Since the days of the Greek philosophers the subject of inspiration and revelation has been fertile theme for discussion and dispute among scholars and theologians. Many different theories have been advanced, and ultimately abandoned as untenable. In its simplest meaning and use, inspiration describes the personal influence of one individual upon the mind and spirit of another. Thus we often say, "That man inspired me." What we are or do under the influence of that intellectual or spiritual impulse is the effect and evidence of the inspiration. Similarly, divine inspiration is the influence of God's spirit or personality upon the mind and spirit of man. It may find expression in an exalted emotional state, in an heightened clarity of mental perception, in noble deeds, in the development of character, indeed in a great variety of ways; but its seat is always the mind of man and its ultimate cause the Deity himself.
[Sidenote: In the Old Testament]
The early Old Testament expression most commonly used to describe inspiration was that the Spirit of God rushed upon the man, as it did upon Saul, causing him to burst forth into religious ecstasy or frenzy (I Sam. x.6, 10), and upon Samson, giving him great bodily strength or prowess in war (Judg. xiv.6, 19, xv.14). Skill in interpreting dreams and in ruling was also regarded as evidence that the Spirit of God was in a man like Joseph (Gen. xli.38); but above all the prophetic gift was looked upon as the supreme evidence of the presence of the Spirit of Jehovah (Hos. ix.1; Micah ii.7, iii.8). The word spirit as thus used in the Old Testament is exceedingly suggestive. It means primarily the breath, that comes from the nostrils. Though invisible to the eye, the breath was in the thought of primitive man the symbol of the active life of the individual. In the full vigor of bodily strength or in violent exercise it came quick and strong; in times of weakness it was faint; when it disappeared, death ensued; the living personality was gone, and only the play remained. The same Hebrew word, ruach, described the wind -- unseen, intangible, and yet one of the most real and irresistible forces in all the universe. Thus it was a supremely appropriate term to describe the activity of God, as it produced visible effects in the minds and lives of men. In the later Old Testament literature its use was extended, so that to the Spirit of God was ascribed activity in the natural world and in human history.
[Sidenote: Nature of revelation]
Of the two terms, revelation is broader than inspiration. Sometimes it is used collectively, to designate the truth revealed, but it more properly describes the means or process whereby it is made apparent to the human mind. It implies that truth is always existent, but only gradually recognized. Inspiration is one of the chief means whereby the human vision is clarified so as to perceive it. Natural phenomena, environment, and above all experience, are also mighty agents in making the divine character and truth clear to the mind of man. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, with true insight, that God spoke in divers manners. All the universe, all history, and all life reveal him and his ultimate truths, for each is effective in opening the mental and spiritual eye of man to see the realm long awaiting him as conqueror.
[Sidenote: Man's role in the process of revelation]
For countless ages electricity has inscribed its magic tracery on the storm-cloud and performed its all-important functions in organic life, but not until men's eyes were opened by experience and trained observation to recognize its laws, was it practically applied to the needs of civilization. Similarly, unchanging moral and spiritual laws have existed through all time, but they have not become operative in human life until the eye of some seer is opened by a great experience, or under the direct influence of the Spirit of God he is led to see and proclaim them. Thus God is in all and reveals himself through all nature and life, but it is only through the mind and on the lips of his highest creature, man, that truth is fully appreciated, formulated, and applied.
[Sidenote: The revelation recorded in the Bible]
In the broader sense all revelation is divine, for it reveals God and his laws; and yet it is obvious that there is a real difference between the revelation recorded in a scientific book and that of the Bible. It is a difference both in subject-matter and in the ends to which the truth thus made manifest shall be applied. The one relates to the objective world, the world of things; the other relates to human beliefs, emotions, and acts.
