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Chapter IV. Family Traditions. 1 Chron. i. 10, 19, 46; ii. 3, 7, 34; iv. 9, 10, 18, 22, 27, 34-43; v. 10, 18-22; vii. 21-23; viii. 13.
Chronicles is a miniature Old Testament, and may have been meant as a handbook for ordinary people, who had no access to the whole library of sacred writings. It contains nothing corresponding to the books of Wisdom or the apocalyptic literature; but all the other types of Old Testament literature are represented. There are genealogies, statistics, ritual, history, psalms, and prophecies. The interest shown by Chronicles in family traditions harmonises with the stress laid by the Hebrew Scriptures upon family life. The other historical books are largely occupied with the family history of the Patriarchs, of Moses, of Jephthah, Gideon, Samson, Saul, and David. The chronicler intersperses his genealogies with short anecdotes about the different families and tribes. Some of these are borrowed from the older books; but others are peculiar to our author, and were doubtless obtained by him from the family records and traditions of his contemporaries. The statements that “Nimrod began to be mighty upon the earth”7474 i. 10.; that “the name of one” of Eber's sons “was Peleg, because in his days the 73 earth was divided”7575 i. 19.; and that Hadad “smote Moab in the field of Midian,”7676 i. 46. are borrowed from Genesis. As he omits events much more important and more closely connected with the history of Israel, and gives no account of Babel, or of Abraham, or of the conquest of Canaan, these little notes are probably retained by accident, because at times the chronicler copied his authorities somewhat mechanically. It was less trouble to take the genealogies as they stood than to exercise great care in weeding out everything but the bare names.
In one instance,7777 Cf. Gen. xxxvi. 24 and 1 Chron. i. 40. however, the chronicler has erased a curious note to a genealogy in Genesis. A certain Anah is mentioned both in Genesis and Chronicles among the Horites, who inhabited Mount Seir before it was conquered by Edom. Most of us, in reading the Authorised Version, have wondered what historical or religious interest secured a permanent record for the fact that “Anah found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.” A possible solution seemed to be that this note was preserved as the earliest reference to the existence of mules, which animals played an important part in the social life of Palestine; but the Revised Version sets aside this explanation by substituting “hot springs” for “mules,” as these hot springs are only mentioned here, the passage becomes a greater puzzle than ever. The chronicler could hardly overlook this curious piece of information, but he naturally felt that this obscure archæological note about the aboriginal Horites did not fall within the scope of his work. On the other 74 hand, the tragic fates of Er and Achar7878 I.e., Achan (ii. 3, 7). had a direct genealogical significance. They are referred to in order to explain why the lists contain no descendants of these members of the tribe of Judah. The notes to these names illustrate the more depressing aspects of history. The men who lived happy, honourable lives can be mentioned one after another without any comment; but even the compiler of pedigrees pauses to note the crimes and misfortunes that broke the natural order of life. The annals of old families dwell with melancholy pride on murders, and fatal duels, and suicides. History, like an ancient mansion, is haunted with unhappy ghosts. Yet our interest in tragedy is a testimony to the blessedness of life; comfort and enjoyment are too monotonously common to be worth recording, but we are attracted and excited by exceptional instances of suffering and sin.
Let us turn to the episodes of family life only found in Chronicles. They may mostly be arranged in little groups of two or three, and some of the groups present us with an interesting contrast.
We learn from ii. 34-41 and iv. 18 that two Jewish families traced their descent from Egyptian ancestors. Sheshan, according to Chronicles, was eighth in descent from Judah and fifth from Jerahmeel, the brother of Caleb. Having daughters but no son, he gave one of his daughters in marriage to an Egyptian slave named Jarha. The descendants of this union are traced for thirteen generations. Genealogies, however, are not always complete; and our other data do not suffice to determine even approximately the date of this marriage. But the five generations between Jerahmeel and Sheshan indicate a period long after the 75 Exodus; and as Egypt plays no recorded part in the history of Israel between the Exodus and the reign of Solomon, the marriage may have taken place under the monarchy. The story is a curious parallel to that of Joseph, with the parts of Israelite and Egyptian reversed. God is no respecter of persons; it is not only when the desolate and afflicted in strange lands belong to the chosen people that Jehovah relieves and delivers them. It is true of the Egyptian, as well as of the Israelite, that “the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich.”
“He bringeth low, He also lifteth up; He raiseth up the poor out of the dust: He lifteth up the needy from the dunghill, To make them sit with princes And inherit the throne of glory.”7979 1 Sam. ii. 7, 8.
