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Set up and electrotyped October, 1896.
Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
Recat. Feb 21 EAN:
Reclass 7-) 6-29 NKP
THE present volume is entitled "The Kings.' But though kings may give a title to this period of Bible history, they are not its heroes. Previous volumes have brought out how the people of Israel had revolted from the invisible kingship which had once distinguished them from the nations, and had insisted upon visible rulers who should succeed by natural descent; how at the same time had grown up a never-failing order of Prophets, for whom no commission was necessary except the spiritual power of their message as they claimed to speak in the name of Jehovah. Thus two opposing forces henceforward constitute the government of Israel: it is a Secular Kingship, side by side with a Theocracy of which the spokesmen are the Prophets.
I have explained that it is not the purpose of the present series to construct a scientific history of Israel such as would satisfy historical inquiry, but to render assistance in catching the impression of the national history that is part of the national literature, its elements standing to one
another in just such relations as commend themselves to the national consciousness. Of the three books entering into this volume the first and third present no difficulties in this respect; the sacred history is here transparently clear. But in the book which intervenes, from the nature of the case the history is complex ; and the reader will do well to grasp the landmarks of the period before he plunges into the details.
The first of these books - eighth in the whole series narrates the reigns of David and Solomon. The general character stamped upon this period of history is hardly apparent in this book; there can be no great conflict between king and prophet when the spirit of prophecy has been absorbed by the king. The personality of David is perhaps the most splendid in all history. The great of other peoples have to choose between different kinds of greatness; they may be mighty in the world of action, heroes of war, of policy, of enterprise; or as poets, artists, thinkers, they may have a greatness that belongs to the world within. David is in both kinds of greatness the supreme hero of his nation. He is the warrior of Israel, and the founder of the monarchy from whom all kings trace their reigns. He is equally the centre of Hebrew poetry, with whose name both earlier and later song is associated in the Book of Psalms. He is the inventor in musical art; whereas the Greeks never learned the art of combining lyre and flute, David's orchestra of cornet, trumpets, cym
bals, psalteries, and harps shows the union of strings, wind, and percussion which is supposed to constitute the distinctiveness of modern music. With him as head is further associated whatever else of art is permitted to the Hebrews: the architecture of Solomon's temple is designed by his father, and he establishes the courses of sacred ritual which constitute Israel's highest art. And all this splendour of achievement is crowned with a personality that is intensely human, and lovable in all human relationships. Accordingly, David is the hero of this book of the history; it is occupied with narrating his capture of the impregnable Jerusalem, its solemn inauguration as the capital of Jehovah's monarchy, with his building of the royal palace and the preparations for the temple, and with the various wars by which the kingdom was consolidated, and neighbouring peoples thrown into such subordination that henceforward Israel appears as one of the family of great nations, with no foes to fear but such as constitute the great empires of history. Most appropriately this book includes some of the royal minstrel's poetical compositions: a song of victory which may be called the masterpiece of sacred lyrics, and the touching last words of David, acknowledging how the Divine favour has been over his reign,
as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth,
A morning without clouds;
But the history of David includes the story of a crime, an adulterous passion ending in intrigue and murder. This brings a curse upon his household; and a large portion of this eighth book is occupied in narrating, with the full power of epic story, the feud between the sons of David and the rebellion of Absalom. Here then is an opportunity for prophetic remonstrance to appear even in the reign of the man after God's own heart. At three points is found the prophetic opposition to the king: by Nathan the project of building the temple is suspended in the name of God; by the same Nathan the rebuke is sent for the sin of Uriah's murder; and after the sin, whatever that sin may have been, of numbering the people, the prophet Gad appears to denounce the judgment.
What David achieves, Solomon carries further. If David founded a kingdom, Solomon extended this to an empire. If David had the honour of ordering the service of Jehovah, it was reserved for his son to lay the art and riches of Tyre under contribution to crown the Divine service with the temple. David is the centre of Hebrew poetry, Solomon is the founder of its wisdom, - a wisdom which the queen of distant Sheba comes to admire. It would seem that this wisdom of Solomon, which the incident of the dream at Gibeon makes in a special degree a thing of heavenly gift, occupies at this point of the history the position of prominence which elsewhere is given to prophecy. But the son no less than the father falls a victim to