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panorama of creation than in the one hundred and fourth Psalm? Where a more charming and lovely pastoral than the twenty-third Psalm? Where such a high view of the dignity and destiny of man as in the eighth Psalm? Where a profounder sense of sin and divine forgiveness than in the thirty-second and fifty-first Psalms? Where such a truthful and overpowering description of the vanity of human life and the never-changing character of the holy and just, yet merciful God, as in the ninetieth Psalm, which has been styled "the most sublime of human compositions, the pest in feeling, loftiest in theologic conception, the most magnificent in its imagery Where have the infinite greatness and goodness of God, His holiness, righteousness, long-suffering and mercy, the wonders of His government, and the feeling of dependence on Him, of joy and peace in Him, of gratitude for His blessings, of praise of His glory, found truer and fitter embodiment than in the Psalter and the Prophets? Where will you find such sweet, tender, delicate and exquisite expression of pure innocent love as in the Song of Songs, which sounds like the singing of birds in sunny May from the flowery fields and the tree of life in Paradise? Isaiah is one of the greatest of poets as well as of prophets, of an elevation, a richness, a compass, a power and comfort that are unequalled. No human genius ever soared so high as this evangelist of the old dispensation. Jeremiah, the prophet of sorrow and affliction, has furnished the richest supply of the language of holy grief in seasons of public calamity and distress from the destruction of Jerusalem down to the latest siege of Paris; and few works have done this work more effectively than his Lamentations. And what shall we say of the Book of Job, the Shakspeare in the Bible? Where are such bold and vivid descriptions of the wonders of nature, of the behemoth and leviathan, and of the war-horse "who paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his strength, who swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, who saith among the trumpets Ha, ha! and smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shout of war?" What can be finer than Job's picture of wisdom, whose price is far above rubies? And what a wealth of comfort is in that wonderful passage, which inspired the sublimest solo in the sublimest musical composition, those words graven in the rock forever, where this holy outsider, this patriarchal sage and saint of the order of Melchisedec, expresses his faith and hope that his Redeemer liveth and will stand the last on the grave, and that he shall see Him with his own eyes on the morning of resurrection.
The times for the depreciation of Bible poetry have passed. Many of the greatest scholars and poets, some of whom by no means in sympathy with its religious ideas, have done it full justice. I quote a few of them who represent different stand-points and nationalities. Henry Stephens, the greatest philologist of the sixteenth century, thought that there was nothing more poetic (TоTIKúreрov), nothing more musical (μovokáтepov), nothing more thrilling (yopyrepov), nothing more full of lofty inspiration (diopaußikúrepov) than the Psalms of David.
John Milton, notwithstanding his severe classic taste, judges: "There are no songs comparable to the songs of Zion, no orations equal to those of the Prophets, and no politics like those which the Scriptures teach." And as to the Psalms, he says: "Not in their divine arguments alone, but in the very critical art of composition, the Psalms may be easily made to appear over all the kinds of lyric poesy incomparable."
Sir William Jones: "I have regularly and attentively read the Holy Scriptures, and am of the opinion that this volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, more important history and finer strains both of poetry and eloquence, than could be collected from all other books."
Sir D. K. Sandford: "In lyric flow and fire, in crushing force and majesty, the poetry of the ancient Scriptures is the most superb that ever burnt within the breast of man."
John von Müller, the German Tacitus: "There is nothing in Greece, nothing in Rome, nothing in all the West, like David, who selected the God of Israel to sing Him in higher strains than ever praised the gods of the Gentiles."
Herder, who was at home in the literature of all ages and countries, is full of enthusiastic admiration for the pure and sublime beauties of Hebrew poetry, as may be seen on almost every page of his celebrated work on the subject. He regards it 66 as the oldest, sim.
plest, sublimest" of all poetry, and in the form of a dialogue between Alciphron and Eutyphron, after the Platonic fashion, he triumphantly vindicates its merits against all objections, and illustrates it with admirable translations of choice passages.
Goethe pronounced the book of Ruth "the loveliest thing in the shape of an epic or idyl which has come down to us."
Alexander von Humboldt, in his "Cosmos," (where the name of God scarcely occurs, except in an extract from the heathen Aristotle), praises the Hebrew description of nature as unrivalled, especially the 104th Psalm, as "presenting in itself a picture of the whole world." "Nature," he says, "is to the Hebrew poet not a self-dependent object, but a work of creation and order, the living expression of the omnipresence of the Divinity in the visible world."
Thomas Carlyle calls the book of Job, "apart from all theories about it, one of the grandest things ever written by man. A noble book! All men's book! Such living likenesses were never since drawn. Sublime sorrow, sublime reconciliation; oldest choral melody, as of the heart of manhood; so soft and great as the summer midnight; as the world with its seas and stars. There is nothing written, I think, of equal literary merit."
