Structure of Scripture
THE BIBLE BOOKS: THEIR ARRANGEMENT AND RELATIONSHIP
We are now to take up the Bible as a whole, beloved
brethren, to study the form in which it has come into our hands, and its parts,
and the relation of these to each other and the whole. Is it a complete organic
unity? Is there nothing defective, nothing redundant? There are other books
mentioned in Scripture itself, as the book of Jasher, the book of the wars of
the Lord, and others: are these books which perhaps have fallen out and are
lost out of the canon? If so, can we recognize this? is there any gap apparent
where their place should be? Is there any way of settling such questions?
Again, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the version in common use in our Lord's time, and freely quoted by Himself and His apostles, adds not a few so-called apocryphal books to the canon, and some of these are pronounced by the Romish church to have really their place in it. Has the numerical system any thing to say to this?
And once more, there are in our New-Testament canon, books whose genuineness and authenticity have been in question, as, the epistle of Jude, and the second epistle of Peter: can we give any fresh light as to this? or whether the epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, or of some Alexandrian, like Apollos?
Questions such as these are still asked, and although few of them perhaps trouble us seriously today, yet there are few also as to which a fresh and decisive answer would not be welcome. Cannot the numerical system, if it be really what is claimed for it, settle some at least of these points? May we not expect as much from it?
It is not too much to say that the numerical system is able to settle them all, and fully settle them, so that now reopening shall be possible. It is capable of showing the completeness of the Bible as a whole, the place of every book, the relation of every book to the whole and to each other. This may seem to be much to claim, but if God be its author, who shall say that it is too much? And this is what we are to begin the proof of in the present lecture.
First of all, then, as to the number of the books; is there any thing in this? I am not likely to forget how, some years since, upon a country road, I asked myself this question. The answer I got, you will, I think, admit, was calculated to produce in me the conviction that there is nothing in this line which is not significant.
In the Old Testament, there are just thirty-six books: in our present Bibles, indeed, thirty-nine; but all critics are agreed that the three double books, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, are in fact but each one book: the Septuagint was the first version in which they were divided, and from this it has crept into our common Hebrew Bibles. But the Hebrew at first knew nothing of it.
Thirty-six Old-Testament books, then: what should we make of this? The number could be taken, of course, as 6 x 6, and would be thus of no significance that I am aware of; but the most readily occuring division perhaps would be into 3 x 12, and here the numerals are full of meaning. Three is the divine number, the number of the Persons in the Godhead; 12, the number of divine government in the open form it took in Israel. What, then, more significant than this - "God in government" - as the characteristic of the thirty-six books of the law?
In the New Testament, on the other hand, there are twenty-seven books, and this is just the most perfect number that can be: it is the cube of 3, - 3 x 3 x 3, - the only number beyond 3 itself into which the symbol of divine fullness and manifestation alone enters, and in its highest power. "God in government" is God hidden: clouds and darkness are round about Him; though His glory be seen, it is, as with Moses on the mount, His back, and not His face; but it is the glory of the gospel that it reveals Him, and in Christ we see His face. This the number 27 means, - God without a vail, God fully manifest; and what more significant and beautiful that this numerical stamp upon the twenty-seven books of the New Testament?
Take one book, then, away from either the Old Testament or the New, the significance is gone, the voice has died out; it is not any more as now a living voice that appeals to us. Add another book to either, the same result is found. Does not this, then, as plainly as simply declare to us that we have the full inspired canon (as to the number of books at least,) just as God designed it for us?
But we are only at the beginning of what the numerals show. The two parts into which the Bible divides we have already glanced at. The first, the Old Testament, or Covenant, is thus marked as the creation-, the second, the New Testament, as the redemption-part. The Old Testament takes up man in the flesh, addressing itself to one of the "families of the earth," as such. A man was born of the seed of Israel, not new-born. The New Testament addresses itself to the saved - to those in Christ Jesus. This is again the indication of a completely characteristic difference.
We must look at the arrangement of the books before we can go further. And first, have we any authoritative arrangement of the books? The question may seem strange to not a few of us. A reader simply of the English Bible finds, in these days of printing and uniformity of copies, one invariable order of books, which he naturally supposes, therefore, has been from the beginning. He would be very likely to consider any interference with this an act of rashness and an infringement upon the sacred character of the book. On the other hand, the reader of the Hebrew Bible finds an order different in many respects. The Septuagint has another, although in most respects similar to the English one, which is derived from it. This, of course, affects only the Old Testament. But in the New Testament also the Greek copies show, as is well known, many minor variations in order, although these are confined to the epistles.
