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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

- Judges

by Arthur Peake



Israel’ s New Environment.— When the Israelites came up from the Arabian Desert and invaded the fertile lands of Syria, they took the most important step in human progress. They ceased to be nomads and became tillers of the ground. Their contact with Egypt had made a profound impression upon them. While it rekindled their passion for freedom, it gave them a new sense of the benefits of civilisation. It spoiled them for ever for the old Bedouin life. They could never again feel themselves doomed to the drudgery of wandering as shepherds from well to well, and from one scant pasture to another. It dawned upon them that they and their children were called to a fuller, richer life, in which they would have all the desert freedom without any of the desert poverty. What was their redemption from Egypt worth if they were simply to be flung back into the treeless, waterless waste? Inspired with a new faith in Yahweh, who had brought them out of the house of bondage, they felt that He was summoning them to inherit a land of their own in which He would make them a great nation. There are, indeed, indications that the life in walled cities was begun with some qualms and fears, while the taste and aptitude for husbandry and vine-dressing were doubtless but slowly acquired. Even after centuries in the goodly land of Canaan there were still adherents of the old order, who lived in tents and abjured wine (Jeremiah 35*), for ever harking back to the time when Yahweh’ s people were not contaminated and enfeebled by the luxuries and the vices of cities (p. 85), But no nation can live on its past. When the Jordan was once crossed, the die was cast, and the new era, for good or ill, commenced in the country of the Canaanites and Amorites.

The Times of the Judges.— This era, extending roughly from 1250 to 1000 B.C., was the raw, crude, formative period of Israel’ s history. Each tribe, or group of clans, acting independently of the others, had first to find for itself a home, and then to adapt itself to its new conditions. Even in the most desirable place of rest it was difficult enough to abandon the habits of ages. The spirit of the nomad was not to be tamed and domesticated in a day or a year. The language of the settler continued to smack of the desert. “ To your tents, O Israel,” was a cry heard long after the tribes had ceased to roam the desert. And many generations passed before a real national union was consolidated. Fused at the time of the conquest in the fierce heat of a new religious passion, the old individualism yet inevitably reasserted itself in the widely-scattered settlements. No tribe exercised an undisputed pre-eminence. No second master-mind completed the work of Moses. In the absence of social and economic interests common to the whole nation, and of an authority effective over a wide area, the tribes were outwardly held together only by ties of the loosest kind. There was neither court nor capital, neither high-priest nor central shrine, to focus the political and religious aspirations of the young nation. The key of the situation would appear to be found in the fact which this Book emphasizes by frequent repetition: “ In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” ( Judges 17:6; cf. Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25). Yet that was only half the truth. For Yahweh had become the Lord of Israel’ s conscience, and in the days of its youth the nation slowly learned to remember its Creator and to do that which was right in His eyes. Therein lay the whole secret of Israel’ s coming greatness.

The School of War.— Like all the other nations which have played a conspicuous part in history, the Israelites had to be disciplined in warfare. The territory which they had won could not be maintained without great difficulty. They were surrounded on every hand by jealous neighbours, and their life and property were in constant danger. Not only was every unconquered Canaanite town a hotbed of rebellion, but the land was frequently invaded, now by a wild horde of Midianites from the desert, now by a regular army of Ammonites from beyond the Jordan, or of Philistines from the Maritime Plain. “ These are the nations which Yahweh left, to prove Israel by them . . . to teach them war” ( Judges 3:1 f.). Without this discipline the Israelites might have become, like the Phœ nicians, a nation of merchants, but in the defence of their country they perforce became martial and heroic. Nearly all the wars in the time of the Judges were wars of defence, not of aggression, and the recurrent dangers evoked not only the dauntless spirit but the religious passion of the race. It was Israel’ s firm belief that Yahweh went with them into battle and gave them the victory. Their first history was “ The book of the Wars of Yahweh.” There never was a more thrilling war-cry than “ The sword of the Lord and of Gideon “ ; patriotism never found so magnificent expression as in the Song of Deborah; and no maiden ever rose to a grander height of self-sacrifice than Jephthah’ s daughter, when she realised that her life was the price to be paid for her father’ s victory over Ammon.

