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THE LESSER LAW (continued).
The twenty-third chapter begins with a series of commands bearing upon the course of justice; but among these there is interjected very curiously a command to bring back the stray ox or ass of an enemy, and to help under a burden the over-weighted ass of him that hateth thee, even “if thou wouldest forbear to help him.” It is just possible that the lawgiver, urging justice in the bearing of testimony, interrupts himself to speak of a very different manner in which the action may be warped by prejudice, but in which (unlike the other) it is lawful to show not only impartiality but kindness. The help of the cattle of one’s enemy shows that in the bearing of testimony we should not merely abstain from downright wrong. And it is a fine example of the spirit of the New Testament, in the Old.
“Thou shalt not take up a false report” (ver. 1) is a precept which reaches far. How many heedless whispers, conjectures lightly spoken because they were amusing, yet influencing the course of lives, and inferences uncharitably drawn, would have been still-born if this had been remembered!
But when the scandal is already abroad, the temptation to aid its progress is still greater. Therefore it is added, “Put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” Whatever be the menace or the bribe, however the course of opinion seem to be decided, and the assent of an individual to be harmless because the result is sure, or blameless because the responsibility lies elsewhere, still each man is a unit, not an “item,” and must act for himself, as hereafter he must give account. Hence it results inevitably that “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, neither shalt thou speak in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to wrest judgment” (ver. 2). The blind impulses of a multitude are often as misleading as the solicitations of the bad, and to aspiring temperaments much more seductive. There is indeed a strange magnetism in the voice of the public. Every orator knows that a great assembly acts upon the speaker as really as he acts upon it: its emotions are like a rush of waters to sweep him away, beyond his intentions or his ordinary powers. Yet he is the strongest individual there; no other has at all the same opportunity for self-assertion, and therefore its power over others must be more complete than over him.
This is one reason for the institution of public worship. Men neglect the house of God because they can pray as well at home, and encourage wanton subdivisions of the Church because they think there is no very palpable difference between competing denominations, or even because competition may be as useful in religion as in trade, as if our competition with the world and the devil for souls would not sufficiently animate us, without competing with one another. But in acting thus they weaken the effect for good of one of the mightiest influences which work evil among us, the influence of association. Men are always persuading themselves that they need not be better than their neighbours, nor ashamed of doing what every one does. And yet no voice joins in a cry without deepening it: every one who rushes with a crowd makes its impulse more difficult to stem; his individuality is not lost by its partnership with a thousand more; and he is accountable for what he contributes to the result. He has parted with his self-control, but not with the inner forces which he ought to have controlled.
Against this dangerous influence of the world, Christ has set the contagion of godliness within His Church, and every avoidable subdivision enfeebles this salutary counter-influence.
Moses warns us, therefore, of the danger of being drawn away by a multitude to do evil; but he is thinking especially of the peril of being tempted to “speak” amiss. Who does not know it? From the statesman who outruns his convictions rather than break with his party, and who cannot, amid deafening cheers, any longer hear his conscience speak, down to the humblest who fails to confess Christ before hostile men, and therefore by-and-by denies Him, there is not one whose speech and silence have never been in danger of being set to the sympathies of his own little public like a song to music.
That Moses was really thinking of this tendency to court popularity, is plain from the next clause—“Neither shalt thou favour a poor man in his cause” (ver. 3).
It is an admirable caution. Men there are who would scorn the opposite injustice, and from whom no rich man could buy a wrongful decision with gold or favour, but who are habitually unjust, because they load the other scale. The beam ought to hang straight. When justice is concerned, the poor man’s friend is almost as contemptible as his foe, and he has taken a bribe, if not in the mean enjoyment of democratic popularity, yet in his own pride—the fancy that he has done a magnanimous act, the attitude in which he poses.
As in law so in literature. There once was a tendency to describe magnanimous persons of quality, and repulsive clodhoppers and villagers. Times have changed, and now we think it much more ingenious and high-toned to be quite as partial and disingenuous, reversing the cases. Neither is true, and therefore neither is artistic. No class in society is deficient in noble qualities, or in base ones. Nor is the man of letters at all more independent, who flatters the democracy in a democratic age, than he who flattered the aristocracy when they had all the prizes to bestow.
Other precepts forbid bribery, command that the soil shall rest in the seventh year, when its spontaneous produce shall be for the poor, and further recognise and consecrate relaxation, by instituting (or more probably adopting into the code) the three feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The section closes with the words “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (ver. 19). Upon this clause much ingenuity has been expended. It makes occult reference to some superstitious rite. It is the name for some unduly stimulating compound. But when we remember that, just before, the sabbatical fruit which the poor left ungleaned was expressly reserved for the beasts of the field, that men were bidden to help the overladen ass of their enemies, and that care is taken elsewhere that the ox should not be muzzled when treading out grain, that the birdnester should not take the dam with the young, and that neither cow nor ewe should be slain on the same day with its young (Deut. xxv. 4, xxii. 6; Lev. xxii. 28), the simplest meaning seems also the most probable. Men, who have been taught respect for their fellow-men, are also to learn a fine sensibility even in respect to the inferior animals. Throughout all this code there is an exquisite tendency to form a considerate, humane, delicate and high-minded nation.
It remained, to stamp upon the human conscience a deep sense of responsibility.
Part V.—Its Sanctions.
This summary of Judaism being now complete, the people have to learn what mighty issues are at stake upon their obedience. And the transition is very striking from the simplest duty to the loftiest privilege: “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk. Behold, I send an Angel before thee.... Beware of him: for My Name is in him” (19–21).
We have now to ask how much this mysterious phrase involves; who was the Angel of whom it speaks?
