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veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the Sanctuary. With face turned toward the Mercy Seat, he proposed whatever question he had been desired to ask of the Lord, while the king, judge, or general, who thus sought guidance, remained at a distance, reverentially waiting for the answer. How the oracular response was given, has been a subject of great controversy. It was a very ancient belief among the Jews, and is still a common opinion, that certain of the letters engraved on the priest's breastplate protruded and shone with peculiar lustre on such occasions; and he, being endowed with a spirit of prophecy, could spell out the answer from these radiant letters. Some commentators have maintained that an audible voice was heard to reply from the Shechinah, or visible cloud; because it is said, when Moses had gone into the Tabernacle to consult with God," he heard the voice of one speaking to him from off the Mercy Seat, between the two cherubim." This process was called asking counsel of God by Urim and Thummim. It was not allowable for any private affairs, but only for such as related to the general interests of the nation. An ark was made to contain the breastplate with Urim and Thummim, and when Israel went to battle, it was carried with the army, on the shoulders of Levites, in the same manner as was the Ark of the Covenant. The High Priest either went with it himself to ask counsel of God, in cases of emergency, or he appointed a deputy for that purpose, who was called the Anointed for the Wars. On the verge of conflict, he blowed a trumpet, and roused the courage of the people with the following speech: "Hear, O Israel! This day you approach unto battle against your enemies. Let not your hearts faint. Do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; for the Lord your God goeth with you, against your enemies, to save you."
The power of the priesthood varied very much at different epochs. A priest anointed Solomon king; but the sacerdotal influence was subordinate to the royal; for Solomon discharged a priest and afterward restored him. There is no account of a priest that attained much wealth or political influence until after the return from Babylon. The evils which result from investing a class of men with spiritual power over others were as conspicuous among the Jews, as in the priesthood of other nations. As early as the times of Eli, when pious people brought animals to be sacrificed to the Lord, priests seized the flesh by force, to gratify their own luxurious appetites. In the reign of Joash, they received, year after year, contributions to repair the temple, but totally neglected the work. Jeremiah says of his own times: “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their means." The Levitical order became consolidated after the time of Ezra, and their ambition in. creased with their power. John the High Priest slew his brother Jesus in the temple, on account of a quarrel between them concerning the succession to office. Antiochus tried to apologize for his cruel persecution of the Jewish religion, by saying he was thoroughly disgusted with the avarice and political intriguing of their priests. The people, though strongly bound to their religious teachers by tradition and the force of habit, occasionally manifested diminished reverence. The payment of tithes was sometimes neglected until officers were sent to enforce it. Such a state of things at one time drove all the Levites and singers from the temple, to seek other employments. In the days when judges ruled the land, priests were very unceremoniously thrust in and out of office. In the turbulent times preceding the final destruction of Jerusalem, different factions chose the High Priest by lot. On one occasion, Josephus says they invested with the ephod and golden crown "a man who scarcely knew what the high priesthood was, such a mere rustic was he.”
To express adoration Hebrews used a word which signified kissing; it being a general custom among ancient nations to kiss the hand, in token of reverence, to sun, stars, statues, and other sacred objects. Hebrews always prayed standing, with hands upon their breasts, in the attitude of servants before a master. To express deep humili
ation, they sometimes prostrated themselves on the ground; but more generally bent the knees, or bowed the head low. If any priest prayed sitting, his ministry was vain; so likewise if the left band was used instead of the right, in any of the ceremonies or sacrifices. When the priest blessed the congregation, he did not look upward to heaven, or toward the people, but turned his eyes to the ground. While he pronounced the benediction, his hands were raised to his forehead, the palms spread out, the thumbs and the forefingers joined together. On such occasions, all the people covered their faces, afraid to be struck blind if they looked up; because the Divine Majesty was supposed at that moment to rest on the hands of the priest.
This Egyptian posture of praying with uplifted hands was as old as the time of Moses. Great importance seems to have been attached to the mere attitude, for when he wished to secure the blessing of God on a battle which lasted all day, Aaron and Hur held up his bands, when he became too weary to sustain them himself.
