1. In the Pentateuch we have the establishment of the Theocracy, with the preparatory and accompanying history pertaining to it. The province of the historical books is to unfold its practiced working
, and to show how, under the divine superintendence and guidance, it accomplished the end for which it was given. They contain, therefore, primarily, a history of God's dealings with the covenant people under the economy which he had imposed upon them. They look at the course of human events on the divine rather than the human side, and in this respect they differ widely from all other historical writings. Human histories abound with the endless details of court intrigues, of alliances and wars, of material civilization and progress, and whatever else pertains to the welfare of men considered simply as the inhabitants of this world. But the historical books of the Old Testament, written by prophetical men illumined by the Holy Spirit, unfold with wonderful clearness the mighty movements of God's providence, by which the divine plan proposed in the Mosaic economy was steadily carried forward, alike through outward prosperity and adversity, towards the fulfilment of its high office. After a long series of bloody struggles, the Theocracy attained to its zenith of outward power and splendor under David and Solomon. From that time onward the power of the Israelitish people declined, till they were at last deprived of their national independence, and subjected to the yoke of foreign conquerors. But in both the growth of the national power under the Theocracy, and its decline, the presence of God and his supremacy, as well over the covenant people as over the surrounding nations, were gloriously manifested, and their training for the future advent of the Messiah was steadily carried forward. Thus we have in these historical books a wonderful diversity of divine manifestations, which alike charm and instruct the pious mind.
2. It has already been shown (Chap.15, No.7) that the books of Kings and Chronicles contain only selections from a large mass of materials. The same is probably true of the books of Judges and Samuel. The sacred writers did not propose to give a detailed account of all the events belonging to the periods over which their histories extended, but only of those which were specially adapted to manifest God's presence and guidance in the affairs of the covenant people. The history of some persons is given very fully; of others with extreme brevity. But we may say, in general, that this divine history, extending over a period of a thousand years, is the most condensed in the world, as well as the most luminous with the divine glory. The student rises from the perusal of it with such clear views of God's presence and supremacy in the course of human affairs, as cannot be gained from all the ponderous tomes of secular history. Each book, moreover, presents some special phase of God's providential movements, and contains, therefore, its special lessons of instruction. With few exceptions, the authors of the historical books are unknown. We only know that they were prophetical men, who wrote under the illumination and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. This book records the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua, and its distribution by lot among the tribes that received their inheritance on the west side of the Jordan. It connects itself, therefore, immediately with the Pentateuch; for it shows how God fulfilled his promise to Abraham that he would give to his posterity the land of Canaan for an inheritance (Gen.17:8), a promise often repeated afterwards, and kept constantly in view in the whole series of Mosaic legislation. The book naturally falls into two parts. The first twelve chapters contain the history of the conquest itself, with the movements preparatory thereto. Joshua, who had been previously designated as the leader of the people (Numb.27:15-23), receives a solemn charge to pass over the Jordan and take possession of the promised land; the people prepare themselves accordingly; two spies are sent out to take a survey of Jericho; the Israelites pass over the Jordan dry-shod, its waters having been miraculously divided; they encamp at Gilgal, and are there subjected to the rite of circumcision. Chaps.1-5. Then follows an account of the overthrow of Jericho, the trespass of Achan with the calamity which it brought upon the people, the conquest of Ai, the ratification of the law at mount Ebal with the erection of the stones on which the law was written, the artifice of the Gibeonites by which they saved their lives, the overthrow of the combined kings of the Canaanites at Gibeon, and the conquest, first of the southern and afterwards of the northern kings of Canaan. Chaps.6-12.
The second part gives an account of the division of the land by lot among the several tribes. This work was begun as is described in chapters 13-17, and after an interruption through the dilatoriness of the people, for which Joshua rebuked them, was continued and completed at Shiloh. Chaps.18, 19. Six cities of refuge were then appointed, three on each side of the Jordan; forty-eight cities were assigned by lot to the Levites; and the two and a half tribes that had received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan (Numb., chap.32) were sent home. Chaps.20-22. The twenty-third chapter contains Joshua's charge to the elders of Israel, and the twenty-fourth his final charge at Shechem to the assembled tribes, on which occasion there was a solemn renewal of the national covenant. The whole book is brought to a close by a brief notice of the death of Joshua and Eleazar, and the interment of the bones of Joseph in Shechem. This brief survey of the contents of the book reveals at once its unity, its orderly plan, and the place which it holds in the history of the Theocracy.
4. The authorship of the book cannot be determined from the title alone, any more than that of the two books which bear the name of Samuel. Jewish tradition ascribes it to Joshua himself, except the last five verses. But it records some transactions which, according to the most obvious interpretation of them, occurred after Joshua's death. Among these are the conquest of Hebron (chap.15:16-19, compared with Judges 1:12-15), and especially the excursion of the Danites (chap.19:47), which must be regarded as identical with that described in the eighteenth chapter of the book of Judges. Unless we assume that this notice of the Danites is an addition made by a later hand, we must suppose that the book was written by some unknown prophetical man after Joshua's death. He may well have been one of the elders who overlived Joshua, since at the time of his writing Rahab was yet living among the Israelites. Chap.6:25.
