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THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.
In the fiftieth Psalm we read, “I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offering to have been continually before me;
I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goat out of thy folds... ... Will I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats ? Offer unto God thanksgiving,” &c. And in Hosea, chap. vi., verse 6, “For I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” In Jeremiah, chap, vii., verse 21, is a still more striking passage—“Thus saith the Lord God of Hosts, the God of Israel, Put your burnt offerings into your sacrifices, and eat flesh; for I spake not unto your fathers, neither commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices, but this thing I commanded them saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” And in Micah, chap. vi., verse 6, “Wherewith shall I come before God, and bow my. self before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old ? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams ?” And at verse 8, “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?” And in the fifty-first Psalm, verse 16, “ For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Now what do we see if we turn back to the Pentateuch ? Altbough the Psalmist says that God “ desires not sacrifice," we find sacrifices and burnt offerings of various kinds, with the minutest directions as to the utensils, the cooking, the oil, and the incense, laid down by God himself as the expiations of sins according to their degree-a bullock for this, a calf or a he-goat for that, and a turtle-dove or a fried pancake for venial offences,* and all without any mention of contrition, without a word of repentance. Fat and kidneys blot out all but mortal sins, and for them there is but one punishment-death.
* See the first seven chapters of Leviticus, and other parts of the Pentateuch.
DIVINE DREAD OF IDOLATRY.
The Mosaic law is built upon the old and simple foundation of the lex talionis—"breach for breach, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" death for the murderer, death for the ravisher, death for the adulterer, death for the pretended virgin bride, death for the blasphemer, death for all idolators, death for all unbelieving enemies, women, children, and aged sires-none are to be spared except the young virgins, who are to be saved alive for the last and service of the conquerors. “And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host ...... and Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive ?...... Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man” Numbers, chap. xxxi., verses 14, 15, 17.
Who can read this without shuddering ? Such was the law of Moses, such are the commands of the God of the Bible. The religious purification was a fit conclusion to this cold-blooded massacre: the invading warriors were ordered to wash themselves and their clothes, and on the seventh day after this slaughter of women and children they would be pure and holy.
The God of the Bible orders Moses to exterminate the Canaanites “to make no covenant with them," "to have no pity upon them,” but to consume and destroy them utterly from the land. And all this because the Almighty God, the All-wise and All-merciful Deity, feared, so says the book, that the faith of the Jews, who are said to have seen visible manifestation of his power and glory, was so weak, and the faith and arguments of the Canaanites so strong, that the latter would convert the former to Paganism unless they were exterminated! Nay, we are told in Deuteronomy, chap. ii., verse 30, and in other places, that the Lord God took especial care to “harden the spirit and make obstinate the heart” of the Canaanite kings and governors, as he had formerly done to Pharoah, King of Egypt. So the Almighty God of the Bible could not or would not cure the Canaanites of idolatry, and could not or would not strengthen the faith of the Jews; but he did interfere "to harden the spirit and make obstinate the heart” of the Canaanites, and, for fear that they should infect the Israelites with idolatry, ordered them to be exterminated! Christian writers may call this ludicrous but hor.
THE JEWS A
rible absurdity a mysterious dispensation of providence, into which it is sinful to inquire too closely—they may say that the ways of God are past finding out-they may offer up their reason and their humanity on the altar of the Mosaic idol; but they cannot attempt to reconcile the murderous, merciless, marauding commands of the Jewish God with our modern and civilised ideas of wisdom, justice, and mercy.
The only excuse that could possibly have been offered for all this bloody work, all this plundering and massacre, would have been that they led the way to peace and happiness, and that all these interpositions of hardening hearts were to lead to the enlightenment of the world by the establishment of a model nation. But this cannot be shown. The Jews were a “peculiar people » indeed-peculiar for their pride, obstinacy, and bigotry, but not peculiar or distinguished above the nations around them for morality, knowledge, or the absence of foolish and degrading customs and superstitions. Their national manners and morals were in no way superior to those of their neighbours. Slavery, polygamy, and a great facility of divorce were allowed; their laws and justice were of the most primitive and barbarous construction; and there are strong suspicions that at one period they made use of human sacrifices.* Their wars were always carried on with the same unsparing cruelty and treachery; and although their God is frequently represented as interfering to threaten them for sparing their captive enemies, yet he is never said to have objected to or abolished those customs of slavery, polygamy, and others, which the progress of civilisation and knowledge has gradually taught us to regard with contempt and abhorrence.
