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"On Jordan's banks the Arab's camels stray,

On Zion's hills the False One's votaries pray,

The Baal-adorer bows on Sinai's steep;

Yet there—e'en there—O God, Thy thunders sleep."


"God, Thou art Love: I build my faith on that."


Before concluding I should like to add a few words (1) on what some may regard as the too favourable attitude towards what is called the "Higher Criticism" adopted in this book; and (2) on the deep, essential, eternal lessons which we have found in chapter after chapter of it.

1. As regards the first, I need only say that the one thing I seek, the sole thing I care for, is Truth,—truth, not tradition. Even St. Cyprian, devoted as he was to custom and tradition, warns us that "Custom without Truth is only antiquated error," and that what we believe must be established by reason, not prescribed by tradition.

And it cannot be laid down too clearly that the old view of Inspiration—which defined it as consisting in verbal dictation, which made the sacred writers "not only the penmen but the pens of the Holy Spirit,"478 and which spoke of every sentence, word, syllable, and every letter of Scripture as Divine and infallible—was a dangerous and absolute falsity, and that any attempt in these days to enforce it as binding on the intellect and conscience of mankind could only lead to the utter shipwreck of all sincere and reasonable religion. "Not needlessly," says the learned author of Italy and her Invaders—himself an able opponent of many modern conclusions on the subject—"should I wish to shake even that faith which practically believes that the whole Bible, exactly in its present shape, yes, almost the English Bible just as we have it, came straight down from heaven. But we do want to get away from all mere theories as to the way in which God might have revealed Himself, and to learn as much as we can of the way in which He has revealed Himself in actual fact, and in real human lives."915915   T. Hodgkin, Friends' Quarterly, September 1893, p. 401.

To do this has been one of my objects in this volume, and in the preceding volume on the First Book of Kings.

2. We have now only to cast one last glance on this book, and on the lessons which it is meant to teach.

Consider, first, its deep and varied interest. It has the combined value of History and of Biography; and, in dealing with both, its aim is to pass over all minor and earthly details, and to show the method of God's dealings both with nations and with the individual soul.

If we look at the book only as a History, it shows us in the briefest possible compass a series of479 national events of the greatest importance in the annals of mankind. We become witnesses of the fierce occasional struggles between Israel and Judah, and of the constant warfare of both with those wild surrounding nations—the people of Moab, and of Edom, Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek, the Philistines also, and them that dwell at Tyre. We watch the indomitable resistance of Tyre to Assyria and Babylon. We see the Northern Kingdom of Israel rise into wealth, power, and luxury, only to sink into deep moral corruption, until, at last, the patience of God is exhausted, and He obliterates its very existence in an apparently final and irremediable overthrow. We witness the rise, culmination, and fall of Syria; the culmination and the crashing overthrow of Nineveh; the rise and the splendour of Babylon. We see the surging tide of the nomad Scythians and Cimmerians rise into flood and ebb away with spent and shallow waves. We see the petty fortress of Zion triumph in its defiance of the mighty hosts of Sennacherib because it is strong in reliance upon God, and we see it grow faithless to God until it succumbs to the captains of Nebuchadrezzar. Again and again we observe that the Almighty stills the raging of the sea, the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people.

The conviction is borne upon our soul with overwhelming power, as we read the pages of Amos, of Isaiah, and of Jeremiah, that, in spite of all their rage and tumult, and apparently irresistible dominance, God still sitteth above the water-floods, and God remaineth a King for ever.

Side by side with this spectacle of the dealing of God with nations, in which we see written in large letters, in characters of blood and of fire, His dealing with480 guilty nations, we have abundantly in these chapters the narrower yet more intense interest which arises from the contemplation of human nature—one and the same in its general elements, but infinitely varied in its conditions—in the lives of individual men. It is revealed to us as in a picture—it is brought home to us, not by didactic inferences, but with the silent conviction which springs from the evidence of facts—that wealth is nothing, and rank nothing, and power nothing, but that the only thing of essential importance in human lives is whether a man does that which is good or that which is evil in the sight of the Lord. Good and bad kings pass before us; and though the best kings, like Hezekiah and Josiah, were no more free from earthly misfortune than are any of the saints of God—though Hezekiah had to suffer anguish and humiliation, and Josiah died in defeat on the battle-field,—yet we are irresistibly led to the belief: "Say ye of the righteous that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! It shall be ill with him; for the work of his hands shall be done to him."

