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CHAPTER XXV

THE HAGIOGRAPHY

"Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness."

NE of the obvious features of the Holy Scriptures is their great variety of form and contents.

While, in a most important sense, the Bible is a book, one book, the book, having all one divine source, one point of view and single purpose; it is none the less composed of many books, written at widely separated times and places, by many different authors, in divers literary forms, and for a great variety of immediate purposes.

It is possible to classify these books in many ways; according to their age, or authorship, their special themes, their literary form, or any other way convenience may suggest.

It has been customary from ancient times to classify the Old Testament in three divisions, called the Law, the Prophets and the Hagiography.

The Law and the Prophets contain the historical books, as well as those that are distinctly legal or didactic, though for some reason the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah were put in the Hagiography.

For our present purpose, we will exclude these books just mentioned, and consider the remaining nine as a group having certain features common to them all, and therefore, conveniently considered together.

But the important purpose of taking this group together is to exhibit more distinctly the unity of heir ethical teaching.

The name Hagiography means simply Holy Writings, and, in its use in reference to these portions of the Bible, indicates those books which are to be regarded as sacred, though they do not reveal either the commandments or the messages given by the prophets.

The difference is a very real one, although it is not easy to draw the line between various forms of revelation.

The books that we group under this name, are RUTH, ESTHER, JOB, THE PSALMS, THE PROVERBS, ECCLESIASTES, CANTICLES, LAMENTATIONS and DANIEL. These books are of different ages, separate authorship, and widely varied contents. They differ indeed in almost every way, but they have one feature in common; each one of them sets forth some one phase of applied religion, one special virtue or peculiar moral excellence. Taken together they give us a complete and harmonious scheme of righteous conduct, an ideal character.

The order in which the books are arranged in our Bible is not of special importance, but it happens to be a very convenient order for our present purpose.

We will consider each in its order, to discover its special message, and then notice that the resulting sum of all is not merely a few great virtues, not a group of random illustrations of practical religion and good morals, but a remarkably complete and harmonious ideal of a righteous life.

RUTH

The story of Ruth is a very simple narrative of domestic life. The heroine is a woman of the common people, not of Jewish blood, a Moabitess, but married to a man from Bethlehem and living in the land of Moab. Her husband dies and leaves her poor and homeless. She decides to return with her mother-in-law to the land of Judea. There she gleans after the reapers in the

harvest field, and carries home her scanty sheaf and shares it with her mother. By a series of simple incidents the story tells how she met with Boaz, and of her marriage.

The whole story is as simple as the prattle of a child, as homelike as the kitchen fire. The heroine does nothing at all heroic. The circumstances are as commonplace as possible; the only distinction is poverty and toil. There is not a spectacular scene in the whole story, nor any incident that is remarkable; yet this story has charmed its readers for four thousand years, because it is the real life of a womanly woman. She was poor, but all her conduct had a sweet dignity that commands respect. She toils in the field for a petty compensation, but brings home her honest earnings and shares it with her household with a simple grace. Though poor and bereft and hard working, there is never a whimper nor a cry, but a sweet and gentle acquiescence in her lot that is in perfect taste. She manifests no high degree of culture, but she has the real refinement of an honest heart, the essential elegance of a womanly woman.

It is a refreshing picture for our time of ultra conventionality and artificial grace; a pleasing contrast to the sordid sham of the pretentious rabble of rich but ill bred idlers, who flaunt themselves to the admiring gaze of a silly world.

Yet it is not at all the story of religious enthusiasm. It is a story of every day life, with its homely problems of food and home, of love and marriage. Ruth was no cloistered nun, nor pale-faced martyr, nor brilliant heroine of some tragic incident, but a woman of the common people, doing common duties in most ordinary circumstances, but doing them with the simple sincerity of a clean heart and a right spirit.

The beauty of this story is like the beauty of the forest or the meadow, the fundamental beauty of the common things.

Such is the story of the book of Ruth. It is a fine example of the most fundamental of all virtues, the virtue of a sweet and sane domestic life.

ESTHER

The story of Esther is one of the gems of literature, one of the great stories of the world.

It is in striking contrast with the Book of Ruth. Instead of lowly scenes of poverty and toil, we have here the gorgeous splendor of an oriental court; instead of the gentler graces of a commonplace lot, we have the tragic heroism of a beautiful queen; and in place of the peaceful employments of the farm and village, we have the villainous intrigues of a corrupt politician and the shrewd devices of a typical Jew. I know not which is the more beautiful; as I know not which to admire more, the stupendous grandeur of the snow crowned Alps, or the quiet beauty of the fertile valley. The world is full of various beauty, so life is full of diverse

excellence.

The story of Esther is familiar. This Hebrew girl by her unusual beauty wins the highest social position in the world of her time.

In the bloom of her youth, and in the very noonday of her remarkable prosperity, a crisis arises in the history of her people. It is suggested to her that, if she will risk her life on their behalf, it is barely possible that she may save them from destruction. She hesitates, because the risk is great and the chance of success is small. It seems a forlorn hope, and she has much to lose.

But Mordecai, her cousin and foster father, exhorts her to consider that this may be the providential reason for her being placed upon the throne. "Who knows," said he, "but that thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this."

The issue was now clearly before her. On the one hand, she could hardly have supposed that she herself was in any serious danger, and her people were probably but little known to her. To risk her life for them was certainly a very great deal to ask. On the other hand, she knew their danger, and that it was possible, at least, that, by throwing her life into the balance, she

might turn the scale and save them from destruction.

It is a most dramatic situation. On the one hand was her youth and beauty, the highest social position in the world, and the very instincts of life itself, all pleading hard, as they are ever wont to plead, "let this cup pass from me." On the other hand was duty, stern, uncompromising duty, pointing to a path, that, in all human probability, meant death; and fruitless death at that.

We must weigh all this if we would rightly judge the splendid heroism of this Hebrew girl, and properly appreciate the courage of the answer which she had the grace to send to Mordecai, "Go gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night nor day; I, also, and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish."

Then, the thrilling story of her bold adventure into the king's forbidden presence, the success of her noble effort, the escape of her people, the poetic justice of Haman's fate, the establishment of the feast of Purim which has been celebrated from that day down to this-all these combine to make the story of Esther what we have called it, one of the gems of literature, among the first and finest in the world.

It teaches in the most effective way the everlasting truth, that the people's need is the hero's opportunity, and that no one can separate himself from his community, his race, or the times in which he lives. "Who knows but thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" is but a more poetic way of saying, "a public office is a public trust," and social eminence is a moral opportunity.

The book of Esther is in some respects a surprising book to be included in the canon and classed as Holy Writ. It has but little of the odor of sanctity. The word God does not occur in all its pages. But is not this the most effective way of teach

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