|« Prev||Section XXVII. The Canon of the Old Testament.||Next »|
The ethics of the Old Testament presents, in its entire essence, a direct contrast to all heathen ethics. Without systematic form and without scientific development, it is yet perfectly self-consistent in its ground, its essence and its end. In harmony with the idea of God as a spirit absolutely independent of nature, and himself omnipotently conditioning the whole sphere of nature, the ground of all morality is absolutely and exclusively God’s holy will as revealed to the free personal creature; the essence of the moral is free, loving obedience to the revealed divine will; the ultimate end of morality is the realizing of perfect God-likeness, and hence also of perfect God-sonship and bliss, not merely for the individual, not merely for the people Israel, butt for all humanity,—and hence the realization of a humanity-embracing kingdom of God; the most immediate historical end, 152however, is to impart a knowledge of the need of redemption from depravity as incurred by the sin of man himself. Hence the law appears in fact predominantly, not as an inner natural one, but as a purely positive, objective, historically-revealed one, in order that man may become conscious of his natural estrangement from the truth. In this form it does not have an ultimately definitive, but a transitory and essentially disciplinary end; and the realization of the kingdom of God can only be prepared for, but not fully accomplished, by the Israelitic people; it is a morality of hope.
As in the presentation of Christian ethics, further on, we shall have to glance in considerable detail also at its historical antecedent, namely, Old Testament ethics, hence we need here give only the general characteristics of the latter.9898 In addition to general works on Old Testament theology, which treat mostly of the ethical phase only incidentally, and to the works mentioned in § 5, may be cited, G. L. Bauer: Bibl. Moral des A. T., 1803, 2 vols.,—extremely Rationalistic; (Imm. Berger: Prakt. Einl. ins A. T., continued by Augusti, 1799-1808, 4 vols.)
The antagonism of the moral idea of the Old Testament to the views of collective heathenism, is radical and fundamental; there is here no shadow of a transition from the latter to the former. Pre-Christian revealed ethics dld not, however, have a scientific, systematic form, and indeed could not have it, inasmuch as the key to its correct understanding was to be given only in the days of the Messiah, and as the Hebrews were not to be a perfect, independently-developed nation, but to find their full truth only in Christianity.—The Hebrews do not undertake to find the ground of the moral consciousness in the human spirit itself, for the man whom they know as real is no longer the pure image of God,—has no longer the unobscured natural consciousness of God and of the moral,—and even unfallen man needed to be awakened to this consciousness by the revelation of Gold. The entire ground of the moral consciousness is therefore sought in God’s positive revelation to man, as 153indeed the ground of the moral on the whole is absolutely the holy will of God,—not as an abstract law immanent in, though partially hidden from, human reason, but as an express command of the personal God and made known to man by a historical act of revelation. God speaks and man hearkens; and the moral activity is in its entire essence a child-like obeying of the divine command made upon man. Here there is no longer any room for a doubt, unless it be a sinful one,—no need of a philosophical analysis. In case there is need in particular conjunctures for a more definite decision, then God gives it himself, either directly, as with the patriarchs and the divinely-called and enlightened prophets, or, mediately, through the sa-me, or indeed also through specific signs, such as the lot [Num. xxvi, 55, 56; xxxiii, 54; xxxiv, 13; Josh. vii, 14 sqq.; xiii, 6; xiv, 2; xviii, 6 sqq.; xix, 1 sqq.; xxi, 4 sqq.; 1 Sam. x, 20 sqq.; Prov. xvi, 33; xviii, 18], the high-priestly Urim and Thummim [Ex. xxviii, 30; Num. xxvii, 21; 1 Sam. xxiii, 6 sqq.; xxviii, 6; xxx, 7, 8; comp. 2 Sam. ii, 1; v, 19, 23 sqq.], and others [1 Sam. xiv, 8 sqq., comp. Gen. xxiv, 12 sqq.]. The command of God to man presents itself in a strictly positive definite form: “thou shalt,” “thou shalt not,” “thou mayest.”’ For any other reason than God’s will, man has no right to ask; he is simply to believe the word of God—this alone leads him to righteousness. To personal free self-determination and maturity, man is to attain simply and solely through child-like faith-obedience to the word of the Father. He who questions and hesitates where God speaks, cannot possibly be moral, since he is lacking in faith. Unhesitating, unreluctant, joyous submission to God’s definite command, is the beginning, the end and the essence of all morality. Types of such faith-obedience are Noah [Gen. vi, 22; vii, 5], Abraham [xii, 4], Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, and others. The simple fact that God wills it, is the absolutely sufficient reason; the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The antecedent condition of the moral, as lying in the bosom of man himself, is, however, the image of God—the pure knowledge and the untrammeled will of moral freedom. Man should, but he is not compelled; his salvation is placed within his own hand; the thought, “If thou hearkenest to my word, it shall go well with thee,” pervades the entire Old Testament from beginning to end. 154Between God and man there subsists an absolutely personally-moral relation. Even as God, as the true and perfect personality, is the holy prototype of all morality, and as the simple thought of this God is directly presented as the perfectly sufficient ground for all moral life: “Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” [Lev. xi, 45; xix, 2], “I am the almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect” [Gen. xvii, 1],—so also is man’s complete personality recognized and respected by God even in the already sin-corrupted race. God does not himself immediately work all willing and acting in man, does not force him to obedience, but He makes a covenant with man, with his people,—comes as a holy personality into moral relation to man as a free moral personality. The fulfillment of the covenant-promise is conditioned on the covenant-fidelity of man.