The eighteenth chapter of the book of Judges, which records the invasion of the Danites, is evidently an appendix, introduced by the words: |In those days there was no king in Israel;| and that this invasion took place not long after the settlement of the people in Canaan, is manifest from the object proposed by it. Judges 18:1. At the time of the conquest, Rahab was a young woman, and may well have survived that event forty years or more. The only apparent indication of a still later composition of the book is that found in the reference to the book of Jasher, chap.10:13. From 2 Sam.1:18, we learn (according to the most approved interpretation of the passage) that David's elegy on the death of Saul and Jonathan was written in the book of Jasher. But we are not warranted in affirming that this title was applied to a book of definitely determined contents. It may have been a collection of national songs, enlarged from age to age.
Though Joshua does not appear to have been the author of the book in its present form, we may well suppose that the writer employed, in part at least, materials that came from Joshua's pen. When the land was divided by lot among the several tribes, the boundaries of each inheritance, with the cities pertaining to it, must have been carefully described in writing by Joshua himself, or by persons acting under his direction. It is probable that these descriptions were copied by the author of the book of Joshua; and this is sufficient to account for any diversity of diction that may exist in this part of the book as compared with the purely historic parts. Nothing in the style and diction of this book, or in that of the two following books of Judges and Ruth, indicates that they belong to a later age of Hebrew literature. Certain peculiarities of expression which occasionally appear in them may be naturally explained as provincialisms, or as belonging to the language of conversation and common life.
5. The book of Joshua bears every internal mark of authenticity and credibility. The main transaction which it records -- the extirpation of the Canaanites by the immediate help of Jehovah, and the gift of their country to the Israelites -- was contemplated from the very first by the Abrahamic covenant (Gen.13:14, 15; 15:18-21; 17:8, etc.), and also by the entire body of the Mosaic laws. Why God chose to accomplish this by the sword of his covenant people, has been already sufficiently considered. Chap.10, No.7. The stupendous miracles recorded in the book of Joshua are in harmony with the entire plan of redemption, the great and decisive movements of which have been especially marked by signal manifestations of God's presence and power. The man who denies the credibility of this book on the ground of these miracles, must, for consistency's sake, go much farther, and deny altogether the supernatural manifestations of God recorded in the Bible, including the mission, miraculous works, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.
In chap.10:12-14 we read that, at the word of Joshua, the sun stood still and the moon stayed in the midst of heaven about a whole day, so that |there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man.| Some have sought to explain the whole passage as a quotation from |the book of Jasher| expressed in the language of poetic hyperbole; and they have compared with it such poetic amplifications as those contained in Psa.18:7-16; Hab., chap.3, etc. But this interpretation is forced and unnatural; and besides this, there remains the analogous event of which we have a double record in 2 Kings 20:8-11; Isa.38: 7, 8, and which is expressly ascribed to divine power: |Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun-dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward.| Here it is manifest that to human vision the sun, and with it the shadow, went backward ten degrees. How this was accomplished we need not attempt to determine. We are not shut up to the supposition that the earth was turned back on her axis ten degrees, nor that the rays of the sun were miraculously deflected ten degrees (which would change his apparent position in the heavens ten degrees), nor to any other particular hypothesis. If God chose that the sun should to human vision go backward ten degrees, he could accomplish it by means inscrutable to us; and so also if he chose that it should stand still in the midst of heaven about a whole day.
II. JUDGES AND RUTH.
6. The book of Judges is so called because it is occupied with the history of the Israelites during the period when they were under the general administration of Judges. These men are not to be confounded with the ordinary judges under the Theocracy, of the appointment of which we have an account in Exodus, chap.18. They were men specially raised up by God and endowed by him with extraordinary qualifications for their office, which was general and political rather than municipal. Many of them were military leaders, called to their work in times of national calamity. In times of peace they stood at the head of public affairs, although with regard to some of them it is generally thought that their jurisdiction extended to only a part of the Israelitish people. Thus Jephthah and the three succeeding judges seem to have exercised their office in northeastern Israel, while the scene of Samson's exploits was southwestern Israel, and he was, in the opinion of many, contemporary with Eli, who judged Israel at Shiloh. The condition of the nation during the period of the Judges is described as one in which |there was no king in Israel.| Chap.18:1; 19:1. There was no regularly organized central power which could give unity to the movements of the people. The tribes seem to have acted in a great measure independently of each other, as in the expedition of the Danites. Chap.18. It was only on special occasions, like that of the sin and punishment of the Benjamites (chaps.19-21), that there was a general concert among them. This state of affairs was not favorable to the development of the military power of the nation, but it was well suited to the high moral and religious ends which the Theocracy had in view; for it compelled the people to feel their constant dependence on God's presence and help for defence against their enemies. Sin, and oppression by the surrounding nations; repentance, and deliverance by God's immediate interposition -- this is the oft-repeated story of the book of Judges. All this was in accordance with the promises and threatenings of the Law, and it illustrated alike the perverseness of the nation and God's faithfulness in the fulfilment of his covenant. The incidents recorded in this book are of a peculiarly checkered character, and many of them are full of romantic interest. In the history of redemption, the book of Judges has a well-defined place. It unfolds to our view the operation of the Theocracy in the first stage of the nation's existence, and under its first outward form of government.