Isaac Taylor: "The Hebrew writers as poets were masters of all the means and the resources, the powers and the stores, of the loftiest poetry, but subservient to a far loftier purpose than that which ever animates human genius."
Henry Ewald calls the old Hebrew poetry "unique in its kind and in many respects unsurpassed, because as to its contents it is the interpreter of those sublime religious thoughts which lived in Israel, and are found nowhere else in antiquity in such purity, vigor and durability, and as to its form it has a wonderful simplicity and naivete flowing from that sublimity of thought."
Dean Stanley: "The Psalms are beyond question poetical from first to last, and he will be a bold man who shall say that a book is less inspired, or less true, or less orthodox, or less Divine, because it is like the Psalms. The Prophet, in order to take root in the common life of the people, must become a Psalmist."
J. J. Stewart Perowne: "The very excellence of the Psalms is their universality. They spring from the deep fountains of the human heart, and God, in His providence, and by His Spirit, has so ordered it, that they should be for His Church an everlasting heritage. Hence they express the sorrows, the joys, the aspirations, the struggles, the victories, not of one man, but of all. And if we ask, How comes this to pass? the answer is not far to seek. One object is ever before the eyes and the heart of the Psalmist. All enemies, all distresses, all persecutions, all sins, are seen in the light of God. It is to Him that the cry goes up; it is to Him that the heart is laid bare; it is to Him that the thanksgiving is uttered. This it is which makes them so true, so precious, so universal. No surer proof of their inspiration can be given than this, that they are 'not of an age but for all time,' that the ripest Christian can use them in the fulness of his Christian manhood, though the words are the words of one who lived centuries before the coming of Christ in the flesh."
6. DIFFERENT KINDS OF HEBREW POETRY.
Hebrew poetry may be divided into lyric, didactic, prophetic, and dramatic. The first two are the prevailing forms. The third may be regarded as a branch of didactic poetry, or perhaps better, as a substitute for epic poetry. The fourth is not to be confounded with the Greek drama, and is in close connection either with the lyric or didactic. Hence many writers admit only these two.*
The absence of epic poetry in its proper sense is due to the fact that the revealed religion excludes mythology and hero-worship, which control this kind of poetry, and that it substitutes for them monotheism, which is inconsistent with any kind of falsehood and idolatry. The real hero, so to speak, of the history of revelation is Jehovah Himself, the only true
* So Perowne (The Book of Psalms, Vol. I., p. 1, third ed.): "The poetry of the Hebrews is mainly of two kinds, lyrical and didactic. They have no epic, and no drama. Dramatic elements are to be found in many of their odes, and the Book of Job and the Song of Songs have sometimes been called Divine dramas; but dramatic poetry, in the proper sense of that term, was altogether unknown to the Israelites."
and living God, to whom all glory is due. And so He appears in the prophetic writings. He is the one object of worship, praise and thanksgiving, but not the object of a narrative poem. He is the one sovereign actor, who in heaven originates and controls all events on earth, but not one among other actors, co-operating or conflicting with finite beings. Epic poetry reproduces historic facts at the expense of truth, and exalts its hero above merit. The Bible poetry never violates truth.
There are, however, epic elements in several lyric poems which celebrate certain great events in Jewish history, as the Song of Moses, Exod. xv., and the Song of Deborah, Judg. v.; although even here the lyric element preponderates, and the subjectivity of the poet is not lost in the objective event as in the genuine epos. The Book of Ruth has been called an epic by Gothe. The Prologue and Epilogue of Job are epic, and have a truly narrative and objective character; but they are only the framework of the poem itself, which is essentially didactic in dramatic form. In the apocryphal books the epic element appears in the book of Tobith and the book of Judith, which stand between narrative and fiction, and correspond to what we call romance or novel.
27. LYRIC POETRY.
Lyric poetry, or the poetry of feeling, is the oldest and predominant form of poetry among the Hebrew as all other Semitic nations. It is the easiest, the most natural, and the best adapted for devotion both private and public. It is closely connected with song, its twin sister. It wells up from the human heart, and gives utterance to its many strong and tender emotions of love and friendship, of joy and gladness, of grief and sorrow, of hope and desire, of gratitude and praise. Ewald happily describes it as "the daughter of the moment, of swift, rising, powerful feelings, of deep stirrings and fiery emotions of the soul.”*
Among the Greeks the epos appears first; but the older lyric effusions may have been lost. Among the Hindoos they are preserved in the Vedas. Lyric poetry is found among all nations which have a poetic literature; but epic poetry, at least in its fuller development, is not so general, and hence cannot be the primitive form.
