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should escape us.
sanction of divine authority, and had a very close getic, and liigily popular among their countrymen, alliance with the more serious concerns of life, may possibly appear to us mean and contemptible; and with the sacred ceremonies. On these accounts since many things which were held by them in it happens, in the first place, that abundance of the highest veneration, are by us but little remetaphors occur in the Hebrew poetry deduced garded, or, perhaps, but little understood. from sacred subjects; and further, that there is a 2. A reference to two or three topics will of necessity for the most diligent observation, lest themselves suggest a variety of examples, suffithat very connexion with the affairs of religion ciently illustrative of the subject.—Much of the
For should we be mistaken in Jewish law is employed in discriminating between so material a point-should we erroneously ac- things clean and unclean; in removing or making count as common or profane, what is in its nature atonement for things proscribed or polluted ; and divine; or should we rank among the mean and under these ceremonies, as under a veil or covering, the vulgar, sentiments and images which are sacred a meaning the most important and sacred is conand sublime; it is incredible how much the cealed, as would be apparent from the nature of strength of the language, and the force and them, even if we had not, besides, other clear and majesty of the ideas, will be destroyed. Nothing explicit authority for this opinion. Among the in nature, indeed, can be so conducive to the rest are certain diseases and infirmities of the sublime, as those conceptions which are suggested body, and some customs evidently in themselves by the contemplation of the greatest of all Beings; indifferent : these, on a cursory view, seem light and when the august form of religion presents and trivial; but when the reasons of them are itself to the mental eye,
properly explored, they are found to be of consi
derable importance. We are not to wonder, thereA ferrent pleasure, and an awe divine,
fore, if the sacred poets sometimes hạve recourse Seizes the soul, and lifts it to its God.
to these topics for imagery, even on the most
momentous occasions, when they display the It follows, therefore, of course, that the dignity of general depravity inherent in the human mind the Hebrew poetry must, in some measure, be (Isai
. lxiv. 6), or exprobate the corrupt manners diminished in our eyes; since not only the con- of their own people (Lam. i. 8, 9, 17; ii. 2), or nexion of the imagery with sacred things must when they deplore the abject state of the virgin, frequently escape our observation, but even when the daughter of Zion, polluted and exposed, Isai. it is most apparent, it can scarcely strike us with i. 5, 6, 16; Ezek. xxxv. 17. If we consider that force and vivacity with which it must have these metaphors without any reference to the repenetrated the minds of the Hebrews. The whole ligion of their authors, they will doubtless appear system of the Hebrew rites is one great and com- in some degree disgusting and inelegant; if we plicated allegory, to the study and observance of refer them to their genuine source, to the peculiar which all possible diligence and attention were rites of the Hebrews, they will be found wanting incessantly dedicated by those who were employed neither in force nor in dignity. Of the same in the sacred offices. On this occupation and nature, or at least analogous to them, are those study, therefore, all good and considerate men ardent expressions of grief and misery which are were intent; it constituted all their business, all poured forth by the royal prophet (who, indeed, their amusement; it was their treasure and their in many of those divine compositions, personates hope ; on this every care and every thought was a character far more exalted than his own); espeemployed; and the utmost sanctity and reverence cially when he complains that he is wasted and distinguished every part of their conduct which consumed with the loathsomeness of disease, and bad any relation to it. Much dignity and subli- bowed down and depressed with a burden of sin, mity must also have resulted from the recollection too heavy for human nature to sustain, Ps. xxxviii. which these allusions produced, of the splendour On reading these passages, some who were but and magnificence of the sacred rites themselves; little acquainted with the genius of the Hebrew the force of which, upon the minds of those who poetry, have pretended to inquire into the nature had frequent opportunities of observing them, of the disease with which the poet was affected; must have been incredible. Such a solemn gran- not less absurdly, than if they had perplexed deur attended these rites, especially after the themselves to discover in what river he was building of Solomon's temple, that, although we plunged, when he complains that “the deep e possessed of very accurate descriptions, our waters had gone over his soul.” imaginations are still utterly unable to embody 3. But as there are many passages in the Hethem. Many allusions, therefore, of this kind, brew poets which may seem to require a similar which the Hebrew poets found particularly ener-defence, so there are, in all probability, many