The purpose, the goal of the moral is not the merely individual perfection of the moral subject, but it is, on the one hand, the salvation and perfection of the whole human race,—a thought entirely unknown to heathendom—and, on the other, the full and blissful life-communion of the person with God; “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” [Lev. xxvi, 12; Jer. vii, 23];—not merely the individual subject but the moral community, the people of God (entire humanity is to become this people), is to be received into this communion with God.
Immediately upon the creation of man the thought of the moral presents itself clearly and definitely [Gen. i, 26-ii, 24]. (1.) The objective presupposition of the moral is presented, namely, the living personal God as the prototype of man and of his life, and nature as good and normal and as existing independently over against man,—and, then, the subjective presupposition, namely, man as a personal spirit like unto his Creator.—(2.) The goal of morality as a task, a duty, namely, the realizing and completing of the divine image, is expressed under one of its phases, as the dominion of man over nature; this implies the realization of free personal spirituality in likeness to God—the legitimate “being as God.” In the strong emphasizing of this dominion over nature, (so utterly in contrast to all actual experience,) there is plainly indicated the ideal essence of the moral task; its 155full realization however is not to be attained to at once, but is the final goal, and lies in the future. In striking contrast to all heathen views, according to which man is either absolutely subject to nature, or at least has nature before him as a cramping, and never-entirely-to-be-overcome power, we have here the true relation of the rational spirit to nature, namely, his complete freedom, his destination to entire mastery over it, that is, we have the full personality of man as the key-stone of the collective morally-religious world-theory. That this dominion of the spirit over nature is not to be a childish magical interfering with nature, is evident from the simple fact that man is called to it only as being an image of the nature-dominating God, and that immediately before and after his call thereto the God-established permanent regularity of nature is alluded to as in some sense a right of nature, and that man is at once directed to the orderly and conserving culture of nature [ii, 15]. The dominion over nature is not the entire goal of the moral striving, it is, however, a very expressive suggestion of, the same, and is within the comprehension of the child-like and as yet immature spirit.—(3.) The legitimate freedom of choice and its enjoyment are guaranteed to man as a right, in the sphere of the discretionary [i, 28-30; ii, 16].—(4.) The unambiguous declaration is made that morality is not a something belonging merely to the individual person, but that on the contrary man can accomplish his task only as a member of a moral community; it is not good that man should be alone; he ought not to remain in isolation, but should form a part of a family, should enter into association with moral humanity, and it is only on this condition that the good is truly realizable for the subject.—(5.) In the anticipatory allusion to the observance of the Sabbath as based on the divine example [ii, 2, 3] is presented the ideal phase of human activity,—the re-collecting of the personal spirit from the distractions of the outer life into the calm of meditation; man is not at liberty completely to merge himself into earthly temporal cares,—should constantly have before him, in all his temporal activity, also the eternal as the true and highest good. The heathen either buries himself up in temporal activity and enjoyment, or contemptuously turns himself entirely away from the same; the 156saint of the Old Testament lives and acts in God’s good-created world, but does not merge himself into it,—withdraws himself from it into the Sabbath repose of a heart in communion with its God. In the simple feature of Sabbath observance itself, Old Testament morality presents itself in sharp and definite contrast to all heathen ethics, and places the moral task of man higher than the latter.