The Title of the Book.— Among the neighbouring nations with which Israel was destined to be brought into very close contact were the Phœ nicians. Centuries, indeed, elapse before they receive more than a passing mention, but in the title of our Book there is an interesting evidence of the early intercourse between the two kindred races. During an interregnum the Phœ nicians were in the habit of entrusting the supreme power in their country to a suffet, and in Carthage and other Punic cities the suffetes were the chief magistrates, corresponding to the Roman consuls. It cannot be a mere coincidence that the highest power in Israel was for some centuries placed in the hands of the shophet, or Judge, a term which had a much wider meaning than our English word. When a man of valour was raised up to be a Judge in Israel, his first task was to deliver his tribe, or group of tribes, from an oppressor; and when peace was restored, he became the political head of one or more tribes, though never of the whole nation. The office of the Judge is thus “ the first trace of the influence of Syrian usages on the fortunes of the Chosen People, the first-fruits of the pagan inheritance to which the Jewish and the Christian Church has succeeded” (Stanley, Jewish Church, p. 258).

The Influence of the Philistines.— From this western people (pp. 56f.) the land of the Canaanites received the name by which it is still best known— Palestine (p. 26). Their influence in Syria was undoubtedly great, though the OT gives us but a glimpse of the facts. They were for centuries Israel’ s most stubborn enemy, and it was in a life-and-death struggle with them that the tribes ultimately became a united nation. “ Philistine” has now become a term for a person of a boorish mind. But the monuments unearthed during the last few years in Palestine, Egypt, and Crete have begun to revolutionise our ideas of that ancient people. They were, as Professor Macalister says, “ of the remnant of the dying glories of Crete” ( A Hist. of Civilisation in Pal., p. 54). Sprung from that ancient home of art, they brought with them the instincts of their race, and were the only cultured people who ever occupied the soil of Palestine till the time of the Greeks. “ Whatsoever things raised life in the country above the dull animal existence of the Fellahin were due to this people” (p. 58). Through contact with them the Israelites made two strides forward— they learned the use of iron and of alphabetic writing. Without the second of these arts how different would all our sacred and classical books have been! The Phœ nicians used to be regarded as the givers of this boon and blessing to men. But opinion is changing. “ Whoever invented the alphabet laid the foundation-stone of civilisation. Can it be that we owe this gift to the Philistines, of all people?” (R. A. S. Macalister, The Philistines, p. 130).

The Sources of the Book.— The style is the man, and variety of styles indicates diversity of authorship. The literary analysis of this Book is, on the whole, not difficult. ( a) The main and central part, Judges 2:6 to Judges 16:31, consists of traditions which have been fitted into a framework by a writer (D) imbued with the ideas of the Book of Deuteronomy. His thoughts, and the language with which he clothes them, make his contribution very apparent. His work is not history but commentary. He indicates the moral of the traditions which he edits. Like the prophets, he sees the hand of God so controlling events that Israel invariably enjoys prosperity as the reward of faithfulness, and endures adversity as the wages of sin. It will be found that in applying this moral to successive eras, he regards the heroes of particular tribes as if they were the Judges of the whole of Israel. He probably wrote about the beginning of the sixth century B.C. He utilised, without materially altering, the work of two earlier writers, or schools of writers, the Yahwist (J) of Southern Israel and the Elohist (E) of Northern Israel, whose works had already been combined into a pre-Deuteronomic Book of Judges. The ultimate source of most of the materials embodied in the writings of both these earlier authors was the oral traditions preserved in the different tribes of Israel. It is probable, however, that the Song of Deborah, which unquestionably dates from the time of the events which it celebrates, was extracted from one or other of two books which have not come down to us—“ The book of the Wars of Yahweh,” or “ The book of the Just.” ( b) The introduction, Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5, which is almost identical with fragments scattered throughout the Book of Joshua ( Judges 13:13, Judges 15:13-19; Judges 6:3, Judges 16:10, Judges 17:11-13), is of very great value to the historian. It states in the most explicit terms that Israel’ s conquest of Canaan was at the outset by no means complete, but that many cities and great tracts of country remained unsubdued. ( c) The last five chapters, 17– 21, form two supplements which D omitted, though he doubtless found them in the earlier Book of Judges. These chapters were afterwards edited with extensive additions, and restored to their original position, by a redactor of the post-exilic priestly school (R). His hand is unmistakable in the last two chapters. He probably wrote in the fourth century B.C.

