|Vol. VI, No. 4
Tamuz 5608, July 1848
The Blessing of the Lord
May the name of the Lord be blessed for ever; for the power and the government are his, and He raiseth up kings, and He casteth down kings, and without Him, nations labour in vain attempts, and if He withholds his protection, all nature stands affrighted and astonished at his presence. This is our God, whom we worship; this is our Father, whom we adore, because He created the world in the beginning, and erected the foundations of the earth on his own mighty will; and when it pleased Him, He descended before his redeemed servants and pointed out to them the way of life, how they might walk in his presence, and obtain his gracious favour by obedience. May it then be his will to plant his love and his fear in our hearts, that we may direct to Him our <<165>>thoughts, and always consult the inspiration which He vouchsafed to us in his word, before we act or resolve on any course of life; so that we may be supported by his love, and discover his goodness in whatever may be dispensed to us in his wise and righteous judgment. So shall our life pass away in pleasantness and peace, and contentment dwell in our habitations, till we be summoned to the high abode of the pure and holy, who are blessed by the light of the countenance of their Almighty Father, who will shield and uphold them, as those who are precious in his eyes, and whom he will bless with everlasting life. Amen.
“The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”
In our lesson of to-day, there is given to us the priestly blessing, which the sons of Aaron are to pronounce over the people, and thus invoke for them the aid and countenance of the Great Eternal, whose name be glorified in the mouth of all the living. The words are almost the simplest which could be devised, and they could only have sprung from the spirit of God himself; for human invention would have added other matters—would have amplified, and not appealed in so few words for all that we can ask of our heavenly Father. Yes, even David in his Psalms, when he asked for the same favours, though he too spoke from the spirit that dwelt in him, used, in his sixty-seventh Psalm, many more words to petition the Lord for the favours embraced in the ברכת כהנים (Priestly Blessing). It is even thus that we may appeal to the absence of all ornament and amplification in the Mosaic books, to the extreme and severe simplicity which they present when speaking of both precept and doctrine, for an additional testimony of their sacredness and truth; and we may insist that their author was so thoroughly convinced of what he wrote for the instruction of the people, to be the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, that he disdained borrowing from the orator and the poet any embellishment which they employ to render their words and thoughts pleasant to their hearers or readers. But, few as the words are, simple as is the construction of the three sentences comprising the blessing, they are of the utmost importance and significance.
<<166>>Let us refer, as we have done already, to the sixty-seventh Psalm, and we will find the following words:אלהים יחננו ויברכנו יאר פניו אתנו סלה “May God be gracious unto us and bless us; may he cause his face to shine with us. Selah.” But the passage in Numbers 6:24-26, commences, יברכך ה׳ וישמרך “The Lord bless and preserve thee;” thus using a different phrase from David when speaking of the Deity, nevertheless referring to the same great Being as the Author of all blessings. You may readily imagine that there is a deep design why Moses was bidden to use the term he did, and that it is of high importance to us, even at this late date in the history and progress of mankind, notwithstanding a great change has taken place in the condition of the world since that time. I will endeavour to make myself understood, and beg of you to devote due attention to the perhaps dry definitions which I deem it my duty to give you.
When Moses was first commissioned to speak to the Israelites, he asked of God: “Behold, I come to the children of Israel and say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and if they then say unto me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” This question may appear to you very singular; you may say, perhaps, Would it not be enough for Moses to tell the people that God had deputed him to effect their liberation? and if they would believe him at all, must not this announcement satisfy them? Besides, what is there in the name of God, that should render it of so much importance, as to effect in Moses’ estimation the mission with which he had been sent by the word which had then been, for the first time, revealed to him?
