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Deep Things

Source: Hebrew Heroes

When Abishai re-entered the dwelling of Hadassah, he found her drawing
forth, from a secret receptacle in the wall, a long roll of parchment,
covered with writing in Hebrew characters within and without. The lady
pressed it reverentially to her lips, and then resumed her seat, with
the sacred roll laid across her knees. Abishai regarded with respect,
almost amounting to awe, a woman to whom had been given the talent,
wisdom, and courage to transcribe so large a portion of the oracles of
God. He felt as Barak may have done towards Deborah, and stood leaning
against the wall, listening with respectful attention to the words of
this "Mother in Israel."

"These Scriptures, my son," said Hadassah, "have been my study by day,
and my meditation by night; and most earnestly have I sought, with
fasting and prayer, to penetrate some of their deep meaning in regard
to Him that shall come. I am yet as a child in knowledge, but the
All-wise may be pleased to reveal something even to a child. It has
seemed to me of late that I have been permitted to trace one word,
written as in gigantic shadows--now fainter--now deeper--on Nature, in
History, on the Law, in the Prophets. That single word is SACRIFICE.
Wherever I turn I see it; it seems to me as a law of being; yea, as the
very essence of religion itself."

"I do not understand you," said Abishai; "how is the word Sacrifice
written on Nature?"

"See we it not on all things around us?" replied Hadassah. "Does not
the seed die that the corn may spring up; doth not the decaying leaf
nourish the living plant; doth not one creature maintain its existence
by the destruction of others? There is a mystery of suffering in this
fair world, some stern necessity for what we call evil, though from it
a merciful God is ever evolving good. These things distressed and
perplexed me, till I could dimly trace that word Sacrifice as written
by God's finger upon His works; death the parent of life, pain and
sorrow--of joy!"

"The primeval curse is on Nature," observed the Hebrew.

"Linked with the primeval blessing," said Hadassah. "And now when I
turn from natural objects to the history of our race, sacrifice and
suffering are still ever before me. Isaac is devoted as a
burnt-offering before he becomes the father of the chosen race; Joseph
is sold for pieces of silver ere he can redeem his family from
destruction; the storm is only stilled by Jonah's being cast out into
the deep; Samson triumphs over the enemy by the sacrifice of his own
life! All these historical facts seem to me as types, dim and shadowy
indeed, yet legible to the eye of faith, and Sacrifice is the word
which they form."

"Dim and shadowy," repeated Abishai, to whom Hadassah's views on the
subject appeared somewhat fanciful and vague.

"If so in Nature and history," said the Hebrew lady, "the lines are
clear and distinct enough in our holy law. Why have countless victims
been offered, even from the time of the Fall? Why was the dying lamb
of Abel more acceptable than the bloodless offering of Cain? Why have
thousands of guiltless creatures been slain on the altar of God; nay,
not upon His alone, even on altars of the heathen who have never heard
of His name, as if there were a deep instinct implanted in the soul of
man, to testify that without shedding of blood there is no remission of
sin? Think we that the All-merciful can take pleasure in the death of
bulls or of goats? Yet hath He Himself ordained it. Sacrifice,
suffering, substitution, one life accepted as ransom for another, this
idea pervades the law given by inspiration to Moses; yea, long before
the birth of Moses, to Abraham, to Noah, to Abel!"

"I grant it," Abishai replied. "As man is guilty in the sight of his
Maker, there must be sacrifice for sin as long as the world shall last."

The light of inspiration seemed to glow in the uplifted eyes of
Hadassah, and her lips to breathe words not her own as she spoke again.
"What if all these sacrifices but point to one great Sacrifice; what if
the deep mystery of suffering be resolved into some deeper mystery of
love; what if God Himself should provide the substitute, and if on some
altar blood be shed which shall suffice to atone for transgressions
past, present, and to come, even to the end of all time? May it not
be--must it not so be--if we read the Scriptures aright?"

"I cannot divine your meaning," said Abishai.

"What is written here of the coming Messiah?" asked Hadassah, laying
her hand on the roll of prophecy, as she turned her earnest, searching
gaze upon her companion.

"That He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron, and break them in
pieces like a potter's vessel!" exclaimed Abishai with exultation; "is
He not named Messiah the Prince?"

"Who shall be _cut off, but not for Himself_" (Dan. ix. 26), said
Hadassah, in low thrilling tones that made Abishai start, and look at
her with surprise. "You," she continued, "see the PRINCE in prophecy,
written as in characters of light; I see the SACRIFICE, ever in letters
of deepening shadow. Behold here,"--and as the widow spoke, she opened
the roll till her finger could point to the Twenty-second Psalm,--"what
means this cry of mysterious sorrow, _My God, my God, why hast Thou
forsaken Me?_"

"It is David's cry of anguish," said Abishai.

"Look farther on, my son, ponder the subject more deeply," cried
Hadassah, and she proceeded to read aloud part of the inspired Word.
"_The assembly of the wicked have inclosed Me: they pierced My hands
and My feet. I may tell all My bones: they look and stare upon Me.
They part My garments among them, and cast lots on My vesture_ (Ps.
xxii. 16-18). These things never happened to David; the Psalmist
speaks not here of himself."