The Value of the Book.— Not only to the historian, but to the student of life and character, this is one of the most interesting books in the Holy Scriptures. What a wealth of incident and experience, what food for mind and heart, are found in its mingled comedy and tragedy! One can readily imagine how the stories were told with weeping and with laughter in ancient Israel. And they have a message for all ages and lands. What reader’ s spirit is not kindled by the fervent patriotism of Deborah, thrilled by the valour of Gideon and Jephthah and Samson, awed by the meek submission of Jephthah’ s daughter? How reluctant we still are to condemn, how ready to applaud, even the wild justice of Jael! “ Other portions of Scripture have been more profitable for doctrine, for correction, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness; but for merely human interest— for the lively touches of ancient manners, for the succession of romantic incidents, for the consciousness that we are living with the persons described, for the tragical pathos of events and character— there is nothing like the history of the Judges from Othniel to Eli” (Stanley, p. 252).

Literature. Commentaries: ( a) Cooke (CB), Thatcher (Cent.B), Moore (SBOT Eng.); ( b) Moore (ICC); ( c) Budde (KHC), Nowack (HK), Lagrange. Other Literature: The Histories mentioned in the article on the “ History of Israel” ; Budde’ s Religion of Israel to the Exile, Kautzseh’ s Religion of Israel in HDB, Marti’ s Religion of the OT., Loisy’ s Religion of Israel, and other works mentioned in article “ Religion of Israel,” Macalister’ s History of Civilisation in Palestine.



Bible History, “ Prophetical”— The OT contains books which may be termed historical, but although they are grouped together in our Bibles, this is not the case in the arrangement adopted by the Jews. The only book which they perhaps recognised as history, the Chronicles ( Dibhrê hayyâ mî m, “ words of years” ), is placed at the very end of the sacred volume, whilst the main portion of the books known to us as “ historical” is styled “ prophetical.” Thus the story of Israel is to the Jews in itself a prophecy (that is, a telling forth) of God’ s will and purpose to His people. In accordance with this ideal we find historical episodes interwoven, as in Isaiah and Jeremiah, with prophetic utterances. In judging the historical books, therefore, we must bear in mind that they do not conform to the standard demanded of modern historical writing. They are “ prophetical”— that is, written with a view to edify and instruct— and are not designed to be text-books replete with colourless if accurate historical information.

Main Features of Historical Writing in the Bible.— The Hebrews are remarkable for the interest taken in the past of their nation, and this is the more strange as the Jew does not seem by nature to be disposed towards historical composition. Between the close of the OT story and the dissolution of the Jewish nation in the days of Hadrian, the people passed through some of the most stirring crises in the tragedy of humanity, yet many of the most important are scarcely recorded. But for the renegade Josephus we should have had no particulars of the fall of Jerusalem before the army of Titus. Yet in the OT, though the interest is almost entirely religious, we have a fairly complete record of Israel’ s fortunes from the conquest of its inheritance in Palestine to the restoration of the Jewish polity by Nehemiah.

Variety.— Bible history is remarkable, among other things, for its variety. No book in its present form is arranged like the others. Judges is unmistakable as compared with Joshua; Samuel and Kings have little resemblance; whilst Ezra-Nehemiah belongs to an entirely different school of thought, and Esther is absolutely unique in the OT and even in the Apocrypha. The materials, moreover, of which many of the books are composed are of the most varied description. We have in Kings, to take but a single example, the framework of a chronological history arranged in regnal years, chronicles of the kingdoms, Temple records, biographies, intermingled with which are stories told with all the magic art of portraying scenes inherent in the Eastern raconteur. We find in other books an admixture of pious exhortation, legal formulae, genealogies, and the like. In short, it may be said of the OT books of history that each has its own variegated pattern, which reveals the individuality of its author or compiler.

