By George S. Goodspeed
The University of Chicago.
IV. FORESHADOWINGS FROM THE TIMES OF THE EARLIER PROPHETS.
1. The historical background from the Disruption to the overthrow of Israel, B. C. 937-722.—The glorious period of David and Solomon was all too brief, and the dream which they cherished was realized in a very different manner from that which they would have desired. The kingdom which they expected to see established upon the plateaus of Palestine became a glorious ideal inspired by religion and painted by prophets in glowing colors. The breaking up of the temporary unity followed immediately on the death of Solomon (B. C. 937), when t e flower of the nation, the tribes of the north, cast off the sway of the Judean weakling and would-be tyrant Rehoboam, and continued the true succession of the kingdom of Israel under the leadership of their rightfully elected king, Jeroboam, inspired thereto by prophets and conscious of the rectitude of their cause.
1. Results of the Disruption.—The consequences, however, were fateful, both for good and evil. Disunion took the place of harmonious action of all the tribes, and that at a time when, in the face of the Aramseans of Damascus and the mightier enemies that lay behind to the east, united effort alone could be successful in maintaining the national glory. All the advantages of community in softening and modifying local peculiarities and in removing local weaknesses were brought to nought, and the beneficent influence of a united religious life was forever destroyed. Each kingdom now went its own way, working out the heritage of the past as local and temporal interests suggested.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that, with the new life manifesting itself in the oriental nations in the far East, especially in Assyria, there was slight hope that even a united Israel could long make headway against such overwhelming odds, and that thus there would be greater likelihood of one or the other of the smaller kingdoms surviving the shock of Assyrian conquest,—which indeed proved to be the case. All the advantage. also, that came from the competition of two peoples living side by side with parallel interests, all the variety that local impulses gave to the development of a common stock of social and religious traditions, found opportunity through the disruption to realize themselves.
Particularly in religion is this fact important. A united Israel with strong central authority, with the political aims that David and Solomon cherished, would have afforded nothing like the free field for the unique outworking of the ideals of the religion of Jehovah which was actually secured through the disruption. Prophetism, for example, demanded freedom to speak out the truth learned from personal communion with Jehovah, and free speech was not consonant with a Solomonic regime. One of the prime causes of the disruption was the outbreaking of the free spirit in northern Israel, where the nomadic tendencies toward independence had been less overpowered by the centralization of the court; and it is precisely in northern Israel that now the religion of Jehovah takes fresh root and plays its glorious part during this new period of a century and a half. It is not a matter of chance, then, nor one difficult of explanation, that the time of the early prophets is a period in which the interest centers about the kingdom of Israel.
The history of the northern kingdom falls naturally into four periods:
Religion received its character in the first period; its strength and weakness are derived from the political and social elements which marked the formation of the kingdom; it was in a sense a retrogression, since it returned in some measure to that local and independent character which was shown in the formative period of the nation's history, and out of which David and Solomon had sought to lift the people by the centralization of worship at Jerusalem. Religion never stood so steadily behind the monarchy, and never became so imposing a fact in the life of the nation in the north as in the south. Along with that independence, there also came back the tendencies to the old agricultural symbolism of worship, the images, from which it seems the Judean worship had largely freed itself. The religious question, indeed, was a much more complicated one in northern Israel, where the country was so much larger and the variety of population and interests so much greater in comparison with the limited and united territory and people of Judah, where religious centralization was easily accomplished. But, on the other hand, problems of tremendous import were set and solved in the north of which the south never dreamed. The north was the battle ground where was fought out the struggle which resulted in the victory of the prophetic conception of Jehovah, the best results of which were reaped in the south. Had it not been for the religious life of the northern kingdom, with its checkered career and its striking vicissitudes, we would have had no Isaiah and no Jeremiah.
2. The work of Elija and Elisha.— The first religious crisis in the northern kingdom connects itself with the second period, the epoch of the vigorous dynasty of Omnri. With this king the monarchy settled itself firmly in its seat. A new capital was established at Samaria. Moab was reconquered and a dynasty was founded which lasted for three generations. It is significant that in the Assyrian inscriptions Israel is called " the land of Olmri." The Phoenician alliance was established in inmitation of the brilliant foreign policy of David and Solomon, and the son of Omri, Ahab, received Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre, as a wife. Another element in the foreign policy was the reconciliation with Judah which Ahab accomplished, his daughter being given in marriage to the son of Jehoshaphat.
