Thus little by little the Book of God grew, and the people He had chosen to be its guardians took their place among the nations.
A small place it was from one point of view! A narrow strip of land, but unique in its position as one of the highways of the world, on which a few tribes were banded together. All around great empires watched them with eager eyes; the powerful kings of Assyria, Egypt, and Babylonia, the learned Greeks, and, in later times, the warlike Romans.
How small and unimportant the Israelites appeared to the world then! Yet we know that in reality they were greater than any people the world had ever seen. God's words have been fulfilled; through the Children of Israel all the nations of the world are blessed.
The old empires have crumbled into dust; the great conquerors of ancient days are forgotten; few people to-day remember the names of the wise men of Greece and Rome, but our lives and thoughts are daily influenced by the thoughts, words, and deeds of the Jews of old. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah -- their very names are nearer and dearer to us than those of the heroes of our own land.
When Queen Victoria was asked the secret of England's greatness, she held up a Bible. Their Sacred Book was all that the Jews possessed. Their whole greatness was wrapped up in it. As the heathen truly said, they were 'The People of the Book.'
And now let us glance at the history books of the Bible. The first and second Books of Samuel have been put together from several other records. Most likely Samuel himself did part of the work. In Shiloh, where he was educated, the old documents were kept, and Samuel, the gifted lad, who so early gave his heart to God, was in every way fitted to write the story of the Lord's chosen people during his own life-time.
The Bible mentions several other histories that were written in these days besides those which we know. 'Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer.' (These last have disappeared.) (1 Chronicles xxix.29.)
Stores of books were being gathered. When, for instance, Saul was chosen king, Samuel 'wrote in a book and laid it up before the Lord.' (1 Samuel x.25.) These books were most likely written on a rough kind of parchment, made from the skins of goats, sewn together, and rolled up into thick rolls.
The Books of Samuel are very precious to us, for in them we read nearly all we know of the history of David the shepherd-king. Some of David's own writings are found in these books, but for most of them we have to turn to the Book of the Psalms, which was the manual of the Temple choir, and became the national collection of sacred poems. These Psalms were composed by different authors, and at different times, chiefly for use in the Temple, but the collection was founded by David, and he contributed many of its most beautiful hymns.
David's boyhood was spent among the rugged hills and valleys of Bethlehem. As we read his Psalms we feel that the writer has passed long hours alone with God, and the beautiful things which God has made.
Let us watch him for a moment. It is evening, and the young lad is alone on the hills, keeping his father's sheep. The sun is sinking, and all the earth is bathed in golden light. Even the sullen surface of the Dead Sea reflects the glory, and the hills of Moab glow as though on fire.
'God is the Creator of all this beauty,' thinks David. 'Yes, bright as is that golden sky, His glory is above the heavens.' (Psalm viii.1.)
Now the sun has quite gone; night's dark curtain draws across the world, the rosy glow fades from the hills. One by one the great white stars shine out, and presently the moon rises. The young lad raises his face, and gazes upward. 'When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained' (Psalm viii.3) he murmurs; 'how great is this mighty God, how far beyond all the thoughts and ways of men! What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?' (Verse 4.)
But God loves us even though we are lower than the angels. He has crowned us with glory and honour. He has given all His beautiful world, and all the wonderful things He has made, into our hands. 'O Lord (verse 4) our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth.' (Verse 9.)
In Psalm xxix. David gives a word picture of a thunderstorm. He describes the furious blast, the crashing thunder, the vivid lightning. Many times as a young lad he had watched the black storm-clouds gather over the hills and valleys of Bethlehem. He had no fear of the tempest. God's voice was in the wind; God's voice divided the lightning-flashes; God's voice shook the wilderness. Yes, God would make His people strong, even as the storm was strong.
And when the storm had passed, and the sun shone out once more over the quiet hills, how clearly the words rose in David's mind, 'The Lord will bless His people with peace!' (Verse 11.)
Solomon, David's son, was the wisest king of ancient times. He wrote many books, but only small fragments of them are found in the Bible; a few Psalms, Solomon's Song, and a collection Proverbs.
[Illustration: SENNACHERIB, KING OF ASSYRIA. FROM THE ASSYRIAN PICTURE OF THE TAKING OF LACHISH. (2 Kings xviii.)]
