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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Chapter 5

The History of Revelation — Adam — Noah.

I deemed it altogether unavoidable, before commencing to draw arguments from the Pentateuch, to prove at first, that it is highly reasonable to believe that its contents are true. Having accomplished this task, in the best manner I could, I shall now resume my original proposition, namely, to adduce proof in favor of the revelation given to Moses, and the subsequent adherence of the Israelites to the same, from his time until the present day.

In Chapter I. I have shown, that it is reasonable to conclude that God revealed himself to mankind, and have at the same time proved, that the contrary opinion would accuse the Almighty of injustice towards man.

But I hear the infidels and the wavering say: — "Most true, it would be unjust to suffer the world to be without a rule of right; but was it just in God to do, as you Jews assert him to have done, to give a law to you only, and that after two thousand years from the creation?"

Before answering this question, I must state that I shall in the sequel adopt the Mosaic writings as universally acknowledged, and therefore argue from them without stopping to prove the correctness of every passage, having, as I conceive, already amply demonstrated the truth of the whole. Having premised this much, I have to state that the above objection would stand good, provided the assertion were true, that no revelation was known to mankind before Moses; but, it can be shown that the fact is otherwise. It is unnecessary to prove, that God is capable, when He is willing to communicate His commandments to mankind; we Jews believe Him not alone capable and willing, but also think that He has actually done so, and we shall continue in this our belief, till some one can prove that no revelation was given. — In support of our belief, we may cite the test of our Holy Writ, where this is so plainly written, as to leave no doubt upon our minds of the fact, believing at the same time, that the contents of Holy Writ are strictly conformable to truth.

The question arises then: — "Can it be proven from Holy Writ, that there was a revelation before Moses, and were there any inspired men, in his time, among other nations, besides the Jews?"

To prove the affirmative, it is only necessary to give an abstract of the history of the world until Moses, to satisfy the greatest skeptic.

From nothing did the Almighty call every thing into existence, and He clothed the world in light by the word of His mouth, as Moses so beautifully saith: "And God said, let there be light, and there was light." After organizing the mighty structure of the star-clad heavens, He on the sixth day of the creation created man, in the manner related in the second chapter of Genesis; He formed his body out of the clay of the earth, but unlike other animals formed in the same manner, which are only endowed with instinct, He imparted to him a living soul, by which He made man an intellectual being. He gave him also a companion to cheer him during his hours of toil, and to share his prosperity. — Immediately after the history of their creation, we find God imparting His will to the man whom He had made, or in other words, He revealed Himself to Adam. But oh, our sinful propensities, when we once give way to them, when we, to avoid hurting the feelings of those we love, rather sin with them than give them reproof! — Eve was tempted to taste the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, and Adam ate, by her persuaded. — Adam and his wife were before in a state of innocence; but now their innocence was past, they had offended God their Creator. Before, the earth spontaneously yielded them its fruit, and man needed only to apply himself to work, to gather that which was so bounteously offered him; but now labor was decreed to him during his sojourn on earth. — Before, he only saw his wife happy; but now he was obliged to see her often writhing under severe pain. Before, he could listen to the word of God with joy and elevation of heart; but now it seemed to him the terrible voice of thunder, which splitteth cedars and maketh the wilderness quake. And this was not all, for even death — the dissolution of the body — that noble fabric of the Deity — became man's lot; and not even the descendants of Adam were exempt from that dread decree, and a mortal father begat a mortal son.

But was the decree of God just, in punishing so trifling a transgression so severely? — Yes! Yes! It was not that the act in itself was so very heinous; but the disobedience to the only command of God given to Adam constituted the offense. Man, by this act had lost his innocence, remorse must have visited him, for disobeying so just a God, and all his life would in consequence have been embittered. But death being destined to close at last his career on earth, and as he knew, that the living soul within him could not die with his body, he had an incentive to virtue — to regain that heaven by repentance and good deeds, which he had forfeited by disobedience. His life, before his fall, was free from earthly cares, indeed; but as he existed then as man — flesh and spirit — he could not enjoy that happiness, which he can be heir to in his present state, when he by the exercise of virtue, or repentance, when he has erred, deserves that happiness, which no eye has seen save that of God alone. — And the Talmud in accordance with this teaches, and inculcates by examples and passages drawn from the prophets, that repentance, sincere repentance, and good deeds are a shield against punishment, and guides to eternal life. — Adam had fallen, but did God forsake him? No, He, to use the language of man, sought him out, and asked of him: "Where art thou?" He did not at once upbraid him with his ingratitude, but called him first, to give him an opportunity of defending himself. But who can justify himself against Thee, O Almighty God? Who trembleth not when Thou speakest in thunder? — Adam attempted to shift the fault on his wife, and she was indeed more guilty than himself, and her tempter more guilty still; and in the same manner was their punishment ordained, — thus giving a lesson to mankind, that, though many be guilty of the same offense, minor guilt should never suffer the same punishment with consummate crime. But great is the Eternal's goodness; while in justice compelled to punish, He at the same time took notice of the altered state of mortals — altered by their own fault — and provided them with covering, since the consciousness of guilt forbade them to appear any longer to each other, as they had done before, because their ideas and desires were no longer pure and unsullied. Adam was henceforward banished from the garden of Eden, to mourn in his toil and increased labor, over his fallen state; and the Cherubim were placed at the entrance of the garden, to guard with the flaming sword the road to the tree of life, and to prevent the re-entrance of man, till being purified by a holy life and submission to the will of his Maker, he be worthy again of a state of unmixed pleasure and uninterrupted enjoyment.