This song might have been sung at Jarha's wedding as well as at Joseph's.
Both these marriages throw a sidelight upon the character of Eastern slavery. They show how sharply and deeply it was divided from the hopeless degradation of negro slavery in America. Israelites did not recognise distinctions of race and colour between themselves and their bondsmen so as to treat them as worse than pariahs and regard them with physical loathing. An American considers himself disgraced by a slight taint of negro blood in his ancestry, but a noble Jewish family was proud to trace its descent from an Egyptian slave.
The other story is somewhat different, and rests upon an obscure and corrupt passage in iv. 18. The confusion makes it impossible to arrive at any date, 76 even by rough approximation. The genealogical relations of the actors are by no means certain, but some interesting points are tolerably clear. Some time after the conquest of Canaan, a descendant of Caleb married two wives, one a Jewess, the other an Egyptian. The Egyptian was Bithiah, a daughter of Pharaoh, i.e., of the contemporary king of Egypt. It appears probable that the inhabitants of Eshtemoa traced their descent to this Egyptian princess, while those of Gedor, Soco, and Zanoah claimed Mered as their ancestor by his Jewish wife.8080 Vv. 17, 18, as they stand, do not make sense. The second sentence of ver. 18 should be read before “and she bare Miriam” in ver. 17. Mered and Bithiah formed a tempting subject for the rabbis, and gave occasion for some of their usual grotesque fancies. Mered has been identified by them both with Caleb and Moses. Here again we have the bare outline of a romance, which the imagination is at liberty to fill in. It has been suggested that Bithiah may have been the victim of some Jewish raid into Egypt, but surely a king of Egypt would have either ransomed his daughter or recovered her by force of arms. The story rather suggests that the chiefs of the clans of Judah were semi-independent and possessed of considerable wealth and power, so that the royal family of Egypt could intermarry with them, as with reigning sovereigns. But if so, the pride of Egypt must have been greatly broken since the time when the Pharaohs haughtily refused to give their daughters in marriage to the kings of Babylon.
Both Egyptian alliances occur among the Kenizzites, the descendants of the brothers Caleb and Jerahmeel. In one case a Jewess marries an Egyptian slave; in the other a Jew marries an Egyptian princess. Doubtless these marriages did not stand alone, and there were 77 others with foreigners of varying social rank. The stories show that even after the Captivity the tradition survived that the clans in the south of Judah had been closely connected with Egypt, and that Solomon was not the only member of the tribe who had taken an Egyptian wife. Now intermarriage with foreigners is partly forbidden by the Pentateuch; and the prohibition was extended and sternly enforced by Ezra and Nehemiah.8181 Deut. vii. 3; Josh. xxiii. 12; Ezra ix. 1, x.; Neh. xiii. 23. In the time of the chronicler there was a growing feeling against such marriages. Hence the traditions we are discussing cannot have originated after the Return, but must be at any rate earlier than the publication of Deuteronomy under Josiah.
Such marriages with Egyptians must have had some influence on the religion of the south of Judah, but probably the foreigners usually followed the example of Ruth, and adopted the faith of the families into which they came. When they said, “Thy people shall be my people,” they did not fail to add, “and thy God shall be my God.” When the Egyptian princess married the head of a Jewish clan, she became one of Jehovah's people; and her adoption into the family of the God of Israel was symbolised by a new name: “Bithiah,” “daughter of Jehovah.” Whether later Judaism owed anything to Egyptian influences can only be matter of conjecture; at any rate, they did not pervert the southern clans from their old faith. The Calebites and Jerahmeelites were the backbone of Judah both before and after the Captivity.
The remaining traditions relate to the warfare of the Israelites with their neighbours. The first is a colourless reminiscence, that might have been recorded of 78 the effectual prayer of any pious Israelite. The genealogies of chap. iv. are interrupted by a paragraph entirely unconnected with the context. The subject of this fragment is a certain Jabez never mentioned elsewhere, and, so far as any record goes, as entirely “without father, without mother, without genealogy,” as Melchizedek himself. As chap. iv. deals with the families of Judah, and in ii. 55 there is a town Jabez also belonging to Judah, we may suppose that the chronicler had reasons for assigning Jabez to that tribe; but he has neither given these reasons, nor indicated how Jabez was connected therewith. The paragraph runs as follows8282 iv. 9, 10.: “And Jabez was honoured above his brethren, and his mother called his name Jabez” (Ya'bēç), “saying, In pain” ('ōçeb) “I bore him. And Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying,—
‘If Thou wilt indeed bless m: 90%" id="iv.iv-p12.5">By enlarging my possessions, And Thy hand be with me To provide pasture, 8383 The reading on which this translation is based is obtained by an alteration of the vowels of the Masoretic text; cf. Bertheau, i. 1. that I be not in distress’('ōçeb).