But you must reflect that when Moses was addressing the Deity in the above words, there was not that revealed knowledge of the great Adored which is now so widely diffused abroad; everywhere there were associations either of two or three persons, in the idea which men entertained of God, or at least, there were a multitude of real or imaginary beings, who were conceived all to have some divine attribute, that is all to be more powerful than man, and, therefore, claiming his homage. These gods were each known by a particular appellation, under which worship was offered to the same; and as each country had its own peculiar mythology, its own divan of gods, nations might be aptly called the people of the one or the other god or group <<167>>of gods, of which examples may be found in Scripture, which, however, it would be out of place to detail in this connexion.
The earth was thus parcelled out to different tutelary powers, as much as there was a diversity of language, complexion, and manners. Moses, himself, though a descendant of Israel, had imbibed in Egypt a knowledge of the customs and ideas of the people, and of the priests of that land; and there can be no doubt but that the Israelites had universally been deeply tinctured with the superstitions and idolatry that prevailed around them. I need not remind you how apt we are to borrow the views of those who surround us at all sides, and how different appear the Jews of the East and the West, simply because of the people in the midst of whom they live. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that a residence of two hundred and ten years in Egypt, for a very great period of which time we were subject to the arbitrary cruelties of the idolaters, had vitiated whatever knowledge we had derived from the patriarchs of the nature of God; and though Moses may at the time have been free from idolatry himself, (indeed, we ought to entertain the opinion that, as he was chosen the instrument of a great deed, he was meritorious in the sight of God, by being a devoted servant and true believer,) he spoke for and of the people, according to the ideas prevailing at his time, and demanded, therefore, the name of the national God, to report the message with which he had been charged in his name and behalf.
Understand, the liberation of the Israelites was to be effected against the evident will and interest of the Egyptians, consequently, also against the supposed assent of the gods of that country, assuming for them a power to prevent it, as was alleged by their worshippers. It was, therefore, none of the Egyptian deities, in whose name the message could be spoken; perhaps they had been called by the same general appellation* which the <<168>>Israelites had given to their ancestral God. But be this as it may, Moses found no distinctive name in his recollection which would inspire that confidence which he considered, and justly so, as the first requisite to the accomplishment of that mission which had been forced upon him to fulfill, unwilling and fearful as he was to return to Egypt.
The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, as he had announced himself, was not angry with Moses for the question which he had put, and in mercy enlightened his ignorance; and in so doing, He did not give him any name which is of arbitrary derivation, as many proper names are, but He employed the future tense of the verb to be, or in other words, He called himself I Will Be, in Hebrew אהיה, or as given otherwise, in the combination of the future and the present tenses of the root היה, with the four letters יהוה, embracing the idea of “He who was, is, and will be.” Jews now consider this revelation of God of himself and his being so sacred that they do not pronounce it as it is written, and it was only used on certain solemn occasions, such as when the high priest made his public confession on the Day of Atonement, or when the priests pronounced the blessings on the people in the temple; at other times, it is pronounced as though it were written אדני, equivalent to the English word “Lord.” The national God of the Hebrews was not, according to this view, to be known by any name de<<169>>noting his other attributes, but that expressing his eternity; and as this name is incapable of a plural, at least it is never found in the plural, and is thus referring to One only, and this invariably throughout Scripture: we shall have better means than otherwise of understanding the phrase, which we also owe to Moses, and which constitutes the creed of the Jews, I mean ה׳ אלהינו ה׳ אחד “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” We know that the word אלהים is often used in the plural, either to signify idols, or the gods of the nations; or angels, as the messengers of God; or at last judges, as the human beings who are placed in authority.