To return to the Old Testament, the Hebrew arrangement would seem to have the first claim to be considered, the more so that we find its threefold division into "Law, Prophets, and Writings," apparently recognized by our Lord Himself, in Luke xxiv. 44, as "the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms." This inverts the order, let it be noted, of our books, putting the prophets before the psalms. It would surely seem that so far we are bound, if the Lord Himself attach importance to the order, to the Hebrew arangement.
Further than this, however, when we turn to the Hebrew, we seem to be confronted by a strangeness that in our ordinary Bibles seems strangely disturbed, and the last class of Kethubim, "writings," is made the receptacle for fragments torn unnaturally from their kindred books, and as unnaturally brought together.
And where are the rest of the historical books? They stand under the second head, as the "earlier prophets," - the Jews claiming them to be written by prophets, - certain books, however, being cut off from them for the Kethubim, while the prophets proper, - or "later prophets," lose also two books; and the "writings" fall thus into three divisions: first, the Psalms, Proverbs, Job; secondly, the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther; thirdly, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
Now this order, strange as it seems, might of course have deeper wisdom in it than we see. It would be mere rationalism at once to set it aside because of its apparent lack in this respect. But the question seems in place, Is this accepted as the order invariably? I quote an extract from Delitzch on the book of Job, which will show how far this is from being the fact: -
"As the work of the Chokma [the didactic class], the book of Job stands, with the three other works belonging to this class of the Israelitish literature, among the Hagiographa, which are called in Hebrew simply Kethubim. Thus, by the side of the Law and the Prophets, the third division of the canon is styled, in which are included all those writings belonging neither to the province of prophetic history nor prophetic declaration. Among the Hagiographa are writings even of a prophetic character, as Psalms and Daniel, but their writers are not properly prophets. At present, Lamentations stands among them; but this is not its original place, as also Ruth appears to have stood originally between Judges and Samuel. Both Lamentations and Ruth are placed among Hagiographa, that there the five so-called Megilloth, or scrolls, may stand together: the Song of Songs, the feast-book of the eighth passover-day; Ruth that of the second Shabuoth-day; Lamentations, that of the ninth of Ab; Ecclesiastes, that of the eighth Tabernacle-day; Esther, that of Purim. . . . The position which [the book of Job] occupies is, moreover, a very shifting one. In the Alexandrine canon, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, follow the four books of the Kings. The historical books, therefore, stand, from the earliest to the latest, side by side; then begins with Job, in stricter sense poetical books. The Melity of Sardis, in the second century, places Chronicles with the books of the Kings, but arranges immediately after them the non-historical Hagiographa in the following order: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, Job. Here, the Solomonic writings are joined to the Davidic psalter, and the anonymous book of Job stands last. In our editions of the Bible, the hagiographa division begins with Psalms, Proverbs, Job (the succession peculiar to MSS. of the German class): in the Talmud, with Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs; in the Masora, and in MSS. of the Spanish class, with Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs. All these modes of arangement are well considered."
Perhaps; but the only thing they leave plain is that the later arrangement of books differs from the earlier, that at any time perhaps arrangements differed; that that of the "five rolls" is simply a more or less recent one for liturgical purposes; and that we have no recog- nized divine one at all, save only that of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which the Lord recognized in the last chapter of Luke.
We are compelled, therefore, to examine for ourselves if there be any arrangement that we can recognize as divine at all, for a mere human one is not what we are seeking or would satisfy us in any respect. And here we will first of all look for what would seem a natural arrangement, and then see what, if any thing, the numerical system may have to say to it.
And undoubtedly what would seem most natural, in view of the one limitation which Scripture itself has imposed on us, would be in the main what we have in our Bibles, only reversing the order of the poetical and prophetic books. The historical books would thus stand first, in two divisions, - the Pentateuch, or Law, and the rest from Joshua. Here, the chronological order would apparently be the necessary one, with perhaps an exception in the case of Chronicles, which is a rehearsal of the history with a special purpose. Then we should have the Prophets, larger and smaller. Finally, the five poetical books.
Now what struck me as I looked at these four divisions, could not but inspire me with hope that here was indeed something like a divine arrangement. Each of these divisions falls easily into five parts; and upon looking similarly at the New Testament, it too seemed to fall also into five parts. Five Pentateuchs make up the whole Bible!