And God brought about what he asked.” The chronicler has evidently inserted here a broken and disconnected fragment from one of his sources; and we are puzzled to understand why he gives so much, and no more. Surely not merely to introduce the etymologies of Jabez; or if Jabez were so important that it was worth while to interrupt the genealogies to furnish two derivations of his name, why are we not told more about him? Who was he, when and where did he live, and at whose expense were his possessions 79 enlarged and pasture provided for him? Everything that could give colour and interest to the narrative is withheld, and we are merely told that he prayed for earthly blessing and obtained it. The spiritual lesson is obvious, but it is very frequently enforced and illustrated in the Old Testament. Why should this episode about an utterly unknown man be thrust by main force into an unsuitable context, if it is only one example of a most familiar truth? It has been pointed out that Jacob vowed a similar vow and built an altar to El, the God of Israel8484 Gen. xxviii. 20; xxxiii. 20.; but this is one of many coincidences. The paragraph certainly tells us something about the chronicler's views on prayer, but nothing that is not more forcibly stated and exemplified in many other passages; it is mainly interesting to us because of the light it throws on his methods of composition. Elsewhere he embodies portions of well-known works and apparently assumes that his readers are sufficiently versed in them to be able to understand the point of his extracts. Probably Jabez was so familiar to the chronicler's immediate circle that he can take for granted that a few lines will suffice to recall all the circumstances to a reader.
We have next a series of much more definite statements about Israelite prowess and success in wars against Moab and other enemies.
In iv. 21, 22, we read, “The sons of Shelah the son of Judah: Er the father of Lecah, and Laadah the father of Mareshah, and the families of the house of them that wrought fine linen, of the house of Ashbea; and Jokim, and the men of Cozeba, and Joash, and Saraph, who had dominion in Moab and returned to 80 Bethlehem.”8585 This translation is obtained by slightly altering the Masoretic text. Here again the information is too vague to enable us to fix any date, nor is it quite certain who had dominion in Moab. The verb “had dominion” is plural in Hebrew, and may refer to all or any of the sons of Shelah. But, in spite of uncertainties, it is interesting to find chiefs or clans of Judah ruling in Moab. Possibly this immigration took place when David conquered and partly depopulated the country. The men of Judah may have returned to Bethlehem when Moab passed to the northern kingdom at the disruption, or when Moab regained its independence.
The incident in iv. 34-43 differs from the preceding in having a definite date assigned to it. In the time of Hezekiah some Simeonite clans had largely increased in number and found themselves straitened for room for their flocks. They accordingly went in search of new pasturage. One company went to Gedor, another to Mount Seir.
The situation of Gedor is not clearly known. It cannot be the Gedor of Josh. xv. 58, which lay in the heart of Judah. The LXX. has Gerar, a town to the south of Gaza, and this may be the right reading; but whether we read Gedor or Gerar, the scene of the invasion will be in the country south of Judah. Here the children of Simeon found what they wanted, “fat pasture, and good,” and abundant, for “the land was wide.” There was the additional advantage that the inhabitants were harmless and inoffensive and fell an easy prey to their invaders: “The land was quiet and peaceable, for they that dwelt there aforetime were of Ham.” As Ham in the genealogies is the father of Cainan, these peaceable folk would be Cainanites; and 81 among them were a people called Meunim, probably not connected with any of the Maons mentioned in the Old Testament, but with some other town or district of the same name. So “these written by name came in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and smote their tents, and the Meunim that were found there, and devoted them to destruction as accursed, so that none are left unto this day. And the Simeonites dwelt in their stead.”8686 iv. 41; cf. R.V.
Then follows in the simplest and most unconscious way the only justification that is offered for the behaviour of the invaders: “because there was pasture there for their flocks.” The narrative takes for granted—
“The good old rule, the simple plan, That they should take who have the power, And they should keep who can.”
The expedition to Mount Seir appears to have been a sequel to the attack on Gedor. Five hundred of the victors emigrated into Edom, and smote the remnant of the Amalekites who had survived the massacre under Saul8787 1 Sam. xv.; “and they also dwelt there unto this day.”
