|Vol. I, No. 8
Heshvan 5604, November 1843
Sermon By The Rev. D. W. Marks,
At London, On The Sabbath Nahamoo.
כה אמר יי למשיחו כורש אשר החדקתי בימינו לרד לפניו גוים ומתני מלכים אפתח לפתח לפניו דלתים ושערים לא יסגרו: אני לפניך אלך והדרים אישר דלתות נחושה אשבר ובריחי ברזל אגדע
"Thus with the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him: I will loose the loins of kings to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the doors shall not be closed. I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and rend asunder the bars of iron."—Isaiah, 65. 1, 2.
We devoted the last Sabbath's discourse to the misfortunes of Israel, so clearly predicted by the prophet Isaiah, which broke upon our fathers in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. The text we have selected for this day is also from the book of the same prophet, who not only foresaw the time when the Babylonish captivity would return, but wrote down the very name of the Persian king who would conquer Babylon and restore Israel, at least one hundred years before the monarch was born. Had this prophecy, at the time it fell from the inspired messenger of God, been made known to the Babylonians, they would unquestionably have treated it as improbable, and would have regarded it with unbelief and indifference. If ever there was a city that seemed to bid defiance to any predictions of its fall, that city was Babylon. Well might it have been called in those days impregnable, surrounded as it was by walls above three hundred feet in height, eighty feet in breadth, and, by the lowest computation, forty-eight miles in compass. It had a hundred brazen gates, and immense embankments to restrain the Euphrates, which ran through the midst of the city. It abounded also in every resource for sustaining a long siege; it possessed many fertile fields, and had within its walls provision for twenty years. The prophet bears evidence to its great importance, and calls it "The pride of kingdoms, the beauty and the excellency of the Chaldees." So confident was she in her own strength that she is represented as saying, "I shall be mistress for ever." "I am, and there is none besides me. I shall never sit as a widow; I shall never know the loss of my children." Yet from a nation so mighty, who would hold with an iron grasp the people whom they had conquered and enslaved, God had promised to deliver Israel, at the end of seventy years. It is in reference to this promise, that Isaiah addresses to his brethren the cheering words in the fortieth chapter of his book: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, oh my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and proclaim unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins." The chapter from which I now quote is read to-day as a Haphtorah in all our Synagogues, to remind us of the never-failing goodness of God, and to teach us to receive with gratitude the consolation offered to us, as well as to rely upon the future favour which our heavenly Father has promised to extend to us. This Sabbath coming immediately after the fast, is called שבת נחמו "The Sabbath of Comfort;" and was for a long time observed with great rejoicings among the Israelites. The rest of the month of Ab is also, from that day, denominated מנחם אב or "The cheering part of the month of Ab."
When, brethren, we call to mind the prophetic words embodied in our text, when we unclasp the volume of history, and read how in every particular they have been realized, must not our hearts be lifted up in gratitude and love to that almighty Sovereign, who has been to us a Father and a Guide? and must we not adore the providence of Him who has kept us as the apple of the eye, and who has not permitted us to be consumed, though the bush in which we have been placed has been every where blazing around us? The marvellous manner in which the predictions of the prophetical books have been fulfilled, should also strengthen our faith in the holy Scriptures, and should induce us to continue our trust in God for the accomplishment of all his great purposes, and for the future glory of Israel.
As it is our object this day to consider the doctrine of the restoration, an essential part of the Jewish belief: let us endeavour to view our subject by the light of Scripture and of reason; apart from the enthusiasm and speculation with which it has very frequently been considered. It will readily be admitted that the history of Israel differs, in many respects, very widely from that of other people. Whoever reads our annals, and compares facts, must arrive at the conclusion that there are circumstances connected with our preservation and our identity, for which it is not possible to account in an ordinary way. The powerful nations of antiquity which oppressed Israel are no more, and we, the victims of their persecutions, still remain, no longer certainly a nation, but in the full possession of our religion and identity.
