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CHAPTER XVII

OBADIAH

HE Book of Obadiah is the shortest of all the books of the Old Testament, and the least attractive.

It consists of one brief message, announcing the doom of Edom. This is given in the first four verses, and the rest of the chapter is the prophet's comment on the destruction which he foresaw.

The malignant cruelty of Edom in the day of Judah's misfortune, and her shameful rejoicing over her neighbor's distress, no doubt merited the resentment which the Jews felt against her.

The fact that the nation was supposed to be descended from Esau, and was thus the twin-brother to Israel, had, in earlier times, been recognized as the basis of a certain degree of sympathy between them; and in fact, the laws of Israel did make a distinction between Edom and other heathen nations; e. g., "Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, he is thy brother." Deut. XXIII:7.

But, on the other hand, what they had in common served to intensify their sense of that antipathy which existed between their national ideals.

Israel was above all else a religious nation,-not always highly moral, never living up to his ideals, but always possessed of a strong passion for the ideal, abounding in hopes and fertile in visions. Edom, like Esau their father, was a "profane person." "Essentially irreligious, living for food and spoil and vengeance, with no national conscience or ideals," so Dr. George Adam Smith describes them, and adds, "It is therefore no mere passion for revenge which inspires these few hot verses of Obadiah

no doubt there is exultation in the news he hears; but beneath such savage tempers, there beats a heart that beats for the highest things, and now, in its martyrdom, sees them baffled and mocked by a people without vision and without feeling.

Justice and mercy and truth; the education of humanity in the law of God, the establishment of his will upon earth-these things, it is true, are not mentioned in the Book of Obadiah, but it is for sake of some dim instinct of them that its wrath is poured upon foes whose treachery and malice seek to make them impossible by destroying the one nation on earth who then believed in them and lived for them.

Consider the situation. It was the darkest hour of Israel's history. City and Temple had fallen; the people had been carried away. Up over the empty land the waves of mocking heathen had flowed; there was none to beat them back.

A Jew who had lived through these things, who had seen the day of Jerusalem's fall, and passed from her ruins under the mocking of her foes, dared to cry back unto the large mouths they made: "Our day is not spent; we shall return for the things we live for; the land shall yet be ours, and the kingdom our God's.' Brave hot heart. It shall be as thou sayest."

The case of Obadiah could hardly ask a more eloquent advocate; and even if the "hot heart" seems somewhat lacking in the spirit of forgiveness that we hear in the words that were spoken on the cross, "Father, forgive them," we remember that it is God's love for man that constrains him to destroy them that destroy the earth; and, after all, there is no substitute for justice.

HAGGAI

Haggai is the prophet of the practical. He was the first of those who prophesied after the return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem, They were a feeble folk, beset by difficulties,

and burdened with a task almost too great for human strength. Inspired as they were by memories of a great past and hopes for a greater future, they were, nevertheless, sorely pressed by their present poverty and necessary toil. To find food and shelter, to restore some sort of social order, and lay foundations for the new state were labors that might well seem to be all that they could possibly accomplish.

But Haggai had set his heart on one thing, the rebuilding of the temple.

It seems, perhaps, at first sight, that this was a matter that might be postponed until the absolute necessities of life were

more secure.

So it seemed to those whom he addressed. But the prophet was wiser than his critics, for he appreciated, as they did not, the fact that the rebuilding of the temple was an absolute necessity to their national life. Without it, the continuity of their religious life could not be sustained. They could not hope for political independence, and the bonds of common blood and common ethical customs could not prevent the disintegration of their national ideals, unless they had some central object of devotion, some nucleus around which their new life might organize and be developed.

To suppose that Haggai was zealous only for the restoration of Ecclesiastical functions, that he was of the Pharisaic spirit that imagined that ritual and sacrifice constitute religion and purchase the favor of God, is to mistake the meaning of his message utterly. What he urged was the necessary means to the rebuilding of their national hopes, the restoration of divinely ordained means of grace by which alone the moral and spiritual blessings for which Israel had always stood could be realized. His appeal to the unfruitful seasons as an evidence of God's displeasure was the point of view of all ancient nations; and was, on the whole, much nearer the truth than our modern habit of mind which attributes all natural phenomena to a blind

and aimless action of forces, according to what we personify under the name of nature. That the permanent prosperity of any people is due to moral causes is unquestionable,-attested by every page of history.

In attributing bad harvests to God's disfavor, the prophets only assert, in particular, what is, in general, admitted by all. God keeps an open account with men; he does not balance his books at the end of every month, or every year; but, in the long run, the books of the universe do balance, the moral, and the spiritual, and the natural are one harmonious system—a cosmos.

It is a commonplace of science that you cannot cheat nature; soon or late we reap what we have sown. Haggai puts it only a little more directly when he cries, "He that earneth wages earneth wages to put into a bag with holes." The net result of our activities is dependent on the completeness of our conformity to the laws of God, moral and physical.

The response of the people to this preaching of Haggai was prompt and cordial, and the work of rebuilding the temple was begun. The feebleness of their resources made it impossible to rebuild the temple in its former glory. And the contrast between the new and the old was painful and discouraging. But Haggai lifts up his voice in comfort and encouragement: "Be strong, O Zerubbabel; be strong, O Joshua; be strong, all ye people of the land, for I am with you saith the Lord of hosts." The point of this message is that the important matter is not the material glory of their building, but the spirit that was in them.

"The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts." He had no need of these things, from men, but he did desire the loyal devotion which could be shown in no other way than by their willingness to sacrifice for the cause of truth and righteousness.

Then follows the vision of the future in which the prophet sees the strength of kingdoms destroyed, and the "desirable

things" of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." The things that really matter

are secure.

JONAH

The Book of Jonah can hardly be called prophecy, in the ordinary sense of the term.

In form, it is a simple, and exceedingly well told story of a prophet's experience. Like the stories of Daniel and his friends, the message is conveyed rather by the action than by the words of the prophet.

The story is familiar, and falls in three sections: 1st, The prophet's flight from the call of duty, and his miraculous arrest -Chapter 1; 2nd, his prayer, II; 3rd, his mission to Ninevah accomplished, III.

Whether the story is to be interpreted literally, and his experience taken as actual fact, or the whole story to be understood as a parable, is a much debated question.

It seems probable that the latter view would be more readily accepted if it were not so often advocated on grounds that are not acceptable, namely, the incredibility of miracles.

When we are asked to take it as an allegory, because it is incredible as history, we are apt to refuse, because we do not believe that miracles are essentially incredible, holding that miracles are, like everything else, matters of evidence that there is no a priori obstacle to the belief in the supernatural, nor any reason to assume that God does not interpose his hand in extraordinary ways to accomplish his wise purposes.

This belief, which is perfectly reasonable, does not question the uniformity of natural law, nor deny the presumption that the order of nature is reliable, but simply holds that what has happened can be known only by the examination of evidence.

The firmest conviction that miracles have occurred, however,

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