Lyric poetry contains the fruitful germ of all other kinds of poetry. When the poetic feeling is kindled by a great event in history, it expresses itself more or less epically, as in the battle and victory hymns of Moses and Deborah. When the poet desires to teach a great truth or practical lesson, he becomes didactic. When he exhibits his emotions in the form of action and real life, he approaches the drama. In like manner the lyric poetry may give rise to mixed forms which appear in the later stages of literature.†
The oldest specimen of lyric poetry is the song of Lamech to his two wives (Gen. iv. 23). It has already the measured arrangement, alliteration and musical correspondence of Hebrew parallelism. It is a proud, fierce, defiant "sword-song," commemorating in broken, fragmentary utterances the invention of weapons of brass and iron by his son Tubal Cain (i. e., lance-maker), and threatening vengeance:
Adah and Zillah! hear my voice,
Ye wives of Lamech, listen to my speech:
* Dichter des A. B. L., p. 17: “Die lyrische Dichtung oder das Lied ist überall die nächste Art von Dichtung, welche bei irgend einem Volke entsteht. Sie ist es ihrem Wesen nach: denn sie ist die Tochter des Augenblicks, schnell emporkommender gewaltiger Empfindungen, tiefer Rührungen und feuriger Bewegungen des Gemüthes, von welchen der Dichter so ganz hingerissen ist, dass er in sich wie verloren nichts als sie so gewaltig wie sie in ihm leben, aussprechen will. Sie ist es ebenso der Zeit nach: das kurze Lied ist der beständigste, unverwüstlichste Theil von Poesie, der erste und letzte Erguss dichterischer Stimmung, wie eine unversiegbare Quelle, welche zu jeder Zeit sich wieder frisch ergiessen kann. Sie ist also auch bei allen Völkern nothwendig die älteste, die welche zuerst eine dichterische Gestaltung und Kunst gründet und allen übrigen Arten von Dichtung die Wege bahnt." On p. 91 Ewald says: "Und so bleibt das Lied in seinem ganzen reinen und vollen Wesen wie der Anfang so das Ende aller Dichtung."
† Ewald, l. c., p. 1g: "Der besondere Zweck, welchen der Dichter verfolgen mag, kann im Allgemeinen nur ein dreifacher sein : er will entweder mit seinen geflügelten Worten wie mit einer Lehre andre treffen, oder er will erzählend beschreiben, oder endlich er will das volle Leben selbst ebenso lebendig wiedergeben: und so werden LEHRDICHTUNG, SAGENDICHTUNG (Epos) und LEBENSDICHFUNG (Drama) die drei Arten höherer Dichtung sein, welche sich überall wie von selbst ausbilden wollen. Erst wenn sie sich vollkommen aus gebildet haben, entstehen auch wohl neue ZWITTERARTEN, indem das Lied als die Urart aller Dichtung seine eigenthümliche Weise mit einer derselben neu verschmilzt und diese stets nächste und allgegenwärtigste Urdichtung sich so in neuer Schöpfung mannichfach verjüngt."
For I have slain* a man for wounding me,
Here we have the origin of secular poetry and music (for the other son of Lamech, Jubal, i. e., Harper, invented musical instruments), in connection with the progressive material civilization of the descendants of Cain.
The other poetic remains of the ante-Mosaic age are the Prediction of Noah concerning his three sons (Gen. ix. 25-27), and the death-chant of Jacob (Gen. xlix. 1-27); but these belong rather to prophetic poetry.
In the Mosaic age we meet first with the song of deliverance which Moses sang with the children of Israel unto the Lord after the overthrow of Pharaoh's hosts in the Red Sea (Ex. xv. 1-19). It is the oldest specimen of a patriotic ode (from beidew, to sing), and may be called the national anthem, or the Te Deum of the Hebrews. It sounds through all the thanksgiving hymns of Israel, and is associated by the Apocalyptic Seer with the final triumph of the Church, when the saints shall sing "the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. xv. 3). Its style is archaic, simple and grand. It is arranged for antiphonal singing, chorus answering to chorus, and voice to voice; the maidens playing upon the timbrels. It is full of alliterations and rhymes which cannot be rendered, and hence it necessarily loses in any translation.‡
I will sing unto Jehovah,
For He hath triumphed gloriously:
The horse and his rider
Hath He thrown into the sea.
Jehovah is my strength and song,
And He is become my salvation.
Jehovah is a man of war;
Jehovah is His name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his hosts
* The perfect, I have slain ('7, Sept. ånékтeiva, Vulg. occidí), is probably used in the spirit of arrogant boasting, to express the future with all the certainty of an accomplished fact. Chrysostom, Theodoret, Jerome, Jarchi and others set Lamech down as a murderer (of Cain), who here confesses his deed to ease his conscience; but Aben-Ezra, Calvin, Herder, Ewald, Delitzsch, take the verb as a threat: "I will slay any man who wounds me."