So far as we have any record of ancient usages, it was the custom of all nations to offer prayers and sacrifices to certain deities, on days appropriated to each; and having fulfilled that duty, the people went about their customary labours or amusements. Phoenicians, Babylonians, Arabians, and other nations where the Spirits of the Planets were worshipped, peculiarly observed the seventh day, because the number of the planets was seven, and the Sun, in their estimation, was king of the planets. Jews were peculiar for consecrating every seventh day so entirely to their God, that they refrained from any work, or recreation, themselves, their servants, and their cattle, from sunset to sunset. It came on the day which we call Saturday, and was named the Sabbath, signifying rest; because it was regarded as a memorial of God's resting from his labours, after he had completed the work of creation in six days. They were not allowed to light a lamp, or kindle fire to cook on the Sabbath. Food was prepared, and the table laid on Friday. On that day, at three o'clock in the afternoon, began what was called the Vesper of the Sabbath, or Day of Preparation. After that time, it was not allowable to begin any journey, or undertake any business, even in courts of justice, unless it could be completed before sunset. All foreigners who were with them, all the slaves, and the cattle, rested from labour. All the people washed their hands and feet, and arrayed themselves in their best garments, as a preparatory purification. When the sun was on the point of setting, trumpets sounded from the temple, to give notice that it was time for candles to be lighted in all their houses. It was necessary to have them burn all night, it being a desecration of the holy time to kindle fire in any way, upon any emergency. Those who were too poor to buy oil, begged it from their neighbours. Morning and afternoon, people assembled in the synagogues, to hear the Law of Moses read, and prayers recited. In addition to the sacrifice offered every day in the temple, two young lambs were sacrificed, and twice as much wine and oil presented as oblations to the Lord. At sunset, each master of a house signified that the Sabbath was ended, by blessing a cup of wine and presenting it to every member of the family. This was considered the most holy of their religious observances, and any wilful profanation of it was punished with death.
As every seventh day was a Sabbath, so every seventh year was a Sabbatical year, during which they were commanded to let the land rest. It might not be sowed, tilled, or manured; no tree, or vine, might be pruned of dead branches; no smoke made under them to destroy insects. Whoever disobeyed these injunctions, was punished by scourging. If any grain sprang up from seed scattered the preceding year, the owner of the land was not allowed to gather it into his garners. He, in common with every person that passed, was at liberty to shake it out and eat it; and the same rule was observed with regard to fruit. Moses promised, in the name of the Lord, that the harvests of the sixth year should always be sufficiently abundant to provide for the wants of the seventh. Whether the Hebrews found themselves disappointed in that respect, we are not told, but at some periods of their history, they generally neglected the prescribed regulations, from an unwillingness to relinquish so much of their agricultural profits. The Sabbatical Year was sometimes called The Lord's Release, because all who were Israelites, or Proselytes of Righteousness, were released from obligations to creditors. Only foreigners, or Proselytes of the Gate, could be compelled to pay their debts. At the close of the year, the Law of Moses was publicly read by the ruler of the land, in presence of all the people.
After seven weeks of years, that is, after seven times seven years, the fiftieth was a year of Jubilee. Trumpets were sounded in all the highways, with proclamation of "liberty to all the land and all the inhabitants thereof." Those whom poverty had compelled to part with their estates, had them restored to them or their heirs, even if they had meanwhile been sold a hundred times over. All prisoners and Hebrew servants were set free, and feasted and rejoiced, with garlands on their heads.
Jews had a tradition, which they believed originatel with Elijah, that the world would continue six thousand years. They supposed it bad existed two thousand years before the Law was given to Moses; that it would remain two thousand years under the Law, and two thousand under the government of the Messiah. At the end of that period, the world would be destroyed by fire, and there would be a thousand years of rest, before God renewed all things. Some scholars think their custom of observing Sabbaths was typical of this prophecy.
Moses ordained three annual festivals, when all the men of Israel were required to come up to the House of the Lord with offerings. The most important was the Passover, so called from a Hebrew word meaning to pass over; because the destroying angel, when he slew the first-born of Egypt, passed over the houses of the Israelites. Who. ever was able to attend this festival and did not, was con