Though it is not stated in express language, it must nevertheless be inferred, that partial revelation, or to speak more intelligibly, a limited number of laws, were given to Adam and his immediate descendants. For we hear God reproving Cain for the murder of his brother, and even speaking to him of sin, and of man's power to conquer his passions, and to do good, when he will. (Gen. iv. 7.) Cain was severely punished for his crime; and would God have punished him if he had not known that the act he was committing was sinful? Would that be justice? — We are therefore forced to admit, that God had imparted some of the civil institutions at least to the first men, for their government. — In further confirmation of this point, we may adduce the example of Hannoch (Enoch), who is said "to have walked with God" (acted as He desired); and how could Hannoch act so, if he had not been certified of the will of God? — Noah was to admit into the ark seven pair of all clean animals and two only of unclean ones; now what criterion did he have to distinguish between the two kinds, without revelation.

I am free to confess, that these inferences will not prove any thing positive, though they be ever so ingenious; but we have more solid ground to stand on in the ninth chapter of Genesis, where we see God giving laws to Noah and his children. The world had been overflowed; all men, save eight, had been swept off from the face of the earth; and when the flood had subsided, we see the Father of all, either kindly renewing the old, or giving altogether new commandments, for the regulation of the conduct of the children of Adam.

But when men again began to multiply, they soon forgot the God who had made them; ambitious of renown, they built a city and a high tower, resolved to dwell there, and thus prevent their being dispersed over the face of the earth, when God had decreed otherwise. To frustrate their design therefore, He changed their speech, so that no one understood the language of the other, and thus they were compelled to relinquish their building, and seek homes in the different quarters of the globe. — Men soon after settled in communities, those descended from one man, or one family, in the same neighborhood, and adopted such laws for their government, as suited their fancy. But they soon forgot — because they soon neglected — the word of their Creator — they no more remembered the dreadful scourge of the flood, being secured by God's own word against the recurrence of that calamity — they forgot that they themselves had been punished for their pride and arrogance; they became rebellious against God's majesty, and began to worship idols, and bowed to the work of their own hands. Some adored the sun and the whole host of heaven, whilst others even worshipped the crocodile, the ox, and the ibis. — A man distinguished himself in war, or slew a monster that infested a district, immediately the bards chanted his praise — he was made the lord paramount of his countrymen — who, as his subjects, fell down in the dust before him — and his descendants declared him a god, and filled his altars with the blood of men; and thus tyranny spread at the same time with the growth of superstition.

Such a race was not worthy of receiving the pure and holy law of the pure and holy Eternal. What, are those, who, forgetful of God's first and solemn commandment to Noah, slay their fellow beings as sacrifices to their idols — are they, we say, fit to receive the word, which is as pure as the bright flame? Would such men, speak, philosophers! If you can, be a fit depository for the law of God? — Where then is the injustice, in God's not promulgating the whole law at this early period of the world?

But let us turn from the sickening spectacle, where man is not much elevated above the brute, and let us look upon a brighter scene. When danger is the most pressing, help is frequently nearest; and so even was it in the person of our ancestor of glorious memory, who arose the messenger of truth and piety, when wickedness was spreading fast and threatened to shroud every thing in gloom. — Every one acquainted with sacred history knows, that I speak of the peaceful, unpresuming shepherd — Abram, who born of idolatrous parents acknowledged in infancy even, as tradition tells, the name of the Most High, and even suffered for the sanctification of the God of his salvation. He placed his trust in the Rock of ages — and, happy patriarch! Thy hope was not misplaced, thy expectations were not in vain; for thy faith was recorded on high, thy sufferings were none of them forgotten, and amply wast thou rewarded, when the voice commanded thee to leave thy father's house; though to leave kindred and friends must have been painful to thy feeling bosom, yet was it sufficient compensation to thee, to have heard the voice of Him, Who created the world by His word. Thou didst obey His word and went forth into a strange land, and great was thy reward! — May all thy descendants thus follow thee to obey God and to love Him, that they all may with thee rise from the ashes to everlasting happiness, in the presence of the God of Hosts. Amen!

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