In substance, style, and ideas this passage closely resembles the books of Joshua and Judges, where the phrase “unto this day” frequently occurs. Here, of course, the “day” in question is the time of the chronicler's authority. When Chronicles was written the Simeonites in Gedor and Mount Seir had long ago shared the fate of their victims.
The conquest of Gedor reminds us how in the early days of the Israelite occupation of Palestine “Judah 82 went with Simeon his brother into the same southern lands,” and they smote the Canaanites that inhabited Zephath, and devoted them to destruction as accursed8888 Judges i. 17.; and how the house of Joseph took Bethel by treachery.8989 Judges i. 22-26. But the closest parallel is the Danite conquest of Laish.9090 Judges xviii. The Danite spies said that the people of Laish “dwelt in security, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure,” harmless and inoffensive, like the Gedorites. Nor were they likely to receive succour from the powerful city of Zidon or from other allies, for “they were far from the Zidonians, and had no dealings with any man.” Accordingly, having observed the prosperous but defenceless position of this peaceable people, they returned and reported to their brethren, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good; and are ye still? Be not slothful to go and to enter in to possess the land. When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and the land,” like that of Gedor, “is large, for God hath given it into your hand, a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth.”
The moral of these incidents is obvious. When a prosperous people is peaceable and defenceless, it is a clear sign that God has delivered them into the hand of any warlike and enterprising nation that knows how to use its opportunities. The chronicler, however, is not responsible for this morality, but he does not feel compelled to make any protest against the ethical views of his source. There is a refreshing frankness about these ancient narratives. The wolf devours the lamb without inventing any flimsy pretext about troubled waters.83
But in criticising these Hebrew clans who lived in the dawn of history and religion we condemn ourselves. If we make adequate allowance for the influence of Christ, and the New Testament, and centuries of Christian teaching, Simeon and Dan do not compare unfavourably with modern nations. As we review the wars of Christendom, we shall often be puzzled to find any ground for the outbreak of hostilities other than the defencelessness of the weaker combatant. The Spanish conquest of America and the English conquest of India afford examples of the treatment of weaker races which fairly rank with those of the Old Testament. Even to-day the independence of the smaller European states is mainly guaranteed by the jealousies of the Great Powers. Still there has been progress in international morality; we have got at last to the stage of Æsop's fable. Public opinion condemns wanton aggression against a weak state; and the stronger power employs the resources of civilised diplomacy in showing that not only the absent, but also the helpless, are always wrong. There has also been a substantial advance in humanity towards conquered peoples. Christian warfare even since the Middle Ages has been stained with the horrors of the Thirty Years' War and many other barbarities; the treatment of the American Indians by settlers has often been cruel and unjust; but no civilised nation would now systematically massacre men, women, and children in cold blood. We are thankful for any progress towards better things, but we cannot feel that men have yet realised that Christ has a message for nations as well as for individuals. As His disciples we can only pray more earnestly that the kingdoms of the earth may in deed and truth become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.84
The next incident is more honourable to the Israelites. “The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh” did not merely surprise and slaughter quiet and peaceable people: they conquered formidable enemies in fair fight.9191 Vv. 7-10, 18-22. There are two separate accounts of a war with the Hagrites, one appended to the genealogy of Reuben and one to that of Gad. The former is very brief and general, comprising nothing but a bare statement that there was a successful war and a consequent appropriation of territory. Probably the two paragraphs are different forms of the same narrative, derived by the chronicler from independent sources. We may therefore confine our attention to the more detailed account.
Here, as elsewhere, these Transjordanic tribes are spoken of as “valiant9292 Deut. xxxiii. 20; 1 Chron. xii. 8, 21. men,” “men able to bear buckler and sword and to shoot with the bow, and skilful in war.” Their numbers were considerable. While five hundred Simeonites were enough to destroy the Amalekites on Mount Seir, these eastern tribes mustered “forty and four thousand seven hundred and threescore that were able to go forth to war.” Their enemies were not “quiet and peaceable people,” but the wild Bedouin of the desert, “the Hagrites, with Jetur and Naphish and Nodab.” Nodab is mentioned only here; Jetur and Naphish occur together in the lists of the sons of Ishmael.9393 Gen. xxv. 15. Ituræa probably derived its name from the tribe of Jetur. The Hagrites or Hagarenes were Arabs closely connected with the Ishmaelites, and they seem to have taken their name from Hagar. In Psalm 85 lxxxiii. 6-8 we find a similar confederacy on a larger scale:—
“The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagarenes Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre, Assyria also is joined with them; They have holpen the children of Lot.”
