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“ Thou shalt have no other gods before me," when the very people to whom it had been commanded, made for themselves a golden calf after the manner of the idolatrous Egyptians, and danced around it in senseless joy. To secure this one single fundamental point, the worship of the only living and true God, the whole Mosaic economy was contrived. For this purpose they were forbidden to intermarry with foreigners, for this purpose their sacrifices were all to be offered in one place, and by one family of priests, lest they should wander away, and become corrupted by other religions. For this purpose they were forbidden certain kinds of food, such as were offered in sacrifice to heathen deities, that they might not be present at idolatrous feasts, and become accustomed to those moral abominations with which heathen worship was invariably accompanied. More effectually to secure this point, Divine Providence so arranged it that their national existence and prosperity depended on their fidelity to the great purpose for which they were set apart. Whenever they worshipped the true God and obeyed his laws, temporal prosperity was the natural consequence. Then was union and peace, and industry and prosperity. Whenever they forsook God and worshipped idols, a corresponding degeneracy of morals and manners took place. This was followed by discord, weakness, poverty, and subjection to foreign nations,
But the event which exerted the most decisive influence upon the national existence of the Jews was the erection of Solomon's temple at Jerusalem. Before that time, their sacred rites had been conducted in a very humble and uncertain manner. Their sacred utensils had no better covering than a tent, often they were in private custody; and once the sacred Ark itself, which contained the heaven derived charter of their national existence, was taken captive and remained for months in the country of the Philistines. That ark in fact for near four hundred years was almost the only bond of their national union, the only object around which was gathered their national
And although in our younger years we are apt to regard that ark and its contents with a childish curiosity, our after years come to look upon it as an object of higher significance. It was the written testimony of God against idolatry. It contained the fundamental articles of a nation's constitution. It was a charter from God for a nation's establishment and independence. It was a declaration of principles, which was borne before them like a banner, proclaiming to the world for what they were to live, for what they were to fight, and for what they were to die. · It was a confession of faith, which they upheld before the world as sacred, and true, and vital to the best interests of humanity. To compare sacred things with profane, it occupied the same place in their
constitution that the fundamental declaration does in ours, “ that all men are born free and equal,” the principle which we hold forth to the world, and on which we stake our national honor and our national existence. Once abandon this and we are lost, disgraced, fallen forever. On the tables in that ark was written, “ Thou shalt have no other gods before me, and thou shalt not make any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing, thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them." There it remained from age to age as the memorial of the purpose of their national existence. And mightily did it work in the earth.
There is an incident related by the sacred historian, which may seem symbolical of the mission of the whole dispensation which that sacred enclosure contained. It is in the fifth chapter of the first book of Samuel: “And the Philistines took the Ark and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the Ark of God they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the Ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon and set him in his place again. And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground again before the Ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold, only the stump of Dagon was left unto him.” So was all idolatry destined to fall before the recorded word of the Almighty. What was achieved in the temple of Azotus was gradually accomplished throughout the land of Israel. Many times was Dagon set up in his place again. Many a time idolatry revived, the Ark of God was in the hands of the enemy, and the true religion about to be extinguished, when the Almighty interposed to vindicate his honor, and re-establish his worship, and at last obtained a triumph by the very means which at first sight threatened to overthrow it forever.
I have said that the objects of the national existence of the Jews were greatly promoted by the building of the temple at Jerusalem. It was a splendid edifice, calculated to awaken the curiosity, to attract the attention, and command the respect of the world. It furnished a place of appropriate convenience, beauty, and dignity, for the celebration of their daily sacrifices, and their national rites. It made more interesting their three yearly festivals, when all the males were obliged to present themselves before God. It gave them what we all want, some fixtures to their religion, a local habitation to their religious affections and associations. It connected the sentiment of religion with another no less strong, that of patriotism ; and enlisted them both in the maintenance and defence of the national institutions of Moses. It led to the formation of a national literature, which gave expression to these two most powerful sentiments of the human bosom, and thus operated to call forth and strengthen them in each succeeding generation.
That literature is preserved in part in the Psalms, which taken together are the most exquisite specimens of lyric poetry that the world has ever seen. In them may be distinctly read the deep hold which the national religion, and particularly the temple worship at Jerusalem, had taken upon the feelings of the people. The one hundred and twenty-second Psalm we may suppose was composed by some pious Israelite as he went up to one of the annual feasts. It breathes the essence of piety and patriotism:
“I was glad when they said unto me,
I will seek thy good.”