Choice of Subjects.— In their choice of subjects the prophetical historians of the Hebrew nation display characteristic peculiarities. We are surprised alike at what they tell us and what they omit. They are in a sense the least, and in another the most, patriotic of historians. They dwell but little on the national glories. How briefly are the successes of Saul over the Philistines, or the victories of Omri or Jeroboam II, or even those of the pious kings of Judah, recorded! Their story is often rather that of the nation’ s failure to reach its ideal, and even of how it fell short of the standard attained by less favoured peoples. And yet we cannot read the historical books without feeling chat they are instinct with a love of country and filled with a sense of Yahweh’ s protecting power. But the seeker after historical information will often be disappointed at the lack of facts where he most desires them. No details are given as to how Joshua conquered Central Palestine and conducted the nation to Shechem, its ancient capital. We learn nothing about the arrival of the Philistines, those formidable enemies of Israel. Nothing except the bare fact is preserved of the conquest of Og and his seventy cities. We seek in vain for the cause of David’ s feebleness, which made the revolt of Absalom so formidable. On the other hand, we have abundant details about the feuds with the Shechemites of a person so comparatively unimportant as Abimelech, the son of Gideon, of David’ s flight and his escapes from Saul, etc. The historical books were, as has been asserted, written for edification rather than for information; and it is not always easy, at times it is even impossible, to make a connected narrative out of them. Much of the story as related by the biblical writers must be reconstructed by a process which can hardly receive a name more honourable than that of guesswork.

Chronology.— One of the most formidable difficulties which the student of OT history has to face is that of chronology. In the later parts of the historical and prophetical books we are on fairly sure ground, because the writers give us the date by the year of the reigning kings of Persia. Even in the Books of Kings though there are serious discrepancies in the periods assigned to the kings of Israel and Judah respectively, we are able to date an event within say, ten years or so. We are also assisted by the more accurate chronology of the Assyrians. But the earliest date in Israelite history is that of a defeat inflicted on Ahab and his allies, which is not alluded to in the Bible. This is 854 B.C. From it we can infer that David lived, roughly, about 1000 B.C., but beyond this all is uncertainty. According to 1 Kings 4:1, Solomon’ s Temple was erected 480 years after the Exodus; but, by adding together the periods of affliction and repose given in the Book of Judges, we get an even longer period. But we are told in Exodus 1:11 that the Israelites during their oppression built Pithom and Raamses in Egypt, presumably under the great Rameses II, whose long reign was in the thirteenth century B.C. Consequently the Exodus must have taken place not much earlier than 200 or 250 years before the building of the Temple. The fact is that the ancient Hebrews seem to have used the number 40 and its multiples to express a period of time with considerable vagueness, and we really cannot tell whether they are speaking literally when they mention periods of 40, 20, or 120 years. To give a date even approximately before David is, to say the least, hazardous. We know that Jaddua, the last high priest mentioned in the OT, was alive in 333 B.C., and that Ezra and Nehemiah were in Jerusalem about 432 B.C.; but as to when the Exodus took place, or Joshua conquered Palestine and the events related in the historical books strictly so called begin, we have only the faintest idea.

Survey of Period of Prophetic History.”— The Book of Joshua, with which the history of Israel opens, has now generally been recognised as an integral part of the Pentateuch or five books of the Law. It certainly possesses the same structural peculiarities. It begins, where Deuteronomy leaves off, when Israel is encamped in the plains of Moab. Moses is dead, and Joshua is recognised as his successor. To him God says: “ As I have been with Moses, so will I be with thee.” The conquest of W. Palestine by Joshua is related under two headings: (1) the reduction of the south— the fall of Jericho and Ai and the defeat of the five kings; (2) che victory over the northern king, Jabin of Hazor (but see Judges 4). Central Palestine, viz. Shechem, is assumed already to have fallen into Israelite hands. Only two tribes, Joseph and Judah, receive inheritances from Joshua, Gad and Reuben having already been allotted territory in E. Palestine by Moses. The remaining seven tribes cast lots for the territory which they are permitted to conquer. The different inheritances are given with an abundance of detail, characteristic of P. Joshua charges Israel, as Moses did before his death, and dies on his property at Timnath Serah.

Judges is professedly a continuation of Joshua, but it is very different in style, scope, and arrangement; whereas Joshua is closely akin to the legal books, Judges rather resembles the historical. It covers a much longer period, extending over twelve judgeships, and is arranged on a distinct plan. In each case Israel sins, God punishes by an invasion, the nation repents, and a deliverer is raised up. Two supplementary narratives close the book, to show the state of the country when there was no king. It may be that the Book of Ruth is a third supplement, to show the origin of the great royal house of David.