7. As it respects the arrangement of materials, the book of Judges opens with a two-fold introduction, giving, first, a brief notice of the wars carried on against the Canaanites by certain tribes after Joshua's death, of the failure of the people to effect a complete extirpation of the Canaanites, and of the reproof administered to them by an angel of the Lord (chap.1-2:5); secondly, a survey of the course of events during the time of the judges, with especial reference to God's faithfulness in the fulfilment of his promises and threatenings. Chap.2:6-3:6. Then follows the body of the work, giving an account of the seven servitudes to which the people were subjected for their sins, and of the judges raised up by God for their deliverance, with some incidental notices, as the history of Abimelech, (chap.9) and the quarrel of the men of Ephraim with Jephthah. Chap.12:1-6. The book closes with a two-fold appendix, recording, first, the conquest of Laish by the Danites, and in connection with this the story of Micah and his idolatrous establishment (chaps.17, 18); secondly, the punishment of the Benjamites for espousing the cause of the wicked men of Gibeah (chaps.19-21). These events are not to be conceived of as subsequent to those recorded in the body of the book, but as contemporaneous with them.
8. The remark: |In those days there was no king in Israel| (chaps.18:1; 19:1) plainly implies that the date of the book of Judges must be assigned to a period after the establishment of the kingdom. The statement, on the other hand, that the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, |but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day| (chap.1:21), limits the time of its composition to the period before David's conquest of the city.2 Sam.5:6-9. The author of the book is unknown. Jewish tradition ascribes it to Samuel. It may well have been written during his life, and possibly under his supervision, though on this point we can affirm nothing positively. The writer must have availed himself of earlier written documents. See Chap.15, No.5.
9. The chronology of the book of Judges is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Some contend for a longer period, in accordance with the reckoning of the apostle Paul, who says that after God had divided to the people the land of Canaan by lot, |he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.| Acts 13:20. Others seek to reduce the period so as to bring it into harmony with the statement in 1 Kings 6:1, that Solomon began to build the temple |in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt.|
If we suppose that the oppression of the Israelites by the Philistines, described in the beginning of the first book of Samuel, is the same as the forty years' oppression mentioned in the book of Judges, and that the judgeship of Samson falls within the same period (Judges 15:20), it is easy to make out the four hundred and fifty years of the apostle's reckoning. From the beginning of the first servitude under
Cushan-rishathaim to the close of the last under the Philistines, we have, reckoning the years of servitude and rest in succession, and allowing three years for the reign of Abimelech, three hundred and ninety years. For the remaining sixty years we have (1) the time from the division of the land by lot to the death of the elders who overlived Joshua; (2) the time from the close of the last servitude to the establishment of the kingdom; and possibly (3) a further period for Shamgar's judgeship, though it is more probable that this falls within the eighty years of rest after the oppression of the Moabites. Those who adopt a shorter chronology, assume that the forty years' dominion of the Philistines was contemporaneous with the oppression of the northeastern tribes by the Ammonites and the period during which Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon judged Israel; their jurisdiction being, as they suppose, restricted to the northeastern part of the land. For both the longer and shorter chronology, there are several variously modified schemes, the details of which the student can find in works devoted to the subject of biblical chronology.
10. The incidents of the book of Ruth belong to the period of the Judges, so that it may be regarded as in some sort an appendix to the book of Judges, though probably not written by the same author. It contains a beautiful sketch of domestic life in the early period of the Theocracy, written with charming simplicity and graphic vividness. Yet it is not on this ground alone or chiefly that it has a place in the sacred canon. It records also the sublime faith of Ruth the Moabitess, which led her to forsake her own country and kindred to trust under the wings of the Lord God of Israel (ch.2:12), and which was rewarded by her being made the ancestress of David and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the book connects itself immediately with |the house and lineage of David,| and may be regarded as supplementary to the history of his family. It was evidently written after David was established on the throne. Further than this we have no certain knowledge respecting its date; nor can its author be determined.
III. THE BOOKS OF SAMUEL.
11. The two books of Samuel constituted originally one work. The division was made by the Greek translators as a matter of convenience, so as to close the first book with the death of Saul, and begin the second with David's accession to the throne. This division was followed by the Vulgate, and was introduced by Daniel Bomberg into the printed Hebrew text. To the original whole work the name of Samuel was appropriately given; for he is not only the central personage in the history which it records to the establishment of the kingdom, but it was also through him, as the acknowledged prophet of the Theocracy, that both Saul and David were designated and anointed for the kingly office. The Greek Septuagint designates these books from their contents, First and Second of the Kingdoms, and the Vulgate, First and Second of Kings.
