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  • SKETCHES IN JEWISH SOCIAL LIFE - CH. 7 - B
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    Nor would it have been easy to lose the impression of the first Passover Supper which a child had attended. There was that about its symbols and services which appealed to every feeling, even had it not been that the law expressly enjoined full instruction to be given as to every part and rite of the service, as well as to the great event recorded in that supper. For in that night had Israel been born as a nation, and redeemed as the "congregation" of the Lord. Then also, as in a mould, had their future history been cast to all time; and there, as in type, had its eternal meaning and import for all men been outlined, and with it God's purpose of love and work of grace foreshadowed. Indeed, at a certain part of the service it was expressly ordained, that the youngest at the Passover table should rise and formally ask what was the meaning of all this service, and how that night was distinguished from others; to which the father was to reply, by relating, in language suited to the child's capacity, the whole national history of Israel, from the calling of Abraham down to the deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the law; "and the more fully," it is added, "he explains it all, the better." In view of all this, Philo might indeed, without exaggeration, say that the Jews "were from their swaddling clothes, even before being taught either the sacred laws or the unwritten customs, trained by their parents, teachers, and instructors to recognise God as Father and as the Maker of the world" (Legat. ad. Cajum, sec. 16); and that, "having been taught the knowledge (of the laws) from earliest youth, they bore in their souls the image of the commandments" (Ibid. sec. 31). To the same effect is the testimony of Josephus, that "from their earliest consciousness" they had "learned the laws, so as to have them,as it were, engraven upon the soul" (Ag. Apion, ii, 18); although, of course, we do not believe it, when, with his usual boastful magniloquence, he declares that at the age of fourteen he had been "frequently" consulted by "the high priests and principal men of the city...about the accurate understanding of points of the law" (Life, 7-12; compare also Ant. iv, 31; Ag. Apion, i, 60-68, ii, 199- 203).

    But there is no need of such testimony. The Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament, leading us progressively from century to century, indicate the same carefulness in the upbringing of children. One of the earliest narratives of Scripture records how God said to Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Jehovah to do justice and judgment" (Gen 18:19)- -a statement which, we may note by the way, implies the distinction between the seed of Abraham after the flesh and after the spirit. How thoroughly the spirit of this Divine utterance was carried out under the law, appears from a comparison of such passages as Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 14; Deuteronomy 4:9, 10, 6:7, 20, 11:19, 31:13; Psalm 78:5, 6. It is needless to pursue the subject farther, or to show how even God's dealings with His people were regarded as the basis and model of the parental relationship. But the book in the Old Testament which, if properly studied, would give us the deepest insight into social and family life under the old dispensation--we mean the book of Proverbs--is so full of admonitions about the upbringing of children, that it is sufficient to refer the reader generally to it. He will find there the value of such training, its object, in the acquisition of true wisdom in the fear and service of Jehovah, and the opposite dangers most vividly portrayed--the practical bearing of all being summed up in this aphorism, true to all times: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov 22:6); of which we have this New Testament application: "Bring up (your children) in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).

    The book of Proverbs brings before us yet another phase of deepest interest. It contains the fullest appreciation of woman in her true dignity, and of her position and influence in the family- life. It is quite true, as we shall presently show, that the obligation to train the child rested primarily upon the father, and that both by the law of God and by the ordinances of the Rabbis. But even the patriarchal story will prepare an attentive reader to find, especially in the early upbringing of children, that constant influence of woman, which, indeed, the nature of the maternal relationship implies, provided the family-life be framed on the model of the Word of God. Lovelier pictures of this than the mother of Samuel and the pious Shunammite hostess of Elisha can scarcely be conceived. But the book of Proverbs shows us, that even in the early times of the Jewish monarchy this characteristic of Old Testament life also appeared outside the bounds of the Holy Land, wherever pious Israelites had their settlements. The subject is so deeply interesting, historically and religiously, and perhaps so new to some readers, that a slight digression may be allowed us.

    Beyond the limits of the Holy Land, close by Dumah, lay the land or district of Massa (Gen 25:14), one of the original seats of the Ishmaelites (1 Chron 1:30). From Isaiah 21:11 we gather that it must have been situate beyond Seir--that is, to the south-east of Palestine, in Northern Arabia. Whether the Ishmaelites of Massa had come to the knowledge of Jehovah, the true God; whether Massa was occupied by a Jewish colony, which there established the service of the Lord; * or whether, through the influence of Hebrew immigrants, such a religious change had been brought about, certain it is, that the two last chapters of the book of Proverbs introduce the royal family of Massa as deeply imbued with the spiritual religion of the Old Testament, and the queen- mother as training the heir to the throne in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. **

    * From 1 Chronicles 4:38-43 we infer colonisation in that direction, especially on the part of the tribe of Simeon. Utterances in the prophets (such as in Isa 21 and Micah 1) seem also to indicate a very wide spread of Jewish settlers. It is a remarkable fact that, according to mediaeval Jewish and Arab writers, the districts of Massa and Dumah were largely inhabited by Jews.

    ** There can be no question that the word rendered in the Authorised Version (Prov 30:1 and 31:1) by "prophecy" is simply the name of a district, "Massa."

    Indeed, so much is this the case, that the instruction of the queen of Massa, and the words of her two royal sons, are inserted in the book of Proverbs as part of the inspired records of the Old Testament. According to the best criticism, Proverbs 30:1 should be thus rendered: "The words of Agur, the son of her whom Massa obeys. Spake the man to God-with-me--God with me, and I was strong." *

    * Or, according to another rendering, "Spake the man: I diligently searched after God, and I am become weary." This, of course, is not the place for critical discussion; but we may say that we have followed the general conclusions adopted alike by Delitzsch and Zockler, and by Ewald, Hitzig, and Bertheau.

    Then Proverbs 31 embodies the words of Augur's royal brother, even "the words of Lemuel, king of Massa, with which his mother taught him." If the very names of these two princes--Agur, "exile," and Lemuel, "for God," or "dedicated to God"--are significant of her convictions, the teaching of that royal mother, as recorded in Proverbs 31:2-9, is worthy of a "mother in Israel." No wonder that the record of her teaching is followed by an enthusiastic description of a godly woman's worth and work (Prov 31:10-31), each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters), like the various sections of Psalm 119--as it were, to let her praises ring through every letter of speech.

    As might have been expected, the spirit of the Apocryphal books is far different from that which breathes in the Old Testament. Still, such a composition as Ecclesiasticus shows that even in comparatively late and degenerate times the godly upbringing of children occupied a most prominent place in religious thinking. But it is when we approach the New Testament, that a fresh halo of glory seems to surround woman. And here our attention is directed to the spiritual influence of mothers rather than of fathers. Not to mention "the mother of Zebedee's children," nor the mother of John Mark, whose home at Jerusalem seems to have been the meeting-place and the shelter of the early disciples, and that in times of the most grievous persecution; nor yet "the elect lady and her children," whom not only St. John, "but also all they that know the truth," loved in truth (2 John 1), and her similarly elect sister with her children (v 13), two notable instances will occur to the reader. The first of these presents a most touching instance of a mother's faith, and prayers, and labor of love, to which the only parallel in later history is that of Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. How Eunice, the daughter of the pious Lois, had come to marry a heathen, * we know as little as the circumstances which may have originally led the family to settle at Lystra (Acts 16:1; compare 14:6, etc.), a place where there was not even a synagogue.

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