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What it stands for in Scripture is the summary and compend of those sweet and pious Christian impulses of the heart, fed constantly by effort, in all seasons, whether of joy or mourning, to keep God's law, which really and essentially constitute love, or "charity, the love that "suffereth long and is kind;" that "envieth not; vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; seeketh not her own; is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, never faileth." Hence, accordingly, the beautiful words in the prophet, when he pictures the passing away of the old and uncomfortable things of the heart, selfishness, enmity, jealousy, and the like, and of the growth in it of Christian affections. For this is the true disappearance of the "brier," and the true uprise of the fragrant and pureflowered myrtle. Forget not that the myrtle is evergreen; this particu lar quality, which is an integral feature not only in the natural history of the plant, but in its significance, intimating that the gifts of God to the human soul keep their leaves all the year round. Providence often sees well to strip men of their worldly property, to send calamity that shall denude them of their outward possessions, but He never recalls the affections that He puts in men's hearts. So understanding what the prophet says of the myrtle, and applying it to our own selves, that which before was afar off, and the stranger's, while not taken away from any one, becomes a new inheritance for each one
"Leaving that beautiful, which always was,
It is better to see Scripture and to find the prophecies in the familycircle than in the "Millennium." Depend upon it, the truest interpretation of a Scriptural text will always be that which identifies it most nearly with our own particular and individual experience. Every one who has been torn by the briers of the wilderness knows the sweetness of the spectacle of the springing myrtle ;-knows the inmost fabric and sustenance of the love that begins to live truly only when "pride dieth," the love that "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." Happy are those who dwell within its sphere! "When He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble ?" Whenever we come upon a promise of this nature, or indeed upon any divine promise that is intended to be "good tidings," and would fit our minds to receive it adequately, it is well, as a preparatory act, to think for a few moments of Sunshine. For sunshine never shows itself without a purpose.
1 Job xxxiv. 29.
Sunshine always has a kindly design in it. "I will warm this longchilled earth." "I will open these little buds." "I will comfort these travellers with a rainbow." The temper of the Divine words is always exactly illustrated in these deeds of the glorious Sun: we know too that sunshine is no regarder of persons, that it is yours and mine, just as it was David's and Isaiah's: thinking of it, the words seem to flow into us more sweetly. All pleasant spiritual things are received more satisfactorily when conveyed to us in the presence of their material representatives, and this is why a place of worship is always the better for being bright, cheerful, open on every side to the shine of the heavens. "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun;" and never is it lovelier than when falling at morn or eve on faithful worshippers of the invisible Sun of Righteousness.
In tracing out these beautiful harmonies and concords, these disclosures of the essential unity of Nature, the "respondence," for example, to use Lord Bacon's term, of the myrtle with sacred and unsophisticated love, we must remember that the sharp outlines and minutely technical features which belong to the objects of the material world, cannot possibly have precise equivalents in the things which belong to the fluent world of thought and emotion. Too much, that is to say, must not be demanded when it is said that a tree or flower is an emblem, or that it is "representative." The plant is not a mathematically exact picture; harmony conveys the idea of symmetrical likeness, not that of mechanical fit, such as shoemakers consider; the plant, or whatever it may be, represents the emotion just so far as the perishable can represent the immortal, just so far as speech can declare feeling, and beyond this it never proposes or affects to go. Where love abides there is peace and quiet, for love "thinketh no evil, envieth not, beareth all things." Peace and repose, remember again, are found not in places, but in persons.
A man may be circled heart not be at rest:
by wealth, and dwell among victories, yet his there is more peace in the sound of beloved footsteps, and in the light of beloved eyes, than was ever supplied by pathless mountain or lonely shore. The myrtle carries with it, accordingly, the added idea of calm and repose, and this enables us to see at last the intent of its appearance in that wonderful vision in Zechariah :-"I saw by night, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle-trees that were in the bottom, and behind him there were red
horses, speckled, and white. Then said I, O my lord, what are these?' And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee what these be.' And the man that stood among the myrtletrees answered and said, 'These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.' And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle-trees, and said, 'We have walked to and fro through the earth, and behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.'"
