By George S. Goodspeed
The University of Chicago.
Jesus Christ is the unifying element in the Old and the New Testaments. He himself is the witness to the close and vital connection which exists between him and the thoughts and events of the old dispensation. The pages of the gospels are full of references to it. "He wrote of me," was his declaration concerning Moses. The followers of Jesus were accustomed to find strong and convincing arguments in his behalf in the various fulfilments of Old Testament life and prediction which his presence and words and experiences reveal. His relation to Hebrew history, therefore, will always make that history of especial importance to us.
It is a subject of unceasing interest and permanent value to the Christian student to follow out the Old Testament preparation for his coming and work. For the essential element in Hebrew history, after all, does not lie in the disclosures of a general providence working through the events and experiences of the Hebrew nation, nor in the light which these throw upon the universal principles of human government and human society, important as are all these lines of inquiry and worthy of study, but rather in the fact that Hebrew history reveals the working out of the divine purpose of salvation for the race. The preliminary stages of this salvation are recorded in the Old Testament, and the investigation of them is central and vital in its study.
These stages of preparation, these foreshadowings as they may be called, are to be the subject of our study. The methods of arriving at these facts and of interpreting them have been various. There is what might be called the fulfilment method; that is, the investigation of certain passages of the Old Testament from the point of view of the New, the endeavor to discover how much more the Old Testament means when it is viewed in the light of the life, teachings, and work of Jesus Christ. This is a legitimate and important inquiry. Another method might be called the theological, or systematic method, which endeavors to determine the ultimate and essential truth which these Old Testament statements contain. It involves to a certain extent the method of fulfilments, but yet its aim is to make abstract and full statements of the truth, and to arrange these in a logical order, rather than to devote the attention merely to the enumeration of a series of fulfilments. The tendency is to view all of the material as of the same importance and significance, without regarding the time, the manner, or the form of its production.
We shall adopt, however, another method, which may be called for convenience the historical method; that is to say, it will take up the Old Testament materials from the point of view of their historical origin and environment. The history will be studied from the Hebrew side; the ideas will be investigated as they grow out of the history, and are modified or conditioned by it. The question asked will be, not so much, What did this statement mean to the Christian church ? but, What did it mean to him who first uttered it and to those by whom it was first heard or read ?
This historical method of investigation is not an easy one. It requires of us a certain amount of imagination as well as self-restraint to transport ourselves into the remote periods of the past and to see with the eyes of the men of old, not importing into the picture that which to us may seem to be so intimately associated with it. This way of looking at the subject carries with it certain new points of view which at first may seem strange. We shall have to recognize that these ideas, events, and predictions disclose only a very imperfect apprehension of the great truths and facts which seem so clear and definite to us in the light of their fulfilment. To those who stood in the semi-darkness and uncertainty of the pre-Christian period, this material had no such fulness of meaning. Their vision was not illumined with the light of day. They lived in hope, and these hopes in their details were, on the one hand, indefinite and general, and, on the other, limited and conditioned by the historical situation. They were foreshadowings.
In particular the historical method may seem to take away from us much of that personal element which has connected the Old Testament directly with the Christ of the New. As we put these sayings, ideals, events, in their historical relations, and, in company with the prophets and heroes, we look forward and compel ourselves to see the future in the hazy, suggestive, indistinct twilight before the sunrise, it will follow that what today seems to have pointed to Christ had in its historical position and reference a different or general application. The historic Jesus was not in their thoughts, whatever of fulness and definiteness his historical existence may have thrown back upon the inner meaning of the promises and the divine purpose in them.1
But in spite of what may seem at first a narrowing of the richness and attraction of the theme by the rigid insistence upon the historical method, there are compensations which outweigh all these seeming disadvantages. (1) In this light chiefly is the Old Testament seen as a living thing and the Old Testament history as reality. What we desire above all things else in Bible study is to come face to face with reality. These prime facts of God's dealing with men in his purpose of salvation for them are seen in their growing, in their actual progress in history among men.
