It is somewhat surprising, that when so many able hands have undertaken to explain the religious rites and ceremonies, the civil laws and justice of the Hebrew Church and Commonwealth, so very few should have undertaken to explain the form and polity of the Government itself.
The Hebrew Commonwealth is, without question, one of the most ancient of the world, and justly looked upon as a model of government of divine original; it will deserve our attention, as much sure, as any of the forms of government in the ancient times, either among the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans. It should more especially deserve our attention as Christians, who own the Laws delivered by Moses to the Hebrew Nation, to have been given by the Oracle of God, and established by authority of the supreme Governor of the world; in which therefore, we may expect to find a wise and excellent model, becoming the wisdom of such a Lawgiver.
It will yet further deserve our attention, as a right understanding of several parts of the religious rites and constitutions of that Church will much depend upon a right understanding of their civil polity and government; for in this Constitution both are much intermixed with each other, so that the one is not clearly to be understood without the other. This Constitution is therefore well called a Theocracy, by Josephus; or a government of God, in which God, himself, condescended to govern the Hebrew Nation, with the title and authority of their King. It is to the same sense David speaks of the succession of his son, Solomon, that he was chosen to sit upon the throne of the Kingdom of Jehovah over Israel, 1 Chron 28:5. So that the laws of religion and state, in this Commonwealth, have a great reference to one another, God being considered the object of their religious worship as the one only true and supreme God, and their supreme civil magistrate as the political head of their State. Hence learned men have very justly observed, that the form of the Tabernacle, the splendor of its ornaments, the service and attendance of the Priests and Levites, and the revenues belonging to the Tabernacle, have a regard to the honor and dignity of the Crown, of the court and palace of the King of Israel, as well as to the religious worship of the God of Israel. So that even these parts of the religious Constitution of the Hebrews will be much better understood, by a right knowledge of the political Constitutions of their government, and by the light such knowledge has thrown upon them, in several instances, and may yet further give unto them, I apprehend, in many more.
Finally, this knowledge of the true Constitution of the Hebrew government will, I think, be of considerable use on another account. Some have fallen with uncommon severity both on the religious and political Constitutions of Moses, and endeavored to represent them not only as unwise and unequal, but as most unjust, tyrannical, and cruel. These Constitutions are said to be “a refinement on the superstition of Egypt; and that to suppose or affirm any of them of the true God, must be equally absurd and blasphemous.”
Every lover of truth will justly expect so heavy a charge, drawn up in so insolent terms, should be supported with good vouchers; and that the Constitutions of the Hebrew Government, as published by Moses, should plainly appear so absurd, tyrannical, and blasphemous, as they are represented to be, by plain instances of some of the Constitutions themselves that are so; whereas a right understanding of the polity of that government, as settled by Moses in the Name of God, would show, that the most specious objections are mere blunders, and mistakes, and are founded on an utter ignorance of the true Hebrew Constitutions, or on such good-will to censure and condemn them, as dares first to falsify them, in order afterwards to treat them as ridiculous or criminal.
It must be allowed however, that this subject is not without obscurity. The materials we have whereby to discover the political form of this very ancient government, are not so many or so full, as we have for some of the more modern governments of Greece, or the Commonwealth of Rome. And though we have many authors of Hebrew Republics, who with great diligence and learning, have treated of their religion; yet few have treated with exactness and judgment, of the political government of their State.
The jus privatum of the Hebrews, the laws, judges, and courts, whereby private justice was administered between man and man, and their persons and properties defended against private fraud and violence, have been largely considered by authors of great judgment and learning, who have shown with plain evidence, that they are every way equal for wisdom, justice, and equity, to the laws of any of the greatest and most celebrated lawgivers; many of which were very likely copied after these.
But the jus publicum, the form of the government itself, the orders by which, and the officers by whom the public actions of peace and war, and the collective force of the whole commonwealth were to be directed; and the crimina lae sae majestatis, or treasonable offences against the honor, authority, and safety of the state in general, have been passed over very slightly by the same learned authors, it may be in part, because the few materials to be found in so short an history, were thought insufficient to give a just model of the public government; and in part, because the religion and the private justice of this nation were accounted subjects of greater use and concern.
The materials are indeed few, and scanty enough; and therefore, we are not to expect such an account of the Hebrew government, as we have of modern governments, of the German Empire, France, or the United Provinces, or even of the more ancient Commonwealths of Rome, and in Greece, whose larger histories show their constitutions so fully, as to point out the wisdom and excellency, or the defects and faults of the several parts of them.
Yet the history of the settlement of the Hebrew nation in the promised land, and the several laws still on record in the Books of Moses, will, I apprehend, if carefully considered, and put together, give such an account of the Hebrew Constitution, as may help us to form in general a true idea of the plan and model of it; such an idea as will appear absolutely inconsistent with the ambitious and tyrannical views of an arbitrary and oppressive government, with which Moses has been so weakly, as well as falsely charged; and such an idea, as will show this Constitution calculated in its whole design, and fitted with the most political wisdom, to preserve the property, liberty, and security of the people, and therewith the profession of the true religion and the worship of the one true God, against the universal idolatry of the world; and to secure them from the danger of all attempts, either by foreign force or domestic ambition: as it will clearly appear that no such attempts were ever like to succeed, but on a previous alteration and corruption of the fundamentals of the Constitution itself; and that accordingly such change was first actually made, whenever any such attempts did succeed.
If I shall be able to set the plan of the Hebrew government in such a light that my reader may perceive, and be convinced of the excellent Constitution of it, to maintain the property, liberty, peace and safety of the people, and to answer the particular design of God in condescending to be their Lawgiver and King, to preserve the faith and worship of the one true God in the general apostacy of the world to idolatry; I would hope my reader may find some pleasure and some profit in viewing one of the most ancient constitutions of government in the world, formed for one of the kindest designs in the world, to preserve the knowledge and worship of the one true God, from the almost universal corruption of idolatry.