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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary

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That branch of the posterity of Abraham whose home was in the land of promise. The name Hebrew is first applied to Abraham in Genesis 14:13 , and is generally supposed to have been derived for Heber, the last of the long-lived patriarchs. However outlived six generations of his descendants, including Abraham himself, after whose death he was for some years the only surviving ancestor of Isaac and Jacob. Hebrews appears to have been the name by which the Jewish people were known to foreigners, in distinction from their common domestic name, "the children of Israel." The name of Jews, derived from Judah, was afterwards applied to them as inhabitants of Judea, 2 Kings 16:6 . Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, was a migratory shepherd, whose property consisted mainly in vast flocks and herds, but who had no fixed residence, and removed from place to place as the convenience of water and pasturage dictated. As such a nomad, he had lived in Ur of the Chaldees, and then in Haran, whence he removed and dwelt in the same manner among the Canaanites, in the country which God promised to give to his posterity. His son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob followed in his steps. By a miraculous arrangement of Providence, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, became grand-vizier of Egypt; and in a time of famine invited his family to settle in that land. Here Moses died, and was succeeded by Joshua, who conquered the desired country, and allotted it to the several tribes. From this time they were governed in the name of Jehovah, by chiefs, judges, or patriarchal rulers, until the time of Samuel; when the government was changed to a monarchy, and Saul anointed king. David, a shepherd youth, but the man after God's own heart, was afterwards king, and founded a family which continued to reign in Jerusalem until the entire subjugation of the country by the Chaldeans. Under his grandson Rehoboam, however, ten tribes revolted and formed a separate kingdom, that of Israel, between which the kingdom of Judah there were hostile feelings and frequent wars. The termination of the whole was the carrying away of the greater part of both nations to Babylon, Media, etc. After seventy years of exile, a few small colonies of Hebrews returned, and built another temple at Jerusalem, and attempted to reestablished their nation; but they had to struggle first, under the Maccabees, against the kings of the Seleucian race, (see JERUSALEM ,) and then against the Romans; by whom at length, under Titus, Jerusalem was taken and utterly destroyed, A. D. 70-71. Since that time, although Jerusalem has been rebuilt, the Hebrews have ceased to exist as an independent people; but they are scattered among all the nations of the earth, where they retain their characteristic traits, and live as strangers, and, in a great measure, as outcasts.

The government of the Hebrews is, by Josephus, called a theocracy-a form of government which assigns the whole power to God, with the management of all the national affairs-God, in fact, being the proper King of the state. This government, however, underwent several changes under the legislator Moses, his successor Joshua, the judges, the kings, and the high priests. But amid all these revolutions, God was considered as the monarch of Israel, though he did not exercise his jurisdiction always in the same manner. In the time of Moses, he dwelt among his people as a king in his palace, or in the midst of his camp; always ready to be consulted, promulgating all needful laws, and giving specific directions in all emergencies. This was, properly, the time of the theocracy, in the strictest sense of the term. Under Joshua and the judges, it continued nearly the same: the former being filled by the spirit which animated Moses, would undertake nothing without consulting Jehovah; and the latter were leaders, raised up by God himself, to deliver the Hebrews and govern in his name. The demand of the people for a king occasioned to Samuel, the prophet-judge, great disquietude; for he regarded it as a rejection of the theocratic government, 1 Samuel 8:6,7 . God complied with the wishes of the people; but he still asserted his own sovereign authority, and claimed the obedience of all.

The religion of the Hebrews may be considered in different points of view, with respect to the different conditions of their nation. Under the patriarchs, they were instructed in the will of God by direct revelation, worshipped him by prayer and sacrifices, opposed idolatry and atheism, used circumcision as the appointed seal of the covenant made by God with Abraham, and followed the laws which the light of grace and faith discovers to those who honestly and seriously seek God, his righteousness, and truth. They lived in expectation of the Messiah, the Desire of all nations, to complete their hopes and wished, and fully to instruct and bless them. Such was the religion of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, etc., who maintained the worship of God and the tradition of the true religion. After the time of Moses, the religion of the Hebrews became more fixed, and ceremonies, days, feasts, priest, and sacrifices were determined with great exactness. This whole dispensation only prefigured that more perfect one which should come, and bring life and immortality to light in his gospel, and make a full atonement for the sins of the world. See TYPE .