Therefore (2) we gain a better understanding of their meaning. For to be able to trace the successive steps in the realization of an event is to gain the only proper and satisfactory insight into its character. The preparation for Christ was in history; to history, therefore, must we go, and with history must we advance, if we would understand this preparation.
(3) There can be no question but that our conviction of the broad, all-inclusive, and pervasive power of Christianity as a world force in politics, in society, in literature and in life will be strengthened as we follow out this more general foreshadowing of the larger Christ as he appears in Hebrew history and thought. We are bound to gain a larger view of the divine activity and purpose, foreshadowing something of the apostolic view of Christ, the permanent significance of Christianity, and thus a conception more satisfying, because more real, of the essential unity of the Old and the New Testaments.
Such a study as is here suggested demands patience, courage, and insight. The student must seek the guidance of the divine Spirit who pervaded the history and literature of Israel, to enable him properly and successfully to pursue this work.
I. THE PRE-MOSAIC FORESHADOWINGS.
The Book of Genesis contains the fine gold of primitive Hebrew tradition sifted, refined by generations of inspired students of Jehovah's will. It presents some difficult problems to one who seeks in it the historical foreshadowings of the Messiah. The literary character of the book involves the first problem. It is a composite. The book is made up of materials from many sources, ancient poetry, prophecy, history, coming from various authors, put together long after the events which it records.
The historical question is also one of extreme difficulty. The form of the book is conditioned by elements which belong to later periods the understanding of which depends upon our apprehension of the social and religious atmosphere in which they are produced. How far can we recognize in this material thus gathered, thus modified, thus refined, actual preservation of definite historical facts and details? The book as it stands is a great sermon intended to teach supreme lessons of divine wisdom and justice and love. How far is the historical method applicable to this material? In fine, the book is the work of prophets who had before them a great mass of primitive tradition which the Hebrew people cherished concerning the beginnings of the world and man, the early movements of peoples, and the origins of their own nation. All these materials are sifted, organized, interpreted, and idealized under the influence of the religious conceptions and aspirations of later ages, in which the religious education and divine guidance of Israel's teachers had passed beyond the elementary stage. It is from this point of view that our pre-Mosaic material must be studied,—as an interpretation rather than a record of the past.
1. The ideal conception of man and his destiny.—Gen. 1:26-30. This sublime picture is the condition of all prophecy and of all history as under special divine guidance and as a ground of hope. What is it that is here promised?
Let us try to realize what this ideal conception involves; what hope lies within it. The man to whom it was revealed and who uttered it was conscious in himself that mankind had not yet attained unto it, that the attainment was far distant. In his utterance there lies the inspired thought of a glorious future, that man is designed for something infinitely beyond what he has yet attained; that he was born to be a king; that he was intended by nature for companionship with God, and that these fundamental purposes, because divine, shall ultimately be realized. This sublime prophecy, therefore, is the basis and foundation of all that is to follow. The purpose and the progress of salvation is made possible because of this primal fact.
2. The hope unquenched by sin.—Gen. 3:14, 15. These verses disclose a very different picture. The writer is one who stands in the midst of the plainest and saddest facts of human life, facts which demand from him an interpretation and explanation. These are the essential facts of human sin, human birth and human death, waywardness from God, the coming of the individual into the world through the agony of the mother, his struggle for existence, his labor and sorrow, and his passing away in spite of all resistance and struggle. Under the divine guidance the prophet has given us his interpretation, and through the interpretation he has risen to a higher sphere. Out of it he has drawn glorious hope, sublime inspiration for the future. What is his explanation, and what is his hope?
What a picture of the history of humanity is given in the writer's portrayal of the fundamental perplexities of human life! What an insight into essential causes! What a sublime hope and inspiration is added in his prophecy of victory over difficulty, of the final solution of this terrific problem!
