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that were declared unto them.” All very different to later days, when the Pharisees made the law a burden and religion a parade. Then we read how they made themselves booths and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles which “since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun, unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.”
23. And turning to the prophets we see exactly the same note struck; e.g. the magnificent fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. It is not in the asceticism of religion that God delights; in the seeking of pain for pain's sake, common to so many other faiths, but in happiness and a practical joyousness. “Cry aloud; spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet and show my people their transgression and the house of Jacob its sin. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice : they take delight in approaching to God.” Where, then, their trangression ? we ask. “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul and thou takest no knowledge?” And then the stern reply : “ Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure and exact all your labours. Behold ye fast for strife and debate and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day to make your voice to be heard on high.” And God will have nothing of such fasts. “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord?” Where more withering scorn? Then God states the fast He has appointed : “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye brake every yoke. Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that
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thou hide not thyself from thy own flesh?” Was ever more precise definition of the fast God demanded, and alone demanded? And if such a fast, " Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.”
And some are distressed at the conclusions of the higher critics, as if the inspired word ever demanded anything but its own enunciation to carry with it conviction absolute and complete. And do let us never forget that it is the truths we find in them that give the vehicle by which they are conveyed their supreme interest, and not the way the vehicle has come down to us that reinforces or vouches such truths. God's message speaks for itself, and we owe unending obligation to the scholars who, in showing us the conditions under which the words were spoken and the way they have come down to us, enable us to get truer and deeper insight into their meaning.
24. It is with a certain satisfaction we find that Nehemiah is ready to enforce a very practical righteousness in other cases as well as in these of mixed marriages. We are now to view these Babylonian purists, so altogether righteous in the matter of other people's lapses, in the less pleasing guise of usurers and oppressors of their brethren. The simple children of the soil had found a difficulty in raising the Persian tribute, and had availed themselves of the too easy assistance of their richer relations.* And the usual result followed, and they found themselves the slaves of these kindly kinsmen.“ And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. We, our sons, and our daughters, are many. . ;. We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn because of the dearth. . . . We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now, our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children” — surely this is an exclamation, though not so printed—"and lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought into bondage already; neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.* And Nehemiah was very angry when he heard their cry and their words, and he called a great assembly and he rebuked the nobles and the rulers, and said unto them," Ye exact usury, every one of his brother.” And like Ezra he again speaks winged words; he also is a great changer of hearts; he also has all Persia behind him; and we delight in his practical measures; and he tears up all those mortgages; he remakes all those contracts on a fair basis; and he cries shame on them that they also forsake the law of their fathers. f “I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? Then held they their peace and found nothing to answer.” And if thus the treatment of their brethren, if thus they sold their brethren into slavery, what of other unfortunates with less claim to mercy, who fell into their hands? And they are to be the money-dealers and lenders of the future. We already see them with the money instinct developing, if not already developed. From Babylonian bankers they may well have learnt the mysteries of high finance, and in this we may probably find the secret history of their power and influence and may be of the hate borne them. Brother was to know mercy as well as justice so far their religion was compulsory—but the alien! the foreigner! what was their religion to him, or he to their religion? And yet, if the Jew had
* In passing, we should remark that no peasant should ever be asked to pay taxes in money. It always throws him into the hands of the money lenders. His taxes should always take the form of seed corn, to be returned to him, and of part of his crop.
realized—if a world had realized—that his law was of universal and not of limited application; that the blessing promised to follow its application was for no one people, but for all mankind, how far differently his history—and its history—might have been written in the centuries to be. But it was not so ordained. And this great truth is for another to teach.
THE EZREAN REGIME.
25. Thus far we have followed the need for the law; the writing of the law; the reading of the law; followed by quite a satisfactory example of the enforcing of the law. And just as the terrible times preceding the Persian rule had developed the fierce fighting instincts of the race, so now we are to see in this period of tranquillity that same national consciousness finding expression in their sacred writings. And reduced to writing, it is to persist and tinge the character of the race through all the ages to come. In these books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel we have a fair picture of the Persian rule as a whole. “ It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes ... and over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first, that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage.” The princes or governors seem to have had autocratic power, and probably, as far as the central government was concerned, their chief duty was the collection of the tribute and remitting it to the imperial treasury. This done, and their powers reasonably used, and it does not seem that they were much interfered with by the king or his presidents. Then, with favoured subjects like the Jews, the king was always careful to appoint as governors men who would be agreeable to them. And being part of the empire was far from being an unqualified evil. In addition to the protection it afforded, it carried with it the right of appeal to the king against any oppressive official. And under a ruler like the first Darius the results were excellence itself. And even when other kings did not attain his high standard, still this right of appeal was invaluable. It is this right of appeal which is the kernel of freedom, the salt of every judicial system, and the safeguard of the unit. The one universal experience of mankind is that no man or body of men can be trusted with irresponsible power and not sooner or later abuse it. The allessential of society is that the exercise of power in any form shall invariably be subject to outside independent examination or review. And this is one of the merits of a democracy. The greatest man in the kingdom, however autocratically inclined, has ever to keep his eye on the ballot-box. However anxious to dictate, he has to rely on influence. Influence is the power of these isles, and it is often the greater that it has to depend upon itself. Look at our great Queen Victoria. She believed in the purity of domestic life. She had no cut and dried powers to dictate; Queen Mary would have mocked her and Elizabeth have smiled, but it was she and not they who transformed a court and people to her liking. Let each one do his fair part in running the country; live a decent life according to a not too exigent standard, and the opinion is growing ever the stronger that our only further right over one another is the right to influence. Every man is equally entitled to think for himself. God has made all so differently that we are all bound to think differently, and it is well that we should so think differently. Society must be give and take. So far from a man being a sage or a saint who will tolerate no views but his own, he is but a poor conceited fool, and if he is in a position to have power and to use it he is an unqualified curse as well. Life together is and always must be compromise. And that system of society is best where that compromise is most justly ascertained and enforced. And the one curse that pursued the Jews through their history was that they