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II.—THE HISTORICAL BOOKS (from Joshua to Esther inclusive) contain the history of the Israelite people during three great periods of their national life:—(1) As an oligarchy, developing into a republican confederacy. (2) As a monarchy, speedily becoming disunited, and separating into two kingdoms, falling to pieces by internal dissensions and bad government. (3) As tributary to foreign invaders.
JOSHUA (Jehovah is salvation), the first of the twelve so-called "Historical Books," embracing a period of twenty-five years, is supposed to have been written by Joshua, whose name it bears. He was the successor of Moses, as the prophet of the Lord and leader of His people, to whom was entrusted the task of settling them in Canaan. It consists of three parts: (1) The conquest of Canaan during the seven years war, and destruction of its thirty-one kings. (2) Distribution of the country by lot, and settlement of the tabernacle at Shiloh. (3) Final admonitions, and death of Joshua, which must have been added by one of his survivors. The characteristic feature of the book is that "the Lord drove out the nations before them," and that "He fought for Israel." The conquest opens with the miraculous fall of Jericho, after the renewal of circumcision, and the apparition of the "Captain of the Lord's host." The next is a march into the interior, to the primary altar of Abraham at Shechem, where the covenant is renewed by oath and sacrifices. Next the miraculous victory at Beth-horon, and general panic of the heathen inhabitants. It closes with a general assembly at Shiloh (where the tabernacle was permanently fixed), the allotment of territory to each tribe, and a final renewal of the covenant at Shechem, followed by Joshua's death. The typical aspect of the history is pointed out in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chap. iv.
Date and Authorship. That the events are recorded by a contemporary is evidenced by such passages as iii. 15, 16; v. 1; the prophetic character of the writer by vi. 26; though some later additions to the original are traceable in x. 13; xix. 47; xxiv. 29-33. The expression used of certain memorials as remaining "up to this day," which occurs fourteen times, does not in any case seem to be inconsistent with the period embraced by the narrative; while it is difficult to imagine that any but a contemporary could have written such passages as vi. 25; and his two addresses (xxiii. and xxiv.), as well as the various records of his intercourse with God, would appear to have been committed to writing by Joshua himself, who is expressly declared to have written some documents (xxiv. 26). Ewald supposes that the book has undergone five transformations at the hands of successive compilers; but this view has met with little support. Others have tried to discriminate between an Elohistic and Jehovistic narrative; but this is difficult to maintain. The authorship has been variously attributed to Joshua (according to the tradition of the Jews and early Christian writers), Phinehas, Eleazar, one of the elders who survived Joshua, Samuel, and Jeremiah; again, some have assigned its date to the time of the Judges, the reign of Josiah, and even subsequent to the Babylonish Captivity. All these conjectures present far greater difficulties than the old tradition, that it is the work of Joshua, following the example of Moses, by writing the annals of his own time,—a task which seems to have been divinely committed to him on his first appointment as the assistant of Moses (Exod. xvii. 14).
JUDGES. The second historical book, comprising a period of about 300 years (or, according to the LXX. chronology, quoted by Paul, Acts xiii. 20, 450 years), chronicles the gradual decline of Israel, after Joshua's death, into a state of political anarchy and religious apostasy.
Date and Authorship. Its authorship is uncertain; but Jewish tradition ascribes it to Samuel. The phrase, "up to this day," is thought by modern critics to signify the time of Solomon, though i. 21 seems to refer to a date prior to David's capture of Jebus at the beginning of his reign, while xviii. 14 would seem to mark a date posterior to the Assyrian captivity of Israel. There 14 is little doubt that chaps, i. 6—xvi. form an early record, most probably written by Samuel, and which was continued by other annalists; and that these documents were compiled into one harmonious whole (terminating with II Kings), probably by Ezra, or Nehemiah. The text of the whole is, "There was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes." The government may be called a republican confederacy. But the want of unity, and irreligion, made them a prey to the heathens around, whom they neglected to extirpate. Seven times Israel became subject to a foreign yoke, while thirteen judges assumed, by God's command, or the people's choice (as Abimelech), a temporary dictatorship. Of these some were contemporaries, as Samson and Samuel, and probably Abimelech, Tola, and Jair. This office subsequently became life-long (after Jephthah), and hereditary (in Samuel's time), gradually preparing the way for a monarchy.
