VIEWS OF THE PATRIARCHS AND OF MOSES
It is worth of notice that during the long period from Abraham to David, and the composition of the book of Psalms, there is but little record of experimental communion with god, or of the hope of immortality with him. Experience of this kind, as we shall see, becomes abundant in the book of Psalms. Are we to suppose that there was no such experience in the patriarchal ages, or only that it was unrecorded?
Causes of the Doctrine of Immortality.
The causes that produced the experience of the book of Psalms we certainly do find in the patriarchal ages. Take the case of Abraham. Here we find the revelation of God to him as a personal God, and intimate confidential communication between them. We find a plan organized to bless all the nations of the earth through him and his seed. A system is organized for the ages. A covenant is formed including him and his seed. God says to him, “I am thy shield and exceeding great reward.” As a means of executing this plan a land was pledged as the centre of operations. Isaac and Jacob were taken into the same covenant. Nor was the great plan confined to this world and to man. An angelic world of heavenly spirits in fellowship with God, and his messengers and ministers in carrying out this plan, was also revealed. This idea was developed in peculiar sublimity when there was presented to Jacob a ladder reaching up to heaven, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending, and at the top of which God stood and renewed his covenant with him. It is plain that men with whom God thus covenanted in a plan for eternal ages, must have regarded themselves as immortal, and partakers with god in that plan, and not as the perishing creatures of a few years. The immortality of God, and their union with him in a plan for eternal ages, must have given them an assurance of their own immortality. Lange is right when he says that such a covenant for the ages, by a personal God, with the pious, contains in itself the assumption of their immortality, and that this is just as distinct an assumption in the Old Testament as the being of God.
Case of Moses.
This argument applies with even greater force to the case of Moses. How intimate, how various was his communion with God! How glorious, how wonderful, how unsurpassed, was the revelation of the divine character made by God to him at his request! How vast the plans for all coming ages in which he was associated as a fellow-laborer with God! How vividly did he anticipate his great antitype – the prophet like unto himself! Is it possible that he did not expect to live with god to see the consummation of these plans?
Case of Abraham.
Nor were such previsions of Christ confined to Moses. That Abraham took enlarged views of the plans of god in Christ, our Saviour assures us. He said to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad.”
Epistle to the Hebrews.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also assures us that the minds of the patriarchs did not rest merely on temporal rewards. Of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, he says: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a heavenly fatherland. And truly if they were thinking of that fatherland whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return to it; but now they desire a better fatherland, that is a heavenly, wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.” Of Moses, he says, that he endured as seeing him who is invisible, and that he had respect unto the future recompense of the reward, and therefore refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. Moses, it seems, even in Egypt, had a view of the day of Christ in the future, and bore reproach for his sake.
Objections to the Epistle, and Reply.
But there are those who regard these statements as not historical, but only as the opinions of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever he was. But even those who make light of the historical or inspired authority of this epistle, cannot deny that it represents the opinions of a learned and eloquent Jew, perhaps Apollos, if not Paul, on this historical question. Nor can they deny that Philo also, the most learned Jew of the age of Christ, represents Moses and the patriarchs as acting with reference to the retributions of a future life. For the present, then, leaving out of view the question of inspiration, we allege that there are other historical facts which render this view not only credible, but even necessary to account for the course of events.
The facts are these: The posterity of Abraham, when they went down to Egypt, for a residence of centuries, encountered there a system of future retribution which was popular, and all-pervading in its influence. It was also adapted, unless it was resisted by the influence of another system, firmly and intelligently held, to bring the children of Israel under its control. But its influence was resisted. Though Joseph was married to Asenath, daughter of the priest of On; though Moses, as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, was educated in the highest schools of the Egyptians, and was learned in all their wisdom, yet they did not adopt their system of theology, nor of future retribution. To understand the full force of the system to be resisted, and its influence on the popular mind, let the following statements of Wilkinson, which could be greatly enlarged by similar testimony, be thoughtfully considered.
Egyptian System of Immortality.
“The great care of the Egyptians was directed to their condition after death, that last stage toward which their present life was only the pilgrimage; and they were taught to consider their abode here merely as an inn upon the road. They looked forward to being received into the company of that being who represented the divine goodness, if pronounced worth at the great judgment-day; and the privilege of being called by his name was the fulfillment of all their wishes. Every one was then the same; all were equally noble; there was no distinction of rank beyond the tomb; and, though their actions might be remembered on earth with gratitude and esteem, no king or conqueror was greater than the humblest man after death; nor were any honors given to them as heroes.”