3. The hope of comfort.—Gen. 5:29. The fundamental problems of individual human life, sin, and death, have given occasion to the first sublime picture of hope and victory. But there are other problems that concern society which pressed with equal weight upon the heart of the prophetic narrator. The two extremes of social organization disclosed in nomadic life, on the one hand, and the gathering of masses of men into cities, on the other, war and its attendant evils, polygamy, murder, sensuous pleasures, around all of which the material of tradition gathered, must be interpreted and presented by the prophet, their secret grasped, their riddle solved. To the Israelite in his quiet, agricultural life quite barren of excitement and simple in its pleasures, the rich and varied life of the city seems to be a departure from the true principles of society, and to bring with it a train of evil consequences. To him they appear as the concomitants of a sinful development. So the picture is given of the progress of the Cainite line, in the invention of weapons of war and instruments of music, in the practice of polygamy, in the first murder, all exhibited in the spirit of revenge and pride condensed in the song of Lamech.
Over against this dark panorama the narrator presents another and more hopeful prospect. Another son of our first parents is the progenitor of a line culminating in one who is to introduce a new era, and about whom therefore cluster the divine assurances of hope and peace. The line of Seth is conspicuous for Enoch, who walked with God, and for Noah, who is to be the comfort of his race. With him is the new beginning. He is one who obeys God in the face of the disobedience of all other men. He is the comforter who gives to humanity the opportunity to breathe again. In Noah the prophet presents his own idea of social life and normal activity, as over against the corrupt practices of the Cainite civilization. It is as an agriculturist that Noah is to bring comfort to man. He is to till the soil, to win the victory over the stubborn earth, which is involved in the curse. As he comes forth from the ark the promise is given that the earth shall henceforth yield her fruit in her season to him. He, according to the prophet, is a type of a true citizen of the world and son of God, in that he is no wild nomad, nor does he live in a city. He has no weapons of war. He is a husbandman who wins for man the prize of earth's fruitfulness, and particularly the blessed gift of the vine. Thus in him is seen a prophecy of one element in the final victory over evil, the ideal of a true civilization, the subjection of earth to man.
4. The hope of divine indwelling in Shem.—Gen. 9:25-27. The victory of Noah was his undoing. He yielded to that which he conquered. The fruit of the vine tempted him to a fall, the consequences of which involved his descendants. The strange story of Genesis 9: 20-23 is made the occasion of the utterance of an oracle of wide-reaching import. Its words run into the forms of Hebrew ethnography of the prophet's own time. There is no little difficulty in the interpretation of this oracle, especially of the passage, "And let him dwell in the tents of Shem." Does the pronoun refer to Japheth or to Jehovah? If the former, the words proclaim the ultimate ascendancy of Japheth over Shem, or at least his inheritance in the blessings that gather about the Shemite religion. If the latter, it would be a repetition of the promise of the former verse, only in a more detailed form. Jehovah is to be not only the God of Shem, but is to dwell in his tents. The latter view is more satisfactory. The importance of all this is (1) that now for the first time Jehovah is to dwell with men. He is to reveal himself among them. The hope of the Divine Advent appears. (2) This advent is selective. He is the God of a family. Intimate knowledge of him is assured from personal contact and communion to this particular people. Among all men he has chosen where he will appear and dwell.
5. The hope of the national home and glory.—Gen. 12: 1-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 27:27-29. The Hebrew traditions respecting Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are much more local and limited in their character, but for that very reason are clearer and fuller. Jehovah is the tribal God of these clans, and the oracles and experiences center about his particular relations to them.
The student should first of all observe that the background of the whole picture is the nomadic life of the patriarchs. They have no settled home. They move to and fro. To the prophetic narrator and interpreter this mode of existence, as we have already seen, appears unsatisfactory. He feels, therefore, a fundamental imperfection in the lives of these heroes which gives color and character to the whole representation. It is through their wandering life that they fall into sin, are caught in difficulties, and come to conflicts with the inhabitants. Their lives are made uneasy, fraught with questionings and fears thereby. As nomads they cannot achieve the fulfilment of the divine will.
But the insight of the prophet enables him out of this dark background to exalt the divine purpose of Jehovah in relation to his future people, and from this to pass to Messianic foreshadowings. His interpretation of the events and oracles gathers about the outlook for the national home and its future glory.