We all have a guide in life. "We are not left to steer our course even by the stars, which the clouds of earth may dim. The ship has something on board which points towards the spiritual pole of the universe. I will not venture to call it an infallible guide. It wavers with tremulous sensitiveness; it may be deflected by disturbing influences; but still in the main it points with mysterious fidelity towards the pole of our spirits, even God. And what is this compass which we have for our guidance? Some would call it Conscience; but we call it by a holier name, and say that even as the needle is acted on by the magnetic481 current, so our spiritual compass is the spirit of man acted on by the Spirit of the living and infinite God." The lesson of this book—of every book of biography or of history—is that men are noble and useful in proportion as they are true to that law of an enlightened conscience which represents to them the will and the voice of God.

Ahaziah and Jehoram of Judah, tainted with the blood of Jezebel, and perverted by the example of Ahab, live wretchedly, reign contemptibly, and perish miserably; while good Jehoshaphat and pious Josiah are richly blessed. In the vaunting elation of Amaziah, in the blood-stained ferocity of Jehu, in the ruthless examples of usurpation and murder set by king after king in Israel, and in the consequences which befell them, we see that "fruit is seed." Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, Athaliah, have to pay a terrible price for brief spells of troubled royalty; and the slow corruption and disintegration of the people reflects the vile example of their rulers. Like king, like people; like people, like priest. We look on at a succession of thrilling scenes—the horrors of beleaguered cities, the raptures of unexpected deliverance, the insulting vanities of triumph; we hear the wail that rises from long lines of fettered captives as they turn their backs weeping upon their native land. And we are told "strange stories of the deaths of kings." We see the King of Moab sacrificing his eldest son to Chemosh upon the wall of Kir-Haraseth in the sight of three invading hosts. We shudder to think of Ahaz and Manasseh passing their children through the fire before the grim bull-headed monster in the valley of the children of Hinnom. We see the two ghastly piles of the heads of young princes on either side the gates of Jezreel. We see Jehu driving482 his fierce chariot over the body of the painted Tyrian Queen. We catch a glimpse of the sackcloth under the purple of the King of Israel as he rends his clothes at the horrible cry of mothers who have devoured their babes. We see the child Joash standing with the high priest in the Temple amid the blast of trumpets, while the alien murderess is pushed out and hewn to the ground. We see Manasseh dragged with hooks to Babylon. We watch the haggard face of the miserable Zedekiah as his sons are slaughtered before the eyes which thenceforth are blinded for evermore. We burn with indignation to see the villain Ishmael close with corpses the well of Mizpah. But even when the phantasmagoria seems most appalling and most bloody, we watch the Day-star from on high begin to shed its glory over the grey east. In due time that Day-star was to rise in men's hearts and on the world, with healing in His wings; and we feel that somehow, beyond the smoke and stir of earth's anguish,

"God's in His heaven,

All's right with the world."

