We now begin to understand a little of the very beginning of God's Book -- of the times in which it was written, the materials used by its first author, and the different kinds of writing from which he had to choose; but we must go a step farther.
How much did Moses know about the history of his forefathers, Abraham and Jacob, and of all the old nations and kings mentioned in Genesis, before God called him to the great work of writing his part of the Bible?
We believe that he knew a great deal about them all.
Most thoughtful young people like to read right through their Bibles, and perhaps you have been perplexed to find that many parts of the Old Testament are both puzzling and dry. Of what use, then, can these chapters be? you have perhaps asked yourself. Is it not all God's Book?
But you must not let this trouble you. Every passage, every verse has its special place and object. Not a line of God's Book could be taken away without serious loss to the whole.
'What, all those long lists of the queer names of people we never hear of again?' asks some one. 'Why, I dread those chapters. I once had to read Genesis x. aloud, and I shall never forget it!'
Those who feel like this will be surprised to know that many of the most learned men of our own days are giving much time and thought to the careful and patient study of this very list of names; and the more carefully they study it, the fuller and wider does the subject become.
'Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.' (Genesis x.10.) The ruins of all these great cities and kingdoms have now been found. They were old before Moses was born; indeed, they were so old that their names were only to be found in ancient books; even the very language spoken by some of these nations had been forgotten by all save the learned scribes of Babylonia and Assyria.
And yet we find these names accurately given in Genesis; had they been missing from its pages, the Bible would give us no true idea of the beginnings of history. Remember this when next you are tempted to feel impatient at the awkward syllables.
Again, in Genesis xiv. we read the names of the kings who governed nine nations in the time of Abraham, and of how they fought together 'four kings with five' (verse 9) three hundred years before Moses was born.
Until a very few years ago the Bible was the only Book that told us about these ancient kings and kingdoms.
And people said, 'The man who wrote that chapter did not really know anything; he just collected a pack of old stories that had been repeated over and over again with so many exaggerations and alterations that at last there was scarcely a word of truth left in them.'
Since this foolish conclusion was arrived at many new discoveries have been made, the broken fragments of old tablets have been pieced together and read, and the names of all the nine kings brought to light once more.
Certain it is that Moses, with the help of the writings which we now know must have existed in his time, would have but little difficulty in writing those parts of Genesis which tell us the history of some of the most ancient nations of the world. For when God gives a man some work to do, He always helps him to do it. To those who really trust Him, and have patience to work on, the help they need always comes, the difficult path is made smooth. This has been the experience of God's servants in all times.
[Illustration: PORTRAIT AND WRITING OF AMRAPHEL, KING OF SHINAR, IN ABRAHAM'S TIME]
Many letters and books belonging to the reign of 'Amraphel king of Shinar' (Genesis xiv.1) have lately been found. He was one of the wisest heathen kings who ever lived, and the writings of his times are very interesting, because they bring us quite back to the days of Abraham.
Amraphel kept written records describing the splendid temples he built, and a great embankment which he made to keep the river Tigris from flooding his people's cornfields; but the wisest thing he did was to collect and write out a long list of all the laws by which he governed the land of Shinar. Thus he worked in very much the same kind of way for Shinar that our own King Alfred did, thousands of years later, for England.
This list of laws was found in 1901. They are engraved on a great block of black marble, and are so numerous that they would fill pages of our Bible.
They are wise and just as far as they go. There is a great deal about buying and selling in them, and the lawful way of conducting different kinds of business; but they are wholly different from those wonderful Commandments which God gave to the Children of Israel three hundred years later.
For Shinar's laws were the heathen laws of a heathen king; in them there is no word of God; no word even of the heathen gods in which Amraphel believed.
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God ... and thy neighbour as thyself.' (Luke x.27.) In these words Jesus Christ gives to us the true meaning of the Commandments which Moses wrote down in our Bible.
Again, until quite lately many people were certain that there could never have been a king like Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who came and blessed Abraham, and of whom we read in Genesis xiv. and also in Hebrews vii.
But among the letters found in the Foreign Office of the king of Egypt, is one from the king of Salem. Not from Melchizedek, but from another king of Salem, who describes himself in these words: 'I was set in my place neither by father nor mother, but by the Mighty King' -- meaning 'by God.' Read what is said about Melchizedek in Hebrews vii. These words show us that all the kings of Salem believed that they owed everything to God. This is why Abraham honoured Melchizedek so highly.
'Salem -- that is, peace. 'Jeru-salem' means city of peace. So, as we see from these ancient letters, Jerusalem was called the city of peace even in the days of Abraham.
All these old records and many more Moses must surely have seen; the cities of Canaan were as full of books as were those of Egypt and Babylonia, for the name 'Kirjath-sepher' (Joshua xv.15) means 'City of Books.'
Thus, as year by year new discoveries are made, we realize more clearly the kind of preparation which Moses had for his great work, and the sources from which he gathered much of his information. Yet no single word of the Bible is copied from the heathen writings.
No; just as a man who decides to give his whole life to God to-day uses, in the Lord's service, the knowledge he gained before he was converted; so, after God called Moses to his great work, all the learning and wide knowledge he had gathered during his life were dedicated to the service of God, and used by His Holy Spirit.