†The law of blood for blood is strongly expressed also in the tragic poetry of Greece, especially in the Eumenides of Eschylus, also the Chaphora, 398 (quoted by Prof. T. Lewis, Com. on Gen. in loc.):
"There is a law that blood once poured on earth
Till death in justice meet be paid for death."
Herder says of this poem, of which he gives a free German translation: "Der Durchgang durchs Meer hat das älteste und klingendste Siegeslied hervorgebracht, das wir in dieser Sprache haben. Es ist Chorgesang: eine einzelne Stimme malte vielleicht die Thaten selbst, die der Chor auffing und gleichsam verhallte. Sein Bau ist einfach, voll Assonanzen und Reime, die ich in unsrer Sprache ohne Wortzwang nicht zu geben wüsste; denn die ebræische Sprache ist wegen ihres einförmigen Baues solcher klingenden Assonanzen voll Leichte, lange, aber wenige Worte verschweben in der Luft, und meistens endigt ein dunkler, einsylbiger Schall, der vielleicht den Bardit des Chors machte." Dr. Lange thus happily characterizes this ode (Comm. on Ex.): "Wie der Durchgang durch das Rothe Meer als eine fundementale Thatsache des typischen Reiches Gottes seine Beziehung durch die ganze Heilige Schrift ausbreitet, wie er sich rückwärts auf die Sündfluth bezieht, weiter vorwärts auf die christliche Taufe, und schliesslich auf das Endgericht, so gehen auch die Reflexe von diesem Liede Moses durch die ganze Heilige Schrift. Rückwärts ist es vorbereitet durch die poetischen Laute der Genesis und durch den Segen Jakobs, vorwärts geht es durch kleine epische Laute über auf das Abschiedslied des Moses und seinen Segen 5 Mos. 32, 33. Zwei grossartige Seitenstücke, welche folgen, das Siegeslied der Debora und das Rettungslied des David 2 Sam. 22 (Ps. 18), leiten dann die Psalmen-poesie ein, in welcher vielfach der Grundton unsres Liedes wieder mit anklingt, Pss. 77, 78, 105, 106, 114. Noch einmal ist am Schlusse des N. T. von dem Liede Mosis die Rede; es tönt fort als das typische Triumphlied des Volkes Gottes bis in die andre Welt hinein, Offenb. 15, 3."
? The E. V.: 'I will prepare Him an habitation' (sanctuary), would anticipate the building of the tabernacle, but is not justified by the Hebrew.
And his chosen captains
Are sunk in the Red Sea.
The depths cover them.
They went down to the bottom like a stone.
Thy right hand, O Jehovah, glorious in power,
Thy right hand, O Jehovah, dasheth in pieces the enemy.
And in the greatness of Thy majesty
Thou overturnest them that rise up against thee:
Thou sendest forth Thy wrath,
It consumeth them like stubble.
And with the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up.
The floods stood upright as an heap.
The depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil,
My soul shall be satisfied upon them;
I will draw my sword,
My hand shall destroy them.
Thou didst blow with Thy wind,
The sea covered them:
They sank as lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like unto Thee, O Jehovah, among the gods?
Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness,
Thou in Thy mercy hast led the people
Thou hast guided them in thy strength
The peoples have heard, they tremble:*
Pangs have taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then were the chiefs of Edom dismayed.
The mighty men of Moab, trembling taketh hold upon them.
All the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away;
Terror and dread fall upon them.
By the greatness of Thine arm they are as still as a stone;
Till Thy people pass over, O Jehovah,
Till the people pass over,
Which Thou hast purchased.
Thou shalt bring them in,
And plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance.
The place, O Jehovah, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in,
The sanctuary, O Jehovah, which Thou hast established.
Here the song ends, and what follows (ver. 19) is probably a brief recapitulation to fix the event in the memory:
For the horses of Pharaoh went in with his chariots
And Jehovah brought again the waters of the sea upon them;
In the midst of the sea.
Moses wrote also that sublime farewell-song which celebrates Jehovah's merciful dealings with Israel (Deut. xxxii.), the parting blessing of the twelve tribes (Deut. xxxiii.), and the ninetieth Psalm, called "A Prayer of Moses, the man of God," which sums up the spiritual experience of his long pilgrimage in the wilderness, and which proves its undying force at every death-bed and funeral service.
* The poet now, after giving thanks for the past, looks to the future and describes the certain consequences of this mighty deliverance, which struck terror into the hearts of all enemies of Israel, and must end in the conquest of Canaan, as promised by God.