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The Day of Small Things

The Day of Small Things

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Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs

Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jun 15, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Day of Small ThingsBY W. A. L. ELMSLIE, M.A.Popular as the custom of making and of hearing " wisewords " may have been in ancient Israel, it is not surprisingthat only five or six proverbial sayings are recorded in theearly writings of the Old Testament. For proverbs are notlikely to receive mention in literature. They are too plainfor the poet, too vague for the historian, too complaisantfor the law-maker. And even these five or six, it appears,have been preserved not for any merit they possess as pro-verbs : one is of local interest only, two are picturesque,but obscure, two are the merest truisms. The rightquestion, therefore, is not " Why are there so few? ", but" Why have these sayings been rescued from oblivion ? " ;and, being preserved, " Why should they receive ourattention ? "Suppose that in Britain fifty or a hundred years hencemen should quote " It's a long, long way to Tipperary,"when they seek an expression for the pathos and heroismthat mark the acceptance of a difficult and perilous task — if those words live, why will they live ? Obviously for nointrinsic merit, but for the undying memory of men whocounted not their lives dear unto themselves. So with( these early proverbs in the Bible. Each of them came into) quickening contact with a great personality, or playeda part in one of those fateful moments when the fortunesof a people or the trend of human thinking has been deter-•mined this way or that. They have lived because each has60The Day of Small Things/ been touched by the passion of humanity. Therefore wehave to study them not in isolation from the context, butin close connection with the scene or circumstance thatgave them unexpected immortahty.(i) In days when Jerusalem was not yet Jerusalem,City of David, but only Jehus, a stronghold of theCanaanites, there had been built in the limestone uplands
of Judaea an Israehtish village, Gibeah, situated (as the nameimplies), on a hill-top, doubtless for such security as therising ground afforded.At the time we are concerned with, Israel stood in soreneed of every protection her settlements could find.Baffled by the great Canaanite fortresses, the invadingHebrews had never become absolute masters of the land,and of recent years their fortunes had altogether failedunder the counter-pressure of new invaders, the Philis-tines, who had seized the coast of Canaan and whose restlessarmies came sweeping up the valleys that lead to the high-lands from the plain along the sea. The raiders harried theJudsean villages, slaying the men and carrying the women,children and cattle captive to the lowlands. The villageswere an easy prey, and the spirit of the Israelites was brokenby the miseries of these repeated ravages. Wandering bandsof religious devotees, preaching remembrance of the powerof Jehovah, kept the embers of corporate feeling fromflickering out ; but, at the best, their wordy warfare musthave seemed a feeble answer to the mail-clad giants of the Philistine hosts.Imagine that we are standing on the hill of Gibeah,looking down the steep pathway which leads up to thevillage. A few days ago a young man, accompanied by aservant, went out to search the countryside for some strayedanimals. All in Gibeah know him well, Saul, the son of Kish, a proper man, tall and powerful, one who in happier6iStudies in Life from Jewish Proverbsdays might have been a leader in Israel. Saul and hisservant are returning and have almost reached the footof the ascent to the village. Last night they were withSamuel at Ramah, and at day-break secretly the seer hadanointed the youth to be king over Israel ; but of theseevents we are ignorant as yet ; we do not know that theSaul who went out will return no more. Idly watchingfrom the hill-top, we observe a compan}^ of devotees, whohave spent the night in Gibeah, descending the slopetowards Saul. As they approach, Saul stops and, to our faintsurprise, is seen to be in speech with them. Question and
answer pass. Suddenl}^ our listless attention changesto astonishment. Below, excitement is rising, and on nonehas it fallen more than on Saul ! He begins to talk andgesticulate like a man inspired. We raise a shout andthe folk come running, and, as they see beneath them Saulnow in an ecstasy, the incredulous cry breaks forth Is Saulalso among the prophets ?What is the interest of this famous scene ? Thata proverb was born that day in Israel ? That itmarked the commencement of a new stage in the nationallife of Israel ? More than that. The real interest is in thetransformation effected by the recognition of a personalduty. Young men like the Saul who went out to seek thelost animals are useful members of a State, but, had Saulremained unaltered, what waste of his latent, unsuspectedpower ! Saul had met devotees many times before, buttheir words had roused no energies in him. One touch of the faith of Samuel, one illuminating moment of conscious-ness that to him God had spoken, and — Saul was a king,and Israel again a people ; despair became hope, and hopeachievement. It has always been so, whenever men havelistened to the summons of personal religion. We go uponour ordinary path a hundred times and return as we went,uncomprehending ; but if once God meets us on the way,62The Day of Small Thingswhether He speak by the mouth of a prophet, or, as now,by the shock of war, the miracle is effected : we are changedinto another man.(2) The scene of the second of these early proverbs is thesteep and rugged country that mounts from the floor of the Dead Sea valley near Engedi. But the setting of theincident matters little ; its point is all in the play of char-acter between two great personalities — Saul, now nearingthe dark finish of his reign and haunted by the thought thatat his death the throne will pass from his house ; andDavid, with youth and a good conscience to support him butfleeing for his life from the jealous king and hard pressedby the royal soldiery. Saul has entered a cave, unawarethat David is hiding in its recesses. David suffers him to

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