Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Bible Truths.

By S. S.

No. V.

The grand distinctive characteristic between the religion revealed at Sinai and other creeds, was the want of a mystery. The simple truth of a Sole First Cause could be made manifest to the understanding of a child. Nature proclaimed Him wise and good, omniscient and all-powerful; there could be no degradation in a being who was conscious of his own weakness—who saw that his mind could not penetrate beyond the present moment, in obeying the laws laid down for his guidance, especially as these laws guarded his life, his liberty, and his moral and social position.

Other religions, on the contrary, only existed through the <<87>> mysteries that their priesthood threw around them. The neophyte could only enter the inner temple by passing through various degrees of initiation, each often of a painful nature and protracted duration; and if he found when, on mastering the last and greatest mystery, he was admitted beyond the veil of the temple of the so-called god, the whole system one great delusion, a mass of cunning falsehoods, what did it matter? It gave him power, it raised him above his fellow-men; and, taking advantage of the feelings of fear and credulity that exist, to a certain degree, in the minds of all, he wove for them garments of superstition, which, like those described in the tales of the East, could expand or contract to suit the capacity of him who put them on. Under such systems of religion no personal rights were safe, because there was no written law accessible to the public at large; for it rested with the priesthood and the government to define what were the rights of man. Man, himself, was a willing slave; for, however gross was the rite which superstition bid him perform, his credulity inspired him with the belief that he was only obeying the will of the gods. And to carry on the delusion still more effectually, the minds of the common people were dazzled with the magnificent pageantry of the heathen worship. The splendid temples, upon which were concentrated the whole wealth and genius of a nation, seemed scarcely the work of human hands. The mine and the quarry lent their aid to increase the magnificent displays, whilst the vastness of the structure, and the solemn silence which reigned within, impressed upon the misled imaginations of the people an awe, which invested the works of man, the creation of the chisel, with attributes belonging alone to an Eternal Being.

Nor was the more poetical mythology of the Greeks less indebted to the genius of the age for its adornment. With them the learned were not all priests, and philosophers laughed composedly at the idea, that the displeasure of an image, made of marble, of ivory, and gold, was to be dreaded, or its favour sought after. But they felt that superstition was an arm without which the common people could not be held in check. Any religion was better than none; and, as they knew of no one more <<88>> elegant than that which they found established, they did not interfere in its details, or fail to bestow upon it their respect in public. The history of the model republics of Athens and Sparta shows plainly that the nicer shades of morality were scarcely known, and indeed unfelt. The love of country was predominant over all, and the people cannot be blamed if their lives were not purer than the gods whom they worshipped.

The law promulgated at Sinai was of a twofold nature. Its object was to teach man his duties towards God and towards himself; and differing from all other charters, it was a voluntary compact entered into between the Creator and the creatures of his hand. It simply required the love of Israel, and the reverence of man, as an acknowledgment of the benefits conferred on the race, It sought to raise his spirit heavenward through the development of the elevating feeling of gratitude. It sought to remove care and sorrow from the human breast, by promising that the ear of the Almighty should always be open to a heartfelt prayer, and that the bosom in which the lamp of faith was lighted, should be proof against the dangers that beset the pilgrimage of life. “Thou shalt not bow down, thou shalt not worship the likeness of aught in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth,” proclaimed the voice of the Eternal; for at Sinai it was no apparent being that showed its presence. The soul heard the voice in its inmost depths, but the eye saw not that refulgent Spirit Being from whom the voice issued; and yet all Israel bowed in acknowledgment, as the voice again proclaimed Him the Sole and Eternal God and Creator, to whom, alone all honour and worship were due; and though no man might see the face of the Most High and live, yet each child of clay might in spirit approach His footstool, might enter the sanctuary of his presence at all times unannounced, and without fear, without any intercessor save a contrite heart, without any protector save God himself. For, as if to set the truth beyond cavil, when Moses offered himself as an expiation for the children of Israel, to save them from the grievous effect of the heinous sin of making and worshipping a golden calf, the Most High replied that only “Whosoever hath <<89>> sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” The moral responsibility of each individual being thus distinctly pointed out, and the punishment or reward plainly set forth, no one could plead the want of knowledge in extenuation of his fault, or the want of an intercessor to plead his cause before his Heavenly Father. Every duty of life was sanctified, and the ceremonies then instituted were well calculated to guard the purity of the religion, and constantly bring home to the mind the power and benevolence of the Supreme. The Mezuzoth on the door-posts, the Tephillin on the arm, and the Tzitzit, were continually present as monitors, to warn us from the pursuit of our heart’s desire or our eyes’ delight, if they lead us astray from the paths of virtue and peace.

The civil laws were so just in their details that the rich and the poor were equally secure of their rights, and so well adapted to the wants of society, that even modern jurisprudence is based upon those statutes, without which civilized society could scarcely exist, and which are as applicable to the state of modern nations as they were to the times of Moses and the prophets.