It is notable that, until the days of Eli, the priesthood is never mentioned, and that in him the office had passed from the family of Eleazar to that of Ithamar, on account, as the Jews say, of the sanction given by the former to Jephthah's unnatural sacrifice. The Books of Joshua and Judges bear the same relation to the books of the Law as the Acts of the Apostles to the Gospels; but the former mark the decline of the Jewish, the latter records the progress of the Christian Church.
RUTH. This is a sequel to the Book of Judges (with which the Jews classed it), and is the link connecting that period with the monarchy. It supplies the genealogy of David, and so carries on the descent of the "promised seed" from Abraham. It comprises a period of ten years, during the judgeship of Deborah and Barak, and is said to have been written by Samuel. It is remarkably rich in examples of faith, patience, industry, tender affection, and of the merciful providence of God, in bringing good out of evil. The pious amiability of Boaz contrasts favourably with the prominent characters among the judges (Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson); while the conversion of the Moabitess, her adoption into the church of God, and her acceptance as "a mother in Israel," put to shame the decline into heathenism of "the chosen people" and the immorality displayed in the closing chapters of the Book of Judges, and anticipate the warning of Christ, "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. viii. 11).
As the Books of Joshua and Judges pourtray God in the history of a nation under an oligarchy and republican confederation, so the four succeeding ones shew His dealings with His people under a monarchy. The nation takes its tone from the king, as the father of the family: according as he walks with God, in the ways of David, he prospers; if he follow the statutes of Omri, or walk in the steps of Jeroboam, he fails, and is dethroned. Thus there are eight kings of Israel in the first ninety years, five of whom meet with violent deaths; while of the six of Judah in the same space, only the last is killed, a punishment for his alliance with the house of Ahab.
I. and II. SAMUEL. The two books bearing Samuel's name are one in the Hebrew Canon, while in the LXX. they are called the I. and II. Kings. The former of the two is a continuation of the history of the judges, containing the narrative of the office of the last two (Eli and Samuel), who were not warriors, but priests and civil governors. Samuel is the connecting link by which the judgeship passes on to monarchy; but to his personal character, administrative skill, and intellectual ability, is due the reformation of the people from unbridled licentious anarchy to a peaceful acquiescence in a monarchy and a respect for justice.
The latter portion of the book contains the history of the reign of Saul, the first king, selected in accordance with the qualities desired by his subjects. He is the personification of the Israelite character; proud, selfish, reserved, obstinately stiffnecked, and profane,–he sought to govern absolutely, instead of as the vicegerent of God. But he never was practically sovereign of more than the central part of the country, and was rather the pastoral chief of amalgamated tribes than the monarch of a kingdom.
Date and Authorship. There is no evidence, either external or internal, bearing on the authorship of these books, neither is their title indicative of more than the subject-matter of their former portion (like that of the Book of Exodus). Comparing it with the Books of Kings, we judge the author to have written during a time when the Mosaic Law was forgotten, as he betrays no displeasure at its infringement, by sacrificing in high places, as is done by the writer of the Kings. Therefore its date would seem to be prior to the finding of the Law by Josiah; while the mention of Ziklag being attached to the kingdom of Judah (1 Sam. xxvii. 6) marks a period subsequent to the secession of the Ten Tribes. The compilation of its annals must therefore be assigned to a period between the accession of Rehoboam and that of Josiah (from B.C. 976 and B.C. 640); and the purity of its language accords with this supposition, though it may not have assumed its present exact form and arrangement until the days of Nehemiah (2 Macc. ii. 13).