There could be no question of unprovoked aggression against these children of Ishmael, that “wild ass of a man, whose hand was against every man, and every man's hand against him.”9494 Gen. xvi. 12. The narrative implies that the Israelites were the aggressors, but to attack the robber tribes of the desert would be as much an act of self-defence as to destroy a hornet's nest. We may be quite sure that when Reuben and Gad marched eastward they had heavy losses to retrieve and bitter wrongs to avenge. We might find a parallel in the campaigns by which robber tribes are punished for their raids within our Indian frontier, only we must remember that Reuben and Gad were not very much more law-abiding or unselfish than their Arab neighbours. They were not engaged in maintaining a pax Britannica for the benefit of subject nations; they were carrying on a struggle for existence with persistent and relentless foes. Another partial parallel would be the border feuds on the Northumbrian marches, when—
“... over border, dale, and fell Full wide and far was terror spread; For pathless marsh and mountain cell The peasant left his lowly shed: The frightened flocks and herds were pent Beneath the peel's rude battlement, 86 And maids and matrons dropped the tear While ready warriors seized the spear; ... the watchman's eye Dun wreaths of distant smoke can spy.”9595 Lay of the Last Minstrel, iv. 3.
But the Israelite expedition was on a larger scale than any “warden raid,” and Eastern passions are fiercer and shriller than those sung by the Last Minstrel: the maids and matrons of the desert would shriek and wail instead of “dropping a tear.”
In this great raid of ancient times “the war was of God,” not, as at Laish, because God found for them helpless and easy victims, but because He helped them in a desperate struggle. When the fierce Israelite and Arab borderers joined battle, the issue was at first doubtful; and then “they cried to God, and He was entreated of them, because they put their trust in Him,” “and they were helped against” their enemies; “and the Hagrites were delivered into their hand, and all that were with them, and there fell many slain, because the war was of God”; “and they took away their cattle: of their camels fifty thousand, and of sheep two hundred and fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand, and of slaves a hundred thousand.” “And they dwelt in their stead until the captivity.”
This “captivity” is the subject of another short note. The chronicler apparently was anxious to distribute his historical narratives equally among the tribes. The genealogies of Reuben and Gad each conclude with a notice of a war, and a similar account follows that of Eastern Manasseh:—“And they trespassed against the God of their fathers, and went a-whoring after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God destroyed before them. And the God of 87 Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser, king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river of Gozan, unto this day.”9696 Vv. 25, 26. Note the curious spelling Tilgath-pilneser for the more usual Tiglath-pileser. And this war also was “of God.” Doubtless the descendants of the surviving Hagrites and Ishmaelites were among the allies of the Assyrian king, and saw in the ruin of Eastern Israel a retribution for the sufferings of their own people; but the later Jews and probably the exiles in “Halah, Habor, and Hara,” and by “the river of Gozan,” far away in North-eastern Mesopotamia, found the cause of their sufferings in too great an intimacy with their heathen neighbours: they had gone a-whoring after their gods.
The last two incidents which we shall deal with in this chapter serve to illustrate afresh the rough-and-ready methods by which the chronicler has knotted together threads of heterogeneous tradition into one tangled skein. We shall see further how ready ancient writers were to represent a tribe by the ancestor from whom it traced its descent. We read in vii. 20, 21, “The sons of Ephraim: Shuthelah, and Bered his son, and Tahath his son, and Eleadah his son, and Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in the land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle.”
Ezer and Elead are apparently brothers of the second Shuthelah; at any rate, as six generations are mentioned between them and Ephraim, they would seem to have lived long after the Patriarch. Moreover, they 88 came down to Gath, so that they must have lived in some hill-country not far off, presumably the hill-country of Ephraim. But in the next two verses (22 and 23) we read, “And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And he went in to his wife, and she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house.”
Taking these words literally, Ezer and Elead were the actual sons of Ephraim; and as Ephraim and his family were born in Egypt and lived there all their days, these patriarchal cattle-lifters did not come down from any neighbouring highlands, but must have come up from Egypt, all the way from the land of Goshen, across the desert and past several Philistine and Canaanite towns. This literal sense is simply impossible. The author from whom the chronicler borrowed this narrative is clearly using a natural and beautiful figure to describe the distress in the tribe of Ephraim when two of its clans were cut off, and the fact that a new clan named Beriah was formed to take their place. Possibly we are not without information as to how this new clan arose. In viii. 13 we read of two Benjamites, “Beriah and Shema, who were heads of fathers' houses of the inhabitants of Aijalon, who put to flight the inhabitants of Gath.” Beriah and Shema probably, coming to the aid of Ephraim, avenged the defeat of Ezer and Elead; and in return received the possessions of the clans, who had been cut off, and Beriah was thus reckoned among the children of Ephraim.9797 Cf. Bertheau, i. 1.