which, although they now appear to abound in themselves must be approached, the peculiar beauties and elegancies, would yet be thought flavour of which cannot be conveyed by aquemuch more sublime, were they illustrated from ducts, nor indeed by any exertion of modern art. those sacred rites to which they allude, and, as 4. The poetic images which the Hebrew excellent pictures, viewed in their proper light. writers have drawn from the SACRED HISTORY, To this purpose many instances might be produced differ very materially from those we have already from one topic, namely, from the precious and noticed. magnificent ornaments of the priest's attire. Such 1. In this class of images there is scarcely any was the gracefulness, such the magnificence, of the thing that is difficult or obscure; few of the passacerdotal vestments, especially those of the high- sages in which they occur will seem to require priest; so adapted were they, as Moses says, to explication or defence : all will be at once perthe expression of glory and of beauty, that to spicuous, splendid, and sublime. Sacred History those who were impressed with an equal opinion illuminates this class of imagery with its proper of the sanctity of the wearer, nothing could pos- light, and renders it scarcely less conspicuous to sibly appear more venerable and sublime. To us than to the Ilebrews themselves. There is, these, therefore, we find frequent allusions in the indeed, this difference, that to the Hebrews the Hebrew poets, when they have occasion to de-objects of these allusions were all national and scribe extraordinary beauty or comeliness, or to domestic; and the power of them, in moving or delineate the perfect form of supreme Majesty. delighting the mind, was, of course, proportionably The elegant Isaiah (chap. lxi. 10) has a most greater; nay, frequently, the very place, the scene beautiful idea of this kind, when he describes, in of action, certain traces and express tokens of so his own peculiar manner (that is, most magnifi- many miracles lying before their eyes, must have cently), the exultation and glory of the church, increased the effect. To us, on the other hand, after its triumphal restoration. Pursuing the however we may hold these facts in veneration, or allusion, he decorates her with the vestments of however great and striking they may be in themsalvation, and clothes her in the robe of righteous- selves, the distance of time and place must of
He afterwards compares the church to a necessity render them less interesting. bridegroom dressed for the marriage, to which 2. The manner in which these metaphors are comparison incredible dignity is added by the formed is well deserving of observation, and is, word yog' yekahen, a metaphor plainly taken from in fact, as follows. In describing or embellishing the apparel of the priests, the force of which, illustrious actions, or future events of a miraculous therefore, no modern language can express. No nature, the Ilebrew poets are accustomed to introimagery, indeed, which the IIebrew writers could duce allusions to the actions of former times, such employ, was equally adapted with this to the as possess a conspicuous place in their history; display of the infinite majesty of God. JEHOVAH and thus they illuminate with colours, foreign is therefore introduced by the Psalmist as “clothed indeed, but similar, the future by the past, the with glory and with strength” (xciii. 1); he is recent by the antique, facts less known by others "girded with power” (Ps. cxxxix. 15); which more generally understood. This property seems are the very terms appropriated to the describing peculiar to the poetry of the Hebrews; at least
, of the dress and ornaments of the priests.
it is but seldom to be met with in that of other 4. But with reference to this class of meta- nations. phors, especially, it must not be concealed, that 3. One very fruitful topic, in furnishing to the it is scarcely or not at all possible, for any trans- sacred poets these allusions, is the chaos and the lation fully to represent the genuine sense of the creation, which compose the first pages of the sacred poets, and that delicate connexion which, sacred history. These are constantly alluded to, for the most part, exists between their poetical as expressive of any remarkable change, whether imagery, and the peculiar circumstances of their prosperous or adverse, in the public affairs; of nation. This connexion frequently depends upon the overthrow or restoration of kingdoms and the use of certain terms, upon a certain associa- nations; and are consequently very common in tion between words and things which a translation the prophetic poetry, particularly when any ungenerally perplexes, and very frequently destroys. usual degree of boldness is attempted. If the This, therefore, is not to be preserved in the most subject be the destruction of the Jewish empire literal and accurate version, much less in any by the Chaldeans, or a strong denunciation of poetical translation, or rather imitation, though ruin against the enemies of Israel, it is depicted there are extant some not unsuccessful attempts in exactly the same colours as if universal nature of this kind. To relish completely all the excel were about to relapse into the primeval chaos. lencies of the Hebrew literature, the fountains Thus Jeremiah, in that sublime, and indeed more
than poetical vision, in which is represented he occurs. Thus, as the devastation of the Iloly impending desolation of Judea :
Land is frequently represented by the restoration I beheld the earth, and lo! disorder and confusion ;
of ancient chaos, so the same event is sometimes The heavens also, and there was no light.
