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profound depression of the Dead Sea (1291 ft. below the Mediterranean level); and beyond that, up the basin of the Jordan to its sources in Mount Lebanon ; so that, if the “saddle" between Akabah Gulf and the Dead Sea were removed, the Arabian Sea would reach as far as to the Waters of Merom in Upper Galilee !
Now supposing the Akabah Gulf to extend as far along the Peninsula on its east side as along the Red Sea on the west, a line drawn across country between the extremities of the two, from east to west, will form with the two a nearly equilateral triangle. This triangle is the Sinaitic Peninsula. That line, the northern base of the triangle, is the boundary between the Peninsula and “the great and terrible wilderness" (et Tih) extending north between Sinai and Palestine. We in Exodus have nothing further to do with it, except to look South from it, upon that Peninsula along whose northern boundary it stretches as a base line. Beyond the base line northward “the wilderness" is flat with undulations; a part of that Great Desert, which stretches east along North Africa, and into Asia across Arabia, on to the basin of the Euphrates. In that Great Desert Egypt is an oasis, a “gift of the Nile ;" and the Sinaitic Peninsula, a step across the Red Sea, is a wonderful Temple of Nature, -about to be a Sanctuary (Ex. xv. 17) of revelation-with mountain pinnacles rising to a height of from 6000 to 9000 ft. from the Red Sea at its base.
From the Red Sea and the Akabah sides, the natural form of the Peninsula is not fully seen ; because, especially on the east side (Akabah), the mountains push into the sea, or close upon it. But from the north side (et Tih), it is seen that the temple, nucleus of Sinaitic mountain system, which is formed of primary rocks (granite, etc.), really rises from a platform of secondary rocks, perhaps 3000 feet above sea level. Within the central nucleus of mountains (the temple), there is the Sinai mount of legislation (on which, Commentary, Chap. xix.), which we may think of as the Sanctuary, or Holy Place, of that natural temple : while the actual spot (Râs Sufsafeh ?) to which Moses went to his meetings with God, will fall to be thought of as the Holy of Holies.
That natural temple is the most wonderful that the world has ever seen. What most impresses travellers is the sheer wonderfulness of it. Those who have seen every other face of nature under the sun, say that this new face is unlike everything else on earth. The view from the summit of one of the mountain peaks, of a vast surrounding region, in the clear pure atmosphere, is inexpressibly grand. But the natural wonder of wonders is in the central nucleus, the congregation of giant mountains itself. The rocks are almost naked of vegetation and soil, and their variety of colour has a peculiar effect. But the bewildering strangeness is in the form of the mountains, as seen crowding together from some commanding point of view. The weird uncommonness of their aspect would appear grotesque, were it not for a certain terrific sublimity investing their awful forms. One traveller, impressed with the nakedness, describes the whole as “a skeleton Alps.” Another, labouring to express his feeling of the terrific strangeness of the forms, compares the whole to a furiously raging sea of lava suddenly stereotyped into primæval rock.
The only practicable way to Israel, from the Red Sea border to the central sanctuary of this temple, was along the wadys, which, remaining as the pathway
of occaisonal flood-streams, are a rugged way, of sand and shingle and rock, inward from the precincts of the temple through its gorges. The solitude of nature there is most profound. But the stillness is occasionally broken in upon by awful storms, of clouded thunders, lightnings, deluges of rain. These are occasioned by the loftiness of the mountain peaks, rising from the hot-house atmosphere of the Red Sea, whose surface heat is said to be the greatest upon earth. Those peaks in high upper air occasion the great atmospheric disturbances from which break out the storms. The vast volume of rainfall rushes down the steep naked mountain-sides as from the crowded roofs of a great city. They instantly form powerful streams, which rapidly accumulate into pent-up furious seas, of arrowy swiftness, hurling along huge rocks in the resistless momentum of their projection. The traveller or the encampment reaches disappears, with every other form of life. And then, suddenly, it vanishes. It does not subside ; but suddenly is gone, as if it had never been there, or like a mocking mirage of the desert. What remains is the wady, in the track of its desolating course, with a life that languishes “in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is." (A recent traveller saw beautiful vegetation near the central spot; and at Meribah, it seems, there is a perennial streamlet. But Robinson, A.D. 1838, travelling there, in seventeen days only once saw a blade of grass.) In experience of its barrenness, and terrors and privations, Israel learned only to appreciate that “good land (De, viii. 7-10) which the loving heart of God had selected as the inheritance of His first-born. But His true Israel never forgot, or desired to forget, what, for the chosen of God, and who, was in that experience itself (Nu. xx. 7-11; De. ix. 21) :-"when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness: the earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God : even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel' (Ps. lxviii. 7, 8).
THE REVELATION, AS A FACT IN THE HISTORY.
In the following chapters we will consider the doctrine of the revelation, its evidences, and its monuments. In the present we will restrict our attention to the fact of it, the historical reality of a supernatural revelation, or self-manifestation of God, as the beginning of Israel's national existence. And it will serve our purpose, furnishing illustration of contrast, to look at an alternative that has been proposed, namely, the "mythic theory” (cp. 2 Pe. i. 16, where the Gr. for fable" is mythos) of Israel's wonderful primæval history; namely (above, p. 29), that the wonders were not real; but that the people had imagined them in its childhood, day-dreaming about its infancy, and that afterwards it came somehow to believe in the dreams as realities. We will consider whether that is a reasonable explanation.