Hebrew ethics, however, does not linger, as was almost exclusively the case with heathen ethics, in the purely ideal sphere,—in the consideration of the good per se,—does not conceive of evil as a mere possibility or as a merely exceptional or isolated reality, or as a nature-necessity back of all human guilt (which are all, in fact, heathen views)—but looks evil earnestly and squarely in the face, and regards it as a sad, all-prevalent reality, the guilt of which lies in the free act of man, and is participated in by all without exception. The morality of the chosen people of God looks, therefore, not merely to a warding off and an avoiding of evil as a something as yet external to our heart, and merely threatening us, but to a zealous, constant combating of the same, not outside of us in an originally defective world, but within in the inmost guilt-laden heart of the subject himself. Sin is of historical origin,—an historical reality and power; and morality, the nature of which presents itself now quite predominantly as a vigorous combating against sin, appears also itself in a uniformly historical character,—is promoted and guided by a divine history-chain of ever richer-unfolding gracious guidances, and gives rise to a moral history, to a redemption-history, to a kingdom of God here upon earth inside of humanity,—at first, in faith and hope, and afterwards (after it has reached the goal promised by God from the very start, and embraced by the people with pious confidence, and kept constantly in view) in full, blissful reality. Heathenism knows indeed evil, knows vice, but it does not know sin, for sin is of a morally-historical character; hence it knows also of no historical overcoming of the same, no expecting, no preparing for, nor realization of, a kingdom of God in humanity; the Persians alone have an obscure presentiment thereof, perhaps not without a ray of light received from the people of God, with whom they were in contact, and whom, 157from their residence among them, they learned highly to esteem.
On the entrance of sin into the world there arises at once a separation among men between those who permit themselves to be fettered by sin and those who retain God and his salvation in view, between the children of the world and the children of God; God, however, looks in compassionate love also upon the former and plans for them a redemption, the world-historical preparation of which is confided to that people which He separates out from among the men of sin, and paternally guides; God separates to himself the man of faith,—him who trusts in God with rock-like firmness and cheerfully and unconditionally obeys his word even where he is unable to comprehend it and where it diametrically contradicts his own natural consciousness. God places before Abraham, from the very start, not a merely personal, but a world-historical goal: “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Gen. xii, 3], and he repeats this promise again and again in progressively more definite features; as in Adam all die, so in Abraham are all nations to be blessed and to be brought to the Accomplisher of Salvation. For the first time in the history of humanity we find here, and in contrast to all heathendom, a definite world-historical goal of the moral life; not man, but God has established it in compassionating grace, and has sealed it in successive and progressively richer promises; and an individual man is elected to co-operate in the fulfilling of this promise, which is not given to him as an individual but to humanity,—to cooperate in such a sense as that this man, that this people itself, may become capable of really participating in the fruit of the redemption accomplished by the act of grace,—by becoming the maternal womb which is to bear and give birth to the Saviour. But the individual has part in this moral work only when he accepts the promise in faith, and it is only when he accepts the promise in faith, and only on the basis of this faith, that he is able to attain to true obedience of life.
This people, so strictly cut off from all the rest of the race, this people hated, oppressed, down-trodden by the rest of mankind, becomes thus, from the very beginning, of world-158historical significance, in a much higher sense than any other pre-Christian people. The heathen nations which actively entered into and shaped history sought only themselves but not humanity; the Israelitic people, shut up exclusively to the promise and to faith,—a people already spiritually developed and molded into a moral organism before it had as yet where to lay its head, and which was as yet seeking its earthly home,—a spiritual people without any nature-basis, and which received its earthly home only as a gracious gift of God, conferred on moral conditions [Lev. xxv, 23],—this people, in its God-willed and commanded separation from all heathen nations, in its so often, even up to the present day, reproached “particularism,” was, after all, absolutely the only people which had in view, from the beginning, the true “universalism,” (namely, the salvation of collective humanity), as its highest goal, and which sought to do nothing else than to prepare the way for this salvation of humanity [Gen. xii, 3; xviii, 18; xxii, 18; xxvi, 4; Deut. xxxii, 43; 1 Chron. xvi, 23, 28; Isa. ii, 2 sqq.; xi, 10 sqq.; xxv, 6 sqq.; xlii, 1, 6; xlv, 20, 22, 23; xlix, 6; lii, 15; liv, 3; lv, 5; lx; lxi, 11; lxii, 2; lxv, 1; lxvi, 18 sqq.; Jer. iv, 2; xvi, 19; Amos ix, 11, 12; Hag. ii, 7 (8); Zech. ii, 11; vi, 15; viii, 20 sqq.; xiv, 16; Micah iv, 1 sqq.; Mal. i, 11; Psa. ii, 8; xviii, 49; lxvii, 2; lxxii, 8 sqq.; lxxxvi, 9, 10; xcvi, 7, 10; cii, 15; cxvii, 1]. The Israelites had therefore, from the very beginning, the deepest interest for history, and for the goal of history as clearly presented by prophetic promise; the divine prophetic benedictions upon the patriarchs relate much less to their own person than to the history of humanity as proceeding from them; the Hebrew is clearly conscious that all his moral striving contributes to conduct the God-guided current of history to the God-promised realization of salvation; instead of the gloomy, despairing tragic consciousness of the most highly cultured of all the heathen nations, we find here a full confidence in the ultimate fulfillment of the redemption longed-for by man and promised by God.