expressed in metaphors suggested by the universal I beheld the mountains, and lo! they trembled; deluge And all the hills shook.
Behold, Jehovah emptieth the land and maketh it I bebeld, and lo! there was not a man;
waste; And all the fowls of the heavens were fled.
He even turneth it upside down, and scattereth I beheld, and lo! the fruitful field (was become) the
abroad the inhabitants. desert;
For the flood-gates from on high are opened ;
And the foundations of the earth tremble.
The land is grievously shaken ;
The land is utterly shattered to picces,
The land is violently moved out of her place ; And on a similar subject, Isaiah expresses himself The land reeleth to and fro like a drunkard ; with wonderful force and sublimity,
And moveth this way and that, like a lodge for a night.
Isa. xxiv. 1, 18—20. And he shall stretch over her the line of devastation, And the plummet of emptiness. Isa. xxxiv. 11.
These are great ideas; indeed the human mind Each of the prophets not only had in his mind the cannot easily conceive any thing greater or more Mosaic chaos, but actually used the words of the sublime. divine historian. The same subjects are amplified
4. The emigration of the Israelites from Egypt, and embellished, with several adjuncts, in the fol- as it affords materials for many magnificent delowing passages :
scriptions, is commonly applied in a metaphorical
manner to many events which bear no unapt The sun and the moon are darkened,
resemblance to it. Does God promise to his And the stars withdraw their shining.
people liberty, assistance, security, and favour? Jehovah also will thunder from Sion, And from Jerusalem will he utter his voice;
The exodus occurs spontaneously to the mind of And the heavens and the earth shall shake. the poet: the dividing of the sea, the destruction
Joel ü. 15, 16. of the enemy, the desert which was safely traAnd all the host of heaven shall waste away:
versed, and the torrents bursting forth from the And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll ; rocks, are so many splendid objects that force And all their host shall wither;
themselves on his imagination.As the withered leaf falleth from the vine,
Thus saith Jehovah :
Who made a way in the sea,
And a path in the mighty waters; On the contrary, when he foretels the restoration Who brought forth the rider and the horse, the army of the Israelites :
and the warrior:
Together they lay down, they rose no more ; For I am Jehovah thy God;
They were extinguished, they were quenched like He who stilleth at once the sea,
tow: Though the waves thereof roar;
Remember not the former things; Jehorah, God of Hosts, is his name,
And the things of ancient times regard not: I have put my words in thy mouth;
Behold, I make a new thing; And with the shadow of my hand have I covered
Even now shall it spring forth; will ye
Yea, I will make in the wilderness a way; To stretch out the heavens, and to lay the foundation In the desert, streams of water. of the earth;
Isa. xliji. 16–19. And to say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
Isa. li. 15, 16.
5. Of the same kind is the last of these topics Thus, therefore, shall Jehovah console Zion;
which shall be instanced, the descent of Jehovah He shall console her desolations :
at the delivery of the Law. When the Almighty And he shall make her wilderness like Eden;
is described as coming to execute judgment, to And her desert like the garden of Jehovah:
deliver the pious, and to destroy his enemies, or Joy and gladness shall be found in her ;
in any manner exerting his divine power upon Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
earth, the description is embellished from that
Ch. li, 3. tremendous scene which was exhibited upon In the former of these two last-quoted examples, Mount Sinai; there is no imagery more frequently the universal deluge is exactly delineated, and on recurred to than this, and there is none more similar subjects the same imagery generally sublime.
THE INTERPRETATION OF SYMBOLICAL LANGUAGE.
