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Syria, including Phoenicia; Asia Minor, now called Natolia; Mesopotamia, now termed Diarbeck; Chaldea; Assyria and Arabia, constitute the principal countries noticed in the Old Testament Scriptures, and are all in Asia. Egypt, which is on the northeast coast of Africa, is separated from Asia only by a narrow neck of land, called the Isthmus of Suez, and the Red Sea, now called the Arabian Gulf. Asia is celebrated as being far superior to Africa or even Europe, both in the salubrious serenity of its air, and the rich fertility of its soil, producing the most delicious fruits, and the most fragrant and balsamic plants, gums, and spices. The scriptures, however, relate chiefly to the events which took place in Palestine, or Canaan – where the kingdoms of Israel and Judah flourished — where the temple of God was erected by king Solomon — where most of the inspired Scriptures were written — where our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the all-important work of human redemption — and where the apostles of the Saviour were supernaturally qualified to go forth among all nations, to preach the gospel of eternal salvation, bringing sinners of every tribe into the kingdom of Messiah. Canaan was so named from Canaan, the son of Ham, the son of Noah. It lay between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains of Arabia, extending from Egypt on the south, to Phoenicia on the north. It was bounded on the east by Arabia Deserta; on the south by Arabia Petraea, Idumea, and Egypt; on the west by the Mediterranean, called in Scripture The Great Sea; and on the north by the Mountains of Lebanon in Syria. Its length from the city of Dan, which stood at the foot of those mountains, to Beersheba, which was situated at the southern extremity of the land, is about two hundred miles; and its breadth, from the shores of the Mediterranean to the eastern border, is about ninety miles. This country is known to us by several
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significant names besides that of Canaan; it is called The Land of Promise, from the fact of its having been promised to Abraham and his family; Palestine, from the Philistines; Judea, from the tribe of Judah possessing its most fertile division. It is frequently called The Holy Land, from the circumstances recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially as the ministry of Christ was exercised in that country; and as there the obedience, and death, and resurrection of Christ took place for our eternal salvation.
On the completion of the work of redemption, the apostles were commissioned to “go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;” and the fulfilment of their ministry opens to us a new field of geography. Asia Minor, Greece, and several other parts of the Roman empire, especially the countries around the shores of the Mediterranean, might claim a particular notice in this place, did the nature of this work allow of an extension of the subject.
1. The patriarchs were the fathers who lived in the early ages of the world, and who became famous on account of their long lives, and their descendants. Adam, Seth, Enoch, &c. were eminent before the deluge: Noah and his sons after that event. Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons, are the other most celebrated patriarchs of the Old Testament; they were the sounders of mighty families. The patriarchs exercised a kind of sovereign authority in their respective households, being both priests and princes. In Job and Abraham we see excellent examples of the patriarchal government.
2. The prophets were illustrious persons who were divinely raised up among the Israelites, to be the extraordinary ministers of the dispensations of God. They flourished in a continued succession during a period of more than a thousand years, reckoning from Moses to Malachi; all cooperating in the same designs, uniting in one spirit to deliver the same doctrines, and to predict the same blessings to mankind. 3. The priests were those persons who were set apart to offer sacrifices to God, and make intercession with him for the people. Before the call of Aaron, patriarchs, elder brothers, and princes, or every man for himself, offered sacrifice; as is evident from the history of Cain, Abel, Noah, Job, and Abraham. Among the Israelites, after their departure from Egypt, the priesthood was confined to one tribe, and it consisted of three orders — the high priests, common priests, and Levites. The high priest was the first character among the Israelites, as he was the medium of communion with God. The priesthood was hereditary in the family of Aaron, and the first-born of the oldest branch of it, if he had no legal blemish, was always the high priest. He was consecrated with solemn pomp, and officiated at the daily sacrifice in splendid robes; especially on the day of atonement, on which occasion he wore the precious breastplate, with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraven on gems, set in it, that he might be admonished to bear on his heart the whole community, for whom the sacred ornament was a memorial before the Lord. In his appointment to his office, and in his consecration, sacrifice, and intercession for the people, the high priest was an eminent type of Jesus Christ, Exod. xxviii. xxix. Lev. xvi. Heb. iii. v. vii. viii. ix. x. The priests were also of the family of Aaron; they were the ordinary ministers of religion, and their duty was to offer the daily and other sacrifices, under the direction of the high priest; to conduct all the various services of the tabernacle ; to manage all the religious ceremonies of the people, and to instruct them in the law of God They
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were divided into twentyfour ranks, each rank serving weekly in the temple. 4. The Levites were the descendants of Levi, but not of the family of Aaron ; they were a lower grade of ecclesiastical persons, inferior to the priests, and their assistants in the inferior part of the sacred service. The Levites corresponded to the deacons under the gospel. In this subordinate capacity were all the posterity of Moses; affording a proof that he was not influenced by ambition, but acted by the Divine direction. The Levites applied themselves to the study of the law, and they were dispersed through the country as the ordinary teachers, magistrates, and judges of the people. They had no landed property except fortyeight cities; for God was their inheritance, and he appointed the tithes of the produce of the land, as a reward for their services among the people, Num. xviii. 20–32. xxxv. 1 – 8. 5. The Nethinims, from the Hebrew word Nathan, “to give,” were servants, who had been given up to the service of the tabernacle and the temple, at which they officiated in the more laborious duties of carrying wood and water. They were the Canaanites whose lives were spared, Joshua is a Ezra viii. 20. 6. Nazarites were persons devoted to the peculiar service of God, for a week, a month, a year, or for life. Samson and John the Baptist were Nazarites by birth; others were voluntary, Num. vi. Acts xviii. 18. xxi. 21–26. The Rechabites were of this class of persons, Jer. xxxv. 7. The Scribes among the Israelites were writers of the law; persons who addicted themselves to literary pursuits. They were a class of lawyers by profession; at first they were only the copiers of the law, or secretaries to the government; but from transcribers of the sacred writings, they assumed the office of its expounders, till in the time of our Saviour, their commentaries had, in many things, superseded the Word of God.
The Israelites had two different periods, from which they began the computation of their year; — one for civil purposes, the other for the regulation of their religious festivals. The sacred year commenced in the month Abib, which corresponds with our March; because in that month the Israelites were emancipated from their slavery in Egypt; the civil year began in the month of Tisri, answering to our September. The Hebrew mode of reckoning months was not as ours, but strictly lunar ; they, therefore, cannot be reduced to correspond exactly with ours, as they consisted of 29 and 30 days alternately. To make their year equal to the solar, the Jews took care every three years to add a month to Adar, and called it We-Adar, or second Adar.
The natural day the Israelites distinguished from the civil ; the civil day was from the rising to the setting of the sun; and the natural day was of 24 hours, reckoning from one sun setting to another. The night was divided into four watches, each watch containing the space of about three hours.
The Bible contains two collections of writings, distinguished by the titles, The Old and The New Testament. The former comprises the successive revelations of the divine will to the Hebrews, both the Israelites and Jews, before the advent of Christ; and the latter contains the inspired writings of the apostles and evangelists of our Lord and Saviour. The two parts include sixtysix books. The thirtynine books of the Old Testament were classed in three divisions by the ancient Jews: these portions were called, 1. The Law; 2. The Prophets; and 3. The Holy