The language of ver. 22 is very similar to that of Gen. xxxvii. 34, 35: “And Jacob mourned for his son 89 many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him”; and the personification of the tribe under the name of its ancestor may be paralleled from Judges xxi. 6: “And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother.”
Let us now reconstruct the story and consider its significance. Two Ephraimite clans, Ezer and Elead, set out to drive the cattle “of the men of Gath, who were born in the land,” i.e., of the aboriginal Avvites, who had been dispossessed by the Philistines, but still retained some of the pasture-lands. Falling into an ambush or taken by surprise when encumbered with their plunder, the Ephraimites were cut off, and nearly all the fighting men of the clans perished. The Avvites, reinforced by the Philistines of Gath, pressed their advantage, and invaded the territory of Ephraim, whose border districts, stripped of their defenders, lay at the mercy of the conquerors. From this danger they were rescued by the Benjamite clans Shema and Beriah, then occupying Aijalon9898 In Josh. xix. 42, xxi. 24, Aijalon is given to Dan; in Judges i. 34 it is given to Dan, but we are told that Amorites retained possession of it, but became tributary to the house of Joseph; in 2 Chron. xi. 10 it is given to “Judah and Benjamin.” As a frontier town, it frequently changed hands.; and the men of Gath in their turn were defeated and driven back. The grateful Ephraimites invited their allies to occupy the vacant territory and in all probability to marry the widows and daughters of their slaughtered kinsmen. From that time onwards Beriah was reckoned as one of the clans of Ephraim.
The account of this memorable cattle foray is a necessary note to the genealogies to explain the origin of an important clan and its double connection 90 with Ephraim and Benjamin. Both the chronicler and his authority recorded it because of its genealogical significance, not because they were anxious to perpetuate the memory of the unfortunate raid. In the ancient days to which the episode belonged, a frontier cattle foray seemed as natural and meritorious an enterprise as it did to William of Deloraine. The chronicler does not think it necessary to signify any disapproval it is by no means certain that he did disapprove—of such spoiling of the uncircumcised; but the fact that he gives the record without comment does not show that he condoned cattle-stealing. Men to-day relate with pride the lawless deeds of noble ancestors, but they would be dismayed if their own sons proposed to adopt the moral code of mediæval barons or Elizabethan buccaneers.
In reviewing the scanty religious ideas involved in this little group of family traditions, we have to remember that they belong to a period of Israelite history much older than that of the chronicler; in estimating their value, we have to make large allowance for the conventional ethics of the times. Religion not only serves to raise the standard of morality, but also to keep the average man up to the conventional standard; it helps and encourages him to do what he believes to be right as well as gives him a better understanding of what right means. Primitive religion is not to be disparaged because it did not at once convert the rough Israelite clansmen into Havelocks and Gordons. In those early days, courage, patriotism, and loyalty to one's tribesmen were the most necessary and approved virtues. They were fostered and stimulated by the current belief in a God of battles, who gave victory to His faithful people. Moreover, the 91 idea of Deity implied in these traditions, though inadequate, is by no means unworthy. God is benevolent; He enriches and succours His people; He answers prayer, giving to Jabez the land and pasture for which he asked. He is a righteous God; He responds to and justifies His people's faith: “He was entreated of the Reubenites and Gadites because they put their trust in Him.” On the other hand, He is a jealous God; He punishes Israel when they “trespass against the God of their fathers and go a-whoring after the gods of the peoples of the land.” But the feeling here attributed to Jehovah is not merely one of personal jealousy. Loyalty to Him meant a great deal more than a preference for a god called Jehovah over a god called Chemosh. It involved a special recognition of morality and purity, and gave a religious sanction to patriotism and the sentiment of national unity. Worship of Moabite or Syrian gods weakened a man's enthusiasm for Israel and his sense of fellowship with his countrymen, just as allegiance to an Italian prince and prelate has seemed to Protestants to deprive the Romanist of his full inheritance in English life and feeling. He who went astray after other gods did not merely indulge his individual taste in doctrine and ritual: he was a traitor to the social order, to the prosperity and national union, of Israel. Such disloyalty broke up the nation, and sent Israel and Judah into captivity piecemeal.92
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