God’s Word is an Eastern Book. It was written in the East, by Easterners and for Easterners. It is therefore obvious that a study of that Land, its life and habits, furniture and dress, language and expressions – in short, everything connected with the Land and People – will throw a flood of light on many passages of Scripture.
God has made it possible for us to examine the subject thoroughly; for He has, as by a miracle, allowed the Land and its inhabitants to remain unchanged throughout these many centuries. Most countries change over and over again. They alter their habits, their dress, their furniture; they advance in education and culture; but Palestine has practically remained unchanged. Its life today is the life of Bible times. Visit that land, and if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you will be able to throw yourself back in imagination to the times of Abraham, David, or our Lord.
Moreover, there is another important consideration. The natives of the land today are chiefly Arabs, descendants of Ishmael and Esau. They know nothing of the Scriptures. They do not choose their mode of life, their habits, their dress. They simply live this primitive life because their parents and grandparents for a hundred generations have lived it. They are therefore unconsciously living the life of Scripture, and are a daily witness to its truth. Undesigned witnesses are always the most valuable ones.
The greatest desire of Bible students is to understand the Book. Great scholars and divines have, by their knowledge of ancient languages, given us perfect translations and explanations. But commentaries lack life. It is one thing to read about the Shepherd King; it is another to follow a shepherd on the hills of Judea, see him wear the same sheepskin jacket, armed with the same kind of rod and staff, watch him sling his stones, call his sheep by name, take the new-born lamb to his bosom, carry the wounded one gently on his shoulders, lead them to their resting-place, go before, while they follow him. Such a visit makes the Bible a living Book; you feel as though the shepherd of Bethlehem had lived this year, that you had just paid him a visit, and that he had fully explained to you his whole life. All this is so intensely simple, that it seems beneath the consideration of commentator and theologian. It is not "scientific," it is not critical. It is far more "scientific" to sit in one’s study, and to prove that the story of the blessings and curses repeated on Gerizim and Ebal in the days of Joshua was an utter impossibility, owing to the distance of the two mountains from one another, and the fact that it is known how far the human voice can travel. It may be less "scientific" to visit those two mountains, and to see if any spot can be found from which the voice of man can travel across the intervening valley, and reach the hearers on the opposite hill; but it has been tried, the very words—the blessings and curses-have been repeated, and every word distinctly heard. Such an "unscientific and uncritical" method must demonstrate, however, to the study critics, that there is "a screw loose" in his philosophy.
The commentary of the future will embellish its pages by constant illustrations drawn from Eastern Customs and manners, with the result that many difficulties of Scripture will be removed, and many apparently meaningless passages will become clear.