The Jews, and indeed all the people of Israel, were taken out of the midst of an idolatrous world, to become the depositaries of a purer knowledge of the one true God than was given to any other people. At a time when (humanly speaking) the world could hardly have preserved a spiritual religion in its highest purity, they received a divine revelation enshrined in symbols and ceremonies, whereby it might be safely kept till the time of its development in a purer and more heavenly form.
The peculiarity of the Hebrew civilization did not consist in the culture of the imagination and intellect, like that of the Greeks, nor in the organization of government, like that of Rome, but its distinguishing feature was religion. To say nothing of the Scriptures, the prophets, the miracles of the Jews, their frequent festivals, their constant sacrifices, every thing in their collective and private life was connected with a revealed religion. This included their wars, their heroes and their poetry, all which had a sacred character. Their national code was full of the details of public worship, their ordinary employments were touched at every point by divinely-appointed and significant ceremonies.
Nor was the religion of the Jews, as were the religions of the Heathen world, a creed which could not be the common property of the instructed and the ignorant. It was neither a recondite philosophy which might not be communicated to the masses of the people, nor a weak superstition, controlling the conduct of the lower classes, and ridiculed by the higher. The religion of Moses was for the use of all and the benefit of all. The poorest peasant of Galilee had the same part in it as the wisest Rabbi of Jerusalem. The children of all families were taught to claim their share in the privileges of the chosen people.
And how different was the nature of this religion of the Jews from that of the contemporary Gentiles! The pious feelings of the Jew were not dissipated and distracted by a fantastic mythology, where a thousand different objects of worship, with contradictory attributes, might claim the attention of the devout mind. "One God," the Creator and Judge of the world, and the Author of all good, was the only object of adoration. And there was nothing of that wide separation between religion and morality, which among other nations was the road to all impurity. The will and approbation of Jehovah was the motive and support of all holiness. Faith in His word was the power which raised men above their natural weakness, while even the divinities of Greece and Rome were often the personifications of human passions, and the example and sanction of vice.
The devotional scriptures of the Jews express that heartfelt sense of infirmity and sin, that peculiar spirit of prayer, that real communion with God, with which the Christian, in his best moments, has the truest sympathy. So that, while the best hymns of Greece are only mythological pictures, and the literature of Heathen Rome hardly produces any thing which can be called a prayer, the Hebrew psalms have passed into the devotions of the Christian Church. There is a light on all the mountains of Judea which never shone on Olympus or Parnassus: and the "Hill of Zion," in which "it pleased God to dwell," is the type of "the joy of the whole earth" (Psalm 48:2, 68:16), while the seven hills of Rome are the symbol of tyranny and idolatry.
"He declares His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel. He has not done so with any other nation; and as for his ordinances, they have not known them. O praise the LORD!" (Psalm 147:19-20, HBFV)