Foreign alliances meant the recognition of foreign religions; thus Phoenician Baalism appeared in Israel, fostered by the royal court. It is unlikely that Ahab had anynotion of supplanting by a new religion the worship of Jehovah, consecrated by ancestral tradition and national history. But the cult of Jehovah in northern Israel, as has already been noticed, was more closely associated with the local and agricultural nature worships, and also had not yet rooted itself as an organized ritualism after the manner of the Jerusalem temple worship in Judah. It was now brought into competition with the highly organized Baal worship of Phoenicia, itself the sublimation of Canaanite nature worship, backed by the patronage of the queen. What wonder, then, that the imposing ceremonial and seductive ritual tremendously overbore the national cult ? It was Jehovah or Baal, with the odds immensely in favor of the latter, and the victory was almost gained for the Phoenician god. But the very freedom of the field in Israel gave an opportunity for the assertion of individual faith and the clearer proclamation of higher truth respecting Jehovah. And there was a man for the occasion, filled with the prophetic spirit—Elijah. His work consisted essentially in two things, (1) the uncompromising assertion that there could be no union between Jehovah and Baal, Jehovah's exaltation above the natural world, the insistence on his righteous judgment, as illustrated in the prophet's condemnation in Jehovah's name of the unholy murder of Naboth; (2) the vindication of Jehovah's absolute supremacy, though king and people lean to the other side. This is the first religious schism for Israel, the first jar given to that splendid faith in the oneness of Jehovah and his people. "Stand for or against Him," was Elijah's war cry. "However you stand, He remains supreme," was his revolutionary corollary which was to introduce a higher stage of Israel's religion. No wonder he has become the type of the Messiah's forerunner! In freedom-loving Israel alone could such a divine inspiration have been proclaimed.
The years that followed Elijah were years of disaster for Israel. The perennial feud between Damascus and Israel with its varying success inclining, however, chiefly to the side of the former, brought a strain upon the people which was almost unbearable. Right in the midst of it came the sudden change of dynasty which placed Jehu on the throne (B. C. 842). It is clear that the religious revolution which Elijah set in motion had its part in this political upheaval, and succeeded thereby in removing forever the danger of the supremacy of Phoenician Baalism. But there was always present the almost equally difficult problem of establishing and purifying the Jehovah worship, now in the ascendant; this must be done in the face of the desolating and devastating wars into which the kingdom was now plunged. There was, however, a man for the time in the person of the disciple of Elijah—Elisha. Some of the most curious narratives of the Old Testament gather about his name. He stands more or less in the shadow of his mighty predecessor. His work was prepared for him by his relation to Elijah and the circumstances of his time. His duty was loyally to finish Elijah's work and to carry out his policy and purpose. Hardly had Jehu been firmly seated when the Syrian wars broke out, which lasted for thirty years (ca. 835-803 B. C.) and brought the nation low. It was this prophet's task to maintain the spirit and courage of the nation from king to peasant, to carry Israel through these weary years. His methods were partly political. He was court adviser. He was in touch with the people as well, and made them feel that Jehovah was with them. He thought it the time not to denounce, but to encourage; not to break down, but to build up. At the time of his death the battle was almost won. Syria never afterward proved a dangerous foe.
3. From Jeroboam II to the end.—The splendid reign of Jeroboam II (B. C. 781-740) was Elisha's justification. He had, indeed, no special crisis in religion to meet such as presented itself to Elijah. He has left us no definite body of teaching, no new light on Jehovah's character and purposes. His work was largely for the time, and events over which he had no control made his endeavor futile within twenty-five years after his death. The nation rapidly degenerated. Assyria left no time to Israel for reform or repentance after the great Damascus war had ceased. Elijah's prophetic followers, the school of optimists which he may have founded, could not take heart in view of the threatening situation, and they, too, nmay have become corrupt. A new application of the revolutionary thought of Elijah was now needful on a larger scale, in the face of Assyria's overpowering might. There were those who were ready to make this application, which opened a new epoch of Israel's religious history and introduced the earlier written prophecies.