12. In the history of the plan of redemption these two books have a well-defined province. They are occupied with the establishment, under God's direction and guidance, of the kingly form of government in the Theocracy. All the events recorded before the inauguration of Saul were preparatory to that event and explanatory of it. Since, moreover, Saul was afterwards rejected with his family on account of his disobedience, and David and his family were chosen in his stead, it was in the person of David that the kingdom was first fully established, and with the close of his reign the work accordingly ends. The period included in this history, though comparatively brief, was most eventful. Samuel, himself one of the greatest of the prophets, established a school of the prophets, and from his day onward the prophetical order assumed an importance and permanency in the Theocracy that was before unknown. See above, Ch.15, No.11. The change to the kingly form of government constituted a new era in the Hebrew commonwealth. Although the motives which led the people to desire a king were low and unworthy, being grounded in worldliness and unbelief, yet God, for the accomplishment of his own purposes, was pleased to grant their request. The adumbration in the Theocracy of the kingly office of the future Messiah, not less than of his priestly and prophetical office, was originally contemplated in its establishment; and now the full time for this had come. While David and his successors on the throne were true civil and military leaders in a secular and earthly sense, their headship over God's people also shadowed forth the higher headship of the long promised Redeemer, the great Antitype in whom all the types contained in the Mosaic economy find at once their explanation and their fulfilment. Under David the Hebrew commonwealth was rescued from the oppression of the surrounding nations, and speedily attained to its zenith of outward power and splendor.
13. The contents of the books of Samuel naturally fall under three main divisions. The introductory part takes up the history of the commonwealth under Eli and continues it to the time when the people demanded of Samuel a king.1 Sam. chaps.1-7. This period properly belongs to that of the judges, but its history is given here because of its intimate connection with the events that follow. It describes the birth and education of Samuel; the disorders that prevailed under Eli's administration, for which God denounced upon his family severe judgments; the invasion of the land by the Philistines, with the capture and restoration of the ark; Samuel's administration, and the deliverance of the people under him from the oppression of the Philistines. The second part, extending through the remainder of the first book, opens with an account of the abuses which led the people to desire a king, and then gives an account of the selection, anointing, and inauguration of Saul as king of Israel, with a notice of his exploit in delivering the people of Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites. Chaps 8-12. It then gives an account of his first sin at Gilgal, for which Samuel threatened him with the loss of his kingdom, and of his victory over the Philistines, with a general summary of the events of his reign. Chaps.13, 14. For his second sin in the matter of the Amalekites Saul is rejected, and David is anointed by Samuel as his successor; the Spirit of the Lord forsakes Saul, and an evil spirit from God troubles him; David becomes his minstrel, is in high favor with him, slays Goliath in the presence of the two armies of Israel and the Philistines, returns in triumph to the camp of Saul, marries Michal his daughter, but becomes an object of his jealousy and hatred because he has supplanted him in the affections of the people. Chaps.15-18:9. The remainder of the first book is mainly occupied with an account of the persecutions to which David was subjected on the part of Saul, and of the wonderful way in which God delivered him. It closes with an account of Saul's distress through the invasion of the Philistines, of his resort in trouble to a woman that had a familiar spirit, of the terrible message that he received at the lips of the risen Samuel, of the defeat of the armies of Israel by the Philistines, and of the death of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. The third part occupies the whole of the second book. It records the reign of David, first at Hebron over the tribe of Judah, with the accompanying war between the house of Saul and the house of David, and then, after Ishbosheth's death, over all Israel at Jerusalem. With the fidelity of truth the sacred historian describes not only David's many victories over the enemies of Israel, but also his grievous sin in the matter of Uriah, with the terrible chastisements that it brought upon him and his kingdom -- Amnon's incest, the murder of Amnon by Absalom, Absalom's rebellion, pollution of his father's concubines, and death in battle. The closing years of David's reign were saddened also by David's sin in numbering the people, for which there fell in pestilence seventy thousand of his subjects.
14. For the evidence that the author of these books availed himself of the writings of the prophets contemporary with the events described, see above, Chap.15, No.6. In 1 Chron.29:29 we read: |Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer.| If, as some think, our present books of Samuel were composed shortly after David's death, the author may well have been one of the last two of the above-named prophets; but there are some indications that he lived after the division of the Israelitish people into the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
In 1 Sam.27:6 we read that Achish gave Ziklag to David; |wheretofore,| adds the sacred historian, |Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah unto this day.| The only natural interpretation of these words is that the kings of Judah -- not any particular king of Judah, but the kings of Judah as a line -- are named in contrast with the kings of Israel. In several other passages, where he is speaking of events that occurred before the separation of the two kingdoms, he puts Judah and Israel together.1 Sam.11:8; 17:52; 18:16; 2 Sam.3:10; 24:1. But this can, perhaps, be explained from the fact that during the seven years of David's reign at Hebron there was an actual separation of Judah from the other tribes. It is a remarkable fact that while the full term of David's reign is given (2 Sam.5:4, 5), which implies that the writer lived after its close, no notice is taken of his death. The reason of this omission cannot be known. As the first book of Kings opens with an account of David's last days and death, some have conjectured that it was designedly omitted from the books of Samuel as superfluous, when the historical books were arranged in the sacred canon.