[Sidenote: Its breadth and gradualness]
Moreover, it is evident that the spiritual revelation which is in part recorded in the Bible was not limited to the Israelitish race or to the twelve centuries represented by the Old and New Testaments. The biblical writers themselves assume this fact. According to the early Judean prophetic narratives, Enoch, who lived ages before Abraham and Moses, was a worshipper of Jehovah (Gen. iv.26). Cain and Abel are both represented in the familiar story of Genesis iv., as bringing their offerings to Jehovah. One of the chief teachings of the earliest stories in the Old Testament is that men from the first knew and worshipped God and were held responsible for their acts according to their moral enlightenment. History, science, and the Bible unite in testifying that the revelation of spiritual truth to mankind was something gradual, progressive, and cumulative; also that it is dependent upon the ability of men to receive it. This capacity of the individual to receive is, after all, the determining factor in the process of divine revelation; for God's truth and his desire to impart it are always the same. Hence, whenever conditions favor, or national or private experiences clarify the vision of a race or group of men, a revelation is assured.
[Sidenote: Antiquity of human civilization and religion]
In the light of ancient history and the result of recent excavations it is possible, now as never before, to study the varied influences and forces employed by God in the past to open the spiritual eyes of mankind to see him and his truth. The geological evidence suggests that man, as man, has lived on this earth, fifty, perhaps one hundred thousand years. Anthropology, going farther back than history or primitive tradition, traces the slow and painful stages by which early man learned his first lessons in civilization and religion. From the beginning, man's instincts as a religious being have asserted themselves, crude though their expression was. The oldest mounds of Babylonia and Egypt contain ruins of ancient temples, altars, and abundant evidence of the religious zeal of the peoples who once inhabited these lauds. The earliest examples of human literature thus far discovered are largely religious in theme and spirit.
[Sidenote: Primitive unfolding of the innate religious instinct]
All these testify that early man believed in a power or powers outside himself, and that his chief passion was to know and do the will of his god or gods. Jesus himself bore witness in the opening words of the prayer which he taught his disciples, that this is the essence of religion. It was natural and inevitable that primitive man, with his naive view of the universe, should believe not in one but in many forces or spirits, and that he should first enthrone the physical above the ethical and spiritual. It is the instinctive tendency of the child to-day. The later identification of the divine powers with the sun, that gave light and fertility to the soil, or with the moon, that guided the caravans by night over the arid deserts, or with the other heavenly bodies, that moved in majestic array across the midnight sky, was likewise a natural step in the evolution of primitive belief.
[Sidenote: Reasons why Babylonia developed an early civilization]
Civilization and religion in antiquity developed, as a rule, side by side. The two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, commanding the trade of the north and the south; proximity to the desert with its caravans of traders going back and forth from the Euphrates to the Nile; the rich alluvial soil, which supported a dense population when properly drained and cultivated; and the necessity of developing in a higher degree the arts of defence in order to maintain the much contested territory, -- these were a few of the many conditions that made ancient Babylonia one of the two earliest if not the oldest centre of human civilization. The commercial habits and the abundance of the plastic clay, which could easily be moulded into tablets for the use of the scribe, also fostered the early development of the literary art. The durability of the clay tablets and the enveloping and protecting qualities of the ruined mounds of ancient Babylonia have preserved in a marvellous way its early literature. The result is that we can now study, on the basis of contemporary documents, this early and yet advanced chapter in that divine revelation, the later culmination of which is recorded in the Bible.
[Sidenote: Progress during the period of city states]
It begins as far back of Moses as he is removed from us in point of time. Its political background at first is the little city states of Babylonia, each with its independent organization and its local schools of artists, whose products in many respects surpass anything that comes from the hands of later Semitic craftsmen. Each city had its temple, at which the patron god of the local tribe and district was worshipped. In some places it was the moon god Sin, as at Haran and Ur beside the desert; elsewhere, as at Nippur, Bel, or at Eridu near the Persian Gulf, Ea, the god of the great deep, was revered. In the name of the local deity offerings were brought, hymns were sung, and traditions were treasured, which extolled his might. The life of these little city states centred about the temple and its cult. To make it more glorious the artisans vied with each other, and the kings made campaigns that they might dedicate the spoils to the deity.
