The Two Hopes
( Originally Published 1916 )
At the opening of the Christian era two great hopes characterized the religion of Israel the hope of the messianic kingdom for the nation and the hope of the resurrection for the individual. The Pharisees' exacting effort to do the will of God as it was prescribed in the law was stimulated by the belief that if the law could once be kept perfectly by the nation, then the messianic age would come. If we turn back in thought to a time 750 years before the opening of the Christian era, we find Amos picturing the people as already eagerly expecting the day of the Lord, believing that Yahweh was well pleased with his people and was shortly to give them even greater triumph than they were then enjoying. Amos and his successors labored to teach that, whatever their worship, a people could not receive the divine blessing without being morally righteous. The Deuteronomic law partly reinforced this lesson, and the exile destroyed the old, light-hearted confidence in Yahweh as bound, in the nature of things, to fight for Israel.
It was, however, the prophets with the clearest vision of the people's blindness and perversity who hoped that after judgment would come restoration. Hosea saw the unchanging love of God and knew that he could not completely cast off his people; there must be purification through restraint, but God's love could not be changed. Even if those critics are right who ascribe to a later hand the vision of the day when Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their God and David their king, the root of this hope lies in Hosea's vision of the divine heart. Isaiah combined his message of doom and hope in the name given his son, "A-remnant-shall-return." Jeremiah, who foretold the speedy destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, foresaw the day of restoration when houses and fields and vineyards should again be bought in the land.
When the city had fallen and the exiles in Babylon, who had expected far more speedy restoration than such clear-visioned prophets as Jeremiah and Ezekiel could predict, were in despair, Ezekiel drew for them a wonderful picture of Yahweh himself, their shepherd, searching for the scattered sheep, binding up the broken and strengthening the sick among them. Since heretofore the fat and strong had shouldered away the lean and sick from pasture and water, Yahweh promised to set over them as shepherd his servant David, he himself to be their God and his servant David to be prince among them.
The character and work of the expected ruler on David's throne are beautifully pictured also in the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. Since these passages usually come in awkwardly in their context and seem sometimes to have the scattering of the exile as their background, it may be that they were added to the original books of the pre-exilic prophets by later hands. In any case, from the time of Ezekiel onward Israel has embodied in her prophetic literature ideal pictures of the prince whose rule shall far surpass in its spiritual aspects the actual reign of David.
The coming ruler is to be Prince of Peace, establishing the Kingdom with justice and righteousness, while the armor of the armored man and the garments rolled in blood shall be for fuel of fire. Upon him shall rest the spirit of Yahweh, the spirit of wisdom, and the fear of God. His judgments shall be rendered, not according to external appearances, but with righteousness shall he judge the poor and the meek; so there shall be peace with the earth full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. Sprung from the least of the clans of Judah, he shall be great unto the ends of the earth. When the people dwell safely in his days, remembrance of the great deliverance from exile shall replace the appeal to the deliverance from Egypt.
This group of prophets pictures national peace and world-blessing under the ideal prince of David's line, brought about by clear-visioned justice and protection for the poor and weak. In sharpest contrast stands another group of writings whose roots go back to the early prophets, though their picture is first clearly drawn in chapters 38 and 39 of Ezekiel.
The priest and prophet Ezekiel was a man of many sides in an era of transition; he combined both the priestly and the prophetic heritages of the past and looked out into the future through more than one window of the soul. In the previous chapter we saw him inspiring and shaping the ritual development of Judaism for all the centuries to follow; in this we have seen him the true prophet, with epoch-marking vision of God himself as the great tender shepherd and of the need of a righteous ruler at the head of the civil state. This state is no priestly hierarchy either. In chap-ter 36 he speaks from a very different point of view, as the interpreter of a God who acts for the restoration of his name that has been dishonored among the nations, and in chapter 37 he combines this motive of restoring the glory of the dishonored name with the fine vision of the Davidic shepherd and prince.
Various references in the songs and oracles of the exile make it clear that one of the hardest things for the loyal followers of Yahweh to endure was the taunting cry of their exulting enemies, "Where is now thy god ?" To the mass of Israel herself the capture and destruction of Jerusalem seemed the defeat of their god, not strong enough to maintain his citadel against the gods of Babylonia. Jeremiah and Ezekiel had labored ceaselessly to forestall this danger, but with only partial success. To the minds of Israel's neighbors the fall of Jerusalem was capable of no other interpretation than that Yahweh was powerless.