"Of whom then could he be speaking," said Abishai, looking perplexed.
"Not surely of the Messiah, not of the seed of the woman who shall
bruise the serpent's head" (Gen. iii. 15).

"Wherefore not?" asked Hadassah, "seeing that He Himself must be
bruised in the conflict? If it be written, _My Servant shall deal
prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high_, the
shadow lies close under the brightness, it is also written, _His visage
was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of
men, and why? because so shall He sprinkle many nations_ (Isa. lii.
13-15), it may be--with His own blood!"

"Yours are strange thoughts," muttered the son of Nathan.

"They are not my thoughts," replied Hadassah. "Behold, farther on in
the roll, what was revealed to the prophet Isaiah? Is the note of
triumph sounded here? _He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of
sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces
from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath
borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him
stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our
transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of
our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we
like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was cut off
out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was
He stricken_ (Isa. liii. 3-6, 8). Have we not here the Victim, the
Substitute, the Sacrifice bound on the altar, bleeding, wounded, dying,
and that for sins not His own?"

"It cannot be. It is impossible--quite impossible--that when the
Messiah comes He should be despised and rejected," exclaimed Abishai,
to whom this interpretation of prophecy was as unwelcome as it was new.
"When He comes, all Israel shall triumph and rejoice, and welcome their
King, the Ruler of the world."

Hadassah silently unrolled her parchment until she came to the
thirteenth chapter[1] of the prophet Zechariah.

"Listen to this, son of Nathan," said she. "_Awake, O sword, against
My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of
hosts_" (Zech. xiii. 7).

"Who is My Fellow?" repeated Abishai, in amazement, for that portion of
Scripture had never been brought to his attention before. "Can you
have read the sentence correctly? Were that not written in the Word of
God, methinks it were rank blasphemy even to think that the Lord of
hosts could have an equal."

"There is mystery in that word which man cannot fathom," cried
Hadassah, "The Divine Essence is One: the foundation of our faith is
the most solemn declaration, _Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God_[2] _is
One Lord_ (Deut. vi. 4); and yet in that very declaration is conveyed
the idea of unity combined with distinction of persons."

"Hadassah, Hadassah, into what wilderness of heresy are you wandering?"
Abishai exclaimed.

The Hebrew lady appeared not to hear him, but went on, as if thinking

"No man hath seen God at any time, He Himself hath declared--_No man
shall see Me, and live_" (Exod. xxxiii. 20). "But who, then, visibly
appeared unto Abraham? Who was it who wrestled with Jacob? Who spake
unto Gideon? On whose glory was Isaiah permitted to gaze? Who was
soon to walk in the fiery furnace? Who was He, _like the Son of Man,
who came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days?_"
(Dan. vii. 18.)

"At one moment you would view Messiah as a Victim; at the next, as a
God!" cried the Hebrew.

"If God should deign to take the form of Man, to bear Man's penalty, to
suffer Man's death, might He not be _both_?" asked Hadassah.

Seeing that Abishai started at the question, she turned to the portion
of the roll which contained the prophecy of Isaiah, and read aloud:--

"_Unto us a Child is born_. Here is clearly an announcement of human
birth; yet is this Child revealed to us as _the mighty God, the
everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace_" (Isa. ix. 6).

"Such thoughts as these are too high, too difficult, for the human mind
to grasp," exclaimed Abishai, pressing his brow. "The frail vessel
must burst that has such hot molten gold poured within it. All that I
can answer to what you have said is this. I believe not--and never
will believe--that when Messiah, the Hope of Israel, shall come, He
will be rejected by our nation. Were it so, such a fearful curse would
fall upon our race that the memory of the Egyptian bondage, the
Babylonish captivity, the Syrian persecution, would be forgotten in the
greater horrors of what God's just vengeance would bring upon this
people. We should become a by-word, a reproach, a hissing. We should
be scattered far and wide amongst the nations, as chaff is scattered by
the winds, until--"

Abishai paused, and clenched his hand and set his teeth, as if language
failed him to describe the utter desolation and misery which such a
crime as the rejection of the Messiah must bring upon the descendants
of Abraham. As Abishai did not finish his sentence, Hadassah completed
it for him.

"Until," she said, with a brightening countenance--"until Judah repent
of her sin, and turn to Him whom she once denied. Hear, son of Nathan,
but one more prophecy from the Scriptures. Thus saith the Lord:--_I
will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of
Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall
look upon ME whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as
one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as
one that is in bitterness for his first-born_ (Zech. xii. 10). _And
the Lord shall be King over all the earth_" (Zech. xiv. 9).

Abishai left the dwelling of Hadassah with a perturbed spirit,
unwilling to own to himself that views so widely differing from his own
could have any foundation in truth. The idea of a rejected, suffering,
dying Messiah was beyond measure repugnant to the soul of the Hebrew.

"See what comes of concentrating all the powers of the mind on abstruse
study!" Abishai muttered to himself as he descended the hill.
"Hadassah is going mad; her judgment is giving way under the strain."

[1] Of course, the Hebrew roll was not divided into chapters; they are
but given for facility of reference.

[2] "God," in the original, is "Elohim," a _plural_ word.

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