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39

HISTORICAL SUMMARY.


From the fall of man, the promise of a restorer of the race was given and at intervals renewed; but it was open to the whole of mankind, "the seed of the woman," until the time of Abram, when it was restricted to his family, "in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Abram, called by God to leave his native place Ur (at that time the capital of Chaldæa), retires to Haran, with his father and the rest of his family. On his father's death, five years later, he is again bidden to travel to the S.W., passes through Damascus, and reaches Shechem (in the centre of the land, in the pass between Ebal and Gerizim), where God meets him and makes a covenant. Pursuing his journey he stops at Beth-el, where God renews the covenant. He still goes southward till he reaches Egypt, whence he is bidden to return; and he retraces his steps to Beth-el, where Lot leaves him, after which God promises him the whole land. He then removes southward to Mamre, where Ishmael is born, circumcision instituted, Isaac promised by the angel, and the destruction of Sodom revealed. After that event Abraham removed to Beer-sheba, where he lived the last seventy-five years of his life. Here Isaac was born and spent all his days. Jacob, at seventy-seven years of age, fled to Padan-Aram, returning after twenty years; settled at Shechem, removed to Beer-sheba, and was driven by famine into Egypt, where his descendants remained 215 years. Moses, by God's command, led them to the wilderness of Sinai, where they received from God a code of laws,—social, political, and religious,—and a complete constitution, with civil and ecclesiastical officers. After forty years' training by God in the wilderness, they entered Canaan, conquering on their way the aboriginal inhabitants E. of Jordan, but sparing those akin to them. The extermination of the Canaanites from Palestine was miraculous, but incomplete, because of the lethargy of the invaders. The succeeding 400 years of occupation was a period of listless anarchy, both priests and people being faithless to the theocracy, content with the indolent enjoyment of an exuberant land, of which the surviving remnants of the Canaanites (Philistines), and the kindred tribes of Hebrews (Amalekites, Edomites, Moabites, Midianites) tried to dispossess them. This warfare continued, until David subjugated the latter and made the former peaceful subjects, and Israel obtained full inheritance of the promise from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates, a sovereignty which lasted till the end of Solomon's reign.

A civil rupture rent the kingdom in twain. Ten tribes revolting sought to consolidate a separate sovereignty by establishing a rival worship, of which the two great shrines were at Dan and Beth-el. This rapidly declined into Baalism, which attained its zenith under Ahab, and was punished first by incursions of the Syrians, and afterwards by the invasion of the Assyrians, who carried the people captive, and colonised the country with a mixed idolatrous race, who mingled their native worship with that of Israel. From these sprang the "Samaritans," who intermarried with some of the Jews, borrowed their rites, accepted the Pentateuch, and set up a false temple on Gerizim. The two tribes, 133 years later, were carried captive by the Babylonians; but after seventy years (B.C. 536), a portion of them returned, and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, the government being vested in a Persian Satrap, resident at Damascus.

As the faith of Abraham had been rewarded by the inheritance of Canaan, the unfaithfulness of his descendants had forfeited it, and they were all sent back to that heathen land "between the rivers," from which their progenitor was Divinely called; from which exile ten tribes never returned, but the remnant (principally of the tribe of Judah) came back, cured of idolatry, and looking hopefully for the restoration of their kingdom, and the birth of the promised seed.

As the early undivided monarchy produced the devotional books of Holy Scripture, the later monarchy brought forth the earlier, and the Captivity the later prophets, with warnings from the past, and encouragement for the future; but the glorious picture in which they represented the Messiah's kingdom raised a mistaken conception of a temporal sovereignty, which the oppression of successive tyrants (between the Captivity and the birth of Christ) was intended to correct. The fiery trial through which the people passed, and the new life which it evoked, are recorded in the Books of the Maccabees; while the moral decline of those who remained in exile, and their substitution of superstition for religion, are painfully exhibited in the Book of Esther, and those apocryphal narratives, which are valuable literary remains, but have been rejected from the Canon of Holy Scripture.

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