4. Israel's situation in these years.—The elements of the age which saw the decline and disappearance of the kingdom of Israel and which conditioned the work of the new prophets may be summed up as follows:
II. The earlier prophets of the eight century.—Four prophetic books are assigned to this period of Israel's history, and have to do, directly or indirectly, with this age. Amos and Hosea were prophets whose messages were addressed to the people of the northern kingdom, Amos, the earlier, in the reign of Jeroboam II, Hosea having a longer prophetic ministry reaching beyond the time of Jeroboamn II into the last days of the kingdom of Israel. Jonah, an episode in whose life forms the subject of his book, was a prophet of northern Israel belonging to the same age (cf. 2 Kings 14:25). The book of Joel gives no indication of its time. Both with regard to it and the book of Jonah there have been the most varying judgments respecting date. If the book of Joel belongs to this period, it is probably most satisfactorily placed in the early part of the reign of Joash of Judah (B. C. 836-796), and has its background in the Judean kingdom of this epoch. There are, therefore, reasons for considering all of these books in the light of the historical events of the ninth and eighth centuries, and for regarding their utterances as springing out of the life of this period and illustrative of it.
In general, no reader of these books can fail to observe that they all disclose one common characteristic. There is in them an element of turbulence. The events which they reflect are unhappy, grievous. The spirit which breathes through them is discordant, fateful, gloomy. There are mutterings of vengeance, cries of punishment, threatenings of calamity, forecasts of disaster, visions of conflict. Sin and righteousness, truth and error, the oppressed and the oppressor, Jehovah and Baal, are arrayed against each other in conflict. In these respects the situation reflects quite definitely the dark outlooks of the Damascus wars and the latter days of the Israelitish kingdom.
In analyzing the elements of these prophetic oracles which look forward to brighter and better days, one may note the following points:
1. The supreme place occupied by Jehovah in the prophet's outlook for the present and future. In the contrasts and contradictions, in the disappointments and disillusions of this period experienced by the prophet, one thing has remained immovable, unshaken, and that is his assurance of the supremacy of Jehovah. The nation has disappointed him. Its ideal destiny has not been achieved. His hopes respecting the monarchy have suffered a severe shock, for the king has not been such a benefactor as was expected. But Jehovah abides faithful. Only, as we have seen, the conception of him has broadened and deepened since the time of Elijah. These prophets, therefore, center their hopes directly upon him, and not mediately, through some institution or person who is to represent his character and purposes. His absoluteness is clearly declared, and this supreme position displays all the more prominently his essential characteristics. His unbiased and immovable righteousness receives the strongest kind of expression, particularly in view of the startling doctrine now clearly declared that, in the interests of his righteousness, Jehovah rules all people with equal justice, and in accordance therewith will inflict the penalty for sin upon Israel and Judah, the people of his choice. As the result of the long struggle against the Baal worship of Tyre and the nature worship which still clung to the ancestral ritual of the whole Jehovah worship, the ethical and spiritual demand of the prophetic conception of Jehovah is now for the first time positively and prominently proclaimed.
2. But these prophets who hold this doctrine of Jehovah's worldwide supremacy in righteousness are by no means indifferent to the interests of the people of Jehovah to whom they belong. They are, first of all, patriots, in whom love for country and for God, their country's God, is supreme. Indeed, it was just the contradiction between the misfortunes of their country and the faithfulness of Jehovah to its interests as manifested in its early history which forced them to seek an explanation and to find it in their emphasis (a) upon that larger life of Jehovah which lifts him above devotion to a single people, and (b) upon that righteous characteristic of his which constrains him to be just, even when the punishment must fall upon his own.
It led them to a deeper thought. They must picture to themselves a further reality, to which the very justice of Jehovah must bring him. This contradiction is finally and fully to be removed by the fulfilment of the earlier promises to his people. But this can be brought about only by Jehovah himself restoring his people, forgiving their sins, saving them from their calamities; hence still another light is thrown by these prophets upon the character of Jehovah, Israel's God. He is God, the Redeemer, the Saviour, in a deeper and more strenuous way than was ever realized before. This is especially the view of Hosea, whose bitter experience prepares him for this deeper insight into Jehovah's character. As he forgave, restored, and enriched the one who had been unfaithful to him, no less merciful and forgiving will Jehovah be to sinning Israel.
The prophetic teaching of the book of Jonah is yet more widely gracious. Jehovah, who is God, not merely of Israel, but of the whole earth, righteous toward all, is likewise merciful toward all who repent and turn to him. His love is manifested even toward Nineveh, the great city of Assyria, the fierce, conquering destroyer of the nations.