IV. THE BOOKS OF KINGS.
15. These two books, like the two of Samuel, originally constituted a single work. The division was first made by the Greek translators, was followed by the Vulgate, and was finally admitted by Daniel Bomberg into the printed Hebrew text. The Greek version of the Seventy and the Latin version, having called the books of Samuel, the former, First and Second of the Kingdoms, the latter, First and Second of the Kings, designate these books as Third and Fourth of the Kingdoms or Kings. Each of the historical books presents the covenant people under a new aspect, and imparts new lessons of instruction. In the book of Joshua we see them taking triumphant possession of the promised land through the mighty assistance of Jehovah; the book of Judges describes the course of affairs in the Hebrew commonwealth before the existence of a central kingly government; in the books of Samuel we learn how such a central government was established, and how under the reign of David the nation was raised from the deep degradation of servitude to the summit of worldly power. But the Theocracy was only a preparatory, and therefore a temporary form of God's visible earthly kingdom. From the days of David and Solomon it began to decline in outward power and splendor, and it is with the history of this decline that the books of Kings are occupied. In the view which they present of the divine plan they are in perfect harmony with the preceding books of Samuel; but in respect to the manner of execution they differ widely. The books of Samuel give the history of Samuel, Saul, and David, with great fulness of detail, and never refer the reader to other sources of information. The books of Kings, on the contrary, give professedly only certain portions of the history of the people under the successive kings, always adding, at the close of each monarch's reign after Solomon, that the rest of his acts may be found, for the kings of Judah, in |the book of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah;| and, for the kings of Israel, in |the book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel.| The Chronicles referred to are not our present books of Chronicles, as has been already shown, Chap.15, No.8, but a larger collection of writings, from which the authors both of the books of Kings and Chronicles drew materials, in part at least, for their respective works. The history contained in the books of Kings may be conveniently divided into three periods -- (1) the reign of Solomon over all Israel; (2) the history of the coexisting kingdoms of Judah and Israel; (3) the history of the kingdom of Judah after the extinction of the kingdom of Israel.
16. The history of the first period opens with the reign of Solomon, which excelled that of David in outward magnificence, as it did that of every succeeding king.1 Kings 3:13. The great event of his reign, constituting an epoch in the history of the Theocracy, was the erection of the temple on Mount Moriah, which took the place of the ancient tabernacle constructed by divine direction in the wilderness. Thus Solomon added to the public services of the sanctuary an outward splendor and dignity corresponding with the increased wealth and glory of the nation. But in the case of his kingdom, as often elsewhere, the zenith of magnificence came after the zenith of true power. Had his profuse expenditures ceased with the erection of the temple and his own house, it would have been well; but the maintenance of such a household as his, embracing |seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines,| corrupted his religion and that of the nation, burdened the people with heavy taxes, and thus prepared the way for the division of his kingdom that followed immediately after his death, as recorded in 1 Kings 12.
17. With the division of Solomon's kingdom under his son Rehoboam into two hostile nations begins the second period of the history. This division was brought about by God's appointment as a chastisement for Solomon's sins, and in it the national power received a blow from which it never recovered. The religious effect also was unspeakably calamitous so far as the kingdom of the ten tribes was concerned; for Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, established idolatry as a matter of state policy, thus corrupting the religion of his whole kingdom with a view to the establishment of his own power, a sin in which he was followed by every one of his successors. The sacred historian carries forward the history of these two kingdoms together with wonderful brevity and power. Sometimes, as in the days of Elijah and Elisha, the history of the ten tribes assumes the greater prominence, because it furnishes the fuller illustrations of God's presence and power; but as a general fact it is kept in subordination to that of Judah. It is a sad record of wicked dynasties, each established in blood and ending in blood, until the overthrow of the kingdom by the Assyrians about two hundred and fifty-four years after its establishment. Meanwhile there was in Judah an alternation of pious with idolatrous kings, and a corresponding struggle between the true religion and the idolatry of the surrounding nations, which the sacred writer also describes briefly but vividly.
18. It was during the reign of the good king Hezekiah that the extinction of the kingdom of Israel took place, and the third period of the history began. Hezekiah's efforts for the restoration of the true religion were vigorous and for the time successful. But after his death the nation relapsed again into idolatry and wickedness. The efforts of Josiah, the only pious monarch that occupied the throne after Hezekiah, could not avail to stay the progress of national degeneracy, and the kingdom of Judah was, in its turn, overthrown by the Chaldeans, and the people carried captive to Babylon.
19. The chronology of certain parts of the history embraced in the books of Kings is perplexed and uncertain. But the beginning of the Babylonish captivity is generally placed B.C.588, three hundred and eighty-seven years after the beginning of Rehoboam's reign, and one hundred and thirty-three years after the extinction of the kingdom of Israel. Reckoning in the forty years of Solomon's reign, we have for the period included in the books of Kings to the beginning of the captivity four hundred and twenty-seven years. To this must be added twenty-six more years for the thirty-seventh year of Jehoiachin's captivity (2 Kings 25:27), the last date given by the sacred historian. The author of the books of Kings is unknown. Jewish tradition ascribes them to Jeremiah, perhaps on the ground that the last chapter of Jeremiah is mostly a repetition of 2 Kings from chap.24:18 to the end of the book. But Jeremiah and the author of these books may both have made use of common documents. We only know that the writer lived after the accession of Evil-merodach to the throne of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27), and during the full pressure of the Babylonish captivity, since he nowhere gives any intimation of its approaching close.