The idea divine, does not, therefore, carry in Hebrew, by any means, the same sacred character as it does in English or other modern language; as it is merely an expression of power, either actual or imaginary, and is, in truth, derived from אל “power,” “strength,” or “might.” There can, therefore, be false אלהים, as אלהים אחרים, or not-gods לא אלוה, things having neither power nor being, as they exist merely in their divine idea in the arbitrary assumption of their worshippers; whilst at the same time the term may, with equal propriety, be applied to the Holiest and Highest, the God whom we Worship. And as the form is plural, so may the idea be which we have of the divine nature in its being the source of all power, or the totality of the forces of nature centred in One who directs all; the verb or adjective belonging to it, may, therefore, occasionally be met with in the plural number, not as indicating a multitude or aggregation of persons in the Godhead, but as agreeing in form merely with the substantive expressing the Divine Being. I have spoken of this on a previous occasion, and only refer to it now in combination with the subject before us. We call God, therefore, either אל, or אלוה, the universal power, in the singular, or אלהים, the aggregation of all imaginable powers in one, in the plural, in contradistinction to the worshipped beings of other people which are un-gods, לא אלוה, or foreign, strange, other gods, אלהים אחרים.
It is somewhat singular, let us note in this place, that with suffixes, which answer to the possessive pronouns in English and other languages, we always find the word God construed in the plural, with the exception when applied to the first person singular, which alone derives its form either from the root אל or אלהים thus אלי or also אלהי “my God.” Otherwise we find always the <<170>>plural suffixes, as אלהיו אלהיך, &c., either when meaning thy [or his] god or gods, either applied to the true God, or idols.
Thus much for the form, to which some erroneous interpreters have attached an importance which it does not deserve, especially as there are other words, such as אדון and בעל lord, master, which are always construed with plural suffixes, though but one person is meant; such as אם אדניו יתן לו אשה “If his lord should give him a wife,” (Exod. 21:4;) or בעליו אין עמו “The owner thereof not being with it,” (Ibid. 22:13.) There phrases clearly prove that the plural construction of a word does not necessarily imply a plurality of persons, and it depends entirely on the use and custom of the language, whether this be the Hebrew, or any other tongue; since examples of the kind can be found in all others, at least those with which I am acquainted. But as in fact the true God is, as said, the One embracing all the powers, we may truly call Him the אלהים or the Container and Dispenser of all possible springs of action, the Accumulation of all the forces which sustain and give life to all. It is not that there is a plurality in the person, but, because there is a multitude in the ideas of power which comprise his attributes.
But far different is it with the special attribute of eternity, which is in itself perfect, so that no accession or diminution can herein be imagined. God could be the most potent though He lacked any one of the attributes of greatness which we ascribe to Him. But He could not be the Eternal, if He lacked either past, present, or future existence. But as the first Cause, as the Creator, as the Sustainer of things, and under this word I comprehend whatever of physical or spiritual beings or powers may be existing or possible to exist, He must have this continuity of being, to be what He is. There must not be any one or more than one who could have preceded Him, nor must there be one or more than one who will succeed or survive Him; He is the first and the last, as our creed designates the blessed All-father.
If there were two coexisting powers equally great, there would be no concord in the government of the world, unless they existed at the same place, and had an identity of will, or unless the two would be practically one. If there were, however, two powers not so entirely existing in the same will, then could there not reign that harmony in universal nature of which all investi<<171>>gation gives us the amplest proof. For from the earliest record of history, and this is all we have to govern our ideas in this investigation, we have evidence of the same progression of outward nature; and whatever the chronicles of science hand down to us, amounts to the confirmation of the same idea, that there has been no interruption in the regular course of whatever is subject to our observation, and that nothing has been destroyed or added by any extraneous influence which we can discover. Or in other words, the same eternal Vigilance which created in the beginning, still watches and sustains all; and this, alone, without help or associate. He is comprising within himself all the powers requisite to carry out his plan of government, whilst He exists as such alone, and needs not, and cannot obtain in aught the help or counsel of any being, since all things are not eternal, whereas He existed prior to them all, and will survive them all, in the event of their change or destruction; the period at which this is to occur being again altogether within his knowledge, as the capacity to change or destroy is also entirely and solely within his means and power.