The Bible tells us that Moses heard the following words on Mount Sinai, and that God wrote them with his own finger on the table of stone :-“I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation in them that hate me, and will show mercy
• I cannot myself see how an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children at the express command of God can be disa tinguished from human sacrifice-but I allude here to human sacrifices as a religious ceremony.
THE JEALOUS GOD'S CORRECTIONS.
untn thousands in them that love me, and keep my command. ments.” Intimidation of this species, for want of the hell-fire and brimstone of later ages," is the pervading spirit of the Old Testament; and upon this principle are all those threatenings of future ruin and misery pronounced against nations, which Christian interpreters pretend in many cases to have been exactly fulfilled.
Does all this look like what it professes to be, Infinite Wisdom governing his creatures? Is there any shadow of justice in these frequent denunciations of the jealous God's wrath against nations and against the children of the wicked ? Should not we shudder with disgust or sneer with contempt at the justice of a tyrant who should flog a man because his grandfather was a thief? Or should we consider it an efficacious mode of deterring men from sin to threaten to punish their grandchildren? I think not. But if this tyrant possessed the power of reforming these criminals and of making them good citizens, what should we think if we saw him still persisting in his negligent government, and in visiting the sins of the fathers upon the grandchildren ? Are these pretended interpositions of the God of Vengeance what we should expect from Almighty Benevolence ? Should we not look for interpositions of instruction and enlightenment, and not for interpositions of vengeance, of darkness, of blindness, and of hardening of hearts? And these pretended inflictions of God's wrath are not and cannot be pretended to have had the effect of producing repentance or reformation among either the nations who suffered, or among those who believe in the fulfilment of the prophetic denunciations.
These pretended prophecies and threats of vengeance on the posterity of the wicked betray their origin clearly enough. They proceed upon the mistaken but long-cherished doctrine that justice requires every crime to be expiated by a certain amount of punish
• There is no mention of a future state of rewards and punishments in the Hebrew Scriptures. A few obscure hints and allusions to a future life merely declare the hope enjoyed by certain eminently holy and enthusiastic men of a privileged exemption from the common lot.
ment, without regard to reformatory or preventive effects upon either the criminals or society, but merely in order to satisfy an abstract principle of justice. They are exactly the threats and predictions which the high-priest of an unrefined, ignorant, and superstitious nation would address to his flock, knowing that he possessed no power of producing any present calamities against his own or any other nation, and that in process of time, perhaps during his own lifetime, some national misfortune might occur to which either he or bis successors could point as a fulfilment of his prophecy.
Theologians would persuade us that the Mosaic dispensation was suited to the hardness of heart of the Jews, and to the customs and ignorance of the ages during which it continued to be the divinely-appointed faith. In short, they would persuade us that their Almighty God was pleased to accommodate his various dispensations to the times, to give way to human customs, human ignorance, and human weakness; and to make use of various inefficacious systems which required to be bolstered up and patched into new dispensations as they became old fashioned and obsolete. The simple fact is, that new dispensations or religious revolutions have just appeared as they were required by the increased knowledge and improved taste of nations; as civilisa. tion progressed the religious faith and observances which suited a former age would not satisfy a more enlightened one. While many gross superstitions remained in full vigour, others by degrees fell into disrepute, and new doctrines and ideas found their way into the minds of the people, generally by imperceptible and gradual progress, sometimes prominently exhibited by the preaching of enthusiastic pretenders to inspiration, or by the teachings and writengs of philosophers.
The fact of the existence of many different sects among the Jews at the time that Jesus appeared, is a proof of the changes which time and intercourse with other nations had wrought in their faith and manners; though the outward form and spirit of their religion remained, yet many remarkable changes had taken place in their morals and customs. Polygamy, and some other immoral practices, though not entirely abandoned, had fallen into