For, behold, Jehovah will go forth from his place ; to the profane writers a sufficient store of this And he will come down, and will tread on the high kind of imagery, nor did their subjects in geneplaces of the earth.
ral require that use or application of it.
Mic. i. 3, 4. The earth shook and was alarmed,
The Nature of Symbolical Language-Erroneous Notions enAnd the foundations of the hills rocked with terror ; tertained upon this Topic-Origin and Progressive ImproveFor the wrath of Jehovah was hot against them.
ment of Writing - Picture Writing-Symbols—Language of Before his face a smoke ascended,
Signs - Rules for the Interpretation and Application of And a flame consumed before his presence ;
Symbols. Burning fires were kindled by it.
Having treated of the various means by which He bowed the heavens and came down,
an interpreter of the Bible must seek to ascertain And clouds of darkness were beneath his feet. He rode upon the pinions of the cherubim,
the signification of words, and thence the sense And flew on the wings of the wind.
of the text; it remains to notice, as distinct He concealed himself in a veil of darkness;
branches of interpretation, those which relate to A pavilion encompassed him
symbols and types. This section will be confined Of black water, and thick clouds of ether.
to the interpretation of symbols ; types will form
Ps. xviii. 7-11. the subject of another section. III. These examples, though literally translated, I. The loose and imperfect notions entertained and destitute of the harmony of verse, will suffi- upon the subject of symbolic language, have inciently demonstrate the force, the grandeur, and duced a very general conviction, that it is necesthe sublimity of those images, which, when sarily of a vague and indeterminate character; unapplied to other events, suggest ideas still greater certain in its meaning, and subject to no defined than when described as plain facts by the pen of principles of interpretation. That such an opinion the historian, in however magnificent terms: for, is erroneous, is demonstrable from the fact that it to the greatness and sublimity of the images that is a species of language employed to a very conare alluded to, is added the pleasure and admiration siderable extent in the sacred writings. For, surely, which result from the comparison between them it would be to impeach the divine wisdom, to and the objects they are brought to illustrate. suppose that God has adopted, as a medium of
IV. It is evident, however, as well from the communicating important truths, that which is examples that have been adduced, as from the extremely liable, from its arbitrary and therefore nature of the thing itself, that this species of variable character, become unintelligible, or metaphor is peculiarly adapted to the prophetic to present no certain meaning, after a very short poetry. For some degree of obscurity is the lapse of time. Such is not the nature of symbolic necessary attendant upon prophecy; not that, language; for, as Bishop Hurd has remarked, it is indeed, which confuses the diction and darkens reducible to rule, and is constructed on such printhe style, but that which results from the neces-ciples as make it the subject of just criticism and sity of repressing a part of the future, and from rational interpretation.* the impropriety of making a complete revelation II. But in order to form a just conception of of
every circumstance connected with the predic- the principles on which this kind of language is tion. The event itself, therefore, is often clearly constructed, it will be necessary to glance at the indicated, but the manner and the circumstances probable origin of writing, and then to trace the are generally involved in obscurity. To this pur- steps by which it has been brought to its present pose, imagery, such as we have specified, is excel- state of perfection. lently adapted; for it enables the prophet more 1. With this view, let us carry ourselves back forcibly to impress upon the minds of his auditors, in imagination to the infant state of the world, those parts of his subject which admit of amplifi- before the use of letters was known, and when cation; the force, the splendour, the magnitude, the only established mode of communication of every incident; and at the same time more between man and man was that of vocal language. completely to conceal, what are proper to be con- In such a state of society, how may we rationally cealed, the order, the mode, and the minuter cir- suppose that one person would proceed to inform cumstances attending the event. It is also no another of any circumstance connected with a parless apparent, that in this respect, the sacred poetry bears little or no analogy to that of other
* Introduction to Discourses on the Study of Prophecy, Vol. nations; since neither history nor fable afforded 1., p. 90.