So then Moses taught us our faith in the words which we have cited, and which mean accordingly, “The Lord Eternal, whom we call our God, the God Israel, is He who alone is the Eternal.” If the nations worship Him, they worship the “God of Israel;” and if they worship another, then is there no existence for the same, because he is not eternal, and consequently not God. The oneness is the inseparable idea of the eternity of God, and a multitude in this eternity is inconceivable, and consequently not in existence; and because it is requisite that the God of Israel should be eternal, it also follows that He is one, without an associate, as He is without any beginning or end, which we can fix as the commencement and termination of his existence. Now, few as are the words ה׳ אלהינו ה׳ אחד they are justly the watchword of Israel, and simple as they are they can hardly be given by any other words in any other language, and consequently every attempted translation must be far from attaining to the force and sublimity which is contained in the original. We can feel the ardour of holiness mounting up in our soul, when we contemplate the elevation, the power, and the eternity of God; we can imagine how He is alone enthroned in might, <<172>>how all proceeds from Him, the perennial Stream of all existence; but words fail to convey our thoughts; our mind wanders when we mean to condense what has sprung up in our spirit, and we humbly close the book of inquiry, we repose on the revelation of himself which God has given us, and we say indeed, “O Thou God, who hast created all, Thou art the Eternal! Thou art One, and the sole Eternal.” None but the highest inspiration could so have pictured the Divine Majesty, and none but the Lord Eternal himself could have given the embodiment of what and how He is; that as the one He combines all the power, and that as the other He is unlimited by time, and not controlled by any associate, and that He therefore requires not any aid to effect his supreme will wherever his omniscient gaze penetrates the uttermost end of things.
You will therefore understand that the name of the national God of the Hebrews has no reference whatever to anything connected with the descendants of Abraham; nothing peculiar to this or that people, but only as indicating his eternity, and by consequence his unity. We therefore cannot say “our Eternal,” or the holy Name united with a possessive pronoun, because we have no claim to Him in that capacity; but by acknowledging Him, and worshipping Him alone He becomes our God, אלהינו; and we are by the same means his people, עמו. But as we said, at the first call of Moses the people were ignorant of his name, and it required therefore a revelation to teach them how they and the whole world stood related to the Being who was about to redeem them. Now, as no name was assigned to Him which would exclude any nation from joining his worship, as no people were able to assume the peculiar name of this God as their own peculiar appellation,* as they remained sons of Israel after their election as before: it necessarily follows, that though the Lord Eternal calls us his people, if we obey his commandments, all nations can become equally identified with Him if they follow the path He has marked out for our instruction.
The privilege of Israel consists not in an exemption from any worldly sufferings, but in the possession of a superior system of laws and morals, devised by the Creator himself as the expression of his <<173>>will to the sons of man. Whoever then glories himself in the Lord, becomes a child of the Lord; and the privilege is one of universal diffusion; and no one is excluded by any insurmountable difficulty, as soon as the message of life is made known to him. It is therefore false, if our opponents assert, that the national God of the Jews is represented by us as one of narrow sentiment, of an exclusive regard for our insignificant tribe, for a people not distinguished for any peculiar noble trait and high endowment. For even admit that our intellect were the lowest of all mankind, it would not affect the question in the least; since our faith is not based upon our peculiar excellence, either moral or physical; but upon the greatness of the Lord, who is supreme in heaven and on earth. But it is not true that we are unfitted for the sphere assigned us; we are a peculiar, hardy, enduring race, rushing like a mighty torrent amidst the waves of human population without mingling with it; distinguishable at all ages by the unmistakable landmarks which define every other nation, and if we regard a pure and unmixed descent, more so than any other people which ever existed. And whether this was a new impression made on our character when we received the law, or whether it was always so: enough, the fact exists, and no one can deny it, as history has stamped an indelible seal on every word which I have just now uttered. But we assert that the Lord is the universal God of all the world, only that we were chosen his instruments, his peculiar servants, or his kingdom of priests, to be devoted, for as long a time as He might deem fitting, to propagate his religion amongst the inhabitants of the world.