The long abode of the Hebrews in Egypt had cherished in them a strong propensity to idolatry; and neither the miracles of Moses, nor his precautions to withdraw them from the worship of idols, nor the rigor of his laws, nor the splendid marks of God's presence in the Israelitish camp, were able to conquer this unhappy perversity. We know with what facility they adopted the adoration of the golden calf, when they had recently been eyewitnesses of such divine wonders. Saul and David, with all their authority, were not able entirely to suppress such inveterate disorders. Superstitions, which the Israelites did not dare to exercise in public, were practiced in private. They sacrificed on the high places, and consulted diviners and magicians. Solomon, whom God had chosen to build his temple, was himself a stone of stumbling to Israel. He erected altars to the false gods of the Phoenicians, Moabites, and Ammonites, and not only permitted his wives to worship the gods of their own country, but he to some extent adored them, 1 Kings 11:5-7 . Most of his successors showed a similar weakness. Jeroboam introduced the worship of the golden calves into Israel, which took such deep root that it was never entirely extirpated. It was for this cause that God gave the Hebrews over into the hands of their enemies, to captivity and dispersion. See IDOLATRY. After the captivity, they appear to have been wholly free from the worship of idols; but they were still corrupt and far from God, and having filled the cup of their guilt by rejecting and crucifying the Lord of glory, they were extirpated as a nation and became strangers and sojourners over all the earth.

For the language of the Hebrews, see LANGUAGE .

The existence of the Hebrews as a people distinct from all others, to this day, is a miracle of the indisputable king, which may well justify a few remarks.

1. They are spread into all parts of the earth; being found not only in Europe and America, but to the utmost extremity of Asia, even in Thibet and China. They abound in Persia, Northern India, and Tartary, wherever travellers have penetrated. They are, as they assert, descendants of the tribe carried away captive by the Assyrian monarchs. They are also numerous in Arabia, in Egypt, and throughout Africa.

2. In most parts of the world their state is much the same-one of dislike, contempt, and oppression. In past ages innumerable exactions and wrongs have been heaped upon them. Within the last few years they have received more justice at the hands of some of the European states; but they have usually held their possessions by a very precarious tenure.

3. They everywhere maintain observances peculiar to themselves: such as circumcision, performed after the law of their fathers; the great day of expiation; also the observance of a Sabbath or day of rest on Saturday, and not on the Christian Sabbath. They have generally retained the observance of the Passover in some form.

4. They are divided into various sects. Some of them are extremely attached to the traditions of the rabbins, and to the multiplied observances enjoined in the Talmud. Others, as the Caraites, reject these with scorn, and adhere solely to Scripture. The majority of the Jews in Europe, and those with whose works we are mostly conversant, are ribbinists, and may be taken as representative of the ancient Pharisees.

5. They everywhere consider Judea as their proper country and Jerusalem as their metropolitan city. Wherever settled, and for however long, they still cherish a recollection of country, unparalleled among other nations. They have not lost it; they will not loose it; and they transmit it to their posterity. However comfortably they may be settled in any residence, they hope to see Zion and Jerusalem revive from their ashes.

6. The number of the Jewish nation was estimated a few years ago at 3,000,000. This number is probably very far short of the truth. Maltebrun estimates them as from four to five millions.

HEBREWS, EPISTLE TO THE. The object of this epistle, which ranks among the most important of the New Testament books, was to prove to the Jews, from their own Scriptures, the divinity, humanity, atonement, and intercession of Christ, particularly his preeminence over Moses and the angels of God; to demonstrate the superiority of the gospel to the law, and the real object and design of the Mosaic institution; to fortify the minds of the Hebrew converts against apostasy under persecution, and to engage them to a deportment becoming their Christian profession. In this view, the epistle furnishes a key to the Old Testament Scriptures, and is invaluable as a clear elucidation and an inspired, unanswerable demonstration of the doctrine of the great atoning Sacrifice as set forth in Old Testament institutions. The name of the writer of this epistle is nowhere mentioned. The majority of critics, however, refer it to the apostle Paul. It is also believed to have been written in Greek, at Rome and about A. D. 63. See PAUL .

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Hebrews'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​ats/​h/hebrews.html. 1859.
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