The next four books, Samuel and Kings, are called by the Greek translators Books of Kingdoms” (βασιλειῶ?ν ) . 1 S. opens with the story of Samuel’ s birth in the days of Eli, the priestly judge, and gives an account of the loss of the Ark and the utter degradation of Israel under the Philistine yoke. Samuel, the first of the prophets, is the leader in the great struggle, and is compelled by the people to set a king over the nation in the person of Saul, who does much for the emancipation of his people, but is rejected by God and falls in battle against the Philistines. The main part of the last half of 1 S. is chiefly occupied with the hairbreadth escapes and adventures of David, the real founder of the monarchy, who is described as the “ man after God’ s own heart.” More space is given to him than to any other person mentioned in the Bible, about half 1 S., all 2 S., and two chapters of 1 K. forming his biography. 1 Kings is divided between the reign of Solomon, with an elaborate account of the Temple and its dedication, and the story of the division of the kingdom till the death of Ahab. The second book carries the reader down through the later history of the divided monarchy, relating the fall of the northern, and concluding with a history of the southern kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Captivity, to the restoration of Jehoiachin to a certain degree of honour by the son of Nebuchadrezzar. The latter period has to be supplemented by the historical portions of Jeremiah and the allusions to contemporary events in Isaiah and Ezekiel.

Characteristics of Prophetical History.— The books we have already considered represent the standpoint of the prophets of Israel; and, as we have seen, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are known as the first four of the prophetical books. Generally speaking, the view they take of the nation is that it is the people of God, who are specially bound to act in accordance with their high calling, though as a rule they fail lamentably to attain the standard demanded of them. But in no case is Israel represented as having a law like that known in after days as the “ Law of Moses” ; or, if it had, the majority of the nation, priests and prophets included, were completely ignorant of its contents. The ritual practices of all the saints and heroes of Israel throughout these books are quite different from those prescribed in Lev. and Nu., and if there is any Law it is rather that of the earliest legal chapters in Ex. (20– 23).

Later Historical Writings.— Of the remaining historical books, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah (the two latter being often reckoned as one book) form a complete series. Chronicles is a sort of revised edition of all the earlier history, whilst the two other books continue the narrative. The object of the writer of Chronicles is to give the impression that the kings of Judah— for Israel is only incidentally mentioned— were scrupulous in carrying out the Pentateuchal Law as it appears in the Priest’ s Code. Thus David will allow only Levites to bear the Ark, and we read much of his care to provide for the ritual, and especially the music, of the sanctuary. Solomon, represented as a powerful though not always faithful monarch in the Book of Kings, here appears as a blameless ruler. When a king like Uzziah presumes to undertake priestly functions, he is smitten with disease. In short, the whole is permeated by a priestly conception of history entirely foreign to the Book of Kings. Chronicles takes us to the end of the Captivity, and closes with the decree of Cyrus commanding the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. Ezra-Nehemiah, for the two books are really one, opens with this edict, relates how the altar was set up and the Temple commenced, and how the proceedings were hindered by the “ adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” ( i.e. the Samaritans). During the reign of two Persian kings nothing was done, but under Darius the work was resumed and completed about 516 B.C. Then there is a complete silence for nearly two generations, when, in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus (464– 424 B.C.), Ezra, a Jewish priest, was permitted to lead a company of exiles back to Jerusalem. A Jewish governor named Nehemiah was then appointed, and we are told how he and Ezra restored Jerusalem, and made the nation obey the Law of Moses. With these two great men the Bible history concludes about the year 432 B.C.

Extant Hebrew History the Fragment of a Lost Literature.— There is little doubt that the literature of ancient Israel was not confined to the OT as we now have it. On the contrary, the books bear evident traces of having been compressed into their present limits by the omission of facts which must have been recorded, and are almost necessary to a right understanding of what stands recorded. To take but a single example: the reign of Omri ( 1 Kings 16:29-34) is related with the utmost brevity, and many things are omitted which would have thrown light on the subsequent history, and cannot fail to have been known by the author. Nothing, for instance, in Kings would lead us to suppose that the king who defeated Tibni and built Samaria was so important that rulers of Israel, though belonging to the very dynasty which had supplanted his own, should call themselves “ sons of Omri.” 2 Kings 3 relates a rebellion of Moab against Israel, and we know from the Moabite Stone (p. 305) that Omri had oppressed Moab and probably imposed upon it the onerous conditions hinted at in this chapter. Further, the severe terms exacted by the Syrians in the days of Omri (1 Kings 20) imply a serious defeat of Israel, to which no allusion is made. Although it cannot be proved that these were recorded in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel, it is highly probable that this was the case, and that the writer of Kings deliberately hurried over this important reign in order to record events which seemed to him to be of greater interest or more to the edification of his readers.

