« PreviousContinue »
identity of name and on its distance from Haran, such as seems to be required in the scriptural account. The other claimant, called Orfa, also Urfa, Roha, Orchoe, Callirhoe, Chaldeopolis, Edessa and "Antioch of the far East,” lies on the edge of one of the bare, rugged spurs which descend from the mountains of Armenia into the Assyrian plains, and has an advocate in Stanley, formerly Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the University of Oxford. This was undoubtedly an early nucleus of civilization, made so by its natural strength of position and by a large fountain of pure water, which springing out there gives richness and beauty to the plain below. The belief of the Turkish Mohammedans is in its favor, and it had a distinguished position in the early Christian Church ; but an insuperable objection to Orfa appears to lie in the fact that Chaldea, even in its most extended sense, was never considered as reaching so high up as that, not higher than Sinjar, which is south of Orfa. This latter place is also only a short day's journey from Haran (Charran), and in sight from it, both facts being in opposition to the cause of the removal from it as given in Jos. Antiq. i. 6, $5, and also as presented in Acts vii. 3.
GOD IN HISTORY.
roughly engrafted upon society all over the world. The rapidity of its extension and its universality must seem strange to us situated amid our means of constant enlightenment; but we must look back at the world and consider it as it was at that period. To worship God as a being seen and felt only
by our intellect and heart is the highest act of our nature; and even in our days of enlightenment and Christianity, men are constantly asking aid from the outer senses, and procuring it in architectural embellishments, altars, ceremonies and adornments of various kinds. Man, even in his best condition, has a tendency to sensuous religion; that is, a religion drawing helps from the outer senses, which helps it may appropriate to such a degree as to make the whole of religion itself lie in such outward means.
If this be true in our present enlightened society, what must it have been in those very ancient times, when knowledge was scarce and the intellect in a comparatively uneducated state? With this tendency to the sensuous in all, men could easily be induced to slide into idolatry, through the cravings of the heart for objects for its reverence; and the process into this is so well described by the great Jewish writer, Maimonides (A. D. 1190), that we transcribe it here:
“In the days of Enos' the sons of Adam erred with a very great error, and the counsels of the wise men of that age became brutish; and Enos himself was one of those that erred;
and the error was this. They said, 'Forasmuch as God has created these stars and spheres to govern the world, and set them on high and imparted honor unto them, and they are ministers to minister before him, it is well that men should laud and glorify them, and give them honor. For this is the will of God, that we magnify and honor whatsoever he magnifieth and honoreth; even as a king would have those honored who stand before him ; and this is the honor of the king himself.'”
But such idolatry, however simple in its original forms, would very soon degenerate into grossness; and we know that under specious disguises it began immediately to administer to the most corrupt and disgusting propensities of man's nature, taking sanctions even under the name of religion itself. The sun became Baal or the Sun-god; the moon became Ashteroth, the Moon-goddess, the Astarte of the Syrians and Venus of the Greeks; the two were considered the representative principles of all life, and together as the cause of life; and then, in their temples, and as parts of worship, were introduced scenes such as in our cities are hid away in filthy purlieus not even fit to be named.
1 Grandson of Adam, Gen. v. 6.
That was the natural and, indeed, the inevitable tendency of idolatry even after commencing in its simplest forms. The result would not be otherwise when once the human heart had broken loose from God; time could only add grossness, filth and corruption, under which all wickedness of the human heart would find disguises and take specious names, even those of religion itself. The history of the world shows this to be true.
Would God, we reasonably ask, give the world up to this without any sign for himself in its wide extent? Man has been made a free agent, as we know in ourselves; but would God abandon this free-agency to every vagary of its powers without ever a protest against error or a demonstration for the truth as it lies in himself? He who has been so careful for our bodies, would he never care for the soul thus striving for an object for its reverence and making false gods for its worship? We might assuredly expect that God would not thus abandon the world.
But any continuous proofs for himself would yet have to be through human beings, and these beings constituted as others are, with passions and frailties and tendencies such as are common to men. He would not constitute for this a perfect nation of perfect men; for that would require a perpetual miracle in each individual case; but he would take people like to other people, and upon them and their history would write his own name, to be thus held up before the world. Errors there would be among such men, sins often,
and then the penalties of sin brought clearly out as penalties; national risings and fallings; glory and gloom; but on all of these God's righteous dealing stamped, so that the world to latest ages might see and know. Indeed, a history like this would be an alphabet by which men might read God in all other history and might judge and learn. record that would be! God in history. None would be prevented from outbreakings in sin, not even the greatest and best men; even these might fall into dark crime; and then perhaps the record of deep contrition and of restoration, or else of sure retribution, would be written. A strange, chequered history it would be, indeed, must be, if fully given, with its full requitals for good or evil! God in all!!
And then at the last, as we know, there was to be, in this history, a most strange and wonderful manifestation of God himself in our own nature ;—a perfect man and perfect God; a perfect example and teacher, and then a self-sacrifice of himself for the sin of the world. Immeasurably the strangest of all histories it would be !
There lived in those ancient times at Ur of the Chaldees, a family consisting of Terah the father, and several descendants, who had intermarried among themselves, as was the custom in that early period of the world. There had been three sons to Terah, but Haran, the oldest of these, was now dead; Nahor was the next, and Abram the youngest of the three. Haran had left three children, Milcah, Iscah, and Lot, and Nahor had married the eldest of these, his niece. Abram was married to Sarai, daughter of his father, but not by his own mother, or, as most Jewish writers assert, the same as Iscah; for although he afterward declared her to be his half sister, the word daughter as he used it may imply any female descendant, and sister may have meant any female relative by blood. She was a woman of great beauty, if we may judge from subsequent events. Our feelings are shocked by the nearness of this relationship in a wife; but such usages had come down from times when they were necessary on account of the sparseness of population in the world. The group thus united appear to have been a pastoral family, and to have lived on the eastern side of the Euphrates, if we may suppose Ur to have been the name of a district as well as of the capital of the country. The family, if we look at it attentively, seems to present to us the spectacle of the father and the elder living son given to idolatry,' while Abram stood as an exception to the rest. It must have required a great force of character and of independent thinking to be an exception in such a place as Ur, so distinguished in the worship of the Moon-goddess, and with such an especial sacredness already widely established in the eyes of the world. Not to accord with the general sentiment would stamp a man with the character of free-thinker, simpleton, and a detractor of the peculiar honors due to the country and the people. Those temples at Ur, although their structure shows them to be of the earliest type answering to their supposed date, appear clearly to indicate a connection between science and national worship; and the man who would stand in open nonconformity to the latter, would also appear to be setting himself in opposition to the former. We can thus appreciate the boldness, independence and firmness of Abram in any opposition that he might offer to the national sentiment and action. Religion and science, and what perhaps it took still more courage to oppose, the feeling of peculiar sacredness in the place, bringing honor and wealth to it from distant regions, seemed all to be violated by his holding back from the worship of their goddess. It may now almost seem to us as if the temples and those immense multitudes of the
1 Such was Jewish usage.