A further and perhaps higher expression of these thoughts is given by Joel in the divine oracle of the outpouring of Jehovah's spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28, 29). The form of the utterance is suggested by the promised welcome rain which sinks into the parched earth and revives the drooping verdure. So Jehovah's vigorous, energizing spirit will permeate the weary and waste masses of men and inspire them to prophetic visions and tasks. The surest evidence of Jehovah's nearness and activity in those days was the ecstatic experience, when one's own self was possessed by the mightier divine afflatus. Nothing higher was conceivable. This experience was to be confined no longer to a few; all were to enjoy it, even slaves. It is not certain whether the prophet's outlook reached beyond his own people, though "all flesh " would suggest the broader view. Within these limits the prophetic gift would be universal. All would hold immediate communication with Jehovah.
3. Though of far less importance, the objective institutions and the external elements of Israel's life enter into the prophetic pictures of this age. (a) No one can fail to remark how insignificant a position the mnonarchy takes in the interpretations and anticipations of this period, as compared with those of the period which just precedes. There the monarchy was the representative of Jehovah and his gracious ministrations to the nation. Here it has failed in its task. Jehovah has found it unequal to his purposes and himself stands forth as the central figure. This shows, perhaps, a reaction caused by disappointment, yet the old faith was living. In these prophets there are still some anticipations that the monarchy will have its part to perform in the brighter days. The vision of Amos (9:11-15)beholds the utter collapse even of the Davidic line, not to speak of the monarchy of Israel, but looks beyond and hopes for its recovery and restoration. Hosea beholds the people returning unto Jehovah and "unto David, their king" (3:5). (b) The nation itself shall suffer in the severity of the discipline to which it is subjected. Both Hosea and Amos suggest that only a portion shall come forth to enter into the gladness of the latter day. It is striking that their new doctrine of Jehovah has opened the way for a new doctrine of his people, which, however, they grasp merely in suggestion, without developing its implications. It is the nation, Israel, that will be pardoned, yet only the nucleus of that nation. (c) In this ideal state, when the house of David shall be restored to rule over a forgiven people, the old land will be reoccupied, and will bloom and blossom as never before. Jehovah's people will dwell in it forever, and the nations round about shall be in subjection unto them (Amos 9:12-15 ; Joel 3:18-20; Hosea 2:21-23; 14:5-8).
In summing up the conclusions respecting the teaching of this period it is possible for the student to make a somewhat fuller comparison with the earlier material.
1. Observe the spiritualizing of the conceptions. They deal with the interior more than the exterior. In the Davidic period, for example, an institution is exalted,—the monarchy. The nation and its God receive their significance from relation to it. Jehovah is the king in the sense of victorious Leader, mighty Lawgiver, exercising judgment in the earth, through the king, his anointed. The nation is to enjoy the blessings of prosperity and victory under the protection of the monarchy and through its successful achievements. But now the blessings and the giver of them are higher and more inward. Jehovah loves and forgives his people. He pours out his spirit upon them and they enter into intimate fellowship with him.
2. Observe the individualizing of the recipients of the divine bounty. The solidarity of the nation is weakened. In the breaking down of the oneness of relation between Jehovah and the nation the thought is dawning that Jehovah may come into individual communication, not merely with national leaders, but also with all who possess the right spirit. At the same time there is a removal of emphasis from the persons or institutions which in former periods were the bearers of future blessings. The institutions which were established in the Mosaic age to be the media of the bringing in of the ideal community have here passed into the shadow. Monarchy, prophecy, priesthood, these diminish before the one source of all their strength—Jehovah.
3. Consider how what has already been observed is in complete harmony with the historical situation, in which the oracles are delivered. At the risk of over-repetition, the student is urged again to bear in mind how each hope, each ideal representation, roots in the soil of experience.
4. Further comparisons might be made with previous periods. How evidently dissatisfaction takes the place of confidence! The assurance that the nation is destined to supremacy, which was observed in the oracles of the Mosaic period, has little place. The ideal man has disappeared, except so far as the indirect suggestion of his possibilities may be drawn from the oracle concerning the pouring out of the spirit upon all flesh. How vague are the assurances of the prophets and how far off they are removed!
One thing only remains, but therein is the ground of hope and the light for the future. The prophet's faith in Jehovah has deepened and broadened. No longer is he the background of hope and assurance. He comes to the forefront in a new aspect, better understood, more fully revealed. And in that larger knowledge and intuition lies the Foreshadowing.