Page images

Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want man to stand before me for ever.”” Mousa accepted the Bible, mounted his horse, and galloped off to the desert, carrying with him the word of God, and leaving behind him a striking evidence to the truth of sacred writ. Such is the account given by Joseph Wolff; and let us not forget why the Rechabites were made a sign to the prophets, or rather to the people at large. The children of Rechab obeyed the words of their father; the Jews refused to listen to the warnings of their God, as spoken by his servants the prophets; “Behold, I will bring upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.” Awfully indeed has this declaration been fulfilled. How shall we escape, if we, in like manner, neglect the great salvation offered to us!

The purifications connected with the worship of the Jews may be noticed here; they were often observed by the performance of vows, as Acts xxi. 23, 24. Washings, or ablutions, are generally among the most ancient religious ceremonies of every nation; but the simplicity of the rites of purification, directed by the Divine law, was well calculated to guard the Israelites against the use of the superstitious, and often barbarous rites practised by the heathen for lustrations. There was a washing of the whole body, used at the admission of Jewish proselytes in later times, and in some ablutions commanded by the law. There was also a pouring of water on the feet and hands, or sprinkling it. Sometimes the water was mixed with ashes of the red heifer mentioned at p. 249. In the solemn sacrifices, sprinkling the blood was an indispensable ceremony, typifying Christ's shedding his blood for our sins, 1 Pet. i. 2. Also anointing with oil was sometimes used, as with respect to the tabernacle and its furniture, Exod. xxx. 26–28; but the anointing was more frequently used in consecrating or setting apart to an office, Exod. xxviii. 41. The holy oil, as Mather observes, signified the Spirit of God; the anointing therewith, the communication of the Spirit in the saving graces, and in the Divine joys and consolations of it. Also the anointing of the priests signified the anointing of Jesus Christ with the Spirit beyond measure, Psa. xlv. 7; John iii. 34. This is called the resting of the Spirit upon him, Isa. xi. 2.

We need not go into the details of the numerous cases in which washing, pouring, and sprinkling of water were enjoined. They all intimated the necessity of purity in heart and life, without which God could not be approached acceptably, either in public or private devotions. These observances, also, were conducive to the general health ; indeed we everywhere find, that attention to the Divine precepts profits the body as well as the soul.

The custom of washing the hands before and after meals has always prevailed in the east; it is the more necessary from the custom of eating without knives, or forks, or spoons, or even the chopsticks used by the Chinese. But in this simple washing, as in many other matters, the later Jews added superstitious and burdensome observances to the customs of their forefathers, and the plain directions of the law. Our blessed Lord condemns the extent to which the Pharisees carried these requirements. There was to be a certain quantity of water used, and the hands and arms must be washed in a certain manner, and to a certain height; and this repeated, if not done at first exactly as was customary. Again, for some sorts of food more washings were required than for others : before bread was eaten the hands must be washed with care, but dry fruits might be eaten with unwashen hands. Many directions were given on these subjects by the Jewish doctors, and these caused our Lord's dispute with the scribes and Pharisees, Mark vii. 248. This law was even made a hinderance to the reading of the Bible. If a person, otherwise clean, touched any part of the Scriptures, he might not eat till he washed his hands. The reason assigned for this was, that possibly the books, which often had been laid up in secret places, might have been gnawed by mice ! Surely this prohibition plainly shows what spirit dictated such rules.

So scrupulous were the Pharisees as to these purifications, that the Jewish writers relate a story of a certain rabbi, who was imprisoned in a dungeon with a scanty allowance of food and water. One day, a part of the water being accidentally spilled, he chose to use the small quantity that remained for his washings, at the hazard of perishing from thirst, rather than to drink what was left, and omit his usual purifications. Well might these observances be characterized as a yoke too heavy to be borne.

These “ divers washings” the apostle Paul mentions among other ceremonial rites to which the Jews clung with extreme pertinacity.