Out of this situation Ezekiel's faith grew that his God must vindicate his power among the nations. This faith shaped such prophecies as we have been considering and also his expectation that there must be a great spectacular vindication of Yahweh's power. For this the distant nations, were to be gathered together to overwhelm the restored Jerusalem, when they should be suddenly cut off with a destruction unprecedented in the wars of human armies. The details of the picture may have been furnished, in part, by Isaiah's ideal description of the approach of the Assyrian army as a mighty giant, striding down the summit of the mountain chain to the very outskirts of Jerusalem, there to be suddenly struck down, and in part by Zephaniah's and Jeremiah's imagery of the mysterious foe from the north that reflected the Scythian invasion of their day.
Although Ezekiel had thus at hand materials for the shaping of his conception of the great day of the future, the generalized picture is distinctly his own, and it has scarcely less influence on the future development of his people than his ideal of the restored temple and worship. It becomes the model and inspiration of a new kind of literature, the apocalypse, or revelation. By the opening of the Christian era this had become, it would seem, quite the most popular literary form in Palestine, where it played its part in kindling those hopes that broke out in the desperate rebellions against Rome of 66 and 132 A.D.
Adopted by the Christians, this literary form entered the New Testament and has proved a prolific source of much misinterpretation of Christianity, and some pathetic experiences, when men have supposed that from it they could read the time-table of the future and have acted on this faith.
In the Old Testament we find brief apocalyptic sections in Joel and in the latter part of Zechariah, where Ezekiel's picture of the nations, gathered together against Jerusalem that they may there be struck down by Yahweh's power, is repeated. The one great example of an apocalyptic book which was included in the Old Testament is the Book of Daniel.
Outside of the Biblical canon apocalypses or fragments of apocalypses, ascribed to various ancient worthies, such as Enoch, Moses, Baruch, Ezra, have been preserved. In general these were written during the three centuries from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. Their most noticeable- characteristic is the giving of an account of history, under fantastic symbolism, from some earlier time down to the period of the writer. The history is often conceived under artificial schemes of arrangement and is told by Enoch, or some other mouthpiece, in the form of visions of the future. The history, despite the symbolism and artificial conceptions, is usually intelligible to us from our general knowledge of the events, gained from other sources. As the history approaches the time of the writer, it often grows more minute in its knowledge of details, then it suddenly ceases to follow the actual course of events and passes into pictures of the great deliverance which do not accord with history.
Written in times of distress, the books have their vital purpose in expressing the undying faith of the true believers in Yahweh that his power and purpose were sufficient for his people, and in stimulating them to endure through every vicissitude.
The Book of Daniel may serve as a type of all. An ancient hero placed in the exile period is taken as the mouthpiece of one who writes from those days of distress when the temple was desecrated, with the abomination of desolation, an altar of Zeus (i Macc. 1:54), standing upon its great altar of Yahweh. Antiochus Epiphanes has taken away the continual burnt-offering and the place of the sanctuary is cast down. The visions of successive world-kingdoms carry history down from the time of the exile to the period of this persecution; the Maccabean rebellion has already broken out, but the cleansing and rededicating of the temple by Judas Maccabeus, in the year 165 B.C., has not yet occurred.
In this time of uncertainty the apocalypse strengthens the hands of the faithful by its hope of the coming of the Ancient of Days who gives the Kingdom to the saints of the Most High. There is no word at this time of a Prince of the house of David, but one like unto a Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven, and unto him is given the Kingdom, that all the nations and languages should serve him.
The different apocalyptic writers vary greatly in their conception of the Deliverer and the coming Kingdom of the saints. In the various apocalypses ascribed to Enoch the variation is well exhibited; in one, God himself introduces the Kingdom with no associate; in a second a superior human being appears and the people are transformed into his likeness; in a third a pre-existent being styled Righteous One, Elect One, Son of Man, Messiah, comes with the Head of Days, sits on the throne of his glory, and slays all the sinners by the word of his mouth. In one case the Kingdom is established on earth; in another it seems to be in a new heaven with the former heaven destroyed; in yet another the scene of the Kingdom is a new heaven and a new earth.
Ordinarily in the visions of this age the saints or righteous to whom the Kingdom is given are those who are faithful to the ritual law of Israel. Sometimes there is hope held out for the apostate Jews, and sometimes those nations which have not been hostile to Israel are thought of as participating in the new era in a subordinate capacity. Moral qualifications for membership in the Kingdom the apocalyptic literature leaves almost unmentioned. While apocalypse was an offshoot from prophecy, it was the expression of a priestly age which had lost the prophetic passion for social righteousness, though it held firmly to the faith in a God who would do justice for his oppressed worshipers.
