Religious Studies, Sketches and Poems
Гарриет Бичер-Стоу

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In the ninth chapter of Daniel, verses 25, 26, 27, we find given the exact time of the coming of the Messiah, of his death, of the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the cessation of the Jewish worship and sacrifices. Remembering that Daniel was the head of the Chaldean magi, we see how it is that their descendants were able to calculate the time of the birth of Christ and come to worship him.[2 - M. Lenormant says in The Magic of the Chaldees: "The more one advances in the understanding of the cuneiform text, the more one sees the necessity of revising the condemnation too prematurely uttered against the Book of Daniel by the German Exegetical School. Without doubt, the use of certain Greek words serves to show that it has passed through the hands of some editor since the time of Alexander. But the substance of it is much more ancient – is imprinted with a perfectly distinct Babylonian tinge, and the picture of life in the court of Nabuchodonosor and his successors has an equal truthfulness which could not have been attained at a later period."]

At length the Jews were recalled from captivity and the temple rebuilt. While it was rebuilding prophets encouraged the work with prophecies of the Lord who should appear in it. The prophet Haggai (ii. 3-9) thus speaks to those who depreciate the new temple by comparing it with the old: —

"Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? Yet now be strong, all ye people of the land, and work, for I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts. For thus saith the Lord: Yet a little while and I will shake the heavens and earth, the sea and the dry land, and the Desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, for in this house will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts."

The prophecies of Zechariah, which belonged to the same period and had the same object, – to encourage the rebuilding of the second temple, – are full of anticipation of the coming Messiah. The prophet breaks forth into song like a bird of the morning: —

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
Behold, thy king cometh unto thee.
He is just and hath salvation;
He is lowly, riding upon an ass —
Upon a colt, the foal of an ass."

Again he breaks forth in another strain: —

"Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd,
Against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts.
Smite the Shepherd,
And the sheep shall be scattered."

We remember that these words were quoted by our Lord to his disciples the night before his execution, when he was going forth to meet his murderers. A hundred or so of years later, the prophet Malachi says: —

"Behold, I send my messenger.
He shall prepare the way before me.
The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple:
Even the messenger of the covenant, in whom ye delight;
But who may abide the day of his coming?
Who shall stand when He appeareth?
For, like a refiner's fire shall He be,
And like fullers' soap.
He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.
He shall purify the sons of Levi."

How remarkably this prophecy describes the fiery vehemence and energy of our Lord's first visit to the temple, when he drove out the money-changers and completely cleansed the holy place of unseemly traffic!

With this prophet the voice of prediction ceases. Let us for a moment look back and trace its course. First, the vague promise of a Deliverer, born of a woman; then, a designation of the race from which he is to be born; then of the tribe; then of the family; then the very place of his birth is predicted – Bethlehem-Ephratah being mentioned to discriminate it from another Bethlehem. Then come a succession of pictures of a Being concerning whom the most opposite things are predicted. He is to be honored, adored, beloved; he is to be despised and rejected – his nation hide their faces from him. He is to be terrible and severe as a refiner's fire; he is to be so gentle that a bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench. He is to be seized and carried from prison to judgment; he is surrounded by the wicked; his hands and feet are pierced, his garments divided; they cast lots for his vesture; he is united by his death both with the wicked and with the rich; he is cut off from the land of the living. He is cut off, but not for himself; his kingdom is to be an everlasting kingdom; he is to have dominion from sea to sea, and of the increase of his government and of peace there is to be no end.

How strange that for ages these conflicting and apparently contradictory oracles had been accumulating, until finally came One who fulfilled them all. Is not this indeed the Christ – the Son of God?



We should have supposed that when the time came for the entrance of the great Hero upon the stage of this world, magnificent preparations would be made to receive him. A nation had been called and separated from all tribes of earth that he might be born of them, and it had been their one special mission to prepare for the coming of this One, their Head and King, in whom the whole of their organization – laws, teachings, and prophecies – was to be fulfilled. Christ was the end for which the tabernacle was erected and the temple built, for whom were the Holy of Holies, the altars, and the sacrifices. He was the Coming One for whom priests and prophets had been for hundreds of years looking.

What should we have expected of divine wisdom when the glorious hour approached? We should have thought that the news would be sent to the leaders of the great national council of the Sanhedrim, to the High Priest and elders, that their Prince was at hand. Doubtless we should suppose that the nation, apprised of his coming, would have made ready his palace and have been watching at its door to do honor to their newborn King.

Far otherwise is the story as we have it.

In the poorest, most sordid, most despised village of Judæa dwelt, unknown and neglected, two members of the decayed and dethroned royal family of Judæa, – Joseph the carpenter and Mary his betrothed. Though every circumstance of the story shows the poverty of these individuals, yet they were not peasants. They were of royal lineage, reduced to the poverty and the simple life of the peasants. The Jews, intensely national, cherished the tradition of David their warrior and poet prince; they sang his Psalms, they dwelt on his memory, and those persons, however poor and obscure, who knew that they had his blood in their veins were not likely to forget it.

There have been times in the history of Europe when royal princes, the heirs of thrones, have sojourned in poverty and obscurity, earning their bread by the labor of their hands. But the consciousness of royal blood and noble birth gave to them a secret largeness of view and nobility of feeling which distinguished them from common citizens.

