ANCIENT EMPIRES OF THE NEAR EAST 39 THE HEBREW PROPHETS OF A GOD OF JUSTICE

The prophets who brought about this transformation did not belong to any special class; one was a shepherd, another a highly-born noble but all believed that God inspired them to speak. In the name of the Lord, they crusaded against luxury and vice, against bad government and the oppression of the poor by the rich. Their aim was not to provide any philosophical basis for religion, but to give advice here and now as to what a man and a people should do in order to be saved. They saw the downfall of great nations as God's punishment for sin, and recognised in Cyrus an instrument of God's will. The prophets vary greatly in their appeal, but we may mention Micah, whose definition of righteousness, " Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God," though brief, is not inadequate. Isaiah, the sublimest of all, taught that the Jews were to proclaim one universal God, whose omnipotence was equalled by his loving-kindness, and who would bring peace to the war-worn peoples. The Old Testament is a medley of poetry and prose, of naive stories and thrilling histories, of religious hymns and prophetic sublimity. The story of Abraham is one of simple grandeur, such as comes from people whose " thought is speech, and speech is truth." Later on, some of the chapters in Kings and Chronicles are breathless with drama, and have an intensity surpassing anything even in the Greek historians. A more conscious art is seen in the Psalms, where the method of parallelism, of reinforcing a statement by putting it from another point of view, attains some magnificent effects, as in Psalm 91. The majesty of the Book of Job is equalled only by .Aeschylus among Greek, and by Dante and Milton among modern writers. Throughout there is the characteristic quality of the Semite, a vivid imagination, abounding in parable and symbolism, and an intense emotionalism which falls at times into fantastic exaggeration, making " the mountains skip like rams."