The Israelites have and could have this high world-historical mission only because they were made to conceive of themselves from the very beginning as, not a nature-people, but as a spiritual people which obtained for itself its natural 159prosperity only through moral fidelity. As the people of God, they name themselves not Hebrews, from their natural descent, nor yet from Abraham, nor from Isaac, nor indeed from Jacob’s first name, but from his later God-given name, Israel, which he received after he had wrestled with the angel [Gen. xxx, 24 sqq]. From Abraham and Isaac descend also other tribes, which do not belong to the people of God; only Jacob’s descendants belong all thereto. Nor is Jacob the progenitor of the people of God in his earlier self-willed and self-confiding life, but solely in his spiritually-transformed life, after that, praying and beseeching, he had wrestled, in bitter repentance, with Jehovah as offended at his many sins and deceits, and after that, in self-denying humility having put off all self-righteousness, he had thrown himself child-like at the feet of God and confided all his well-being to His blessing. It becomes the people of Israel, as a spiritual people, to have also a spiritual and not a merely natural man as their father, and the true bearing of this father to God is expressed in the words: “I will not let thee go unless thou bless me.” Whoever would belong to this spiritual people of God must divest himself of all his mere naturalness; this is symbolized by the covenant-token of the people with God, circumcision.
The Israelite, in his moral strivings, has the highest good hopefully and confidently in view, and not for the individual person alone, but for humanity.— The idea of the highest good, the fundamental thought of all morality, has, in the Old Testament history, a very distinct development. It appears in God’s promises, on the one hand, as a grace, and, on the other, as a reward for trusting fidelity,—neither of which is by any means to be separated from, or regarded as contradictory to, the other. In the first blessing after the creation, as we have already seen, the thought of the highest good is already indicated; by sin, however, the blessing is changed into a curse, the highest good is thrown into the far distant, and is only obscurely alluded to in the promise of the ultimate victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent [Gen. iii, 15], and henceforth the thought of the highest good is associated with the victory over evil, with redemption. And though mankind,—originally destined to 160possess the whole earth [Gen. i, 28; Matt. v, 5],—receive now merely in small numbers, as members of the people of God, only a very small space of the earth for their possession, yet is also this typical foretaste of the possession of the highest good associated at the same time with promises of victory over the sin-symbolizing heathen inhabitants thereof; the highest good even in its feeblest foretastes is conditioned on trustful struggle and victory. In the blessing upon Noah [Gen. ix] there are indicated as the highest good, in the first place, the multiplication of the human race through Noah, and the dominion over nature (now, after thle fall into sin, under a somewhat changed form), and, then, in the express covenant of God with Noah, the full personal communion of believing man with God. To Abraham, the prophetic benediction is essentially enlarged, including the multiplication of his family under God’s guidance, the guaranteeing of an earthly father-land as a gift of God, and the blessing of entire humanity through the people of God as springing from him. God had expressly called Abraham away from his natural father-land; he is to receive another one in its stead, one that is morally acquired from God’s hand through believing submission to God; all earthly good is to bear also a spiritual character, is to be an outgrowth from spiritual good; even the most natural earthly good, the home, is to be obtained as a grace in reward of faith. Homeless upon earth for several centuries, the people Israel are to find, first, their eternal home, so as, then, after having been trained by God’s hand, and ripened for his service through sufferings and submission, to receive an earthly one as a gift of grace; and this home is to be for them a symbol of the eternal one, a shadow of the highest good. Even in the first promise to Abraham, there beams out through this earthly good a faint gleam of the heavenly one: “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed;” Abraham is to be, not merely by his example of faith, but also really, by his family, the beginning of a kingdom of God for entire humanity; to be himself in this kingdom of blessing, and this kingdom in him, this is, for him, the highest good. Exactly similar promises of temporal and likewise spiritual goods, God gives to Isaac and to Jacob [Gen. xxvi, 3-5; xxviii, 13-15; comp. xxxv, 9-11; 161xlviii, 4]; Isaac’s blessing upon his son Jacob relates, it is true, primarily only to temporal good [xxvii, 28, 29]; xxviii, 3, 4], but nevertheless with allusion to the higher good. It is true, temporal well-being [Gen. xxxix, 2, 3, 5, 23; Lev. xxvi, 3 sqq.; Deut. v, 29; vi, 3, 18, 24; vii, 13 sqq.; viii, 6 sqq.; xi, 9 sqq., 21 sqq.; xii, 28; xv, 4-6, 10; xxviii, 1 sqq., comp. Psa. lxxxi, 13, 14], and a continuance in the land, and