V. THE BOOKS OF CHRONICLES.
20. These books, which originally constituted a single work, are called by the Hebrews: Words of the Days; that is, History of the Events of the Times, or Chronicles, as they were first called by Jerome. The Greek name Paraleipomena, things omitted, has its ground in the false supposition that they were designed to be supplementary to the books of Kings, whereas they constitute an independent work having its own plan and end. The author of the books of Kings doubtless looked forward to the future restoration of his nation; but the time for that joyous event was yet distant, and he could have no immediate reference to the wants of the returning exiles. His aim was simply to set forth the course of events under the Theocracy from Solomon to the captivity as an illustration of God's faithfulness in the fulfilment of both his promises and his threatenings. But the author of the books of Chronicles wrote, as all agree, during the process of the restoration. In addition to the common aim of all the historical writers, he had a particular object in view, which was to furnish the restored captives with such information as would be especially interesting and important to them, engaged as they were in the reestablishment of the commonwealth. Hence we may naturally explain the peculiarities of these books as compared with the books of Kings.
(1.) The writer gives particular attention to the matter of genealogy. The first nine chapters are occupied with genealogical tables interspersed with short historical notices, which the author took, for the most part at least, from documents that have long since perished. To the returning exiles the lineage of their ancestors must have been a matter of general interest. A knowledge of the descent of the families of the different tribes would greatly facilitate the people in regaining their former inheritances. To the priests and Levites, especially, it was of the highest importance that they should be able to show their lineage, since upon this depended their right to minister in holy things. Ezra 2:61-63.
(2.) The books of Chronicles are very full on all that pertains to the temple service. The writer devotes, for example, eight chapters to an account of David's preparations for the erection of the temple, and of his elaborate arrangements for all the different parts of the service pertaining to the sanctuary.1 Chron. chaps.22-29. He gives a particular description of the solemn covenant made by the people with Jehovah under Asa's direction, 2 Chron.15:1-15; of the reformatory labors and faith of Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron.19, 20; of Hezekiah, 2 Chron. chaps.29-31; and he adds to the account of Josiah's efforts against the idolatrous practices of his day, a notice of his solemn observance of the passover, 2 Chron.35:1-19.
(3.) He omits, on the other hand, the history of the kingdom of Israel, giving only a notice of its establishment, and of certain parts of its history which were connected with that of the kingdom of Judah. The apparent ground of this is, that the kingdom of the ten tribes furnished no example which could be available to the people in the work of reestablishing the commonwealth. It is to be noticed, moreover, that he passes over in silence the adultery of David with its calamitous consequences, and the idolatry of Solomon. This is, perhaps, due to the brevity of the history before the division of the kingdom; for he does not spare the sins of the pious monarchs that followed. See 2 Chron.16:7-12; 19:2; 32:25, 31; 35:21, 22.
21. In the Hebrew canon the books of Chronicles stand last in order. It is generally agreed that they were written, after the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, by Ezra, who had all the qualifications for such a work. Whatever use he may have made of the earlier books of Samuel and Kings, it is plain that these were not his chief sources, for he records many things not found in them. He and the author of the books of Kings had access to the same public records, and each of them made such selections from them as suited his purposes. Hence the matter contained in the two works agrees in part, and is partly different. See above, Chap.15, Nos.7, 8.
22. That there are some discrepancies between the books of Samuel and Kings and the books of Chronicles, arising from errors in transcribing, is generally admitted. These relate, however, mainly to dates, and do not affect the general integrity of the works. But most of the disagreements between the earlier and later histories are only apparent, arising from their brevity, and from the fact that their authors frequently select from the same reign different events, the one passing by in silence what the other records; or that, where they record the same events, various accompanying circumstances are omitted.
An example of apparent error in transcription is 2 Sam.24:13 compared with 1 Chron.21:12; the former passage specifying seven years of famine, the latter three years. For other examples see 2 Sam.8:4 compared with 1 Chron.18:4; 2 Sam.23:8 with 1 Chron.11:11; 1 Kings 4:26 with 2 Chron.9:25. We are not to infer, however, that all cases of apparent disagreement involve error in one or the other of the records. When the events of a whole campaign, for example, are crowded into single sentences, it is not surprising that the different narratives should contain seeming discrepancies which a full knowledge of the details would enable us to reconcile. The separate discussion of the difficulties presented by the books of Chronicles, as compared with the earlier histories, belongs to the commentator. It is sufficient to remark here, that independent parallel histories always exhibit, with substantial agreement, minor diversities which it is sometimes not easy to harmonize. It has not pleased God that in this respect the sacred narratives of either the Old or the New Testament should constitute an exception to the general rule. The parallel narratives of our Lord's life contain as many and as great diversities as those of the old Hebrew commonwealth. Though we may not always be able to show how these are to be brought into harmony, they constitute no valid objection to the authenticity of the histories in the one case any more than in the other.