Amongst all the Eastern monarchs, Persia alone showed mercy to Israel; although the successors of Cyrus were haughty, voluptuous, and despotic, yet did they always act kindly to Israel; and Persia alone, of all the ancient Eastern monarchies, remains to this day. Here we have an undoubted fact; let others account for it as they may, we, as Israelites, can only regard it as a miracle of God, and as a remarkable accomplishment of prophecy. Wonderful indeed has been the preservation of Israel; but the wonders are less surprising, and less multiplied, when we admit God as their Author, than when we ascribe them to the ordinary course of events. On the one hand, we attribute to God a miracle consistent with his greatness and his holy word; on the other hand, we lay upon chance the necessity of performing an uninterrupted series of miracles.
Let us ask, were there such places as Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria? was there such a kingdom as Judea? Did the Israelites perform any part in the revolutions of these empires, and are there yet upon the earth any traces of the Jewish people? Taking for granted the replies that must necessarily be given; we may farther ask, whether Israel has not been placed in scenes different to those which have at any other time been exhibited to the world, and whether some extraordinary influence has not been apparent in conducting the steps and wielding the destinies of this people? Look at Israel under the dominion of the Pharaohs, at the close of the appointed period, when God had raised up Moses to accomplish the promised deliverance of his people from their land of bondage. In the plagues inflicted upon Egypt, it is true, that visible agents were employed which produced effects correspondent to their natural powers; but their introduction, their degree and their continuance, are plainly subservient to the commands of the Legislator, and this, when it was impossible he should have any natural power to hasten, to limit, or to direct their operations; yet that he exercised such a power every instance proves. Still more decisively to prove that these awful visitations were under the immediate control of God, they were not permitted to affect Israel, though from their nature, nothing intervened to prevent it, and no human power could limit their effects. It must be evident that none of these facts could have been believed at the time they were said to have taken place, if they had not been real; and if real, they must have been miraculous. We see every element subservient to the command of Moses; he gives notice when they shall begin and when they shall cease their operations; he sets them their bounds, which they must not pass, and while the storm and the pestilence sweep away thousands on every side, they presume not to touch the race of Israel. In all this we cannot fail to discover the plain operation of that Being who alone is the God of nature, whose will controls every element, and directs every event.
The same Almighty hand is alike conspicuous during the passage of Israel to the promised land. A nation amounting to some millions of souls, with their numerous cattle, are for forty years supplied with water from a flinty rock, and with a regular supply of manna from heaven; and lest by the constancy and sameness of the supply, they should forget its supernatural origin; they find it regularly altered in conformity to the divine institution of the Sabbath. When at Sinai we find that three days' notice is given of the awful phenomenon of nature that occurred at the moment. Equally signal was the miraculous nature of the punishment inflicted on Korah and his associates. Again, the passage by Joshua over the Jordan was alike miraculous. It was not accidental, or it could not have been foreseen; it was not natural, for the river was at its height, and the waters that had been descending stood on a heap. It was not the effect of art, for any artificial alteration in the channel would have been generally known, and besides, the effect would not have been instantaneous. Seeing, then, how the finger of God directed in an especial manner all the movements of Israel, we are prepared to read of the miracles which attended the Jews in exile, and which ultimately led to their freedom.
The return of the Babylonish captivity is not only a proof of the inspiration of the Bible considered as the accomplishment of a prophecy, but is in itself a most miraculous occurrence. At that time slaves were a most important branch of property; they tilled the soil, exercised the different trades, and performed all the work in which the great mass of the people, at the present day, are employed. Hence the great difficulty in ancient times for men who were once enslaved, to gain their liberty. The interests of the state, as well as the rights and properties of individuals were against them. There may be a solitary case of a slave having been liberated, as a reward for his fidelity, or for some distinguished service; but we find no instance under old manners and customs of a large body of slaves having been suddenly set free. The conduct of Cyrus, the Persian monarch, offers to us, therefore, a most uncommon historical fact. When he conquered Babylon, he found them a whole nation of slaves, an immense property, of which so politic a prince as Cyrus must have known the value. Yet does he at once give liberty to the Israelites, and send back a whole people to their own country. It cannot be said that this was a sudden resolution adopted at the moment of victory, or that it was meant to exhibit a generous triumph over the vanquished; for Israel remained in the same state in which they had lived under the Chaldeans, for almost an entire reign under the new empire, until the seventy years of captivity were completed.