I. and II. KINGS. These two books are united in one in the ancient Hebrew copies. The present division is taken from the LXX. and Vulgate. They give the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from the death of David to the Captivity. The history of the two kingdoms is intermingled, until the captivity of Israel, when that of Judah only is continued for 130 years longer. The whole is a conflict between faith and infidelity; the "sons of God" and the "sons of men;" the worship of Jehovah (the Supreme eternal source of Life) and Baal (the personification of natural causes). Israel declines from God, her kings follow Jeroboam, "who made Israel to sin." She becomes outcast, and her record is wiped out of the Book of Life, just as is that of the family of Cain, and the apostate descendants of Noah and of Abraham; while Judah is stayed by a few faithful kings (as Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah), repents of her unfaithfulness during her exile in Babylon, and is restored. Both books contain several prophecies, and are quoted by our Lord and the writers of the New Testament as Canonical (Luke iv. 25–27; James v. 17). The authorship is uncertain. It is probable that certain annals of their times were written by several of the prophets, and that a continuous history of these kingdoms was compiled out of them by Jeremiah or Ezra. The number of Chaldaisms in the text points to a late origin, and there is great similarity of style between them and the Book of Jeremiah (whose authorship Jewish tradition favours). This is favoured by internal evidence, there being a very marked resemblance between the later portion of 2 Kings (in the incidents of which Jeremiah was a participator) and the corresponding narratives in the book which bears his name, and in which some of the events are described more fully (Cp. 2 Ki. xxv. 22, and Jer. xliii. 7), while the writer appears to have remained in Judea during the Captivity, and the history terminates at the precise point where Jeremiah is carried into 15 Egypt and is lost sight of. But the vividness of certain scenes, such as the biographies of Elijah and Elisha, the scene of Abab consulting Micaiah, the career of Jehu, seems to betoken an eye-witness, whose record has been introduced unaltered by the compiler. They embrace a period of 427 years.
I. and II. CHRONICLES. These are united into one book in the Hebrew, "The Diaries," from whence our title arises. In the LXX, they are called the "Addenda" (Paralipomena), or "Supplement." They contain much of the matter of the previous Books of Kings, but supply additional information. The genealogical tables are valuable, since they record the unbroken line of the faithful people for about 3,500 years.
The authenticity of these books has been unsuccessfully assailed by those critics who wish to maintain that the origin of the Pentateuch belongs to the period subsequent to the Captivity. Both Jewish tradition, and the testimony of Christian writers, ascribe their compilation to Ezra, who obtained his material from various annals of the monarchy. The cause of their compilation is naturally suggested by the first difficulties which would present themselves to the leaders of those who returned from captivity, in allotting the various portions of territory to the families entitled to them according to the Mosaic Law.
And again, the maintenance of the Temple service, and of the payment of tithes, &c. required strict legal proof of hereditary descent on the part of the officiating Priests and Levites, These two great political questions necessitated the compilation of authoritative genealogical tables. To this work Ezra and Nehemiah seem to have earnestly set themselves, and especially to have made the restoration of the Temple and its worship the great feature in the new constitution. They felt also the vital importance of restoring a spirit of patriotism in the people, and of confidence in the favour of God, notwithstanding the punishment He had inflicted upon them by captivity. For this purpose, nothing could be more effectual than a continuous history of the nation, from David downwards, representing the Divine favour as dependent upon the faithfulness of rulers and people to the original covenant, and Divine punishment as the natural result of unfaithfulness. The Book of Chronicles (for it is properly only one) draws the picture which would most stimulate hope and patriotism. It gives in series the establishment of the Temple ritual, with its course of priests and officers, under David; its further development under Solomon; its restoration under Jehoshaphat, He-zekiah, and Josiah; and the reappearance of Divine favour at the final restoration of Church and nation after the Captivity. Thus the Chronicles are the beginning of the ecclesiastical history, which continues, in an unbroken thread, to the end of the Book of Neheniiah.
I. (Chaps, i.—viii.). Genealogical tables, and settlements of the various tribes.
II. (Chap. ix.). The disturbance of these by the Babylonish Captivity, and their partial restoration on their return (Cp. Neh. xi. 3—22).
III. Introduction to the main history, viz. the
end of Saul's reign, with a complete genealogy, copied from one drawn up in the reign of Hezekiah.
VI. (2 Chron. x.—xxxvL 21). History of the
VIII. (Ezraiv. 2). First caravan of Jews return
XII. (Ezra v.-vi. 12). Recommencement of building of Temple under Darius Hy-staspes.
XIII. (Ezra vi. 13-22). Completion of the Temple.
XIV. (Ezra vii., viii.). Second caravan of Jews.
XVIII. (Neh. xiii.). Nehemiah's second administration.
Peculiarities. The following passages are peculiar to the Book of Chronicles, and afford evidence of its aim: —1 Chron.xv.—xxvii.; xxii.—xxix.; 2 Chron.xiii.—xv.; xxiv., xxvi., xxix.—xxxi., and xxxv.