Towards our apprehension of the meaning of all this, it is necessary first to call to mind that the prophecies of Zechariah, like those of Haggai, were addressed to the Jews who, after their return from captivity in Babylon, were occupied in rebuilding Jerusalem, and in restoring the Temple. It must also be remembered that at the period in question the horse was pre-eminently the creature of war, and was regarded as such by the people in general, including those to whom the prophet stood in the position of instructor. The battle, and the military pageants and processions incident thereto, as indicated in scores of scriptural phrases, were the circumstances with which the horse was identified; it was never employed, as by ourselves, for the purposes of commerce, or for the simple pleasures of riding or driving; its appearance was always, in some way, connected with the thought of conflict. That the horse first mentioned in the account of the vision was red, literally "blood-red," seems intended to sustain the force of the imagery; and this is further strengthened by the appear-. ance of other horses of the same colour. Had the vision consisted of nothing but these animals, the ideas conveyed by them would have been simply those of war, and the mind would have been filled with terror: the red ones, in particular, would have been fearfully affrighting. To the "red horse" of the Apocalypse, similarly seen in vision, was given power to "take peace from the earth." But the object of Zechariah's prophecies, and of his addresses to the people, engaged as they were in an arduous and toilsome task, and not yet free from the sorrowful memories of their long captivity, was to encourage their probably sometimes-failing spirits, and to show them that, although they had so long experienced trouble, they were entering on a time of tranquillity. The vision was a part of this assurance, and hence it involved the introduction of the symbols of peace. The horses, instead of being suggestive of war, standing as they do now among myrtle-trees, become memorials of what has ceased. The mind is invited to rest, not upon the animals, but upon the green and flowery
shrubs, which are mentioned again and again, their presence saying to the eye what the angel said in words, "All the earth sitteth still and is at rest." With this latter idea the white horses correspond, white horses having always been differentiated by the ancients from coloured ones, and reserved for occasions of peace resulting from victory. Is it possible to forget that St. John "saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True; . . . and the armies in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean?" There were speckled horses also in the vision granted to Zechariah-these perhaps were representative of the chequered fortunes of human experience. This wonderful vision would seem in a word to have been designed as an assurance to all who were faint-hearted, that having been restored to their country and their homes they should now dwell in peace, "every man under his own vine and his own fig-tree," and that the former times, "when there was no place for him that went out or came in, because of the afflictions," had not only come to an end, but in their own time should not return. Not in vain did these things take place "The elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet, and of Zechariah, the son of Iddo" (Ezra vi. 14). It may not be without significance that the myrtle has no mention in the history of the Jews until after the return from the Babylonian exile.
Very interesting is it to observe how the association of the myrtle with ideas of peace, as well as of love, crops up in ancient secular usages. While crowns of laurel and oak were bestowed simply as signs of victory and conquest, without reference to the means whereby success had been achieved; the commander to whom an "ovation" was decreed, wore a chaplet or wreath of the shrub before us. The "ovation" was awarded only to those who had carried their point purely and simply by treaty, without bloodshed, or the drawing of the sword. Venus was always represented as in every way hating the horrors of war.
Branches of myrtle were employed also in the construction of the "booths" at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, and were carried by the people during the progress of that celebration. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three great festivals of the Jews. Celebrated towards the close of the year, and concluding the series which had commenced in spring with the Passover, it corresponded, in a certain measure, with the Harvest-home of England. The design of the festival was, primarily, commemorative of the Divine goodness during
the forty years' wandering in the desert; and in the next place an expression of gratitude for what the summer had supplied in the way of corn and fruit, thus answering to our own "Harvest-thanksgiving." "It was a season of universal joy. Jerusalem bore the appearance of a camp. The entire population again dwelt in tents, but not with the accompaniments of travel, fatigue, and solicitude. All was hilarity. All wore a holiday appearance. The varied green of the ten thousand branches of the different trees; the picturesque ceremony of the water-libation; the general illumination; the sacred solemnities in and before the Temple; the feast, the dance, the sacred song; the full harmony of the choral music; the bright joy that lighted up every face, and the gratitude of ‘Harvesthome' which swelled every bosom,-all conspired to render these days a season of pure, deep, and lively joy, which, in all its elements, finds no parallel among the observances of men." 1 The first instructions as to the Festival are contained in Levit. xxiii., where, after sundry details as to the method to be observed in regard to the offerings, the people are enjoined to collect for use in the ceremonies "boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook;" then to "rejoice" for seven days, and to "dwell in booths" for seven days. In Numbers xiii., where some of the ordinances are again specified; the employment of foliage is not made mention of; but in Nehemiah viii., where the observance of the festival by the returned exiles is particularly described, great stress appears to be laid upon it, and now we have the remarkable addition of "olive-branches, and pine-branches, and myrtle-branches." The "boughs of goodly trees," etz-hadar, specified in Leviticus, are, however, omitted. The celebration described in Nehemiah was the first "since the days of Joshua," from whose period, until the time of the prophet, "the children of Israel had not done so." It was emphatically a restoration. "And all the congregation of them that were come out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths, . . . and there was very great gladness, . . . and they kept the feast seven days." This would be about B.C. 440. It was the good, active, painstaking, patriotic Nehemiah himself who caused the restoration, though he probably found a helpmate in the prophet Ezra.
By what authority the new kinds of tree came to be prescribed for use at the restoration does not appear. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that they are of the identical kinds which everywhere else are associated with peace and gladness as bestowed by Providence,
1 Kitto's Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature, ii. 815.