Children do see wonders in their infancy. And a childish people, such as Christian missionaries have met in India, may not distinguish imagination from reality, fiction from fact. What has to be explained is the fact, that Israel, alone of a mankind sunk in “the pollutions” of polytheistic idolatry, came to be in possession of a pure and lofty monotheism, so as to rise into this Theocracy, or Kingdom of God; ;which in Jesus Christ has made a Christendom that is a new creation, specifically different in respect of moral excellence from all civilisations otherwise known among mankind. How did this come to rise out of reverie or day-dream, about an appearance of supernaturalism which had no reality? The theorizers account for that by a natural religiousness of the Israelites. The Semitic peoples—they explainare naturally the most religious of mankind; and the Abrahamites are naturally the most religious of the Shemites; and Israel's belief of the wonders was occasioned by a very peculiar convergence of outward circumstances, operating on their very peculiar character of natural religiousness. Now, an explanation is what explains. “Theory” is Greek for vision. A true theory is what enables us to see the things in question, to apprehend them as a luminous whole, to comprehend them in their connexion as one system. An explanation that does not explain, that is not a key to comprehension but breaks in the lock, is not a true theory, but a blundering guess. And the “mythic theory" of the exodus is found to be thus only a blundering guess, when brought to the test of main, plain, unquestionable facts,-1. As to the Israelitish people, and 2. As to Moses their leader.
1. As to Israel.
We have to consider, What is the fact ? And we observe as follows :-(1) In fact, the Semitic peoples have not in them such a natural religiousness, as would account for the rise of a pure and lofty monotheism like Israel's. Far otherwise. When Israel's career began, the kindred Shemites all around it were deep sunk in the same pollutions of idolatrous worldliness as Hamites and Japhethites. If Melchizedek and Jethro had some pure knowledge of the true God, the presumption is, that they had obtained it in some way from revelation. (2) In fact, it is not all Abrahamites that have had the pure knowledge, but only some : "In Isaac shall thy seed
be called :" Ishmael, and Edom, and Amalek who all were Abrahamites, yet, mere heathen idolaters. And (3) In fact, the Israelites, among whom alone the pure knowledge is found, at the same time show, in various ways, that its existence among them is not a result of peculiar natural religiousness in them. For instance, — First the truest Israelites have always been the foremost in maintaining, and loudest in protesting, that this knowledge has come only from supernatural revelation, and that naturally the Israelites were dark, blind, ignorant, like the rest of mankind. Such was the testimony of the Psalmists and of the Prophets, of the Apostles and of Christ. These were the truest Israelites. If there be a natural religiousness of Israel, it must in them have been at highest. Is it possible that it should have led them all to false denial of its own existence? But second and especially, as to the Israel which is according to the flesh, what is the fact? Have they in fact shown in themselves a natural religiousness, such as would account for the origin and continuance among them of that pure and lofty monotheism ? All history says, No.
At present they reject it, in its only real existing form, of Christianity, and have invented in place of it (Mk. vii. 13) a Judaism, which has only a mummy coffin instead of the ark of God. They rejected it as taught by the Apostles, their best and highest men, who found them to be "by nature children of wrath, even as others ;” so that there is shown to be “no difference” of Jew from Gentile, but “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” They crucified and slew it in Jesus of Nazareth-the best and highest of all men, the Son of God—who thus found them (Jn. viii. 44), who are the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, to be spiritually the children of that Wicked one, who is a liar from the beginning ; and who abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. And they had previously rejected it in the prophets—God's true witnesses and man's true friends; whose denunciations of them, as blinded worldlings, gave Paul his proof texts; and in the habitual murdering of whom they had provided Christ with His proofs.
So in this Exodus history, the truth of which has never been denied by them, but always has been owned by them as of God. What did Moses find in them? Was there shown by them in Egypt a natural religiousness, that could originate the pure and lofty monotheism, and hold by it, with such invincible tenacity and power, that it should live on to make a new moral creation in the
world ? No: he found them far gone in heathenish worldliness, notwithstanding the light of heavenly truth which had come down to them as a sacred inheritance from the Patriarchs (see xxxii. 15, with notes in Commentary). That inheritance they, profanely, were ready to sell for a mess of pottage. Notwithstanding the glorious teaching of Moses, and the promises of liberty and of plenteous peace in Canaan, after the shameful bondage had stung them into sending up their cry to heaven's throne,-still they were so abject, selfish, cowardly, sensual, that it was almost impossible to move them to go forward, though they had only to look and see the salvation of their God. In the wilderness, the wonders of mercy on God's part only called forth from them ever new wonders of mutineering selfish ingratitude, and, perhaps more wonderful, criminal stupidity, of “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (He. iii. 12, Commentary xvi. final note). They almost broke the heart of the hero God had sent them, and who ever showed himself to be as a living sacrifice of love's devotion to their highest interest. They provoked the Lord ten times, as Pharaoh had so often hardened his heart against Jehovah. Hence, as Pharaoh perished in the sea, so their bodies fell in the wilderness. God swore in His wrath, that they should not enter into His rest. And these corpses in the wilderness, the “dry bones” which are the monumental remains of “the house of Israel,” bear witness to all generations, that Israel's wonderful origination was not the result of natural religiousness. The great experiment of the wilderness is an experimental demonstration of the untruth of the “mythic theory” of that origin. (Hear the Protomartyr in Act. vii. 35-44.)
But now, supposing for argument's sake that the primæval Israelites had in them that natural religiousness, so high in quality and degree, here comes a yet more difficult question : Would they, with that rarely high natural religiousness, suffer Moses to go about with a lying story of supernatural revelation, in a supernatural redemption of Israel, and supernatural punishment of Egypt, before their eyes? And though naturally most religious Israel had been so insanely wicked, what about Moses himself?
2. As to Moses—.“the servant of God” (Re. xv. 3). Far the largest part of what he alleged as to supernatural revelation was openly tested and proved, before Egypt and all Israel, in pro