The Lord is accordingly the term used throughout the books containing the events of Moses’ life, with few exceptions, to signify the One who is pre-eminent in his holy attributes, and who alone claims the worship of Israel, not because He is something to them which He is not to other nations, but because He is that in truth which other divinities are not. He is the God of Israel, and called by their name, and they are called by Him, “the people of the Lord,” not because we were ignorant, or are so now, of his universal rule, but because other nations did not and do not now receive his word alone as their guide; because they act not as He has written in his law, and because they unite in their prayers <<174>>ideas which He has not taught, or call on a being or beings other than the Eternal One.—Now all the time that Moses lived, it was his mission to bear testimony, emphatic and uniform, against the vanities of the worship of the gentiles; and he used, therefore, every opportunity to impress the great truth, that “from the Lord is all” upon the people.
But in the time of David, the religion had been confirmed, centuries had elapsed, and the code promulgated at Sinai had taken deep root in the heart of the sons of Jacob; and when they spoke of God, surrounded as they were by his blessings in their beautiful land, protected by the government of the laws of Moses, the word “God” carried with it at once an acknowledgment of the sole Supreme. David, therefore, properly says: “May God be gracious unto us and bless us;” it is no doctrine which the Psalmist teaches, but he merely appeals to his heavenly Sovereign to have a favourable regard on his servants, and to bless them with the light of his countenance, with that everlasting, inward, holy, peace which He bestows on those who serve Him. He for this reason also properly includes all nations in the praise, which all shall offer up, when His kingdom shall be established, and all the families of the earth shall be judged in equity. But Moses was the teacher in every word which he was told to write; he therefore does not use the word “May God bless thee,” but “The Lord bless thee and preserve thee;” or, the One who is alone able to grant a blessing, who alone is able to guard and watch over his creatures, with whom there is no mediator, with whom there is no associate, with whom there is not a second to share his glory, who has no successor to whom to transfer his power.
And in this late age the appeal is yet made; it is a sequel to the Shemang Yisrael, or as the revelation of the last was posterior to the Priestly Blessing, it is with it an exposition of the idea embraced in the first precept of the Decalogue, “I am the Lord thy God.” It then means that the God who wrought such stupendous deeds as made the unwilling tyrants let millions of bondmen go free, is the same from whom all blessings proceed, and who is the sole Being, who has any substantive power, unchecked by any other to effect his will in all parts of creation.—Yes, the time is long past since the faithful received this blessing from the one who was trusty in all God’s house; and empires and creeds have since changed <<175>>and have followed each other upon the ruins of former empires and creeds; and still in the Creator himself there is no change; He is yet the only Eternal who existed in the times of the Son of Amram; and he, this happy mortal, this great Moses, rescued by Providence from the flood of the Nile, to become a prophet, the mouthpiece of his Master, is yet the teacher of the people for whom he was chosen the messenger. Whatever was true in morals then is true now, and no addition has since been made to our stock of moral ideas, nor to our knowledge of the ways of the Most High. Just, then, as we were instructed, so must we proceed, and by the same words by which our predecessors craved for themselves the acknowledged aid and assistance of God, must we continue to implore the blessing of the Lord. It is not that we are hostile to the world; for truth opposed to error is no hostility on the part of truth; but well does error always endeavour to stifle the voice of conviction, for fear of its empire falling, should heaven-born sincerity appeal to the hearts. But let us not heed the storm that ever and anon assails us; we are accustomed to the scorn of the world; and the same merciful Power who has so long sustained us, will farther lead us onward to victory, not by means of the arms of mortal combat, but with the praises of God which are in our mouth, and are that two edged sword which will not be returned to its scabbard, till all the earth be blessed of the Lord, and all the nations submit to the equitable kingdom of God, when his salvation will be made known to all, and his light will shine on all spirits. Amen.
Sivan 8th, June 9th, 5608.