of Ahah ; a great number of good men, who were murdered by Jezebel ; and we add, with some diffidence, Jouah, the son of Amittai, who was sent to Nineveh. The whole of, what is called, the prophecy of Jonah, is the bare recital of a fact ; and contains nothing of poetry, but the prayer of the prophet, which is an ode. Here are contained no predictions of the Messiah ; but he is expressly mentioned, by Christ, as a type of the Sop of Man. He appears, also, to have been the author of some other works.
The third period, comprehends the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah ; produced the celebrated prophets Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and probably Joel and Nahum.
Isaiah, the first of the prophets, both in order and dignity, abounds in such transcendant excellencies, that he may be properly said, to afford the most perfect model of the prophetic poetry. He is, at once, elegant and sublime, forcible and ornamented ; he unites energy with copiousness, and dignity with variety. In his sentiments, there is uncommon elevation and majesty ; in his imagery, the utmost propriety, elegance, dignity, and diversity ; in his language, uncommon beauty and energy ; and, notwithstanding the obscurity of his subjects, a surprising degree of clearness and simplicity. To these, we may add, there is such sweetness in the poetical composition of his sen tences, whether it proceed from art or genius ; that if the Hebrew poetry, at present,
is possessed of any remains of its native grace and harmony, we shall chiefly find them in the writings of Isaiah : so that the saying of Ezekiel may most justly be applied to this prophet.
« Thou art the confirmed exemplar of measures,
Isaiah greatly excels, too, in all the graces of method, order, connexion, and arrangements ; though, in asserting this, we must not forget the nature of the prophetic impulse, which bears away the mind with irresistible violence, and, frequently, in rapid transitions, from near to remote objects, from human to divine : we must also be careful in remarking the limits of particular predictions, since, as they are now extant, they are often improperly connected, without any marks of discrimination; which injudicious arrangement, on some occasions, creates almost insuperable difficulties. In the former part of his volume, many instances may be found, where the particular predictions are distinctly marked. The latter part, which Dr. Lowth supposes to commence at the fortieth chapter, is the most elegant specimen, remaining, of inspired composition; and yet, in this respect, is attended with considerable difficulty. It is, in fact, a body, or collection of different prophecies, nearly allied to each other, as to the subject ; which, for that reason, having a sort of connexion, are not to be separated but with the utmost difficulty. The general subject is the restoration of the church. Its deliverance from captivity ; the destruction of idolatry; the vindication of the divine power and truth; the consolation of the Israelites ; the divine invitation, which is extended to them ; their incredulity, impiety, and rejection; the calling in of the Gentiles ; the restoration of the chosen people ; and the glory and felicity of the church, in its perfect state ; and the ultimate destruction of the wicked ; are all set forth, with a sufficient respect to order and method. If we read these passages with attention, and duly regard the nature and genius of the mystical allegory, at the same time remembering. that all these points have been frequently touched upon, in other prophecies, promulged at different times, we shall neither find any irregularity in the arrangement of the whole, or any want of order or connection, as to matter or sentiment, in the different parts. The whole book of Isaiah is esteemed to be poetical, a few passages excepted ; which, if brought together, would not, at most, exceed the bulk of five or six chapters.
His predictions concerning the Messiah are go numerous, that they bave obtained him the appellation of the evangelical prophet.
Hosea is the first in order of the minor, prophets, and is, perhaps, Jonah excepted, the most antient of them all. His style exhibits the appearance of very remote antiquity; it is pointed, energetic, and concise. It bears a distinguished mark of poetical composition, in that pristine brevity and condensation, which is observable in the sentences; and which later writers have, in some measure, neglected.
Many passages in Hosea undoubtedly refer to evangelical times, but none more clearly than the fifth verse of the third chapter. Afterwards shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord lheir God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness, in the latter days.
The style of Joel is essentially different from that of Hosea; but the general character of his diction, though of a different kind, is not less poetical. He is elegant, perspicuous, copious, and fluent; he is also sublime, animated, and energetic In the first and second chapters he displays the full force of the prophetic poetry, and shows bow naturally it inclines to the use of metaphors, allegorics, and comparisons. Nor
is the connexion of the maiter less clear and evident, than the complexion of the stre; this is cxemplified in the display of the impending evils, which gave rise to the prophe. cy; the exhortation to repentance ; the promises of happiness, and success, both tes. restrial and eternal, to those who berr me truls penitent; the restoration of the Israelites; and the vengeance to be taken of their adversaries.
The second chapter of this prophecy, 27..32 verses, are quoted by Peter, on the feast of Pentecost, as referring, clearly, to the present dispensation.
Jerome calls Amos, “ rude in speech, but not in knowledge,” appiving to him what St. Paulinodestly professes of himself. Many have followed the authority of Jeronie, in speaking of this prophet, as if he were, indeed, quite rude, ineloquent, and destitute of all the embellishments of composition. The matter is, however, far otherwise. Let any person, who has candour and perspicacity enough to judge, not from the man, but from his writings, open the volume of his predictions; and he will agree, with Dr. Lowth, that our shepherd " is not a whit behind the very chief of the prophets.” He will agree, that as in sublimity and magnificence he is almost equal to the greatest; so, in splendor of diction, and elegance of expression, he is scarcely interior to any. The same celestial spirit, indeed, actuated Isaiah and Daniel in the court, and Amos in the sheep-folds ; constantly selecting such interpreters of the divine will, as were best adapted to the occasion ; and, sometimes," from the mouth of babes and sucklings, perfecting praise,” occasionally employing the natural cloquence of some, and occasionally making others eloquent.
The style of Micah is, for the most part, close, forcible, pointed, and concise ; some. times approaching the obscurity of Hosea ; in many parts, animated and subline; and, in general, truly poetical.
Micah is reinarkable for expressly naming the birtli-place of our Saviour.
None of the minor prophets, however, seem to equal Nahum, in boldness, ande, 23 sublimity. His prophecy, too, forms a regular and perfect poem; the exordium is not merely magnificent, it ts truly majestic ; the preparation for the destruction of Nineveh, and the description of its downfal and desolation, are expressed in the most vivid co. and are bold and luininous in the highest degree.
The fifteenth verse of the first chapter of Nahum, appears to allude to the publication of the gospel at Jerusalem, by the apostles.
We find, also, mention of two other prophets, who flourished in this period. Zachariah, who had understanding in the visions of the Lord ; and Obed, by whose interfeience, the Israelites of the ten tribes were prevailed on to dismiss their Jewish pri
The fourth age is naturally divided into three parts; the beginning, which commenced with the reign of Josiah, and ended with the captivity of Jehoiakim ; the middle, which lasted during the seventy years captivity; and the last division, which continued from the decree of Cyrus, through all the struggles of the patriots, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel, for rebuilding the temple and city wall, and reforming the people ; till the time of Malachi, who closed the Old Testament canon. To the first part of this period belong Jeremiah, Obadiah, and, we believe, Habakkuk and Zephaniah.
Jeremiah, though deficient neither in elegance or sublimity, must give place, in both, to Isaiah. Jeroine seems to object against him a sort of rusticity of language, no vestage of which, Dr. Lowth has been able to discover. His sentiments, it is true, are not always neat and compact ; but these are faults common to those writers, whose principal aim is to excite the gentler affections, and to call forth the tear of sympathy or
This observation is very strongly exemplified in the Lamentations, where these are the prevailing passions : it is, however, frequently instanced in the prophecies