The Song of Mary given in St. Luke shows the tone of her mind; shows her a woman steeped in the prophetic spirit and traditions, in the Psalms of her great ancestor, and herself possessing a lofty poetic nature.

We have the story of the birth of Christ in only two of the Evangelists. In Matthew we have all the facts and incidents such as must have been derived from Joseph, and in Luke we have those which could only have been told by Mary. She it is who must have related to St. Luke the visit of the angel and his salutation to her. She it is who tells of the state of her mind when those solemn mysterious words first fell upon her ear: —

"Hail thou, highly favored! The Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women!"

It is added, —

"And when she saw him she was troubled and cast about in her mind what manner of salutation this should be."

Only Mary could have told the interior state of her mind, the doubts, the troubles, the mental inquiries, known only to herself. The rest of the interview, the magnificent and solemn words of the angel, in the nature of things could have come to the historian only through Mary's narrative.

"Thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end."

In St. Matthew we have the history of the hesitation of Joseph, his manly delicacy and tenderness for his betrothed wife, and the divine message to him in a dream; all of which are things that could have been known only through his own narration.

We find also in this history, whose facts must have come from Joseph, a table of genealogy tracing his descent back to David, while in the account given by Mary in St. Luke there is another and different table of genealogy. The probable inference on the face of it would be that the one is the genealogy of Joseph and the other of Mary; and it confirms this supposition to find that she was spoken of in Rabbinic writings of an early period as the daughter of Heli,[3 - Lightfoot, in his notes on Luke iii., maintains this theory, and quotes in support of it three passages from the Jerusalem Talmud, folio 77, 4, where Mary the mother of Jesus is denounced as the daughter of Heli, and mother of a pretender. The same view is sustained by Paulus, Spanheim, and Lange.] who concludes the genealogy given in Luke, and on this supposition would be the father of Mary and grandfather of Jesus. Moreover, as the angel himself in announcing the birth of Christ laid special stress upon the fact that his mother was of the house of David, it is quite probable that the genealogy which proved that descent was very precious in Mary's eyes, and that this is therefore imbedded in the account which St. Luke derives from her, as the very chief treasure of her life. That genealogical record was probably the one hoarded gem of her poverty and neglect – like a crown jewel concealed in the humble cottage of an exiled queen.

When the conviction was brought home to both these hidden souls that their house was to be the recipient of this greatest of all honors, we can easily see how it must have been a treasury of secret and wonderful emotions and contemplations between them. A world of lofty thought and feeling from that hour belonged to those two of all the world, separating them far as heaven is above the earth from the sordid neighborhood of Nazareth. Every tie which connected them with the royal house of David must have been wakened to intense vitality. All the prophecies with regard to the future Messiah must have blazed with a new radiance in the firmament of their thoughts. The decree from Cæsar that all the world should be taxed, and the consequent movement towards a census of the Jewish nation, must have seemed to them a divine call and intimation to leave the village of Nazareth and go to their ancestral town, where prophecy had told them that the Messiah was to be born: —

"And thou Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come a Governor which shall rule my people Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."

On this magnificent mystery were these two poor, obscure, simple people pondering in their hearts as they took their journey over the picturesque hill-country towards the beautiful little town of Bethlehem, the village of their fathers; Bethlehem, the city of the loving Ruth, and her descendant, the chivalrous poet king, David.

It seems they went there poor and without acquaintance, casting themselves in simple faith on the protection of God. The caravanserai of those days bore more resemblance to camping-huts than anything suggested by our modern inn. There was a raised platform which gave to the traveler simply space to spread his bed and lie down, while below this was the portion allotted to the feeding and accommodation of the animals.

When these two guests arrived the space allotted to travelers was all taken up, and a shelter had to be arranged in the part allotted to the animals. We are so accustomed to look at that cradle in Bethlehem through the mists of reverential tradition that we have ceased to realize what a trial and humiliation it was to these children of a royal race to find themselves outcasts and homeless in the city of their fathers – in the very hour when home and its comfort were most needed. We must remember they had to live by faith as well as we. Though an angel had announced this coming child as the King of Israel, still their faith must have been severely tried to find themselves, as the hour of his birth approached, unwelcomed, forlorn, and rejected by men, in the very city of David.

The census in which they came to have their names enrolled was the last step in the humiliation of their nation; it was the preparation for their subjugation and taxation as a conquered tribe under the Roman yoke: and they, children of the royal house of David, were left to touch the very lowest descent of humiliation, outcasts from among men, glad to find a resting-place with the beasts of the stall.

Christ is called the Morning Star, and truly he rose in the very darkest hour of the night. The Friend of the outcast, the Care-taker of the neglected, the poor man's Helper, must needs be born thus.

But was there no message? Yes. In those very hills and valleys of Bethlehem where David kept his father's sheep were still shepherds abiding. The Psalms of David were there the familiar melodies; they lived by the valley and hill, as when he sang of old, —

"The Lord is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters."

These shepherds probably were poor men of a devout and simple faith, men who longed and prayed and waited for the consolation of Israel. Their daily toil was ennobled by religious associations. Jehovah himself was addressed as the

"Shepherd of Israel;
He that leadeth Joseph like a flock;
He that dwelleth between the cherubims."

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