long life [Exod. xx, 12; xxiii, 26; Deut. iv, 40; v, 33; vi, 2; xxx, 2 sqq.; xxxii, 47], are very often presented,—not indeed with reference merely to the individual, but also to the nation, as a divine blessing for pious fidelity,—as a high good and end; but as early as at the time of the actual conclusion of the covenant of God with the people on Sinai, the highest good appears as of a spiritual character: “If ye will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine; and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” [Exod. xix, 5, 6]; the highest blessing is the peace of God [Num. vi, 26; Psa. xxix, 11], the love of God, the compassion of God, and his covenant with men [Deut. vii, 9, 12, 13; xiii, 17, 18], so that they “may live long” [Deut. v, 33] and that God might be their “righteousness” [vi, 25]; and in the first commandment: “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me” [Exod. xx, 2, 3], the objective phase of the highest good is definitely expressed; any thing else, save God, that man might regard as the highest good, is in fact but a worthless idol; and hence the rejection of the covenant of grace works an everlasting rejection of him who rejects it [1 Chron. xxviii, 9].
In view of this high spiritual conception of-the highest good, it appears as in the highest degree a surprising fact that the thought of a life after death is not directly brought to bear upon the moral life,—is not presented as a motive of action, or as a phase of the highest good,—a peculiarity that is all the more striking when we consider that the children of Israel had lived for four centuries in Egypt, and that Moses had been educated in the wisdom of this country, where precisely this thought of immortality very powerfully shaped the entire moral and religious life, and when we further consider that this thought itself was most unquestionably recognized among the 162children of Israel [Gen. v, 24; xv, 15; xxv, 8; xxxvii. 35; xlix, 26, 29, 33; Deut. xxxi, 16; xxxii, 50; 1 Sam. xxviii; Job xxvi, 5; 2 Kings ii; Psa. xvi, 10; xlix, 15; Prov. xv, 24], as it would also be naturally presumable that a people which places so high a value upon the personality, could not be ignorant of this thought, which so largely prevailed throughout heathendom. This manifestly intentional placing in the back-ground of the thought of immortality as bearing upon the moral life, is to be explained from the peculiarity of the purpose which God had with this nation, in view of the salvation of mankind.—(1.) The people of Israel is a world-historical one as no other ante-Christian people was; the entire hopes and striving of the nation are directed toward the ultimate salvation of the human race as the highest goal; the primarily feeble, but constantly more definite-growing Messianic thought throws temporarily into the back-ground the interest in future life of the individual person. The entire hope of Israel looks forward to the highest good, the true salvation, but this highest good consists, even for the pious Israelite, only in the future redemption that is to be accomplished by a world-historical divine act; the Redeemer had first to spring from the line of David before the life after death could have real worth for the saint, or be his highest good; before this event, the transmundane life was a beclouded one, not only for the consciousness, but also per se,—was not as yet a truly blissful life in the presence of God [Psa. vi, 5; xlix, 15 sqq.; lxxxviii, 10-13; cxv, 17; Isa. xxxviii, 18]. As Abraham rejoiced that he should see the day of the Lord [John viii, 56], so also longed Abraham’s seed for this day, from which time forth, only, the life after death could be a truly blessed one. The saints of the Old Covenant did not pass their lives as having no hope, but their hope was primarily an historical one,—was fixed upon the historical fulfillment of the promises, and aspired toward a heavenly home only from, and on the basis of, this fulfillment.—(2.) Though for the redeemed Christian the thought of a future life is a very important element of his moral consciousness, nevertheless for the as yet not truly regenerated man there lies in the same no inconsiderable danger, namely, the danger of selfish reward-seeking, of a narrow-hearted directing of his moral striving exclusively toward his personal well-being 163instead of toward the salvation of humanity. Though the saints of the Old Covenant participated in many gracious gifts, so that they cannot be regarded as merely natural men, still, they were not as yet in the highest sense spiritually regenerated; and, in fact, in the necessary redemption-preparing requirement of strict obedience to the objectively-given law, they stood all the more exposed to this danger of regarding their future salvation as a reward for good works, as is actually evinced by the rise of Pharisaism. From this danger God preserved the Hebrews, in that while He indeed promised them a gracious reward for their fidelity, He yet presented as such reward, on the one hand, only such goods as most evidently could not be, for the pious, the highest good, and, on the other hand, the fulfillment of the divine promises within the sphere of history, namely, redemption, so that they were necessarily brought to the consciousness that the highest good was not the reward of their own works, but the fruit of a future divine act of grace.