6. The hope of a future victorious ruler.—Gen. 49:1, 8-12. As the former oracle concerned the relation of the nation to those without, so this oracle has to do with the internal affairs of the future nation. It is still more limited and local in its scope. From among the clans one tribe, Judah, is honored, and his ultimate superiority and permanent authority proclaimed. He is the protagonist of the nation. The exaltation is first to victorious warfare which he wages as leader among his brethren. This warfare secures permanently the national heritage. When the victory is gained he rests like a lion in his lair, enjoying the prey. His rule is to be increasingly successful and glorious "until Shiloh come." Whatever the particular meaning of this enigmatic phrase may be,3 the essential thought is without doubt that his success shall continue until he controls all, until his sway is unhindered. Then, with all things in his hands, he rules in a land of marvelous resources, developed to its highest point of prosperity, over the submissive peoples.
If the student, at the close of this study of pre-Mosaic foreshadowings, will now endeavor to gather up and organize the separate materials furnished by each picture, several points may be suggested.
II. THE FORESHADOWINGS FROM THE MOSAIC AGE.
The nation of Israel, foretold for the prophetic narrator in the fragments of pre-Mosaic tradition, comes into existence in the midst of experiences which condition its character and future. The oppression in Egypt, with its humiliating burdens, the dawning hope of escape, the marvelous deliverance at the Red Sea, the discipline of the desert life, served to mold the unstable and imperfect mass into a new organization with specially defined characteristics. Greater than merely external circumstances and experiences, however, in its influence, was the effect produced by the presence of the great personality under whose direction and inspiration the passage from slavery to freedom took place. Moses was the founder of Israel, in that he united the tribal fragments and gave new meaning to ancient political and social institutions, so that a unique community came into being inspired by new motives.
The pervading principle which the organization in all its parts reflected was religious. All rested upon the recognition of Jehovah as Israel's God. But this conception took on new meaning and force because of the new light thrown by the inspired leader and prophet upon the character and purposes of their national deity in his covenant with them. Jehovah, God of Israel, is a God of righteousness and love. He requires obedience to his just and holy law. He delivers his people from their enemies. This was Moses' gospel, ratified at the Red Sea and on Sinai. On this foundation the Hebrew nation was built, and with this principle all its institutions were inspired. Centuries were to pass before the full meaning and issue of these thoughts were disclosed.
Into this field, so full of germinal forces and ideas, prophetic and priestly seers of later ages have gone, undertaking as before to interpret the larger significances of these events. The narrators belong to various periods of Israel's later history. They evince varying modes of religious insight, living, as they do, under very different conditions and interested in many different religious ideas. Their interpretation of this material, therefore, is marked by much variety, as they lay emphasis upon this or that aspect of the newly forming nation. The most important passages which illustrate the special subject fall under two general heads: (1) The outlooks of Israel among the nations; (2) the hopes of Israel's inner life.
1. Outlooks of Israel among the nations.—Numbers 24:17-19; Deut. 32:6-10; Ex. 19:3-6. These three passages all have to do with the relations which the new nation is to have with the peoples without.
2. Hopes of Israel's inner life.—Deut. 17:14-20; 18:15-19; Numbers 25:12-13. As these narrators interpreted the germs of Israel's relation to the world without, in view of what they felt to be its larger issues, so they saw in the elements of Israel's infancy the beginnings of higher institutions and the significance of these in the nation. Monarchy, prophecy, priesthood lie enwrapped in the Mosaic constitution.
In gathering together these brief hints of the foreshadowings of the Mosaic period, some concluding suggestions should be taken into consideration and compared with those made regarding the teachings of the pre-Mosaic age.
1) The introductory remarks in the article of Professor Curtiss in the present number of the BIBLICAL WORLD may profitably be considered in this connection.
2) Briggs, Messianic Prophecy, p. 71.
3) It is now recognized by all to have no reference to an individual named Shiloh. The margin of the Revised Version gives various renderings, all of which are plausible.