“The law commands, and makes us know

What duties to our God we owe;
But 'tis the gospel must reveal,
Where lies our strength to do his will.
The law discovers guilt and sin,
And shows how vile our hearts have been ;
Only the gospel can express
Forgiving love and cleansing grace.
What curses doth the law denounce
Against the man that fails but once ;
But in the gospel Christ appears
Pardoning the guilt of numerous years.
My soul, no more attempt to draw
Thy life and comfort from the law ;
Flee to the hope the gospel gives ;
The man that trusts the promise, lives.”

[graphic][merged small]



ThE sabbatical year was an ordinance in the law given by Moses, and had reference to the institution of the sabbath. As the sabbath of the seventh day was a day of rest for man and beast, so the sabbatical year was a time of rest for the land, which, during every seventh year, was to lie fallow, or remain uncultivated. What was produced without tillage or pruning was to be left common for all, especially for the poor and for the cattle, Exod. xxiii. 11; Lev. xxv. 1—22. But the Jews were not to pass their time in idleness during this year. They could fish, and pursue the wild beasts, repair their buildings and furniture, and carry on manufactures and commerce. They also were more employed in devotional services this year, when the whole law was to be publicly read, Deut. xxxi. 10–13. To prevent any suffering from famine, in consequence of this adherence to the Divine command, God promised an unusual supply every sixth

This remarkable institution was a trial of the faith of the Jews, and of their reliance on a particular Providence, and it was a special mark of that government under which the Israelites were placed when they settled in the promised land; a government which acknowledged the Lord for their King, and considered him as present among them in a peculiar manner. It created and strengthened a sense of dependence on God, and charity towards man, reminding them that Jehovah was Lord of the soil, and that they held it only from his bounty. In 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21, the neglect of this law is mentioned particularly among the national sins which caused the captivity; and the length of the captivity, seventy years, is stated as compensating the land, by giving it a period of rest equal to that during which the Jews had defrauded it of its sabbaths. If we calculate by the whole term of this period, it would lead us to conclude that the observance of the sabbatical year was wholly neglected soon after the land was governed by kings. Samuel, indeed, expressly told the people, that their desire for a king was a direct renouncing of Jehovah as their King and Ruler; and we may conclude, that all institutions which especially regarded the Lord as their immediate Sovereign would then be neglected. Another date, however, is assigned by Prideaux. He reckons only the fifty-two years which elapsed between the destruction of Jerusalem and the return of the Jews, during which period the land was wholly desolated. This gives a period of 364 years, and goes back to an early part of the reign of Asa.


After the return from captivity the sabbatical years were better observed, although this was rendered more difficult by the insecurity of property, and the foreign tribute the land was then under. However, Josephus mentions, that exemption from taxes during the sabbatical years, was obtained from Alexander, and afterwards from the Roman emperors.

The seventh year was a year of release from debts, or at least they were not then to be collected ; and the personal servitude into which any Hebrew had fallen then ended. The laws respecting this freedom are very remarkable, showing the kind and merciful spirit of the Mosaic law, and taking away the most severe features of the slavery at that time generally prevalent. Nothing can be more opposite in spirit than the servitude permitted to exist

among the Hebrews, and that of modern slavery. It is indeed time that every nation, professing to be Christian, should follow the example of England, and abolish that slavery, which is among the worst remains of heathenism, and which especially is opposed to every principle of the New Testament.

It is not quite certain, whether servitude among the Jews ended in every sabbatical year, or whether the service terminated at the end of six years from its commencement. But an express law directed that servants should not be sent away without some provision from the produce of the soil, or the cattle they had assisted to raise ; and another law, providing for the continuance of their servitude during life, if such was their own wish, further shows that the bondage was not intended to be bitter or severe. The remarkable laws respecting this servitude, and the release from it, will be found in Exod. xxi., Lev. xxv., Deut. xv. and the reader is particularly recommended to examine these passages carefully. It has been well asked, Could

« PreviousContinue »