Although the law had essentially also the purpose of awakening the consciousness of the antagonism of the sinful nature of man against the holy will of God, thus implying that the full consciousness of the sinful perversion of human nature was a state that had as yet to be attained to, nevertheless this consciousness exists from the very beginning, and that too very vividly, as we shall hereafter see; and it is especially noteworthy that notwithstanding the high reverence which the Israelites had for their patriarchs and for the prophets of God, still they were very far from regarding them as moral ideals. It is true, there are mentioned pious and just men, such as Enoch and Noah; and the faithfulness of Abraham shines forth typically even into the New Covenant; but they are never presented as real holy types of morality, (not even in Gen. xxvi, 4, 5; 2 Chron. vii, 17; Mal. ii, 15); on the contrary, the historical records relate, even of the most revered characters, manifold sins, and sins which the Israelites unquestionably regarded as such; thus, for example, of Abraham [Gen. xii, 11 sqq.; xx, 2 sqq.], and of Jacob [xxvii, 14 sqq.; xxxi, 20], and of Reuben, of Simeon and Levi [xxxiv, 14 sqq.; xxxv, 22; xlix, 14 sqq.]; and of the other sons of Jacob [xxxvii]; and of Judah, the ancestor of the kings, there is recorded scarcely 164any thing but evil; he even begets Pharez—from whom David, and hence also the Messiah, were to descend—in unconscious incest and conscious whoredom [xxxviii]; Moses slays the Egyptian and buries him secretly, and this was also certainly regarded as a crime [Exod. ii, 11 sqq.]; he resists faint-heartedly the divine call, [Exod. iii and iv] and subsequently wavers in his faith, and is, for that reason, shut out from the Land of Promise [Num. xx, 7 sqq.; Deut. xxxii, 49 sqq.]; and that which is said to him holds good in another sense of all the saints of the Old Covenant, namely: “thou shalt see the land before thee, but thou shalt not enter into it;” and however pre-eminent David and Solomon are in courageous faith and in wisdom, still they were- not pure examples even for the Israelites; the Israelites knew of only one Servant of God who was perfect and pure and holy, namely, the longed-for Anointed of the Lord. And accordingly the saints of the Old Covenant kept themselves far from all self-glorification, and aspired to a higher goal. The undevout self-righteousness and work-holiness of the later Pharisaism is totally repugnant to the spirit of the Old Covenant; for the law requires most certainly not merely the outward work, but above all and essentially also a morally-pious disposition,—bears, in contradistinction to the later Jewish outward legality, a very positive character of inwardliness. The basis and essence of all morality are the requirement, that man “should love God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might” [Deut. vi, 5; x, 12; xiii, 3]; he is to take the divine law to his heart, and to observe it with his whole heart and his whole soul [Deut. v, 29; vi, 6; xi, 13; 18 sqq.; xxvi, 16; xxx, 2; Josh. xxii, 5]; God desires not merely the external works, he requires our heart [1 Chron. xxii, 19; Prov. xxiii, 26]; the saint not only fulfills the law, but “his delight is in the law of the Lord” [Psa. i, 2; cxii, 1; cxix, 24, 35, 70; Job xxii, 22, 26; Deut. xxviii, 47]; and all obedience is simply joyous thankfulness for God's gracious guidance [Exod. xx, 2 sqq.; Deut. iv and v; vi, 20 sqq.; viii, 3 sqq.; x, 19 sqq.; xi, 1; xv, 15; xvi, 12; 1 Chron. xxix, 9 and others]; and therefore not merely the sinful act, but equally also the lust to evil, is sinful and damnable [Exod. xx, 17; Prov. vi, 25].