Following the development of Israel's great hope for the nation, we have found in some of its later expressions the thought of a Kingdom of Heaven as the ultimate goal, and so we have touched upon the other great hope of later Judaism.
When we considered in chapter i Israel's inheritance from her ancestors and early neighbors, we noted that belief in the persistence of the spirit after death seemed to lie behind early mourning customs. Such belief certainly prevailed in the ancient world of which the Hebrews were a part. Traffic with the spirits of the dead was the stock in trade of necromancers, who were denounced by the leaders of Israel's religion from an early period. The story of Saul and the witch of Endor throws much light on the early beliefs as to the nature of existence after death. Samuel is called up out of the earth, still recognizable as an old man covered with a robe. He is able to speak in tones audible to Saul and to tell him of the divine purpose, as he did when he abode on the earth's surface.
It is evident from various passages in the Old Testament that, in common with the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks, the ancient Hebrews thought of the dead as continuing a shadowy, uneventful existence in an abode beneath the earth's surface. Of all of these peoples, in early times, the Egyptians developed the fullest and highest conception of a future life, even forming some idea of reward and penalty determined by the character of the life that had been lived on earth. Here, as in the case of the temporary Egyptian monotheism, it seems impossible to find any direct connection of source and effect between Israel's early beliefs and those of the Egyptian religion.
In the era of the great prophets these primitive beliefs in future existence drop into the background; the nation is the unit, its righteousness and purity is the ideal, its permanent possession of the land or its restoration after judgment is the hope of the future. When religion concerns itself chiefly with matters of social morality, whether in the eighth century before Christ or in the twentieth century after Christ, interest becomes largely centered in this life, and the well-being and perpetuity of the nation or other group is the focus of hope.
With the downfall of the nation we saw that Jeremiah and Ezekiel had found the individual.
Ezekiel saw the individual's responsibility and taught that he might expect justice apart from the fate of the nation. Jeremiah saw that knowledge of God must be in the heart of each if the new covenant was to come. Yet both Jeremiah and Ezekiel looked across the exile period to a restored nation, and neither thought of a future life for the individual as the goal of hope. It was not until the Persian age, when city and temple had been restored and yet the great Shepherd of the sheep had not appeared to deliver the weak from the strong and to appoint his servant David to feed the flock, that the thought of a possible solution of the injustices of this life in a life after death began to appear.
The Book of Job mirrors the inner struggle of one who had learned from life that the material rewards are not always apportioned in accordance with the relative merits of men. In suffering of mind, body, and estate the hero of the poem longs for release in the oblivion of Sheol. Suddenly there comes to him a question in sharpest contrast to the hope of oblivion to which he has repeatedly turned: "If a man die shall he live again ? " If he could believe that, he could endure all the days of his warfare. It is not yet a clear, strong hope, only a glimpse of the consoling possibilities of such a faith. Later the thought returns, and now, for a moment, it becomes a conviction that after death he shall see God on his side, no longer against him as God seems to be in his present misery.
The nation's fall was necessary if the individual was to find his standing-place before God on earth; the unsatisfying restoration and long generations of subjection and disappointment were necessary if the individual was to find hope of a life beyond, where wrong might be righted.
When Ecclesiastes was written, in the Greek period, faith in the heavenly destination of the human spirit had become so far prevalent that the writer is led to dispute the doctrine. At the opening of the Maccabean era the writer of the Book of Daniel has reached assurance of a future resurrection to everlasting life or to shame, when they that are wise "shall shine as the brightness of the firmament and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever."
A few late psalms are commonly interpreted as expressing a definite expectation of a resurrection, but the Old Testament was already completed before this great hope of later Judaism had come to be a prominent part of religious faith. In one of the apocalypses of Enoch, coming from Maccabean times, a clear doctrine of reward and punishment in heaven and hell first appears in Jewish literature.
Even in the first century of the Christian era both the New Testament and Josephus show the two great parties of the Jewish people divided on the question of a resurrection. The Pharisees believe, but the conservative Sadducees will have none of this new doctrine. With the destruction of Jerusalem the party of the Sadducees disappears and faith in the resurrection, with the other beliefs of the Pharisees, becomes the recognized doctrine of Jewry.
The cultured Jews of Alexandria, before and during the time of Christ, developed the rather crude resurrection faith of their Palestinian con-temporaries, in the light of the Platonic conception of the soul, into a genuine doctrine of the immortality of the soul.