VI. EZRA AND NEHEMIAH.
23. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which record the most important events connected with the restoration of the Hebrew commonwealth, we have unfolded to our view a new era in the history of the Theocracy. The contrast between the relation of the Israelitish people to the heathen world in the days of Joshua, and of Ezra and Nehemiah is as great as possible. Under Joshua the people marched, sword in hand, as invincible conquerors, to the possession of the promised land, while the hearts of their enemies melted before them. After the captivity they returned in weakness and fear, by the permission of their heathen rulers and under their patronage and protection. But in the latter case, not less than in the former, the Theocracy was steadily advancing under God's guidance towards the accomplishment of its high end, which was the preparation of the Jewish people, and through them the world, for the advent of the promised Messiah. In the beginning of the Mosaic economy, and during the earlier part of its course, it was altogether appropriate that God should make stupendous supernatural manifestations of his infinite perfections and of his supreme power over the nations of the world. Thus he revealed himself as the only living and true God in the sight of all men. But as the history of the covenant people went forward, there was a gradual return to the ordinary providential administration of the divine government. God's miraculous interventions were never made for mere display. They always had in view a high religious end. As that end approached its accomplishment, they were more and more withdrawn, and soon after the captivity they ceased altogether until the final and perfect manifestation of God in Christ. From Malachi to Christ was the last stage of the Theocracy, when, in the language of the New Testament, it was waxing old and ready to vanish away. Heb.8:13. It was neither needful nor proper that its history should be dignified by such displays of God's miraculous power as marked its earlier periods.
24. But, although the age of miracles ceased after the Babylonish captivity, the Theocracy went steadily forward in the accomplishment of its divine mission. In truth it was now that it secured for the first time, as a permanent result, the high end proposed by it from the beginning, that of rescuing a whole nation from idolatrous practices and making it steadfast in the worship of the true God, at least so far as the outward life is concerned. By the permanent subjection of the Jewish people to heathen rulers, their national pride was humbled, and they were placed in such a relation to heathenism as inclined them to abhor rather than imitate its rites. The fulfilment of the terrible threatenings contained in the law of Moses in the complete overthrow, first of the kingdom of Israel, and afterwards of that of Judah, and their long and bitter bondage in Babylon, administered to them severe but salutary lessons of instruction, under the influence of which they were, by God's blessing, finally reclaimed from idolatrous practices. In connection with the restoration, the synagogue service was established, in which the law and the prophets were regularly read and expounded to the people throughout the land. To this, more than to any other human instrumentality, was due that steadfastness which the Jewish people ever afterwards manifested in the worship of the true God. Thus, while the outward glory of the Theocracy declined, it continued to accomplish the true spiritual end for which it was established.
25. The book of Ezra embraces a period of about seventy-nine years, from the accession of Cyrus to the throne of Persia to the close of Ezra's administration, or at least to the last transaction under it of which we have a record. The first six chapters give a brief sketch of the course of events among the restored captives before Ezra's arrival at Jerusalem, especially their activity in rebuilding the temple, the formidable opposition which they encountered from the neighboring people, and how that opposition was finally overcome. The last four chapters contain the history of Ezra's administration, the chief event of which was the putting away by the princes and people of the heathen wives whom they had married. That Ezra was the author of this book is generally acknowledged. The first three verses are a repetition, with some unessential variations, of the last two verses of Chronicles, of which he is also believed, on good grounds, to have been the author. In certain passages he speaks of himself in the third person; Ch.7:1-26; ch.10; but there is no reason to deny, on this ground, that he was their author. Jeremiah changes, in like manner, employing sometimes the first and sometimes the third person. Certain parts of this book, which are mainly occupied with public documents respecting the building of the temple and the orderly arrangement of its services, are written in the Chaldee language, namely: chaps.4:8-6:18; 7:12-26.
In respect to the Persian monarchs mentioned in this and the two following books, there is not an entire agreement among biblical scholars. The following table, formed in accordance with the views that seem to be best supported, will be useful to the reader. It contains, arranged in three parallel columns, first the names of the Persian kings in their order of succession, as given by profane historians; secondly, their scriptural names; thirdly, the dates of their accession to the throne, according to the received chronology.
Cyrus, Cyrus, Ezra 1:1, etc., B.C.536.
Cambyses, Ahasuerus, Ezra 4:6, | 529.
Smerdis, Artaxerxes, Ezra 4:7-23, | 522.
Darius Hystaspis, Darius, Ezra 4:24-6:15, | 521.
Xerxes, Ahasuerus, Esther throughout, | 485.
Artaxerxes Longimanus, Artaxerxes, Ezra 7:1, etc.; Neh.2:1, etc. | 464.
[Footnote 1: He was a usurper who reigned less than a year.]
[Footnote 2: But in Neh.12:22, Darius Nothus or Darius Codomanus must be referred to.]
[Footnote 3: Some suppose Darius, others Artaxerxes, to have been the Ahasuerus of Esther.]
26. The book of Nehemiah continues the history of the Jewish people after the restoration, beginning with the commission which Nehemiah received from Artaxerxes Longimanus, king of Persia, in the twentieth year of his reign (B.C.446), to go to Jerusalem in the capacity of Tirshatha, or civil governor, for the purpose of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and setting in order the affairs of the commonwealth. The book naturally falls into three divisions. The first division contains the history of his labors in rebuilding the walls of the city and putting an end to the practice of usury, and of the violent opposition and intrigues of the surrounding people. Chaps.1-7:4. To this is appended a genealogical list, which is the same for substance as that contained in the second chapter of Ezra. Ch.7:5-73.
