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THE WINESKIN IN THE SMOKE.pdf

THE WINESKIN IN THE SMOKE.pdf

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE
BY SAMUEL COX



" For I am become like a bottle in the smoke ; yet do I not forget
thy statutes."— Psalm cxix. ^z.
BY SAMUEL COX



" For I am become like a bottle in the smoke ; yet do I not forget
thy statutes."— Psalm cxix. ^z.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Nov 10, 2013
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THE WINESKIN IN THE SMOKEBY SAMUEL COX" For I am become like a bottle in the smoke ; yet do I not forgetthy statutes."— Psalm cxix. ^z.If any of you are tempted to smile at the homeliness of this figure, or because it is grotesquely vacant of mean-ing for you, the fault is In our translators rather than inyourselves. There is nothing ludicrous in the Original,Jiowever homely it may be ; and, so far from being mean-ingless, it is full of wise and profitable suggestion. Youhave only to note the word by which " bottle " is replacedin the margin — as it ought to be in the text — of ourRevised Version ; you have only to learn, or to remem-ber, that both the connecting particles of the Verse arcvery flexible, and may take several forms without doingviolence to the Hebrew, in order to discharge everyludicrous association from this quaint maxim, and tothrow it into a very sober, wholesome, and suggestiveform. Read it, as two of our greatest Hebraists do(Ewald and Delitzsch), "¦ AltJioiigh I am become as azvineskin hung in the smoke, yet do I not forget thystatutes ; " or, as a possible alternative, read it thus, " ForTHE WINESKIN IN THE SMOKE,I am become as a wineskin in the smoke, because I donot forget thy statutes," and you will no longer betempted to smile at it ; you will begin to see in whatdirection its meanings lie, and that it points yourthoughts to truths of the gravest kind. For, in the firstcase, the allusion is to the fidelity of a good man under
 
severe pressures of trial and affliction. Though, underthese pressures, he shrinks, and wastes, and blackens likea wineskin hung in the smoke of the chimney fire fordaily use, he still remembers the Divine statutes, whichare at once a promise and a command — "commandmentswith promise ; " he still holds fast his faith in God andduty. In the second case, the allusion is to the secretand reward of this fidelity. For it was a custom of the ancients (Rosenmiiller) to hang skins of wine in thesmoke of a fire for very much the same reason that wesometimes stand a bottle of claret on the hearth, in orderto mellow the wine by a gradual and moderate warmth,and to bring it to an earlier perfection. And in thatcustom the Psalmist finds an illustration of the meaning,and of the mercy, of the afflictions to which he has beenexposed. They have been sent to act on him like thewarm smoke on the wine, to refine, mellow, and ripenhis character ; and because, under them all, he hasrefused to part with his faith in God and duty, becausehe has been true to God and God's statutes, they havehad their intended and proper effect upon him.These are the two main meanings, or suggestions, of this quaint and homely figure. And, of course, if wewere simply sUidying the Word of God, we should haveTHE WINESKIN IN THE SMOKE. 21to choose between them, and to give the palm to thefirst. But as — here at least, in the house of God — weare reading his Word for edification, we may take asmany meanings as the Verse suggests in so far as theyare true and wholesome for us. Let us look, then, atboth these meanings, or suggestions, and mark whatthey have to teach us.I. But, first of all, it will help us to accept and valuehis teaching if we can make out what manner of man
 
this was who, as he sat by the hearth of a Hebrewcottage, looked up to the wineskin hanging in the chim-ney, and saw in it a quaint and curious likeness to hisown soul. It is not easy to recover any authentic andindubitable traces of him ; for, so far as we know, wehave no work of his but the Psalm before us ; and inthis Psalm, if we press it too hard or inquire of it toocuriously, his image grows indistinct and evasive, capableof taking many forms. Thus, for instance, one greatscholar is quite sure that he was a young poet, mainlybecause he asks (Verse 9), " Wherewithal shall a youngman keep his path pure ? " and replies, " By walking, withgood heed, according to thy word." While another greatscholar is equally sure that he was " an old and experi-enced saint," mainly because he either asks or exclaims(Verse 84), " How many are the days of thy servant ?"But if instead of thus pressing isolated and dubiousexpressions ; if, instead of curiously inquiring for hisname, or age, or history, we look at the main structureand substance of his Song, and ask what his characterwas, we may reach certain conclusions about him in22 THE WINESKIN IN THE SMOKE.which every scholar, and indeed all men of good sense,will concur.From the complex, elaborate, and artificial structureof the Psalm, for example, we may reasonably infer thathe lived in one of the latest periods of Hebrew literature,when the Jews were groaning under the tyranny of foreign,i,e.^ of Gentile, rulers, who hated " the Hebrew super-stition " almost as much as the Hebrew obstinacy ; andthus we get a valuable glimpse into the larger outwardconditions of his life, which every section of the Psalmverifies and confirms. From the substance and generaltone of the Psalm we cannot err in inferring that he lovedthe Word of God so dearly that he was never weary of 

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