This was indeed to me an illuminating discovery. Was, then, that Pentateuch of Moses, so dishonoured by the latter-day generation of critics, the basis of the structure of all Scripture? If this were so then, as surely as the foundation must be before the superstructure, so surely must these five books of the law have preceded all that was built upon them. These books, then, are an organic unity, and as such give form to all Scripture!
But let us see if it is so. The five books of Moses themselves, as the first Pentateuch, we need not of course discuss. The second division of historical books would give us, -
2. Judges; with which the little book of Ruth joins as a natural supplement. It is a story of the same times.
3. We have Samuel and Kings, which give us the kingdom in Israel from first to last.
4. The books of the captivity, three in number, - Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
5. Chronicles, a 'resume' of the history of the king dom, with a special moral purpose.
Here is a division, at least, which none can deny to be natural. As to the order, the place of Chronicles is the only one that can be disputed, and this question we can afford for the present to leave. Otherwise, it will be admitted to be natural.
We may go on, then, to the Prophets. Here we have, -
2. Jeremiah, with its supplement, Lamentations.
5. The Minor Prophets, twelve in number.
The order in our Bibles is here undisturbed. The only question that can arise as to naturalness is as to the classing the twelve minor prophets together as one division. For our purpose at present it is enough to say that the Jews seem always to have so classed them, and Melity of Sardis expressly calls them monobiblos - one book. The reason for this has been indeed said to be, lest on account of their size any one might be lost. But this on the face of it seems mere supposition, and it may be we can find, as we proceed, a better reason.
The fourth division needs no reasoning or explanation. It consists of but just five books. I put them in their true order, as I believe it, and hope afterward to give the ground of it. They are, -
3. Song of Songs.
Passing to the New Testament, some have supposed a natural division would be into three parts, - the Historical books, Epistles, and Revelation. As to the form of writing, this is natural enough; but the subjects suggest a further division. For the Gospels claim surely to be distinguished from the Acts; while the Pauline epistles are equally distinguishable from those of the other inspired writers. In this case, we have again our five divisions.
If this were all, it would be a noticeable fact, but an unsatisfying one. Our minds necessarily ask, Why is it? and they are intended - may we not say? - to ask this. If God has so written His Word, it is reverence to ask, Is there not meaning in it? We may be sure there is. Shall He who has forbidden "idle words" do Himself an idle thing? No, surely. But we it is who wrong Him by our indifference and unbelief. "Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?" has manifold application. Let us now apply the test of which we have spoken, and see if the appearance of numerical structure we have found in this division of the books of Scripture be more than an appearance, - if these Pentateuchs in form be not Pentateuchs in spirit also, - and what else God may in His grace disclose to us, as we follow in this track.
If, then, the Pentateuch be the basis of the structure of Scripture, can we perhaps find any reason in this? The number 5, which this stamps upon it, should have in some way a spiritual significance corresponding in Scripture as a whole, if the numerical structure be indeed a reality. In the Pentateuch itself also we should find first of all this correspondence also, if it be really the fundamental form, as we have suggested. The form is only the fitting clothing of the spirit, and without the spirit the body is dead.
Five we have seen to speak of man exercised and responsible under the government of God; and this responsible creature, lost in his responsibility, this soul excercised with so many questions, in a path darkened by sorrow and sin, - is he about whom nevertheless all God's infinite wisdom is employed, over whom His tender love is pouring itself out. The five books of the Pentateuch are just the connected picture of man in his whole course on earth - as the forlorn and wretched creature indeed that sin has made him, but this as the background upon which to display the divine mercies to him. Thus Genesis begins the account with the story of the new life received from God, in its veried aspects and stages of development. Exodus then narrates his redemption; Leviticus details the holiness which suits and is demanded by his new relationship. Now he is qualified for a walk through the world, and this is the reason of the apparent descent in the character of the truth which Numbers next shows. Life, salvation, the the knowledge of God in the sanctuary are all needed in order to a walk with God thus; and in Numbers, the virtues of Christ's priesthood are made good to us, and His tender sympathy and care. Deuteronomy completes the picture with Him, as the judgment-seat of Christ will make us realize them, - lessons of imperishable wisdom, which will be gathered up for us and made our own; not lost, but gained forever, when eternity opens for us its doors.
