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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Chapter 11

The Israelites and Revelation.

In the foregoing, I have briefly narrated the history of the Israelites from Abraham, the founder of the nation, to their deliverance from the Egyptians. We will therefore pause here a little, and examine the following question: "Is it reasonable to suppose that God revealed himself to the Israelites? And is it compatible with the dignity of the Creator, to make a nation or a set of men, just released from slavery, the depository of his will?"

No one will deny, since denial is useless and unnecessary, that the Israelites were a nation just released from slavery, that they were ignorant and idolatrous; yet this admission does not in the slightest degree invalidate the assertion of Moses, that these Israelites were chosen as the depository of God's will and law. Let us but examine the object of religion, the intended influence and scope of the revealed word of God, and no solid objection can be raised to the Bible having been given to a people who were ignorant and unused to a worship different from the rites of the heathens, amongst whom they had hitherto resided. For religion is intended to fill our minds with a proper idea of God and His attributes, and in consequence, to raise our thoughts to Him, inasmuch as we are dependent upon His bounty for our daily subsistence, nay to His kindness for every moment of our life. — The more we feel our dependence upon God, the oftener the subject is brought before us in its full force, the greater the benefits are we receive from His goodness; the more must we, of necessity, be alive to His mercy, the greater will be, must be, our desire to merit the continuance of His supreme protection, by gratitude towards Him — by the observance of His precepts. — The Israelites had been for nearly two hundred years compelled to do the most degrading work, and they were even inhumanly beaten by those very persons, whose ancestors owed every thing to the Hebrew Joseph. (See above.) — At the same time the promises made to Abraham, and reiterated to the succeeding patriarchs, were not forgotten by the Hebrews. But year after year rolled on, and their toil was not diminished, the appointed time was drawing to a close, and they were yet slaves. At length, Moses, the son of Amram, communicated to them the joyful tidings that God had taken cognizance of their deplorable situation, and that even then at the moment he was speaking, the decree of their redemption had gone forth. — If not the additional pressure of the last acts of Pharaoh's tyranny had continued long, the Hebrews would probably have derided and scorned him (Moses) as a deceiver, who had mocked them with hopes of deliverance, and was even the proximate cause of additional hardships. It was not, however, the will of God, that his faithful servant should be considered in this light. — No sooner had Pharaoh announced his determination of still more tightening the chains of the captives, than Moses was sent to him, to demand again and again the release of God's first-born, namely, our nation. Pharaoh still refused. — Punishment after punishment was inflicted upon the king and his Egyptians, whilst the Hebrews remained unharmed amid the desolation around them. At length, by that dreadful scourge, the last the Egyptians suffered at home, the king was compelled to comply with God's will and dismiss Israel, and when he attempted to force them back, we have seen already the entire destruction which befell him and his army. — These things were not done in a corner, they were not done before a few men; but before the whole Hebrew and Egyptian nations, all of whom saw and (therefore) knew all, that we are told did happen. — The Egyptians, therefore, were convinced that the Eternal is a God, who cannot be offended with impunity; and the Israelites were taught, that He keeps His word, and that He rewards those who love Him, to the thousandth generation, and besides — that He was their glory and their God, Who had done all those wonderful things, which their own eyes had beheld.

In this manner were the Israelites convinced, that their sole dependence was the favor of God, for by His assistance alone were they redeemed from that captivity, of which in spite of their numbers they had been unable to free themselves by their own exertions. Their mind was therefore in a proper state to receive lasting religious impressions. They owed every thing to God, they had seen His power, and felt His forbearance; and can any man devise a state of society, where more lasting impressions could be made by the divine law, than that in which the Israelites were, when going out of Egypt? Here every thing tended to draw them to their Maker — the ties of the covenant had been renewed, and new obligations of obeying God's word had been laid upon them, and all they could do, to requite the many favors they had received, was — to devote themselves to the service of God. — It is true, they murmured several times, when they wanted bread and water, and God gratified them. — They frequently sinned, and they were punished; but soon they acknowledged the justice of the decrees of Heaven, and were forgiven, because they repented. And to this day the law is respected by us, its very pages are considered sacred, and our greatest praise is to have observed its precepts, as far as lies within our power. The impression was made three thousand years ago, and it is as fresh at this moment, as it was on that day, when, after the Israelites had seen the power of God anew displayed, by giving them water out of the hard rock, they went out under the guidance of Joshua to repel the attack of the Amalekites. They were unused to arms, yet did they fight bravely for a whole day, under the eye of the youthful hero, who led them on against an enemy, whose very trade was war; for they confided in God, and hoped that He, who had led them out of Egypt, would vouchsafe to defend them against the attack of a barbarous horde — and they were not deceived in their expectation. Moses ascended a hill, where he prayed with uplifted hands (Talmud Rosh Hashanah, chap. 3,&.8,) for those who fought, and they conquered by the name of God, to whom their hearts were raised during the battle!

Does any man want the objection at the head of the chapter refuted by more solid arguments? I think not — for what has been said already must convince every reader, that the very state of society considered objectionable to the account of Moses relative to the law having been given to the lately freed Israelites, was of all others the most favorable, and infinitely preferable to a state of affluence, where the mind of nations, equally with that of individuals, is alas, too often, and too much, engrossed with worldly affairs; and nations and individuals thus circumstanced are too little inclined to think of the decrees of their God, whose creatures they are, and to whom they are indebted for that very affluence which makes them think so highly of their own power and wisdom, and too lightly of their God and Creator.

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