We call particular attention to the statement that among the Egyptians this present life was regarded as merely a pilgrimage to a better country, and that they were taught to consider their abode here as merely an inn upon the road. Now, if the pious Israelites were acting in view of a future life, growing out of their own views of the god of their fathers, the Creator of all things, then they too could, from their own point of vision, look on this present life as a pilgrimage, and a heavenly country as their home. And if, when this was the current use of language, they so spoke of this life, it is fair to ascribe to their language the meaning which it would then receive.
Strangers and Pilgrims.
Fix your eye, then, on one of the most striking scenes recorded in the Old Testament, the introduction of Jacob to Pharaoh. Joseph, the son-in-law of the priest of On, brought in his father and set him before Pharaoh. The old patriarch then blessed the King of Egypt. “And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old are thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years. Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” Is it possible to doubt what this use of the word pilgrimage must have meant to Pharaoh and to Joseph, and to all the Egyptians? Was it not a distinct recognition of this life as a pilgrimage to a future country, a heavenly home? In the circumstances and in view of the usages of language at that time, could the words admit of any other meaning?
Now, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews probably was better acquainted with these and similar facts than some of his modern critics. And he was perfectly justified in drawing from the language of the patriarchs the inferences that he did. He adverts first to the fact that they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and from this he draws the conclusion that they were seeking a better country, even an heavenly. For we are to call to mind that Abraham also, for a considerable time, was a resident in Egypt, and on intimate terms with the reigning Pharaoh (see Gen. xii. 10-20). By such a residence in Egypt, in the very centre of Egyptian life and power, he must have been fully informed on the views of the Egyptians as to a future life, and of this life as a pilgrimage to a heavenly country.
Indeed, no one could reside in Egypt without seeing these views acted out in their funerals. Nothing was so prominent, nothing so influential in the lives of all classes of men in Egypt, from the king to the peasant, as the doctrine of future retributions. On this was based a judgment at death, not only of the common people, but of kings, in view of their past lives, and a presumptive sentence was passed on them with respect to their future destiny. The good were assigned to union with Osiris, the sinful but corrigible to transmigration as a means of purification, the incorrigibly and hopelessly bad to endless punishment. All this was acted out in so public a manner that no one could remain ignorant of it. It penetrated to every family and every individual.
Influence on the Israelites
Now, the influence of such a system on the children of Israel must have been great in one respect. It must have compelled them to think of future retributions. How could Joseph, connected as he was with the priesthood, avoid it? How could Moses, with his princely education in the court of Pharaoh, avoid it? How could the Israelites at large avoid it?
Another thing is plain. They must have been drawn into the current of this system, if they had not been anchored by a system of their own, centred in a higher and truer doctrine of immortality and of retribution. For the human mind, as all history shows, tends in all nations to some doctrine of a future life and of future retribution. It is absurd to suppose that, with the subject forced on their attention on every side, such men as Joseph and Moses could have remained in a state of mere negation and ignorance on such a question. Hence, when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (xi, 25-27) represents Moses as enduring as seeing the invisible God, and acting in view of future retributions, he simply states what in the circumstances is indispensable to account for his conduct, and what of necessity must have been true.
But it may be asked, “What was this system by which the Israelites in Egypt were anchored, and how did it take hold of future retributions?”
In reply to this we answer, it was the system growing out of the covenant of God with Abraham, which in its scope took in all men in all future ages. In Abraham and in his seed all the families of the earth in all future ages were to be blessed. Of the coming future Abraham must have taken enlarged views, since Christ himself assures us that he saw his day and was glad.
As a part of this system God gave to the patriarchs, personally, and to their seed, the land of Canaan. Before going down into Egypt, they had been prophetically warned of their bondage there and of their deliverance, and this God, this covenant, and these promises, held them, while in bondage, from drifting away into the polytheism of Egypt. Moses was educated by his mother to understand and to believe this system. Hence, also, Jacob refused to be buried in Egypt, and was buried by Joseph and his other sons in the land of promise. So, too, Joseph, before he died, said to his brethren: “I die; and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob. And he took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence” (Gen. 1. 24, 25). These promises, anticipations, and hopes, were common to all the Israelites, and when the time came they were rallied by Moses to leave Egypt and march for the promised land, and the Egyptians were compelled by the terrific judgments of God to let them go.
Influence of the System.