And like a Greek chorus amid the agonies of destiny stand the prophets, those clearest and greatest of moral teachers. They, in spite of their holiness and faithfulness, are not exempt from the calamities of life. Amos was insulted and expelled by the high priest of Bethel; Urijah was martyred; Hosea's prophecy is one long and almost unbroken wail; Isaiah was mocked and slandered by the priests of Jerusalem, and, if the tradition be true, sawn asunder; Micah, though spared, prophesied under imminent peril; Jeremiah, saddest of mankind, type of the suffering servant of Jehovah, was smitten in the face by the priest Pashur, thrust483 into the stocks for the general derision, flung into a deathful prison, let down into a miry well, hurried into exile, defied, denounced, insulted, at last in all probability martyred. Prophets in general were hated and disbelieved. They were the eternal antagonists of priests and mobs. With priests they had so little affinity, that when a prophet was born a priest, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he might count on the undying hatred and antagonism of his order. Priests, with scarcely an exception, under every erring or apostatising king, from Rehoboam to Ahaz, from Ahaz to Zedekiah, with a monotony of meanness, did nothing but acquiesce, careful mainly for their own rights and revenues; prophets did little but raise, against them and their party, an unavailing protest. When, in the days of the priest-regent Jehoiada, the priests had power, he had made a special ordinance that there should be overseers in the Temple whose function it should be to put in the stocks and the collar "every man that is mad, and that maketh himself a prophet";916916   Jer. xxix. 25-27. and Shemaiah was quite indignant that there should be any delay in putting this convenient ordinance into force. Priests were chiefly absorbed in functions and futilities in the exact spirit of their guilty successors in the days of Christ. There could be little sympathy between them and the inspired messengers who spoke of such reliance on observances with almost passionate scorn, and to whom religion meant righteousness towards men and faith in the Living God.

This high lesson of Prophecy came into greater prominence with each succeeding generation. It had been taught by Amos, the first of the literary prophets,484 with emphatic distinctness. It was summarised by Hosea in words which our Saviour loved to quote: "Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." It had been uttered by Micah in an outburst of splendid poetry which summed up all that God requires. It was reiterated in many forms by Isaiah and by Jeremiah in words of richer moral value than all that came from the teaching of the priestly functionaries from the days when Aaron seduced Israel with his golden calf till the days when Caiaphas and Annas goaded the multitude to prefer Barabbas to Jesus, and to shout of their Messiah, "Let Him be crucified."

It was the richest fruit which sprang from the long Divine discipline of the nation,—the knowledge that outward things are of no avail to save any man; that God requires righteousness, that God looketh at the heart.

And the prophets themselves had to learn by the irony of events that no suppression of local sanctuaries under Hezekiah, no multiplication of ceremonies and acceptance of Deuteronomic Codes under Josiah, were deep enough to change men's hearts. Isaiah, like Amos, dwells with anger on the reliance upon vain ritual, which is so cheap a substitute for genuine holiness; and Jeremiah, despairing utterly of that reformation under Josiah of which he had once felt hopeful, had to denounce the new reliance on the Temple and its sacrifices. He ultimately felt no confidence in anything except in a new covenant in which God Himself would write His law upon men's hearts, and all should know Him from the least even to the greatest.

But the History of Prophecy also in this epoch is485 marked by events of world-wide importance. In the days of Isaiah we see the change of Israel from a nation into a church of the faithful, for which alone he has any permanent hope. In him, too, we hear the first distinct utterances of the final form in which should be fulfilled the Messianic hope. Under Jeremiah there was still further advance. He points, as Joel does, to the epoch of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and shows that God does not only deal with men as nations, or as churches, or even as families, but as beings with individual souls.

This and much besides we have seen in the foregoing pages, in which we have endeavoured to point the lessons of the Books of Kings. The one main lesson which the narrative is meant to teach is absolute faith and trust in God, as an anchor which holds amid the wildest storms of ruin, and of apparently final failure. Not until we have realised that truth can we hear the words of God, or see the vision of the Almighty. When we have learnt it, we shall not fear, though the hills be moved and carried into the midst of the sea. It is the lesson which gets behind the meaning of failure, and raises us to a height from which we can look down on prosperity as a thing which—except in fatally delusive semblance—cannot exist apart from righteousness and faith. This is the lesson of life, the lesson of lessons. If it does not solve all problems on their intellectual side, it scatters all perplexities in the spiritual sphere. It shows us that duty is the reward of duty, and that there can be no happiness save for those who have learnt that duty and blessedness are one. And thus even by this book of annals—annals of wild deeds and troubled times—we may be taught the truths which find their perfect illustration and proof in486 the life and teaching of the Son of God. When those truths are our real possession, the work of life is done. Then

"Vigour may fail the towering fantasy,

But yet the Will rolls onward, like a wheel

In even motion by the love impelled

That moves the sun in heaven and all the stars."

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