Old Testament morality has essentially a preparatory character,—refers forward to a higher and as yet to be acquired 165morality; hence it bears in part a symbolical form,—expressing by external signs, that, the full realization of which, was possible only after the time of the accomplishment of redemption, and thereby constantly keeping before the eyes of the people what the ultimate moral purpose of the divine economy with Israel was,—although this purpose could not as yet be fully realized. In order to keep constantly awake and to intensify the moral consciousness of the antagonism of the divine will to the sinful nature which had now become natural to actual man, the antagonism of the “clean” and the “unclean” is rigorously insisted upon and carried out, and that too not merely in the sphere of the purely spiritual and moral, but also in that of nature, where the moral is only symbolically prefigured. Man is required to learn, in free obedience, to distinguish and choose between the godly and the ungodly, and that too not according to his natural impulses and feelings, nor by the merely reflective observation and examination of things, but solely by the minutely-particularizing positive divine law. To man, as not yet actually redeemed and sanctified, but as yet involved and entangled in the bonds of sinfulness, the law presents itself, and properly so, as of an objectively-revealed character, as foreign to his natural state, and to which there is nothing correspondent in his inner nature unless it be a loving willingness to unconditional obedience. Educative disciplining to obedience is the essential end of many of the positive laws, which must consequently appear to the truly emancipated and redeemed as a. yoke, whereas, for him who is only as yet struggling toward freedom, they are a wholesome discipline.
Old Testament morality presents a moral task not only to the individual person, but it also keeps in view, from the very start, the necessity of moral communion. It conceives of the moral significance of the. family more highly than any of the heathen systems; in giving to reverence for parents a religious ground, it guarantees at the same time the moral rights of children as against sinful parents; and if it is not as yet able to raise marriage to the height of the Christian view, inasmuch as only the truly spiritually-regenerated are in a condition to appreciate and fulfill its full significance [Matt. v, 31; xix, 8], nevertheless it does give to it the truly religious and moral basis. It changes the slavery of Israelites into a very mild service-relation, 166and protects, by extremely humane regulations, that of non-Israelites from arbitrary and severe oppressiveness. The differences among mankind are no longer natural, but spiritually-moral; even foreign slaves have part in the worship and in the blessings of the people of God. The moral organization of society into the state is presented in the Old Testament, from the very start, in its highest moral significancy, as a unity of church and state—as a theocracy—in which the entire moral community-life of the people rests on a religious basis,—in which Jehovah alone is king, and the God-called and enlightened prophets the organs of his will,—organs to whom the people submit themselves in believingly joyous obedience. But here also, as well as in the case of marriage, God gives simply the unambiguous idea, and, because of the hardness of the hearts, concedes another state-organization more correspondent to the sinful circumstances of the people, namely, the purely human institution of an earthly monarchy,—reserving the full realization of the higher idea, for the future. But even this earthly kingdom is to be an image of the divine kingdom, and the kings, the faithful instruments of the holy will of God-kings “after God’s own heart;” the Old Testament recognizes neither despotic nor democratic caprice-domination as morally admissible. Of all this we must speak again further on.