Thus the Pentateuch rounds off its significant series with the survey of the ground traversed, and the victories won; His victories, at all events, for us, often-times against ourselves; and we see how the jewels of divine grace and glory are strung upon the thread of human need and sorrow and sin. How sympathetic, how practical, how human is Scripture! How little are its truths conformed to theological systems! how constantly are they employed in meeting and ministering to the need of man! The most formal treatise, if I may so say, is the epistle to the Romans, and that is what has directly to do with the first necessities of the soul. The number 5 is stamped on all. The human thread runs through all. The Pentateuch is still and ever the basis of structure, - the architectural model of the whole.
The Bible is a Pentateuch of Pentateuchs; and the division into Old and New Testaments does not affect this; indeed brings it out more clearly for as 5 is a 4 + 1, so the Old Testament contains four Pentateuchs; the New, one. And the meaning corresponds throughout.
And why four Pentateuchs in the Old Testament? Evidently because 4 is the world-number, and the number which speaks of trial. Here, let us separate a little these connected thoughts, and view the Old Testament in two different aspects of it.
First, then, it is the earthly part of revelation, as the New Testament is the heavenly part. It is to the earthly people that it is addressed; it is an eartly outlook that is given in its widest scope of prophecy. No where does the law even conditionally promise a heavenly portion, but an earthly one. "The way into the holiest of all" - and that is, in type, heaven - " was not yet made manifest." "The heaven, even the heavens," says the Psalmist, "are the Lord's," - or, as the Revised Version puts it better now, "The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; the earth hath he given to the children of men."
Thus, if the book of Revelation be compared with the greatest of Old-Testament prophets, you will find that in its view of the future it leaves out all those earthly promises upon which Isaiah and Ezekiel and others dilate, while it supplements them with a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the reign of the heavenly saints.
But there is another meaning to this number 4 also, as it speaks of trial, probation. The Old-Testament books are those which take up those ages of probation at the end of which Christ came. To quote again the Revised Version, "Now once in the end of the ages hath He been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. ix. 26). The character of these "ages" is elsewhere expressed: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. v. 6). This is what the law, the great schoolmaster's lesson for those times. Hence, 4 x 5, - four Pentateuchs - once more give just expression to the character of the Old-Testament books.
And this unites singularly with the voice of chronology here, as I have elsewhere pointed out. The voices of chronologists are indeed so perplexingly at variance that it may be hard to say what is the voice of chronology at all. I pretend to no ability whatever to settle such questions, but simply taking up that which is to be found in our common Bibles, and taking from it, as we are said to be entitled to do, the odd four years, we find the Lord's birth falling on the four thousandth year of the world. A little knowledge of the significance of numbers, and of the characteristic of the previous ages as probational ones, makes that a very interesting date indeed. Four thousand years are, of course, forty centuries. Forty is the well-known symbol of probation in the fullest way. Israel had their forty years of trial in the wilderness, the Lord His forty days; Esau was forty years old when he married two Canaanitish wives, and stamped himself fully as the "profane person" which his renunciation of the birth-right had before indicated him to be. The world's probation lasted forty centuries. But why this last factor? - why centuries?
The century is 10 x 10, the measure of responsibility once more, intensified, as this self-multiplication shows. It was the term of Abraham's age when he "considered not his body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither the deadness of Sarah's womb," and God fulfilled to him the promise so long delayed in the birth of Isaac. It cannot but appear, then, to stamp with accuracy and with significance the common reckoning, to find, when man was discovered dead, the true Isaac born according to it in the fortieth century of the world - the four thousandth year.
Four Pentateuchs, then, fill up the Old Testament.
Let us now see the significance of each of these in its place in the series.
First, the books of the Law. This bears the numerical stamp undoubtedly. The supremacy of God is what the law, of course, affirms.
The second division gives the Covenant-History. It is a history, alas! of sin and discord and division while also of divine deliverances, until even God's patience is at an end, and the people become Lo-Ammi (not My people). Even then, the return of a remnant is permitted, though under the Persian yoke, to repeat their old history on a smaller scale. The second book of this section, Judges, is morrally the epitome of the whole of it.
The third division is that of the Prophets; and here we are brought, as in the sanctuary, face to face with God. "Thus saith the Lord" is the constant formula of the prophets, for prophecy is one speaking for another. Thus sanctification also is the great theme of the prophets, and not merely the prediction of the future, in which they see indeed this sanctification accomplished, and the glory of God at last fully revealed.