Here we have, indeed, a wonderful and indispensable testimony of the truths of the Scripture. It is a point that does not depend upon common proofs, because the occurrence proves itself. No data are here necessary, nothing is required but to believe that Israel was in Babylon, and that Israel returned from it. Their return proves the history, it supposes all that is related, and cannot in any other way be accounted for. How others will account for this extraordinary circumstance,—how they will reconcile the return of the Israelites from captivity, and their re-establishment in their own land, in opposition to so many complicated rights, to so many interests, and to the universal practice of mankind at that period, we know not; but as Israelites we declare "It came from the Lord;" for when we refer to the chapter of our text, we find the messenger of God declaring, in reference to Cyrus: "I the Lord have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways. He shall build my city, and he shall let my people go, not for a price, not for a bribe, saith the eternal Zebaoth!"
If, brethren, there were no other evidence on record of the divine mission of Isaiah: the fulfillment of this prediction at the stated time and place, and through the very prince mentioned, would of itself be sufficient to establish him as a true prophet of the Lord: Now, the same servant of the Most High speaks to us also, of a second restoration, more glorious even than the first, a restoration at the time that God shall send us his Messiah. At the return of Israel from Babylon, instead of enjoying the fullest extent of liberty, greatness and glory, with which the prophecy abounds, but a comparatively few returned; they only partially possessed their land, and were subsequently enslaved by the Greeks and Romans.
The return of the Babylonish captivity was the first restoration, but the great prophecies evidently refer to a second.
"It shall come to pass," speaks Isaiah, "in that day, that the Lord shall put forth his hand a second time to recover the remnants of his people, which shall be left from Assyria, from Pathros, and from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the Isles of the sea."
Again, Jeremiah: "But I will gather them out of all countries whither I have driven them, and I will cause them to dwell in safety."
Again, Amos: "I will plant them in their own land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord."
Also Ezekiel: "Thus saith the Lord God, In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be built, and the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay waste in the sight of all that passed by, and they shall say, this land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate cities are become fenced and inhabited."
Having, then, the warrant of God himself for a belief in our restoration, let us consult the Scriptures, in order to ascertain the means by which this great event is to be brought about. We have already seen that the history of the children of Israel has been a miracle throughout; and by a great miracle has God promised to lead them back to the land of the patriarchs. "Therefore the days come," saith the Lord, "when it shall no more be said, the Lord liveth who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. But the Lord liveth who hath brought up the children of Israel from the north country, and from all countries whither I have driven them, and they shall dwell in their own land which I have given to their ancestors." This prophecy clearly indicates that something superlatively grand will attend that restoration, for great indeed must it be, when it shall outlive and eclipse the wonders manifested in Egypt.
Yet is this to happen; it is repeated twice in the book of Jeremiah, and in language that cannot admit of a double sense; no forced interpretation can stand in applying it to any past event; for we still continue, in all our prayers, and in all our rites, to call upon our heavenly Father, as the God who brought us out of Egypt.
Thus, brethren, we learn from the volume of Holy Writ that Israel will be restored; but it will be through the immediate and miraculous work of God, and not by the combination of human powers. It will take place at such a time and in such a manner, and will be attended with such mighty results, that the political relations of every country of the globe will be materially affected, yea, entirely changed. Two practical lessons may be drawn from this, the Scriptural doctrine of Israel's restoration:
First, it should teach those who regard us in our native land as aliens, on account of our peculiar creed, that the Scriptural view of Israel's restoration does not in the remotest degree affect us in any of the duties we, as good and loyal citizens, owe to our country, nor does it in any way prevent us from rendering ourselves useful in the land of our birth.