As Old Testament redemption-history presents essentially an educative preparation for the historical accomplishing of the redemption-act, hence it is clearly manifest that this preparation must be a historically-progressive one, and that consequently Old Testament ethics itself must have an historical development. This, as yet, very unsatisfactorily-treated portion of Biblical theology cannot, however, be fully presented in the brief space to which the plan of our historical Introduction confines us; we therefore remark here only two points, (1), that the essential character of the moral view (and the question is here simply as to essential features) is contradictory to the heathen view, and different from the Christian, and, throughout all the writings of the Old Testament, self-consistent and the same: and, (2), that the prophetic redemption-history is closely connected with the legislative, seeing that Moses himself was the greatest among the prophets. The prophets, in the narrower sense of the word, do not give an essentially new moral 167revelation, but, on the contrary, uniformly proceed on the basis of that of Moses,—referring, on the one hand, exhortingly to its requirements, and rebuking the unfaithfulness of the people to its spirit, but, on the other, directing attention with constantly greater distinctness to the goal of this moral development-process of the people of Israel, that is, to their world historical destination,—and, above all, they seek to ward against the danger of legal holiness and self-sufficiency, the danger of the selfish contentment of the single moral subject with his own individual development,—which lies in every strictly-developed system of laws,—that is, against the danger of a merely external performing of the works of the law, as was at a later period actually presented in Pharisaism; they earnestly urged to the inner purity of the heart, and bring to an increasingly clearer consciousness the morality that transcends that of the mere individual, namely, the general moral task of the totality, of the people of God. While the earlier ethics has more the character of a doctrine of laws and duties, the ethics of the prophets bears rather that of a doctrine of goods.—The Proverbs of Solomon, in contrast to the Mosaic Laws which present themselves as direct revelations from God, consist predominantly in rules of practical life-wisdom and life-prudence, drawn from the rich life-experience of a heart pious, though indeed often erring, and strengthened and ripened in the true fear of God; they appeal therefore less to a believing submission to an express divine command than rather to the free spontaneous assent, natural to a pious God-consciousness; they aim not at the disciplining of a, as yet, morally immature spirit by a legal yoke, but at the purifying, ripening and moral strengthening of the spirit as already consciously dwelling in God; they are not the sternly demanding voice of a prophet, but the witness of a preacher; it is not directly Jehovah, but it is the pious servant of God, who speaks to the pious, In Moses the question is every-where as to obedience; with Solomon the constant theme is wisdom, a quality which is scarcely mentioned by Moses, and for the simple reason that the discipline of the law needed to precede and prepare the way, before the free subjectivity of wisdom could come to realization. This coming into the fore-ground of the thought of wisdom evinces the progress of the moral consciousness out of the child-like condition of subjection to an objective 168law, to the riper manhood of a freer self-determination on the basis of personal moral knowledge. Wisdom is here by no means mere worldly prudence, but its beginning and essence is the “fear of the Lord” [Prov. i, 7], and complete, hearty, God-confiding is its life-spring [iii, 5; xvi], and soul-repose and God’s approbation its fruit [iii, 12, 18, 22 sqq.; viii, 17, 35; xv, 24; xxviii]; and hence for individual man it is the highest good [iii, 13 sqq]. This wisdom is very far removed from the “magnanimous” wisdom of the Greeks; it takes cognizance above all things of the sinfulness of the natural heart, and requires watchfulness over the same [iv, 23] and humility before God and man [iii, 34; xi, 2; xvi, 18; xviii, 12; xxvii, 2; xxix, 23]. While in the Solomonic Proverbs there is a manifest elevating of Mosaic legality toward the personal freedom of the pious sage, still it is not to be overlooked that there lies in the stand-point they assume, as in contrast to the Mosaic, also the danger that the subjective presumption of the individual person may rise to an unwarranted height, and work detriment to the true heart-humility that springs from a consciousness of one’s own want of conformity to the law. And it is not unworthy of note that the Christian consciousness of the Apostles found much less occasion to appeal to the wisdom of man; they discourse far preferably of self-denying, humbly loving faith.—The Ecclesiastes of Solomon, after referring to the comfortless experience of a heart temporarily immersed in world-enjoyment, totally overthrows all world-pleasure and the vain hope of finding in the finite any real good; the mere negative knowledge that “all is vanity” prepares the way for a seeking after the true, the highest good, which, however, is but remotely suggested [Eccles. xii, 7, 13] but not fully presented; the skepticism, at first sight so seemingly wide-reaching and so entirely despairing of satisfaction, has a back-ground of very profound educative wisdom.
In the fact that the moral is not derived from the natural conscience of man, seeing that the conscience is no longer the pure expression of the original God-consciousness, but that, on the contrary, the historically-revealed will of God is the exclusive source of the moral command, there lies an essential reason why Hebrew ethics did not develop itself into a philosophy; the very thought of such a philosophy conflicts 169with the fundamental presuppositions of the Old Testament consciousness. The time had not yet come when the conscience, and human knowledge in general, had so far become free as to derive truth also from within themselves. As yet man was called simply believingly to obey, but not freely and philosophically to create.
|« Prev||Section XXVII. The Canon of the Old Testament.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version