Finally, the fourth division is a peculiar one; it is undoubtedly that which especially speaks of the world as the place of trial for man, and the sorrows which are his lot in it; while all these books are, as in the five books of the Psalms, prominently marked with the number 5, which speaks of his exercises of heart amid these trials, so sure to be connected with them. (This number 5, as it is a 4 and 1, will naturally approach 4 in character; and so it does.) These books are thus pre-eminently the human voice in Scripture, in which all the dark and difficult problems of life find utterance. We have thus the divisions marked, however, briefly; but it yet remains to establish, as to four of them, their real Pentateuchal significance. We shall have but room in this lecture to take up one of them, that which I have called the "Covenant-History," as being, in fact, the history of the people of God in relation to that legal covenant which the first division saw established with them at Mount Sinai. Let us now, then, proceed to this.
The first part here is the book of Joshua; or, "Jehovah the Saviour." It treats, as the foundation of all the rest, of the conquest of the land of promise, and their establishment in it, spite of the opposition of their enemies, by the sovereign power of God. It fills its numerical place as being thus the fulfillment, by almighty power, of the counsels of electing love toward them. The sovereignty of God is strongly affirmed in the very first chapter; the law being His expressed will, subjection to it strength and victory. By His power alone Jordan is cut off below and its streams held back above, the ark of His strength being in the river. By His power alone the walls of Jericho fall down. At Ai they are smitten for disobedience and independency of Him; this judged, the career of conquest rolls on with a flood tide, until, when only the middle of the book is reached, the whole power of the enemy is smitten before them, "and the land rested from war."
The power of the enemy is here prominent, for we are in the second division of the Old Testament; but it is for the most part external only, and Jehovah is their Saviour from it.
In one thing only do we miss in Joshua the general character of the Genesis-books, and that is with regard to the largeness of view which has given Genesis itself the title of "The seed-plot of the Bible." But this probably results only from our lack of knowledge. Quite one half of the book is typically almost closed to us, and yet here what a field presents itself for inquiry! The division of Canaan among the twelve tribes, how much it ought to speak to us of our inheritance beyond death! Oh, for faith so to go over and take possession of it, that the list of now almost barren names may reveal the beauty of a land "which is the glory of all lands," upon which the eyes of the Lord are continually"! Our eyes for all this beauty, where are they.* (*I leave this as first written. I am thankful to be able to refer to the Numerical Bible in proof of how much, through the goodness of God, the numerical structure has since opened this out; and what a proof it has given of the value of this as a key to interpretation.)
The second part, as we have seen, is composed of two books, both of which may be comprised under the common title of "Judges," as belonging to the same historical period, a period in sad contrast to that of the previous book. If Gilgal, which the angel of the Lord now leaves, and where the reproach of Egypt was rolled off, characterizes the times of Joshua, Bochim, or "Weepers," to which he comes, no less characterizes the times of the Judges, when the reproach of Egypt - of servitude - has nore than returned. The book before us speaks alike of sin and its terrible fruit in Israel, although the second, as a sort of gospel-supplement to the first, is made to show us especially the help lain upon One that is mighty, and Him "in whom might is," as Boaz' name signifies. This is a secret for the ear of faith, however; the general history is in the book of Judges.
1. Judges, as the first book here, reveals its character in the one word, - "independence." As heading the second part of the historical books, it speaks of the power of the enemy, of division in Israel, of captivity, alternating, however, through the goodness of God toward them, with wonderful deliverances, in which He again and again appears as their Saviour-God. The mode of their deliverance - by judges who judge the people for God - agrees, of course, with the root of the evil to be met. "The judges," says Keil, "were men who procured justice, or right, for the people of Israel, not only by delivering them out of the power of the foes, but also by administering the laws andd right of the Lord (chap. ii. 16-19) Judging in this sense was different from the administration of civil jurisprudence, and included the idea of government such as would be expected from a king."
The character of Judges is, then, just that which should be found in the first book of a second part.
2. The place of Ruth we have seen to be a disputed one, and, among the Jews in general, to be among the Kethubim. Its place in the Septuagint, and among the Hellenistic Jews, as Josephus and others, is referred by Keil to their "freer tendencies " as to inspiration, such as made them intersperse the canonical with apocryphal book. Yet Keil admits that its posi- tion among the five megilloth "is connected with the liturgical use in the synagogue," while in the Talmud it is placed before the Psalms. This does not look as if the most orthodox Jews had any idea of any very specific divine order. Keil admits also, what indeed is evident, that "so far as its contents are concerned, it has its proper place between the book of Judges and those of Samuel."