But the historical writers in the OT openly confess the fact that there was a considerable literature to which their readers might have access. The Book of Jashar (Jos., 2 S.), the Chronicles of Israel and of Judah, alluded to in Kings, and the many works cited in the late Book of Chronicles, show that there was an extensive literature in existence even as late as 300 B.C. which has completely disappeared, and that we have only fragments from which to reconstruct the story of ancient Israel.

The External Sources of Hebrew History.— Besides the sources mentioned in the historical books we may mention the external sources which connect the history of the Hebrews with that of the world at large, in addition to those which criticism has indicated as the materials used by the writers and redactors of the historical books.

( a) One of the most serious objections to the antiquity of the Jewish people, which Josephus had to answer, was the silence of the Greek authors regarding them. He accounts for this by the fact that the ancestors of the Jews did not inhabit a maritime country and engaged little in trade, being occupied m living their own peculiarly religious life ( Apion. 12). Josephus appeals, however, to the Tyrian records for the building of Solomon’ s Temple, quoting Dius (ch. 17) and Menander of Ephesus (ch. 18). He also quotes the testimony of the Babylonian Berossus (ch. 19) to the story of Noah, and on the treatment of the Jews by Nebuchadrezzar, and he relates that a writer named Megasthenes alludes to the first destruction of Jerusalem. But Josephus is evidently able to give his readers very little testimony, external to the Scriptures, for the history of Israel.

( b) Nor was more light thrown upon the subject till recent years, when the secrets of the hieroglyphic and of the cuneiform characters were revealed. Direct allusions to the Israelites are few, and can be easily enumerated: ( a) The word Is-ra-e-ru, “ Israelite,” occurs on the stele of Merenptah (thirteenth century B.C.), describing Egyptian victories over Israel; ( b) Shishak (1 K.) relates his devastation of Palestine (tenth century B.C.); ( c) Ahab is mentioned in the Qarqara inscription as one of the kings allied against Assyria (864 B.C.); ( d) Jehu’ s name, as of a king paying tribute to Shalmaneser II, is found on the Black Obelisk (British Museum), 842 B.C.; ( e) Pekah and Hoshea (2 Kings 15) appear in an inscription, 737 B.C. and the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.; ( f) Hezekiah’ s name appears on the Taylor Cylinder (British Museum), 701 B.C.; ( g) at an earlier date, probably in the ninth century B.C., we have on the Moabite stone Mesha’ s account of his rebellion against Israel ( 2 Kings 3:1).

( c) As in the case of the Pentateuch, the materials used by the writers other than those specified by them are mainly matters of conjecture, but they may be roughly enumerated as follows: Judges, like the Pentateuch, is probably made up of two early documents, J and E, which were thrown into their present form— subject, however, to revision— by a Deuteronomic editor, whilst portions were added by a reviser of the school of P. The Books of Samuel, like Judges, have been subject to Deuteronomic and post-exilic revisions; but in the life of Saul we have a combination of two works, one hostile and the other friendly to monarchical institutions. The compiler drew upon traditions of David, a life of Samuel, and a very ancient account of David’ s reign (2 Samuel 9-20). In 2 Samuel 1:18 the Book of Jashar ( cf. Joshua 10:12-14) is quoted. The author of Kings alludes to the chronicles of the kings of Israel and the chronicles of the kings of Judah, and he probably had before him independent narratives of Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, etc., as well as the records of the Temple at Jerusalem.

The Miraculous in Hebrew History.— The historian has a natural distrust of the miraculous when he meets with it in records, not because he cannot believe in its possibility— for experience has taught him to be very cautious in saying that any event could not have occurred— but because a natural love of the marvellous makes men credulous in accepting supernatural explanations of events. Moreover, it is undeniable that the Hebrew writers regarded the whole story of the nation as a far greater miracle than any apparent interference with the laws of nature, because in every event they thought they saw the hand of the Lord of the whole earth shaping and directing the destinies of Israel. Nevertheless the impartial reader is impressed more by the absence than by the superabundance of miracle in the story of a people so intimately connected with its God as Israel, in so ancient and confessedly so religious a record as that found in the historical Scriptures. When we divide the miraculous events into ( a) subjective wonders— i.e. visions, Divine messages, and the like, which may, at any rate, be accounted for by the state of mind of those who experienced them; ( b) signs which were an acknowledged medium of God’ s communication with Israel; and ( c) wonders interrupting the natural course of history. we have to acknowledge the comparative rarity of the last-named.