The question is not, How much did Israel at that moment comprehend? For we are distinctly told that prophets were conscious of speaking more than they understood, and searched diligently but in vain what the spirit that was in them did signify (1 Peter i. 11).
It would, in fact, be absurd to seek the New Testament doctrine of the Logos full-blown in the Pentateuch. But it is mere prejudice, unphilosophical and presumptuous, to shut one’s eyes against any evidence which may be forthcoming that the earliest books of Scripture were tending towards the last conclusions of theology; that the slender overture to the Divine oratorio indicates already the same theme which thunders from all the chorus at the close.
It is scarcely necessary to refute the position that a mere “messenger” is intended, because angels have not yet “appeared as personal agents separate from God.” Kalisch himself has amply refuted his own theory. For, he says, “we are compelled ... to refer it to Moses and his successor Joshua” (in loco). So then He Who will not forgive their transgressions is he who prayed that if God would not pardon them, his own name might be blotted from the book of life. He, to whom afterwards God said “I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee” (xxxiii. 19), is the same of Whom God said “My name is in Him.” This position needs no examination; but the perplexities of those who reject the deeper interpretation is a strong confirmation of its soundness. We have still to choose between the promise of a created angel, and some manifestation and interposition of God, distinguished from Jehovah and yet one with Him. This latter view is an evident preparation for clearer knowledge yet to come. It is enough to stamp the dispensation which puts it forth as but provisional, and therefore bears witness to that other dispensation which has the key to it. And it is exactly what a Christian would expect to find somewhere in this summary of the law.
What, then, do we read elsewhere about the Angel of Jehovah? What do we find, especially, in these early books?
A difficulty has to be met at the very outset. The issue would be decided offhand, if it could be shown that the Angel of this verse is the same who is offered, as a poor substitute for their Divine protector, in the thirty-third chapter. But no contrast can be clearer than between the encouraging promise before us, and the sharp menace which then plunged Israel into mourning. Here is an Angel who must not be provoked, who will not pardon you, because “My Name is in Him.” There is an angel who will be sent because God will not go up, ... lest He consume them (vers. 2, 3). He is not the Angel of God’s presence, but of His absence. When the intercession of Moses won from God a reversal of the sentence, He then said “My Presence (My Face) shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,”3838Even if the rendering were accepted, “Must My Presence (My Face) go with thee?” (Can I not be trusted without a direct Presence?) the argument would not be affected, because Moses presses for the favour and obtains it. but Moses answers, not yet reassured, “If Thy Presence (Thy Face) go not up with us, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known that I have found grace in Thy sight?... Is it not that Thou goest with us? And the Lord said, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken” (14–17).
Moreover, Isaiah, speaking of this time, says that “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence (His Face) saved them” (Isa. lxiii. 9).
Thus we find that some angel is to be sent because God will not go up: that thereupon the nation mourns, although in this twenty-third chapter they had received as a gladdening promise, the assurance of an Angel escort in Whom is the name of God; that in response to prayer God promises that His Face shall accompany them, so that it may be known that He Himself goes with them; and finally that His Face in Exodus is the Angel of His Face in Isaiah. The prophet at least had no doubt whether the gracious promise in the twenty-third chapter answered, in the thirty-third chapter, to the third verse or the fourteenth—to the menace, or to the restored favour.
This difficulty being now converted into an evidence, we turn back to examine other passages.
When the Angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar, “she called the name of Jehovah that spake unto her El Roi” (Gen. xvi. 11, 13). When God tempted Abraham, “the Angel of Jehovah called unto him out of heaven, and said, ... I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son ... from Me” (Gen. xxii. 11, 12). When a man wrestled with Jacob, he thereupon claimed to have seen God face to face, and called the place Peniel, the Face (Presence) of God (Gen. xxxii. 4, 30). But Hosea tells us that “He had power with God: yea, he had power over the Angel, ... and there He spake with us, even Jehovah, the God of hosts” (Hos. xii. 3, 5). Even earlier, in his exile, the Angel of the Lord had appeared unto him and said, “I am the God of Bethel ... where thou vowedst a vow unto Me.” But the vow was distinctly made to God Himself: “I will surely give the tenth to Thee” (xxxi. 11, 13; xxviii. 20, 22). Is it any wonder that when this patriarch blessed Joseph, he said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which hath redeemed me from all evil, (may He) bless the lads” (xlviii. 15, 16)?
In Exodus iii. 2 the Angel of the Lord appeared out of the bush. But presently He changes into Jehovah Himself, and announces Himself to be Jehovah the God of their fathers (iii. 2, 4, 15). In Exodus xiii. 21 Jehovah went before Israel, but the next chapter tells how “the Angel of the Lord which went before Israel removed and went behind” (xiv. 19); while Numbers (xx. 16) says expressly that “He sent an Angel and brought us out of Egypt.”
By the comparison of these and many later passages (which is nothing but the scientific process of induction, leaning not on the weight of any single verse, but on the drift and tendency of all the phenomena) we learn that God was already revealing Himself through a Medium, a distinct personality whom He could send, yet not so distinct but that His name was in Him, and He Himself was the Author of what He did.
If Israel obeyed Him, He would bring them into the promised land (ver. 23); and if there they continued unseduced by false worships, He would bless their provisions, their bodily frame, their children; He would bring terror and a hornet against their foes; He would clear the land before them as fast as their population could enjoy it; He would extend their boundaries yet farther, from the Red Sea, where Solomon held Ezion Geber (1 Kings ix. 26), to the Mediterranean, and from the desert where they stood to the Euphrates, where Solomon actually possessed Palmyra and Thiphsah (2 Chron. viii. 4; 1 Kings iv. 24).
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