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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : RHAPSODY

Select Masterpieces Of Biblical Literature by Various

RHAPSODY

This has been explained in the Introduction (pages xii-xiii) as a term applied to a highly characteristic form of prophetic literature, amounting to spiritual drama: actual dramatic dialogue and action being combined with other literary modes of expression to produce the general effect of dramatic realisation and movement. Some of the examples (I-III) are complete rhapsodies; IV is a discourse that becomes rhapsodic at its conclusion; V is a rhapsodic morceau, a single thought cast in this literary form; VI and VII are integral portions of one of the long rhapsodies.

/I. Rhapsody of the Drought./ This is a simple and clear example of rhapsodic writing. It opens with scenic description of the drought; the rest is dialogue between God, Repentant Israel, and the Prophet. The action of the rhapsody consists in the gradual effect of intercession: God at first refuses so much as to answer the sinful People, and speaks only through the Prophet; at last he answers the People directly, but only to threaten; finally he shows mercy to the repentant remnant.

/II. Habakkuk's Rhapsody of the Chaldeans./ This is a thoroughly typical and a splendid specimen of the rhapsody as a form of literature, (1) The historic situation is the appearance of the Chaldeans as a conquering power trampling down surrounding nations. This suggests the thought of judgment upon unpunished sin in Israel. But the Prophet feels a difficulty: how can a righteous God use a godless people as an instrument for the punishment of wickedness that is less than its own? The elaboration of this spiritual problem, in dramatic dialogue between God and the Prophet, makes the first section of the rhapsody. -- (2) The Divine solution of this problem comes under the image of intoxication: the haughty career of the Chaldean is no more than the drunkard's reeling which precedes his fall. But as the idea of the fall of the Chaldean is reached there is a sudden change from dialogue to the doom form. This Doom of the Chaldeans has five stanzas of the usual combination between prose and verse: the prose is Divine denunciation, the verse passages are the imagined triumphing of the down-trodden nations over their fallen oppressor. Four of the stanzas express the fall of the Chaldean in four images: his uninterrupted career has been a heaping up of usury, but the exactor shall come; it has been building a house of refuge, but shame has been built into its walls; it has been building a huge city only to make a bigger bonfire to the glory of the avenging God; it has been giving drink to behold shame, but the drink of shame shall be given to the oppressor. The fifth stanza goes to the root of the matter: the Chaldean has trusted to senseless idols: Jehovah is the true teacher. -- (3) So far the overthrow of the Chaldeans has been presented as a thing of the distant future; in the third section it is realised as visibly present: thus the movement of the rhapsody has been steadily advancing from the first forming of a problem to the climax of its solution. The literary form now changes to that of an Ode, realising the idea of Jehovah come to judgment. The prelude and postlude express the Prophet's feelings at the vision he hears and sees; the body of the ode realises the theophany itself. [Strophe, All nature convulsed as God comes; antistrophe, Is it against nature that the coming is directed? conclusion, Nay, but God comes to deliver his people. Compare Psalm cxiv.]

/Page 205./ I have heard the report of thee. This report, and so the voice in the second line of the postlude, refer to the voice supposed to sing what makes the body of the ode. This is the voice of Israel, heard in the vision describing the advent of Jehovah. -- O LORD revive thy work in the midst of the years: compare on page 202 though it tarry, wait for it: the Prophet prays God to interpose before it is too late.

/Page 207./ I trembled in my place, etc. The Prophet has a strange mingling of different feelings: terror at the vision of Jehovah's advent, though it be for his deliverance, and confidence, as a result of this vision, in the midst of desolation.

/III. Joel's Rhapsody of the Locust Plague./ This rhapsody may be founded on an historic plague of locusts, but the notion is idealised into mystic forces of destruction. Nothing else in the historic situation has any bearing on the rhapsody, it is ideal all through: desolation because of sin, and 'judgment,' in the double sense of first a judgment on Israel that is turned by repentance to purification, then a judgment as between Israel and the nations. As arranged in the text the movement of this rhapsody explains itself.

/VI./ This selection is the Prelude to the elaborate 'Rhapsody of Zion Redeemed' [Isaiah volume, pages 127-209]. Like the overture of many modern musical compositions, this Prelude is a lyric anticipation or foreshadowing of the whole work. A word of comfort for Jerusalem is spoken by God, and Voices are heard carrying the glad tidings on the way towards Jerusalem. The words spoken by these voices are anticipations of subsequent parts of the rhapsody.

/VII./ This selection is the third Act or 'Vision' of the same rhapsody. It brings out in dramatic realisation the Awakening of Zion. Successive appeals are made by Jehovah to Zion without response. The Celestial Hosts join in the appeal: still without response from Zion. At last the awakening of Zion is brought out by the Chorus of Zion's Watchmen recognising the advent of the messengers who bring the glad tidings (compare the Prelude), and calling upon the city to awake and rejoice.

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