[Sidenote: The growth of extensive empires]
In time, perhaps as early as 4000 B.C., certain more energetic and ambitious kings succeeded in conquering neighboring cities; they even broadened their boundaries until they ruled over great empires extending to the Mediterranean on the west and the mountains of Elam on the east. In the name of the local god, each went forth to fight, and to him was attributed the glory of the victory. Naturally, when the territory of a city state grew into an empire, the god of that city was proclaimed and acknowledged as supreme throughout all the conquered territory. At the same time the local deities of the conquered cities continued to be worshipped at their ancient sanctuaries, and many a conquering king won the loyalty of his subjects by making a rich offering to the god and at the temple of a vanquished foe.
[Sidenote: Its effect in developing the pantheon and popular theology]
The logical and inevitable result of political union was the development of a pantheon, modelled after the imperial court, with the god of the victorious city at its head and the leading deities of the other cities in subordinate positions. When, during the latter part of the third millennium before Christ, Babylon's supremacy was permanently established under the rule of Hammurabi. Marduk, the god of that city, was thus placed at the head of the Babylonian pantheon. The theologians of the day also recast and combined the ancient legends, as, for example, those of the creation, so as to explain why he, one of the later gods, was acknowledged by all as supreme. A relationship was also traced between the leading gods, and their respective functions were clearly defined. Corresponding to each male deity was a female deity: thus, the consort of Marduk was Ishtar, while that of Bel was Belit. Furthermore, the ancient myths appear to have been, cooerdinated, so that from this time on Babylonian, theology presents a certain unity and symmetry, although one is constantly reminded of the very different elements out of which it had been built up.
[Sidenote: Development of ethical standards and laws]
Parallel to the evolution of Babylonian religion was that unfolding of ethical ideals and laws which finds its noblest record and expression in the remarkable code of Hammurabi (about 2250 B.C.). In its high sense of justice; in its regard for the rights of property and of individuals; in its attitude toward women, even though it comes from the ancient East; and above all in its protection of widows and orphans, this code marks almost as high a stage in the revelation of what is right as the primitive Old Testament laws, with which it has points of striking resemblance.
[Sidenote: A general comparison between the religions and laws of Egypt and Babylonia]
The evolution of ancient Egyptian civilization and religion was parallel at almost every stage with that of Babylonia, only in the dreamy land of the Nile the pantheon and the vast body of variant myths were never so thoroughly cooerdinated. The result is that its religion forever remains a labyrinth. Since all interest centred about the future life, instead of commercial pursuits, there is no evidence that the Egyptians ever produced a legal code at all comparable with that of Hammurabi. They did, however, develop a doctrine of sin which anticipates that of the Hebrew prophets. While the Babylonians conceived of sin as simply the failure to bring offerings, or to observe the demands of the ritual, or, in general, to pay proper homage to the gods, the Egyptians held that each individual was answerable, not only to the state, but also to the gods, for his every act and thought.
[Sidenote: Significance of this early religious progress]
If they admitted of a comparison, it would be safe to say that the Babylonian religion and law in the days of Hammurabi were as far removed from the crude belief in spirits and the barbarous cults and practices of primitive man as the teachings of Jesus were from those of the kingly Babylonian lawgiver and his priestly advisers. Humanity's debt is exceedingly great to the thousands of devoted souls who, in ancient Babylonia and Egypt, according to their dim light, groped for God and the right. In part they found what they sought, although they never ceased to look through, a glass darkly.
[Sidenote: Its arrest and decline]
The sad and significant fact is that from the days of Hammurabi to those of Nebuchadrezzar, Babylonian religion, law, and ethics almost entirely ceased to develop. No other great kings with prophetic insight appear to have arisen to hold up before the nation the principles of justice and mercy and true piety, The old superstitions and magic also continued in Babylonia as in Egypt to exercise more and more their baneful influence. Saddest of all the priesthood and ceremonialism, which had already reached a point of development commensurate and strikingly analogous to that of later Judaism, became the dominant power in the state, and defined religion not in terms of life and action, but of the ritual, and so constricted it that all true growth was impossible. Hence the religions of the Babylonians and Egyptians perished, like many others, because they ceased to grow, and therefore degenerated into a mere worship of the letter rather than the spirit.