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him to be absent from the common festivals of his nation would be something like our spending a Christmas season lonely and desolate, far from home and kindred and friends.
Moreover, these three festivals occurred at seasons when it would be at once most convenient and most delightful for the people to celebrate them. Formas has been already remarked —they had an agricultural as well as a historical reference. The aspect of the Passover was, of course, chiefly historical. The first day of this festival was Israel's “fourth of July,”—the anniversary of the nation's birthday. But the feast had also its agricultural aspect; it took place just about the time of the barley harvest; and the prescription was that, on the second day of the festival, a firstling-sheaf should be presented to God. Until this sheaf was presented, it was not lawful for any Jew to eat of that year's harvest; and, as a rule, the work of reaping was never even commenced until Jehovah had thus been acknowledged by this offering. After the celebration of the Passover, the people went home to reap their fields, and to gather in, first their barley, then their wheat crops. In this harvest work they were busy during the next seven weeks. Then came the second great festival— Pentecost—which lasted only one day. According to Jewish tradition, it pointed, historically, to the giving of the law from Mount Sinai ; but its chief reference was undoubtedly agricultural. It marked the termination of the corn harvest. Two loaves of leavened bread, made from the new wheat, were then presented before Jehovah as an acknowledgment that He was the giver of the ordinary daily food of the people. Four months later came the Festival of Tabernacles. This lasted eight days, and was regarded, at least by the Jews of a later date, as the greatest of all their festivals. It was as distinctively historical as the Passover. For seven days the assembled multitudes dwelt in booths made of the shoots of beautiful trees, palm branches, and boughs of willows, in commemoration of the time when their forefathers journeyed through the wilderness. Living, as they now did, in their solid and substantial houses, they were not to forget how merciful Jehovah had been to their ancestors, when they dwelt in tents in the desert. But this festival had also an agricultural aspect, even more marked than that of the Passover. It was the celebration of the conclusion of harvest. For since Pentecost the grapes and olives had ripened, and all the fruit had been gathered in, as well as the grain. This Feast of Tabernacles was, therefore, a season of exuberant gladness. It was both a historical commemoration and a national “harvest-home.” And the whole aspect of Jerusalem during the week—its roofs covered with the booths of green-its inhabitants and its thousands of pilgrim
visitors dwelling in these light airy tents, making holiday with a gladness which the close of harvest would almost always bring-must have greatly aided to make this season one of the most beautiful and exhilarating festivals that could possibly be celebrated by an agricultural population.
Thus, then, have we seen that the three annual feasts which the Jews were enjoined by law to keep at Jerusalem, all took place in the intervals of agricultural labour, just at those seasons when the people were in special need of rest and refreshment. We have further seen how, in addition to their historical associations, through which they made their appeal to the feeling of patriotism, they were also linked to the ordinary life of the people, through their being associated with the harvest and vintage. We need not wonder, therefore, at any amount of interest felt in these national gatherings, by a people with such a history and such occupations. Nor need we wonder when we read in the Book of Nehemiah that, in his day, a return of the people to a more devout and pious spirit was marked by a more thorough and joyous celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles than had been known since the days of Joshua. The same book tells us of the reproach and opposition which the Israelites had to bear from their enemies after their return from the Captivity ; but we can easily understand how their assembling at the successive festivals held in Jerusalem would be a source of great consolation to them in the midst of their afflictions. For the festivals reminded them of Jehovah's power and goodness, and of the manner in which He had triumphed over the enemies of Israel in the olden time. And whenever we learn to associate the “Songs of Degrees” with these annual gatherings, we perceive how such Psalms were also fitted, in an especial manner, to express and deepen the piety and patriotism of the people. “Give me," said some one, “the making of a people's ballads, and I care not who makes their laws.” The words are strong; but they point to the powerful influence which is unquestionably exerted by the popular songs of a nation, in moulding and perpetuating the national character. What mere law cannot do, with all its threats from without, song will often accomplish, in virtue of its inspiration from within. And we can see how these fifteen national songs—with their allusions to the afflictions and deliverances of Israel—with their words of simple trust in God -with their praise of unity and brotherly love with their imagery drawn from the processes of agriculture—were admirably adapted for the use of those who made their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the appointed feasts. We can readily believe that these sacred ballad's, treasured up in the memories and hearts of the Hebrews, did much to increase the popularity of the pilgrimages, to maintain the observance of the festivals, and to make these festivals more beneficial to the people. We can even imagine the Apostle of the Gentiles, whilst working at his trade in Corinth, chanting to himself some of these old familiar Pilgrim Psalms, until they created within him the feeling that he “must by all means keep the feast that cometh in Jerusalem.”