It is evident also that in all the characters of the fourth division of the Old Testament it is deficient, and could only be classed with the book of Psalms (!) by some such negative and hypothetical mark as that it was not written by a prophet. On the other hand, that the Spirit of prophecy has dictated every thing in Ruth those will be assured who see in Boaz the picture of the true Kinsman-Redeemer of His people, whether Jew or Gentile. For, as the apostle argues, the Jew also must be saved like the Gentile, upon the ground of pure grace, so that Ruth may typify these as well as those.
That Ruth thus stands as a gospel-supplement to the ruin of man as Judges exhibits it appears clear from its conection both backward and forward also. And let us look at this briefly here.
To go back, then, to Joshua. The reference in Eph. vi. to the warfare with flesh and blood in Canaan, as contrasting it with our conflict "with principalities, and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, with spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (as the Revised Version rightly puts it now), is an illumination of the book of Joshua. For that Canaan typifies these heavenly places, which are for faith our present inheritance, is recognized by Christians generally. Joshua's name is exactly that of our so much greater Leader; and here we have the present conflict of faith, in which the devil resists our taking possession of the good land that belongs to us.
The land is ours, fruit of our Jesus' victory; but alas! our failure - the failure of the whole professing church to realize possession is as evident. The book of judges typifies thus the breakdown of the heavenly people: failures and revivals, captivities and deliverances,- this has been the history of Christendom nearly from the beginning. The end, as to earthly history, is in failure, a collapse of the Christian as of the Jewish dispensation.
Now here comes in the book of Ruth, which exhibits (how beautifully!) the Kinsman-Redeemer as Him in whom alone is strength. The Gentile heavenly, as the Jewish earthly, bride must creep to His feet, and claim Him in lowliness, as debtors only to His grace. Thus is He, then, for them.
The way is then open for the book of Samuel - for David and the kingdom.
3. The Books of the Kings.
The third part is composed likewise of two books, for we have seen that Samuel and Kings are but one book each. The connection between these, and their dis- tinction from all others, is plain enough. They are both books of the Kings, and the title of Samuel for the first seems really a misnomer. From the very beginning, in Hannah's song of praise, the anointed king is in view. The opening shows the priesthood, as a link between God and the people, morally gone. Soon the ark of the covenant is actually gone; and although it could not remain in the Philistines' land, and quickly returns to within the Israelitish limits, yet to the people themselves it scarcely can be said to return till David brings it to Zion.
Thus this third part is a resurrection-period ; and the prophet at first becomes the spiritual link between God and the people. When the kingdom is afterward divided, and Israel is following Baal or the golden calves, then the prophet is again an extraordinary link while the patience of God holds out toward them. Thus the books of the Kings speak more of the prophet than all the rest of the historic books together. This is clearly a numerical mark, therefore.
But the prophet is, as I have said, the introduction to the king, and the king is of course the prominent feature in these books. This seems, on the other hand, a difficulty. But it is more than relieved, I think, by considerations to which I have been led but recently.
We have seen that the book of Samuel opens with the ruin of the priesthood, and that the ark, though soon returning out of the enemies' land, is not by this restored to its former position. In the words of the seventy-eighth psalm, "He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He pitched among men." To that tabernacle He never returns. The ark remains at Kirjath-jearim, in the house of Abinadab, all the time of Samuel and of Saul. The tabernacle we find afterward removed to Gibeon, but it is empty; nor is the ark "inquired at in the days of Saul" (I Chron. xiii- 3).
It is this that in the hundred and thirty-second psalm burdens the soul of David: "Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor climb up into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob." The ark is brought to Zion, and God says, "This is My rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it." But the temple is built only by Solomon: not the man of war, but the prince of peace must build it.
And in all this, a greater than David or Solomon is to be seen. It is Christ who alone can give to God a final dwelling-place among men: "Behold the Man whose name is The Branch; and He shall grow up out of His place, and He shall build the temple of the Lord, even He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the council of peace shall be between them both (Zech, vi. 12, 13)-
Thus behind the kingship in Israel there is this greater question of the dwelling of God with men. The king was necessary to this. Sovereign power must unite with priestly intercession, and a David must put down opposition, in order for a Solomon to reign in peace and build the temple of the Lord. For this, the whole book of Samuel is a preparation; the book of Kings shows it a completed thing. But these are only shadows of the true, therefore they pass. The sabbatic rest is broken up again by sin. The kingdom is divided, the temple desecrated, and the nation finally dispersed.
