Page images
PDF
EPUB

theme all through was trust in Jehovah as guide and protector, as supplier of wants and rescuer from dangers; and in this verse the thought ascends to the contemplation of Jehovah's overwhelming resources for meeting every possible strait. Whatever might be Israel's needs, dangers, or distresses, there was One at hand, so preached this prophet-poet, whose power and good will were manifest as even more than ample to carry the nation safely through any emergency. Jehovah was described in Hebrew poetry not only as a Being eternal in power and awful in majesty, but as one whose works superabounded in goodness and gladness. He was said to make the very earth rejoice, to crown the years with goodness, to cause the valleys to stand so thick with corn that they shout and sing for joy, to make the ground soft with showers, and to bless the increase of it. His very steps dropped richness; and the fields of the wood rejoiced before him, rejoiced because he cometh to give justice to the earth and to judge the people with his truth.

In such picturesque language did Israel's poets try to impress their idea of the character of Jehovah as the all-bountiful giver of good, and this verse of the Twenty-third Psalm is an illustration of the same attempt. By its structure the verse concentrates attention on three points of the alldominating Bounty. Under the figure of a hospitable and beneficent householder, supreme in power as in goodness, Jehovah is represented, first, as

revealing his abounding friendliness and munificence, even in the very sight of enemies, as if defying their pursuit and annulling their power. The singer had doubtless in mind, as his hearer would have, the actual and almost omnipresent armed foes by whom the Hebrews were surrounded, and whom they had to meet, and, it must be admitted, were not reluctant to meet, in stratagem and in battle, in order to preserve their national existence. The verse was designed to inspirit and nerve Israel for the hard tasks of war by presenting a picture of the abundant rewards of peace at the end of the conflict. The bountiful table spread in the face of the foe was a symbol of the coming national prosperity and wealth, a vision which poet and prophet never ceased to hold before the eyes of the people, however hard-pressed the people were by actual distress. And, indirectly, the phrase "in the presence of enemies" might stand for any difficulties and obstacles that hindered the realization of this vision, for any kind of hostility or terror which had been met in the "valley of shadows" and triumphantly vanquished. The same Power that had led safely through those dangers now turned the dangers into a banquet of rejoicing. This was the purposed result of the struggle and its interpreter. The feast represented that bounty of good things which the overcoming of every kind of antagonism had made possible; but, lest it should be said that the Hebrew idea of prosperity was too exclusively material, it must not be forgot

[ocr errors]

ten that one of the essential conditions - the fundamental condition, indeed of arriving at this goal of national felicity was obedience to the law of righteousness. Only paths of righteousness were the paths of safety, which led finally to this great salvation and joy, of which the feast was emblematic. Thus did the Hebrew poets and prophets teach in their highest moods.

Second, under the metaphor of the host of a hospitable house, the Psalmist represented Jehovah as specially honoring Israel as his guest, in picturing him as observing the Oriental custom of anointing a guest's head with oil. This was a service which a host might commit to the hands of a hired servant. But, if he wished particularly to do honor to any guest, the host performed this office himself, not in the spirit, however, of condescension and patronage so much as in the spirit of friendly equality and fraternal fellowship. He brought forth his costliest ointment, spiced and perfumed with the most precious substances, and with his own hands both honored and refreshed

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

his guest by this menial service. This anointing of the head was the same ceremony which was in use as a prominent feature in the consecration of a king or a high priest to his office. In its generic meaning it simply signified a high token of honor and regard. In its more specific meaning it symbolized the bestowal of the highest human authority upon those who received it. The language of the poet here was bold - bold almost to the point of

audacity when we consider that it was Jehovah, the Eternal Power, who was from everlasting to everlasting, and whose throne was regarded as established above the heavens, and whose majesty was unapproachable, who was also described as a host hastening to do honor to a guest and personally serving his wants. But to the Hebrew there was little or no incongruity between the two ideas. His Deity, it is true, in the most abstract conception, was a far-off inaccessible sovereignty; but he was also conceived as very human, even more so than would accord with the ordinary Christian conception, and, in his human aspects, as coming very close to man and serving him, though in miraculous ways, yet in very humble capacities. He it was who was believed to have corralled quails for the Israelites when in their hunger they cried for flesh, and to have kept the poor widow's barrel of meal and cruse of oil replenished while. she harbored the fugitive prophet Elijah. A Divine Being who was believed to do these things would suffer no loss of dignity in Hebrew eyes, though he should be described as a host honoring his guests as if he were their servant.

Third, the Psalmist's comparison of Jehovah's bounty to an overflowing cup meant that the provision made for the Hebrew people by their eternal care-taker was not limited nor measured by their actual wants; that the divine resources so overflowed all present needs that there should be no anxiety as to the future. This point is so simple

that it requires no further explanation. True, the Hebrew believed that miracle was one of Jehovah's resources for eking out the shortcomings of nature, or for resisting nature's disasters when they pressed too hard. But to the Hebrew mind — to the mind of every primitive people, indeed — it was more natural to believe in miracle than in unvarying law. The verse, however, makes no suggestion of miracle. And, in any case, the main lesson of this point was the fact that Jehovah's bountiful provision for Israel was overflowing and immeasurable, and not how the beneficent power was exercised.

Now remember that Jehovah, the most familiar Hebrew name for Deity, may be rendered by the phrase "The Eternal" better, perhaps, than by any other English expression. It means Eternal Existence and the power therewith implied. A good paraphrase of its signification may be found, as I have already in these lectures pointed out, in Herbert Spencer's phrases, the Ultimate Reality, with its infinite and eternal Energy. Hence, denude our Hebrew poet's thought of its metaphorical dress, and he was saying something like this: "Though I am continually in the presence of forces which are inimical to life, thou, O Eternal, art my bountiful provider; thou honorest me by serving me; yea, thy bounty lavishly outruns all my needs." This is personification, it is true. But every one of the three things here asserted, the doctrine of science might and does say to-day of

« PreviousContinue »