ticular object. The reply is obvious. If the object were in sight, he would direct attention 1.9, and so on; the manner in which the symbol
introduced, rendering the idea perfectly inteltowards it, and point out the particulars upon ligible to the persons whom the language was emwhich he desired to communicate information ; ployed to address. And what thus appears to be if the object were not in sight, nor readily acces- reasonable in theory, is found to have been actual sible, he would sketch a rude drawing of it, and in fact, among nearly all the nations with which substitute that for the object itself. In this we have become acquainted. Even after lanmanner, the idea of a man, a horse, a house, or a guages became more copious, and could furnish tree, might, as single objects, be as distinctly many terms proper for expressing abstract ideas communicated as by alphabetic characters; while and internal qualities, the old method continued, two or more houses might be made significative and was blended with oral language, and with of a town, and two or more trees of a wood. By literal writing. thus continuing to copy, in successive series
, such 4. Strange as this method of imparting knowthings or objects of common notoriety as the train ledge may appear to the moderns, it was brought of ideas might call for, a kind of connected nar- to such perfection as to possess powers of expresrative of passing events might be drawn up, which, sion far beyond what can now be easily conceived. though not calculated for minute accuracy, could This is plain, as Dr. Tilloch has remarked, from be generally understood and interpreted. the number of synonymous symbols that are
2. Such would be the first attempts of men to known to have been employed in it; nor is it difcommunicate their ideas by written language ; but ficult, in some instances, as he further suggests, to it is easy to perceive that the scope of such a see in what manner they were derived. Every species of language must be extremely limited, department of nature furnished objects that were and would totally fail in delineating the internal fitted, in some way, for the purpose : hence, to qualities of objects, of pure mental conceptions, express a king, they were not confined to the brute or of abstract ideas. These, however, were re-creation : whatever was the chief of its kind bequired to be conveyed by writing ; and the common came, or by common consent might have become, consent of mankind, in ascribing peculiar internal a legitimate symbol of a monarch; as the eagle, qualities and virtues to external forms, and asso- which was so employed, because conceived to ciating the abstract idea with the various instru- possess the first rank among the feathered tribes. ments by which certain effects were produced, Again, as a king's power to subdue his enemies soon enabled them to lay hold of such forms and depends on the strength of his kingdom, and as objects, to express the qualities and virtues them- animals with horns are, ceteris paribus, stronger selves. *
than those which have none, horns are put for 3. Thus, an Eye might be made to signify watch-kingdoms ; and kings having the direction of the fulness or care ; an arm, porcer or might; an Arrow, national force, the same symbol is, by metonymy, a calamity or judgment; a chain, bondage or afflic- put for kings. In like manner, the firmament, tim ; a bow, strength or victory; a SHIELD, defence. to use the ancient term, being elevated above the In the same way, any thing possessing cer- earth, and esteemed more splendid and glorious tain qualities might be employed as a substitute than terrestrial objects, was employed to symbolize for some other object to which one or more of the most elevated ranks among men; and as, the qualities proper to that object were ascribed. among the planets, the sun possesses incomparably For instance, a fox might be employed to repre- the highest lustre, it became the symbol of susent a cunning man ; a LAMB, a meek or gentle one; preme porcer, while the stars were made the syma Lion, a strong and powerful one; a TIGER or bols of those possessing authority subordinate to LEOPARD, a ferocious one ; or a BEAR, a fierce and the supreme.t frage one. If it were wished to represent a man III. The oldest writings which the corroding who was both porcerful and ferocious, a compound tooth of time has suffered to reach us, and parti symbol of the lion and the leopard would be cularly the prophetic books of Scripture, abound resorted to; and to represent one who was cunning in symbolical language. and sacage, the fox and the bear would be united 1. The reason for this use of symbols may not in one symbol. Or each of these objects might at first appear, because it cannot be supposed that become a representative of the abstract qualities the paucity of the Hebrew language, at the time themselves; as of cunning, meekness, strength, fero- these writings were published, was such as ren
dered a resort to the language of symbols neces* See Warburton's Divine Legation, Vol. II., b. iv., sect. 4, sary; and the usual reason assigned, namely that $ 1,2; Macknight's VIIIth Essay on the Interpretation of Scriptorre Language ; Blair's Lectures, lect. vij.; and Good's Book of Nature, ser es ü. lect. 10.
+ Tilloch on the Apocalypse, Dissert. 3, § 2.