Upon a comparison of the two catalogues, we find various differences in respect to names and numbers. The differences of names may be explained from the fact that it was common for men to bear different titles, particularly if they were persons of distinction; as, for example, Daniel and Belteshazzar, Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar. It is not certain upon what principle the differences in numbers are to be explained. The sum total of both catalogues is the same, namely, 42,360; from which it is plain that the lists are in both cases partial, since neither of them amounts to this sum. We add the following suggestion from Grey's Key as quoted by Scott: |The sum of the numbers, as separately detailed, will correspond, if to the 29,818 specified by Ezra, we add the 1,765 persons reckoned by Nehemiah which Ezra has omitted; and, on the other hand, to the 31,089 enumerated by Nehemiah, add the 494, which is an overplus in Ezra, not noticed by Nehemiah; both writers including in the sum total 10,777 of the mixed multitude, not particularized in the individual detail.|
In the second division we have an account of the solemn public reading of the law of Moses at the feast of tabernacles, and, in connection with this, of the renewal of the national covenant with Jehovah through the signature and seal of the princes, Levites, and priests, in their own behalf and that of the people. Chaps.8-10. In this religious and ecclesiastical transaction, Ezra the priest was the leader; Nehemiah, as the Tirshatha, or civil governor, simply taking the lead of the princes in the act of sealing.
The third division contains, along with some genealogical lists, an account of the measures taken by Nehemiah and the princes to increase the number of residents in Jerusalem, of the solemn dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, and of the rectification of various abuses which had crept in partly during Nehemiah's absence at the court of Persia. Chaps.11-13.
The date of Nehemiah's commission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem is important on account of its connection with the seventy prophetic weeks of Daniel, which are reckoned |from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.| Dan.9:25. It cannot be considered as exactly ascertained, but may be placed somewhere from B.C.454 to B.C.446. See the commentators on Dan.9:24-27. How long Nehemiah's administration continued after his visit to the court of Persia, in the twelfth year of his rule, is not known.
27. The book, as its title testifies, was written by Nehemiah, not earlier than his return from the court of Persia (ch.13:6; 5:14); how much later cannot be known. From the general character of style and diction which belongs to the second division (chaps.8-10), as well as from the absence of Nehemiah's peculiar forms of speech, some have thought that Ezra, as the chief actor in the reading of the law and renewal of the national covenant, wrote the account of the transaction, and that Nehemiah incorporated it into his work. To this supposition there is no serious objection. We must remember, however, that arguments based on supposed differences of style cannot amount to much where the materials from which a conclusion is to be drawn are so scanty.
The genealogical notice in ch.12:10, 11, which gives the lineage of the high priests from Joshua to Jaddua, who is apparently the high priest described by Josephus as having met Alexander the Great on his march to Jerusalem, is thought by many to be an addition made after Nehemiah's death as a matter of public interest. See above, Chap.15, No.17. The same judgment is passed by some on 1 Chron.3:19-24. But the interpretation of this latter passage is very uncertain.
28. This book, the author of which is unknown, records the wonderful manner in which the plot of Haman the Agagite to destroy the Jews was not only overthrown, but turned to their enlargement and honor. It is remarkable that the author refrains throughout from mentioning the name of God, although he manifestly designs to represent this deliverance as effected by his providence, and that too in answer to the fervent prayers of the Jews in connection with a fast of three days' continuance. He prefers, as it would seem, to let the facts speak for themselves. The book closes with an account of the establishment, under the auspices of Mordecai and Esther, of the feast of Purim, in commemoration of the deliverance which it records; and we are perhaps warranted in saying that the immediate occasion of writing the book was to show the historic origin of that festival -- a festival mentioned in the second book of Maccabees, under the title of Mordecai's day (chap.15:36), and observed, according to Josephus, by the Jews throughout the whole world. Antiq., 11, 6.13.
29. Among the various opinions respecting the Ahasuerus of this book, the best sustained is that which identifies him with the celebrated Xerxes of profane history. With this agrees all that is said of the splendor and extent of his dominions, extending |from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces| (1:1), and of his passionate, capricious, and sensual character.
To us, who are accustomed to a government of law, in which the rulers are restrained from the exercise of arbitrary power, and are kept under constant restraint by popular opinion, the incidents recorded in this book seem very strange. But it gives a true and faithful portraiture of the course of affairs at the court of a Persian despot, where the monarch knows no law but his own arbitrary will, suddenly elevates his favorites to the highest places of power and trust, as suddenly consigns them to the hand of the executioner, and gives himself up to the unbridled indulgence of his passions. The history of Haman's sudden rise and fall is that of many an oriental courtier since his day. The Jews, we are told, |slew of their foes seventy and five thousand.| This was a very great slaughter; but we must remember that it was distributed through all the provinces of the kingdom. Ch.9:16. The permission which they had received was |in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life; to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey| (ch.8:11); all which, except the last clause, seems to have been carried into execution. We are not required to vindicate the wisdom of this severe decree, or to deny that the Jews may have used to excess the terrible power thus conferred upon them. On the side of God's providence, the vengeance that fell upon the Jews' enemies was righteous; but on the side of the human instrumentalities employed by him, there may have been much imperfection, or even folly and wickedness. So it has ever been in the history of human affairs, and so it is at the present day.