A more careful study of these fifteen songs confirms the view which we have adopted, as to their connection with the sacred festivals. Hengstenberg has pointed out how appropriately one of them (cxxi.) might be sung by a pilgrim band, just before retiring to rest on the last evening of their journey-when, after travelling for a longer or shorter period, they had at length come within sight of the mountains of Jerusalem. They “ lift up their eyes to the hills” which speak to them of Divine - help.” They have been travelling, it may be, through a hilly region, where to miss one's footing might be attended with great danger; but the Lord “will not suffer their foot to be moved.” They are now about to lie down to rest: “He that keepeth them neither slumbers nor sleeps.” They knew what it was, in the course of these journeys, to be subjected to the burning rays of the sun; they knew how refreshing it was to rest at noonday in some shady place. Well, Jehovah is "their shade at their right hand”—they need not dread the sun-stroke, nor need they be afraid to sleep beneath the moonbeams : “The sun shall not smite them by day, nor the moon by night." They have left their homes and their families behind; but the Lord “preserves their going out and their coming in ;” yea, in all their journeys and undertakings He will be with them,“ even for evermore." To us it seems that this Psalm might just as appropriately have been sung by the Israelite before setting out on his journey ; but, in either case, to connect it with these pilgrimages is to read it with increased pleasure and with a new appreciation of its beauty. Again; many of the pilgrims to the Holy City came up from districts where they were subjected, in an especial manner, to the reproach and scorn of ungodly neighbours. What a relief would it be to such to attend the national gatherings, where they could rejoice with a great multitude who were one in sympathy with themselves. And how natural that, on leaving their homes for the metropolis, they should lament that they are not inhabitants of Jerusalem, but “sojourners in Mesechdwellers in the tents of Kedar.” How desirable that they should look up to God as their “Deliverer," and cry to Him to protect and vindicate them from the malicious “ tongues" that were constantly speaking against them (cxx.). And we can imagine how, after one of those festal celebrations—with its worship of Jehovah, at once joyful and solemn—these pilgrims would go back again to their homes “by the tents of Kedar,'' strengthened to endure the mockery of the "haters of peace.” But indeed the Jews generally—for a considerable period after their return from the Captivity-were like a new colony planted in the midst of heathen enemies, compelled to defend themselves against constant opposition. Hence it is only what might have been expected that several of these Psalms should be more plaintive than the rest, and thus fitted to soothe and sustain the hearts of the people under the mockery and antagonism of their foes. To set our griefs to music is to do something towards their alleviation. And as the Hebrew pilgrims travelled up to the Holy City, chanting their plaintive strains together, the very exercise itself would be a relief to their hearts. Singing thus in sympathy concerning their common burden of reproach, that burden would become less oppressive. Nor was this all. For by these Psalms also they were stimulated to perseverance in prayer-directed to the almighty and merciful One " dwelling in the heavens”—and placed in the attitude of attentive and patient “looking towards the hand” of the Divine “Master” (cxxiii.). They were reminded, moreover, for their consolation and encouragement, how “the Lord had turned again the captivity of Zion, filling their mouth with laughter, and their tongue with singing ” (cxxvi.), how Jehovah had ever been “on the side of Israel,” delivering them even when deliverance seemed hopeless, snatching them from the very "teeth” of the wild beasts, from the very “snare of the fowlers” (cxxiv.)—and they were assured that, however they might be subjected for a time to the oppression of the enemy, God would not permit “the rod of the wicked to rest upon the lot of the righteous” (cxxv.). Nor do these Psalms overlook the deeper afflictions and necessities of the soul. The Hebrew who has been made wretched by a sense of his guilt and sinfulness is encouraged to “cry out of the depths” of his unrest to “ Israel's Redeemer," who forgives “ that He may be feared," and with whom is "plenteous redemption ” (cxxx.); and he is directed to cherish that spirit of humility, contentment, and hope, which will enable him to rest in God, even as a “weaned child ” rests “quietly" in its mother's bosom (cxxxi.).
Still, as we might also have expected, there is more of joy than of sorrow in these Pilgrim-Psalms. The sacred “feasts” were happy festivals. The Israelite was “glad when it was said unto him, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Journeying to the city “whither the tribes went up," and which was the “joy” as well as the pride “ of the whole land,” his heart was filled with delight as he came within view of its “ walls and palaces," and " for his brethren and companions' sakes” his prayer rose to heaven that Jerusalem might be according to its name--the
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city of “peace" (cxxii.). As he “walked about Zion and considered the towers thereof," he rejoiced to see typified, in the stability of that rocky fastness, the security of all who “trust in the Lord;" and as he looked out upon the surrounding mountains, he was glad to behold, in their environment of Jerusalem, an emblem of God's mighty, complete, and permanent protection of “ His people” (cxxv.). “ Good and pleasant” also was the brotherly fellowship enjoyed at these national gatherings. Such fellowship seemed to the Israelite precious and fragrant as the holy anointing oil kept for the consecration of the high priest, and the sight of the various tribes “ dwelling thus together in unity” was beautiful and refreshing as the “dew” upon the mountains (cxxxiii.). The more pious he was, the more would he prize and enjoy these festivals, for his piety would attach him to Jerusalem, not merely as the civil metropolis of the nation, but primarily and chiefly as containing the Temple—the "habitation of the mighty God of Jacob.” The “ark of the covenant” was the material token of Jehovah's presence in the midst of Israel. That ark had been brought out of its obscurity in Kirjath-jearim -"the fields of the wood”—and carried to Jerusalem, where afterwards, in the substantial Temple reared by Solomon, it found, as it were, a place of “rest” after all its wanderings. He who “ dwelt between the Cherubims” had “ chosen Zion,” and “desired it as His habitation.” This was the real secret of Jerusalem's greatness—in this would ever lie its chief attraction for the pious pilgrim. And God, having chosen Zion, would not forsake her. He would “abundantly bless her provision, and satisfy her poor with bread.” He would also “clothe her priests with salvation, and cause her saints to shout aloud for joy” (cxxii.). Such is the happy, jubilant tone which pervades, in general, these Pilgrim Psalms.
Still, further, we discover in these songs allusions even more special than any we have yet indicated, and confirmatory of their connection with the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. For although all of them might well be sung at either of the three great festivals, yet some of them may have been more distinctly appropriate to one season than to another. Thus, we would connect Psalm cxxiv. in an especial manner with the celebration of the Passover. For the Jew to eat of the Paschal lamb was necessarily to call to remembrance the various circumstances of the Exodus, and especially that passage of the Red Sea which was the climax of the whole deliverance. Such a commemoration would tend to make the Israelite vain-glorious, if he were not at the same time reminded that the very existence of his nation was entirely owing to the protection of Jehovah. “If it had not been the Lord who was on their side,” they would long ago have been