2 The Persian poet is not far from the kingdom into which Hebrew psalmists and prophets entered.
The highest strains of the psalmists and the most fervent appeals of the prophets were progressively directed to the great end of praising and preaching the One true God, everlasting, with sincere and pure devotion.
Nevertheless, the concentration of all ritual at a single point, and the practical exclusion of laymen from active participation in it - for the old sacrificial feast had now shrunk into entire insignificance in comparison with the stated priestly holocausts and atoning rites2 - lent powerful assistance to the growth of a new and higher type of personal religion, the religion which found its social expression not in material acts of oblation, but in the language of the Psalms. In the best times of the old kingdom the priests had shared the place of the prophets as the religious leaders of the nation; under the second Temple they represented the unprogressive traditional side of religion, and the leaders of thought were the psalmists and the scribes, who spoke much more directly to the piety of the nation.
As time went on and even the dynasty of David failed in the persons of unworthy representatives to maintain this ideal, both psalmists and prophets taught the people to look beyond the earthly kingdom to the spiritual kingdom of which it was a type.