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the Levite as such, but he was obliged to add to his other qualifications, the accomplishments of a scholar, and be able to read the Hebrew and interpret it into the Chaldee. This might be done for a while in families. But the natural course of things would be for many families to assemble on the Sabbath, and listen while one interpreted. When the assembly grew beyond the dimensions of a house, a special building for that purpose would be the most natural resort. Thus originated the synagogue. How they sprung up may be readily suggested by what is recorded to have taken place immediately after the return of the Jews, and their re-establishment in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. In the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah we read, that on a certain day at the feast of trumpets, in the year four hundred and forty-four before Christ, the people being assembled at Jerusalem, desired to hear their law. “ And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate: and they spake unto Ezra the Scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. And Ezra brought the book of the law before the congregation, and he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until mid-day, before the men and the women and those that could understand, and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the
law. And Ezra the Scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose.” At his side stood thirteen of the principal elders of the nation whose names are given. “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and when he had opened it all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands, and they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” Then thirteen of the Levites whose names are also given, “ caused the people to understand the law, and gave the sense,” that is, interpreted it from Hebrew into Chaldee.
Then and there, in a street of Jerusalem, growing out of the circumstances, nay, the difficulties of the time, was born the great instrument of the spiritual regeneration of the world, the invention of preaching, an institution which has done more to change the face of the world, and to elevate the level of society above any thing which was known in ancient times, than any thing else that can be named. - For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The synagogue was modelled upon the assembly of Ezra, the Christian church was copied in a great measure after the forms of the synagogue, and the very pulpit
in which I now stand is a lineal descendant of the one which they built for Ezra two thousand two hundred and eighty-five years ago in the street of Jerusalem.
From the time of Ezra synagogues began to be established throughout the land wherever the population was sufficiently dense to compose an audience. The principal things about the synagogue were the seats for the congregation, corresponding to the assembly in the street of which we have just read, the reading desk corresponding to the pulpit of Ezra, the seats behind the pulpit for the elders, corresponding to those thirteen who stood beside Ezra when he read. There was still further back, an ark in which the sacred oracles were kept, from which the book of the law was brought to the desk by a special officer with great reverence and ceremony. The original Hebrew still continued to be read, though a dead language. Some one therefore must have interpreted to the congregation, corresponding to those thirteen Levites, “who gave the sense, and made the people to understand the law” under Ezra. This interpretation, or giving the sense, gradually enlarged itself into preaching. The Books of Moses were divided into as many portions as there were weeks in the year, as likewise the prophets after the times of the Maccabees. The texts of our modern preachers are nothing more nor less than the remnants of this
practice. This preaching, or giving the sense, in the process of time, came to be greatly abused, and it was thought allowable to make the Scriptures mean not only what they were obviously intended to signify, but every possible sense was put upon them which human ingenuity could devise. Thus the original text became obscured instead of elucidated by their expositions; and so, according to the complaint of our Saviour, they made the word of God of none effect by their traditions. And it must be confessed, that modern preaching has gone very much the same way. Creeds and catechisms have taken the place of the traditions of the elders, and we go into the house of God and hear a passage of Scripture introduced, not to be explained according to its original meaning and connexion, but to be made the apology for the introduction of all sorts of human conceits and inventions; or if interpreted at all, it is made to square with the dogmas of some doctor or council, that has undertaken to interpose between God's word and the soul of man, which He has made amenable to himself alone.
The services of the synagogue consisted in prayers, singing, reading the law and the prophets, interpreting them to the people, and preaching. They commenced and closed with a prayer, which in some of its expressions closely resembles the form which was left us by the Saviour. “Hallowed be his great
name in the world, which he hath created according to his good pleasure, and may his kingdom be established. May we behold his redemption spring up and flourish. May his Messiah suddenly appear in our days, and in the days of all the house of Israel to deliver his people.”
In singing they made especial use of the eightyfourth psalm.
“ How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts ; My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh crieth for the living God.”
Some of the prayers which were used in that service breathe the true spirit of devotion, and are clothed in language which bears a near resemblance to the Psalms in beauty and sublimity. Take for instance, the first of the nineteen: “ Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the great God, powerful and tremendous, the high God, bountifully dispensing benefits; the Creator and Possessor of the Universe, who rememberest the good deeds of our fathers, and in thy love sendest a Redeemer to those who are descended from them, for thy name's sake, 0 King, our Helper, our Saviour, and our Shield.”
Such is a mere outline of the institution and services of the synagogue, and let it suffice to say, that