For much of Solomon's wisdom was of the earthly sort. He stood first among all the learned men of his day. He would now be called a 'scientific' man. But all science which is limited to mere human wisdom grows quickly out of date. The cleverest men of to-day will be thought very ignorant in a few years.
Whereas David's writings live. His love for God, and his faith in God, made him able to write those words of trust and hope and praise which are as sweet and fresh to-day as when they were written, and which go right home to our hearts.
How many cold hearts have not David's psalms warmed into life, how many wounded spirits have they not comforted! There is not a grief or anxiety in our lives to-day that could not be met and softened by the words of the Jewish writer of long ago. Yes, the work done for God and inspired by His Spirit never grows old.
And now, as we open the books of the kings, the great empires of the days of old, of Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Persia, seem to start into vivid life once more.
How strong they were -- how terrible! What defence had the little kingdom of Judah against such overwhelming power, such mighty armies, such merciless rulers?
She had the best defence of all -- God's holy promises chronicled in His Book. While her people loved and served their God they would be safe.
But, alas! they soon forgot to read and obey His Book, and neither loved nor served Him any more. Then came sorrow and trouble exactly as Moses had foretold. Cities were sacked, and many hundreds of people led away into slavery; yet, until the days of Hezekiah, no one tried to understand the reason for all this.
King Hezekiah understood and trembled; he prayed earnestly that God would pardon the nation's sin, and when the Book of the Law was lying forgotten in the Temple he had it brought out and read before him. (2 Chronicles xxxiv.14-18.)
Under his direction the Proverbs of Solomon were collected and copied (Proverbs xxv. i), and the Psalms of David sung in the Temple once again.
The wonderful story of the King of Assyria's campaign against Jerusalem, followed shortly after by the defence of the Holy City by God Himself in answer to Hezekiah's prayer, can be read at length in the story of 'Hezekiah the King.'
Although Sennacherib of Assyria was one of the mightiest rulers the world has ever seen, he was utterly discomfited when he set his power against the will of God.
The Books of Kings and Chronicles give us, as it were, the history of a nation from God's point of view.
The writers' names are not even known. But in these Books we are shown clearly that God rules over the nations, and is working His purpose out through His chosen instruments, year by year. It is in vain for a man to strive against God, or for a nation to hope for prosperity while it forsakes the law of the Lord.
No other history has ever attempted to show us the deep truths and perfect order which lie behind apparent confusion in the story of a nation.
With the History Books of the Bible, the Books of the Prophets are closely interwoven. Throughout Kings and Chronicles we catch many glimpses of the prophets and of their noble efforts to keep alive God's words in the hearts of the people; but in the writings of the prophets themselves we may read the actual messages which God's messengers proclaimed in order to stir up their hearers in times of national distress or heart-backsliding.
God's indignation against hypocrites and oppressors is declared in words that cannot be passed over; but ever as the clouds of trouble gather more thickly over His people is the hope of a coming Saviour more clearly put before them.
For a real understanding of the Prophets' Books it is necessary to know something of the circumstances under which each man lived and wrote. Amos and Hosea, for instance, warned their people of the approach of Sargon of Assyria unless they repented and turned again to the law of the Lord. As they did not repent the prophets' warning came true, and Sargon invaded and destroyed the Kingdom of Israel.
But Nahum brings comfort, for he tells the suffering Kingdoms of Judah and Israel that the Kings of Assyria shall so disappear that in the years to come the very place where they dwelt shall be forgotten, while Judah shall keep the Lord's feasts for ever. (Nahum i.15.)
The Bible tells of many of God's acts which seem very wonderful to us. We call these acts 'miracles,' because we cannot explain them, nor how they happened.
Now the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets are also miracles, for although these men wrote at widely different times, and hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, yet their books all speak of Him. The light of God's Spirit shone into their hearts so that they foresaw and foretold the coming of the Saviour King.
Terrible troubles would overwhelm the Jews; but, even though the wall of Jerusalem should be broken down, the city laid waste, and the inhabitants led away captive, God's words were sure. He would visit His people at last. He would redeem them from their sins.
The troubles came, the prophets' eyes streamed with tears, and their hearts were torn with grief as they saw their land wasted by the heathen. Yet they did not despair. The dark night of sorrow would wear away at last, God's people should be brought back, Jerusalem rebuilt; her King would come, the Sun of Righteousness arise, 'And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.' (Isaiah ix.6.)
 A companion volume to this book.