We do not know -- we are nowhere told -- whether Moses wrote every word of the 'Books of the Law.' The Jews believed that every letter, every tiniest dot was his. It may well have been so, as we have seen.
But, again, he may very likely have had helpers and editors; that is, people who arranged and copied his original writings.
But the Children of Israel always called the first five books of the Bible 'The Torah'; that is, 'The Law'; and they looked upon these as their most precious possession, something quite above and apart from every other writing -- Jehovah's direct words and commandments to His people.
At last the life-work of Moses was done, and Joshua took his place, called by God to lead the people forward. But the new leader found himself at once in a very different position. When Moses brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt they were without a Bible.
But in Joshua's days the light had begun to shine, the river of the knowledge of God to flow, and God was able, therefore, to say to His servant Joshua:
'This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shall make thy way prosperous, and then thou shall have good success.' (Joshua i.8.)
We are not told who was called by God to write the Book of Joshua; we think that Joshua wrote at least a part of it himself, but we all know that it describes how the Israelites came at last into the Promised Land, and drove out the wicked idol-worshippers.
Buried deep in the earth the remains of many old Canaanite cities have been found.
Those of Lachish, the great Amorite city, are specially interesting. We know how the Children of Israel dreaded the Amorite cities. 'Great and walled up to Heaven' (Deuteronomy i.28), as the people said. Yet, in spite of their great strength, Joshua took them one by one, overthrew them, and afterwards built the Jewish towns upon their ruins. This was the custom of conquerors with all these ancient cities, as the excavators find to-day.
Now, in the remains of Lachish we can see its whole history. Three distinct cities have been found, one below the other.
Deepest down of all, full sixty feet underground, are the enormous walls of the Amorite city; great masses of rough brick forming huge walls at least twenty-eight feet wide. No wonder the Children of Israel, felt doubtful of victory!
Above the Amorite walls are the scattered fragments of rough mud-huts and cattle shelters. The Israelites had no time to build anything better until Canaan was conquered.
Above these again stand the ruined walls of a later Jewish city, Lachish, as it was in the days of Solomon and the Jewish kings.
A fair city it must have been, built of white stone, the capitals of some of the columns carved to resemble a ram's horn, perhaps to remind the people of the horns of the altar in the Tabernacle. But the walls of the Jewish Lachish have none of the massive strength of the ancient Amorite city.
Had we space we might pause over many of the other ancient Canaanitish cities, for the subject is of absorbing interest, but perhaps we may return to it in a later volume. Joshua, like all God's true servants past and present, made full use of the precious Book, and, 'There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers.' (Joshua viii.35.)
Before he died he spoke to the people very sorrowfully about their sins. Many of them, in spite of God's commandments and His favour and love, had begun to serve the false gods of Canaan. The people repented at the old leader's earnest words, and they cried, 'The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey.' (Joshua xxiv.24.) Joshua made them promise to be steadfast. 'And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God.' (Verse 26.) From this we see that Joshua wrote a part, at least, of the Book that is called by his name.
People have often thought it strange that the Children of Israel should again and again break God's clear command, 'Thou shall have no other gods before Me.' (Exodus xx.3.) How could they have been so foolish as to care for false gods when the living God had done so much for them?
It is the old story. A man who has once given way to drunkenness is not safe unless he puts strong drink out of his life for ever. If he even touches it he is liable to fall back again into its power. So it was with the Children of Israel. The worship of false gods had been the terrible sin of their wilderness wanderings, and now to serve the gods of Canaan became their strongest temptation.
The temples were so strange, so beautiful, the gods themselves so mysterious, and then all was so easy, so pleasant! No stern self-denial was needed; there were no difficult laws to keep; no holiness was asked for. Drinking, feasting, and all kinds of self-indulgence were part of the worship of Baal, and those who served Ashtaroth, the goddess of beauty, might spend their whole lives in wicked and degrading pleasures.
[Illustration: ANCIENT FIGURE OF ASHTAROTH, THE WICKED IDOL-GODDESS OF CANAAN]
The backsliders of Israel found it only too easy to give up the struggle for right, and to sink down into the horrible wickedness of the heathen tribes around them.
Many people to-day are asking how a God of love and mercy could bid the Israelites utterly to destroy the cities of Canaan, and to kill their inhabitants, but the more we discover of these ancient tribes, the more hopelessly depraved do we find them to have been. For centuries God had been waiting in patience; the warning He had given to them through Sodom's swift destruction had been unheeded; now at last the cup of their iniquity was full (Genesis xv.16) and the Israelites were to be His means of ridding the world of this plague spot.
In the Book of Judges we see how each time His people disobeyed His command and copied the sins they were called to sweep away, God punished them by letting their merciless neighbours rule over them, till they loathed the bondage and turned once more to the living God.
Had Israel absorbed the vices of these nations instead of destroying them, try to think what the world would have lost! The one channel through which God was giving His Book to man would have become so choked and polluted with vice that in its turn it also would have become a source of infection and not of health.
 This king's name is also spelt Hammurabi.