On the contrary, it prompts us to show ourselves worthy of the rewards of industry and talent, and to vie with our compatriots in earning every honour and distinction that can be conferred by our common country.
If Judaism permitted this to Daniel and others in Babylon, where their stay was limited to seventy years, why should it not be accorded to us, who for centuries have been attached to countries by birth and association, who take in them the liveliest interest, and who will seek none other until the time when God shall miraculously change the political constitution of every empire on the globe?
Secondly, this doctrine should teach every descendant of the house of Israel the absolute necessity of keeping strictly within the pale of his faith, and of adhering to every Mosaic institution; since God has promised to restore those only who adhere to his covenant, and preserve their identity.
In order to perform this promise, and to place us in a condition to be restored, the ever watchful providence of the Most High has been graciously extended to us in all our trials; the persecutions which we have experienced, far from rooting out our blessed faith, have, through God's loving kindness and truth, tended to keep us more and more distinct in our ritual observances, in our marriages, and in every other particular which (religiously speaking) renders us a nation within a nation. Had this not been the case; had we suffered ourselves to be enticed away from the covenant of Sinai, and from the Mosaic precepts, and had we permitted ourselves to contract marriages without the pale of our community, our restoration would have been morally impossible.
This, my friends, is an opinion not peculiar to Israelites only, but obtains amongst the most learned divines of other creeds; despite however, this plain Scriptural doctrine, there are to be found in this country many hundreds of enthusiasts, who fancy themselves the immediate agents of God for bringing about the salvation of Israel, and who, in the extravagance of absurdity, call upon us to yield up the very principles. and observances of that faith, by means of which, it is evident from the word of God himself, that we shall be restored to Judea.
It is often laid to our charge, that we do not take to heart the consequences of the societies that are forming about us, and that we make no effort to oppose the attempts that are made to convert (as it is called) the sons of Israel. My friends, we do take these things to heart. We deeply lament that, in days of such universal privation and distress, and, as we are informed, of such gross ignorance and crime amongst the labouring population, the vast sums which are annually expended upon an attempt which eighteen centuries have proved to be vain and hopeless, are not directed to a quarter where sorrow might be alleviated, where the hungry might be fed, the naked clothed, and the ignorant and immoral might be led to knowledge and religion. But as regards Judaism itself, we have no fears from such societies: we depend not merely upon the uniform failure of every attempt to turn away from Judaism men of mind and principle, who understand the articles of their faith; but we rely principally upon the truth of the word of God, that He will ever be a wall round his people, that He will preserve them in their faith and identity as his great witnesses to the end of time.
We meet not, therefore, those vain attempts by controversy, or by virulence; we do not even deign to notice the calumnies which are heaped upon Israel and her adherents. But to all the ravings of enthusiasm, we reply in the words of Scripture, "Take ye counsel, and it shall come to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand, for God is with us." If, indeed, we have cause of fear, it is from the indifference, we must say, criminal indifference, of too many fathers and mothers in Israel, who practise no religion within their dwellings; who bring not their children to the house of God; but who commit their earliest education and their infant years, when impressions are most lasting, to the superintendence of strangers to their faith, who often consider it a merit to turn away the hearts of their young charges from the precepts of Judaism.
Let us hope that better times are dawning upon us; let us hope that every Israelite is now awaking to a sense of his duty to God and his covenant; and let us pray that Israel may every day become more impressed with her great destinies, and her future glory, when peace and happiness shall be universal, when Messiah shall appear upon the earth, and when Israel shall be gathered in glory to the land of promise.
"Then shall the wolf lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall dwell with the kid, the calf, the fatling, and the young lion shall feed together, and an infant shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed, and their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw as an ox, they shall not hurt or destroy in God's holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Amen.