Now, from a system like this, extending through the ages, a logical inference is the immortality of those involved in it. This is not, indeed, capable of positive demonstration. But one thing is clear: the idea of an immortal God, organizing a system for all coming ages, through the patriarchs and Moses, cannot be held with any consistency or dignity, except on the assumption of the immortality of the soul and a future life. If men perish in their generations, the system dies with them. There is nothing to connect the future with the past. Where but one generation exists at a time, the sympathy and cooperation of the ages cease, and the universe is comparatively an unsympathetic solitude. Upon such a future as this Abraham did not look when he rejoiced in view of the day of Christ, nor did Moses when he anticipated the coming of his antitype, the Great Prophet, like unto himself, and for him endured reproach. They lived in the future, and felt that the future was theirs. Christ sanctions this reasoning when he says (Luke xx. 38): “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”
Belief of the Resurrection.
But this belief of immortality may assume two forms. It may, as in Greece, ignore the body at death, and hold to an immediate passage to an eternal spirit-world, or it may lead to a doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and a future life in a renewed body. That it assumed the latter form among the Jews is admitted by all. But it is asserted by Alger and others, as has been stated, that the idea came from Persia. On the other hand, it is asserted by the ancient Jews that the idea of a resurrection arose from the nature of the promises of God to the patriarchs, as to their personal possession of the promised land. It was promised, they said, not merely to the seed of the patriarchs, but to them personally, as well as to their seed. And yet, personally, they never inherited it. Of this fact the martyr Stephen thus speaks in his dying speech: “God gave Abraham no inheritance in it, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him” (Acts vii. 5). Hence the Jews came to the conclusion that, inasmuch as God would surely fulfill his promise, he would raise up Abraham and the other patriarchs, at the time of the coming of the Messiah, to inherit the land, with their descendants. In connection with this resurrection, they also looked for a renovation and restitution of all things. Whether these were fair inferences from the promises of God, is not now the question, but whether, in fact, the Jews so reasoned, and thus came to the doctrine of the resurrection. On this point there can be no doubt. Fairbairn also justifies this reasoning.
Testimony of the Jews.
Speaking of the belief that the patriarchs, personally, should inherit the promised land, he says: “No doubt such a belief implied that there must be a resurrection of the dead before the promise could be realized; and, to those who conceive immortality as altogether a blank page to the eye of an ancient Israelite, the idea may seem to carry its own refutation along with it. The rabbis, however, with all their blindness, seem to have had juster,[sic] because more Scriptural, notions of the truth and purposes of God in this respect.”
He then quotes from the comment of the Talmud, in Gemara, on Ex. Vi. 4, where God, speaking of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, says, “I have established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.” Here it is noticeable that the patriarchs are spoken of personally, and not as joined with their seed. Here, also, the Talmud raises the question, “Where does the law teach the resurrection of the dead?” The distinct answer given is this: “In that place where it is said I have established by covenant with thee, to give thee the land of Canaan, for it is not said with you, but with thee.” We are told also that when the Sadducees pressed Rabbi Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul, with the same question, he returned in substance the same answer. Menasseh Ben Israel states the argument still more fully: “God says to Abraham, I will give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger. But it appears that Abraham and the holy patriarchs did not possess that land; therefore it is of necessity that they should be raised up to enjoy the good promises; else the promises of God would be vain and false. So that we have here a proof, not only of the immortality of the soul, but also of the essential foundation of the law, the resurrection of the dead.” After making these quotations, Fairbairn remarks: “It is not surely too much to suppose that what Jewish rabbis could so certainly draw from the Word of God may have been perceived by wise and holy patriarchs. Indeed, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, not that of the mere immortality of the soul, is the form which the prospect of an after-state of being must have chiefly assumed in the minds of the earlier believers.” These views are defended at large by Fairbairn, in section 7, chapter ii, vol. I, of his “Typology,” and the whole section is well wrought out, and very interesting and able.
Persian Origin Excluded.
We, however, at present, are chiefly interested in the historical question of the origin among the Jews of the doctrine of the resurrection. And we see that the rabbis clearly testify that it originated from their own system in its earlier development, and was not a later importation from Persia.
Certainly, in the book of Daniel, where the doctrine of the resurrection is most clearly declared, it has this Jewish form. Daniel is referred for consolation to his own future resurrection to possess the holy land in these words: “Go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand up on they lot at the end of the days” (Dan. xii. 13).
Fairbairn thinks that the promised land really meant was this earth renovated and made the eternal abode of the Church. Dr. Chalmers and others are disposed to adopt the same view. This question, however, is beyond our present province. It is enough to have traced historically the origin of the doctrine of the resurrection among the Jews.
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