He is not yet come who unites the kingship and the priesthood in His own person. David, as a shadow, may wear the ephod, and order the worship, and provide the song; but the true Priest must be the risen One: the almond-rod with its fruit out of death must be His type. King and priest fall asunder therefore; the gleam of light passes away: the glory leaves the temple on earth, and the characteristic of the next books is that God is the "God of heaven." The kingdoms of the earth are given to the Gentile.
This is an account too brief and shallow, yet it should make plain that the great question in the books before us is that of the sanctuary of God on earth. And this makes them a most suited third section. Of these,-
(1) Samuel, as the first book, speaks of the introductory tabernacle-period;-
(2) Kings, of the temple completed, and a reign of glory and peace; but then of sin, of service divided with false gods, of division in the kingdom, henceforth in intestine strife, of deliverances also indeed, and the testimony of the prophets raised up, but still of con- stant and worse departure, until the divided kingdom falls a prey to its enemies.
4. The Books of the Captivity.
The times of the Gentiles are now begun; the glory of God is in Jerusalem no more, and God is the God of heaven. This gives the books of the captivity, with all their diversity. a sorrowful unity, and separates them from the other historical books. This is the Numbers part of the historical books - what God calls, in Ezek. xx. 35, "The wilderness of the peoples," in which He pleads with Israel, and causes them to pass under the rod. This condition is, of course, not ended, for the times of the Gentiles are not.
The fourth division speaks, then, of this time of trial; yet it has three books, while each of the two before it have but two. For while the blessing before enjoyed was only a shadow of the true, final one, their sorrow leads to that final one itself, when (as the passage in Ezekiel goes on to say,) "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." We shall find among the Minor Prophets a similar fourth section in the prophets of this very period, in which there are likewise three books, of which Haggai and Zechariah undoubtedly correspond with Ezra and Nehemiah, while Malachi, less obviously, but still really, corresponds with Esther.
(1) First, then, of these books comes Ezra, in which we have the return of a remnant to Jerusalem, and the restoration of the temple there. But there is now no Urim and Thummim, no ark, no glory: the temple is empty, - so that this is not a third division as before, but a first; for its true significance is God's sovereignty, which sways the kings of the earth, and in which He fulfils the promise of return after seventy years; and the subjection of the remnant to this sovereign God as His worshipers.
(2) Nehemiah, then, gives to this remnant so returned (as his name imports) the "comfort of the Lord." The walls of the city are built, and their deliverance from their enemies accomplished. "As the hills stand round about Jerusalem, so the Lord standeth round about His people."
(3) The book of Esther gives us (in what is of course only an anticipation of it) the manifestation of God in the resurrection of the people; the Jewish bride dis- placing the Gentile, and the Jewish Mordecai, as another Joseph, exalted to the power of the throne; the enemies of Israel subdued under them.
My object here being simply to show in the place of these books the reality of the numerical structure, this meagre outline may be yet sufficient. The filling in must be sought elsewhere.
Finally, we have, as the Deuteronomy of this division, the book of Chronicles; and it should be easily apparent that it fills, in fact, this place. As Deuteronomy was a rehearsal of Israel's ways with God in the wilderness, so is Chronicles of the history of the Kings. And as the divine ways shine out in Deuteronomy, so do they in the book before us. The purpose of enforcing obedience as the way of blessing is most evident. Thus Keil says, -
"Now from these and other descriptions of the part the Levites played in events, and the share they took in assisting the efforts of pious kings to revivify and maintain the temple worship, the conclusion has been rightly drawn that the chronicler describes with special interest the fostering of the Levite worship according to the precepts of the law of Moses, and holds it up to his contemporaries for earnest imitation; yet . . . . the chronicler does not desire to bring honour to the Levites and to the temple worship: his object is rather to draw from the history of the kingship in Israel a proof that faithful adherence to the covenant which the Lord had made with Israel brings happiness and blessing; the forsaking of it, on the contrary, insures ruin and a curse."
The book of Chronicles is thus very exactly the Deuteronomy of the covenant-history, and with this brief statement our review of the historical books must for the present close.
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