Date and Authorship. Internal evidence favours the supposition that Ezra was the author of Chronicles, since the style and Chaldaisms strongly resemble those of the Book of Ezra.
The writer seems to have had no personal knowledge of the events in Jerusalem after the commencement of the Captivity, since he entirely omits the details which close II. Kings; but the phraseology, which accords with that of the Book of Ezra, favours the notion that he was resident in Babylon, while the whole history terminates with Ezra's death. The sources of this compilation are various tribal genealogical tables and registers, the records of certain seers (e.g. Gad, Nathan, Iddo, Shemaiah), and also the "Books of the Kings of Israel and Judah," and public registers (Neh. xii. 23).
EZRA. Ezra was grandson of Seraiah, the High Priest, who was slain when Jerusalem was taken (2 Kings xxv. 18—21), and was probably born at Babylon. He was a "Scribe," or instructor of the Law, who went up to Jerusalem with the second body of returned captives. He speaks of himself as the author of the book which bears his name (vii. 27, 28; viii. 1, &c.). It consists of two portions, with a considerable interval between the two: the First gives the return of the captives in the time of Cyrus (B.C. 536), arid the rebuilding of the Temple, interrupted by the Samaritans, but renewed by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah. The decrees and some of the dialogues are in Chaldee. The Second part relates the second immigration of exiles in the reign of Artaxerxes (B.C. 457), with Ezra himself, and his reformation of the people. The whole period extends over seventy-nine years (from 536 to 457).
NEHEMIAH. This was anciently united with the Book of Ezra, and in the Vulgate it is called II. Esdras. It carries on the history from about twelve years after the close of Ezra's book to the last jubilee (B.C. 413), covering a period of thirty-six years. Zerubbabel had rebuilt the Temple, but not the city walls of Jerusalem, which were replaced in fifty-two days under Nehemiah's direction. He was full of zeal, and gave up his lucrative post of cupbearer to the King of Persia, that he might join his fellow-countrymen in their difficulties. He reformed their civil and religious condition, enforcing economy and justice, attracting a larger number of settlers to the city, restoring the Temple services, and 16 re-enacting the Mosaic Covenant. This closes the Old Testament History; and Nehemiah, after twelve years' sojourn in Judea, returned to his post in the Persian Court.
ESTHER. The book called by Esther's name contains one episode in the history of those Israelites who did not return from captivity, and it shews their moral decline. Having elected to remain in a heathen land, Mordecai and his family accommodate themselves to their adopted nationality till their lives are imperilled. His kinswoman Esther being constrained to compete for a position in the harem of a heathen monarch, Mordecai charges her to conceal her nationality and religion for temporal aggrandisement. Although God's providence never forsakes His people, and in answer to their prayers deliverance is wrought, His name remains secret among them. The contrast throughout between the tone of Mordecai and Daniel under similar circumstances, and the inferiority of the former to his contemporaries Ezra and Nehemiah, is very marked. The incident is supposed to have its historical position between the 6th and 7th chapters of Ezra, and Ahasuerag is conjectured to have been Arta-xerxes; though some see in him a stronger resemblance to the effeminate Xerxes, while others identify him with Darius Hystaspes, and fix the date about B.C. 485.
It is impossible to identify Esther with any queen mentioned in profane history, and it is most probable that she was a favourite concubine, to whom that title was accorded. The author of the book is unknown, but was most probably Mordecai, as no one else could well possess such minute knowledge of the names of Hainan's family, as also of that of Esther and the domestic details of the palace of Shushan, as is conveyed in this narrative. It has been attributed to Ezra, who probably brought it with him from Babylon to Jerusalem, and added it to the Canon. It was written in Hebrew, though additions were made to it in Greek by the LXX. (See "Notes on the Apocrypha," p. 27.)
The feast of Purim remains to this day, as an evidence of the truth of the story; and the book has been always esteemed Canonical both by Jews and Christians.
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