Taking 1 K. as an example, the presence of the miraculous under the above classification is :

In 1 Kings 1-11, which relates the accession of Solomon and his reign, only two miracles are recorded— Solomon’ s vision at Gibeon ( 1 Kings 3:5), and the cloud filling the Temple at its dedication ( 1 Kings 8:10). These may be classed under ( a) visions and ( b) signs respectively.

1 Kings 12-16, the account of the division of the kingdoms. No miracle appears except the signs which accompany the denunciation of the schism of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 13— i.e. the temporary drying up of the king’ s hand, the rending of the altar, and the punishment of the disobedient prophet. These all come into the category ( b), signs.

1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2. Even in the life of Elijah, a man with admittedly supernatural powers, miracle is rare. His being fed by ravens is perhaps a doubtful miracle (see Commentary). The multiplying of the widow’ s cruse, the raising of her son from the dead, and the destruction of the captains of fifty, come under class ( c) wonders; unless we include the descent of fire at Carmel on the sacrifice, which may be regarded as a sign ( b), or the prophet’ s ascension, which may also be explained as a vision ( a). Considering its momentous character and the great men who lived in it, in the period from David to Elijah miracles are conspicuous by their absence.

History as Compared with Prophecy.— Though, as we have seen, the supernatural as manifested in miracle is of comparatively rare occurrence in Hebrew history, it is assumed throughout that events are under the control of Yahweh, the God of Israel. This is, as a rule, revealed in history by the prophets. It is their function to declare the will of God and His immediate purpose, together with the punishment which will follow if it be disregarded. Rarely is the prophet made to disclose the remote future, as when the messenger to Jeroboam predicts the destruction of his altar by a king of Judah, “ Josiah by name.” As a rule the prophets in history play somewhat the same part as the chorus in a Greek play: they explain events as the tragedy of Israel progresses. It is not till a late period, almost at the close of the history of the northern kingdom, that we get the literary prophet supplementing the narrative, and that we are able to construct history from the fragments preserved in the utterances of the prophets. The literary prophets from the eighth century onward stand in much the same relation to the recorded history in the OT as do the Epistles of Paul towards the Acts of the Apostles. Both are documents contemporary with the events, but, as a rule, these abound in allusions, the meaning of which can only be conjectured. Amos and Hosea give a view of Israel’ s later history, and Isaiah of Judah’ s relations with Assyria, differing from the records in Kings; just as the Epistle to the Galatians gives a very different impression of the controversy between the Jewish and Gentile Christians from what could be gathered from the Acts. It is, however, necessary to exercise much discretion in the use of the prophets for historical purposes, as both the Hebrew text and the genuineness of many passages are subjects of considerable dispute.

How far does the OT Give us Strict History?— The Bible, it has been already suggested, can hardly be said to record history with the strict accuracy demanded of a modern work. As it is easy to see from the Pss., the prophets, the Apocryphal literature, and the NT, the religious interest in history practically ceased with David, and was mainly centred in the primitive story as told in Genesis and in the deliverance from Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness. The record from Joshua to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans as it appears in the OT is a fragmentary story of Israel, gathered from a number of lost sources and told for the sake of showing how the nation fell short of the ideal designed for it, and of the punishments which ensued. The writers or compilers, living centuries after the event, are usually less interested in the accuracy of their narrative than in the moral they wished to point. Formerly what was called inspiration was deemed to be so bound up with the exact truth of the record as to stand or fall with it. Consequently the unbeliever made his main point of attack some disputable statement, which the faithful were in honour bound to defend. Now, however, it is generally recognised that no early record can be expected to give the exact circumstances, especially when much of it is demonstrably not contemporary with the events; and in a work like the historical section of the OT we look rather to the purpose of the author than the details in which it is discoverable. The former is, in the biblical narrative, sufficiently clear. The history is professedly a commentary on the dealing of Yahweh with His people, showing in what manner He bore with their backslidings, punished and delivered them. The books were never intended to supply an accurate and exhaustive chronicle of events for the modern historian. All that can be claimed for them is that they give an outline, often singularly dispassionate and impartial, of the fortunes which befell the nation of Israel.

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