That obedience to the general states of the national union, in whom the tribes, though separate and independent provinces, were united into one government, was essential to the Hebrew Constitution; that to disobey and oppose their orders, was a very dangerous act of high-treason.
All wise governments have made every act of high-treason a capital crime, and have justly accounted it one of the most dangerous offences that can be committed. It is not only an injury to one man, or to a few private persons; but it is an injury to the whole society, to the peace and order of the government, on which the property, the liberty, the happiness, and even the lives or everyone in the society must depend. Treason is defined to be an offence committed against the security of the king or kingdom; according to the Roman law, every attempt against the emperor or commonwealth was treason. By our laws, a man commits high-treason by counterfeiting the coin, or the great seal, by killing a chancellor, treasurer or judge, in the execution of their office; by adhering to the king’s enemies, by levying war as well as by compassing and imagining the death of the king. So that all offences which directly tend to overthrow what is necessary to the safety and authority of the government, especially if they appear in overt acts of forcible opposition to it, are ranked among the most heinous crimes, and which in justice and wisdom deserve the severest punishment. No wonder the Hebrew government should take care to secure its authority in the same manner all wise governments have ever done; nor is it to be wondered at, that therefore there should be severe penalties in the Hebrew laws, for such offences, or examples in Hebrew history of severe punishments inflicted on such offenders.
Among the Hebrews the majestas imperii, the authority of government was in the first place to be considered in Jehovah himself as king of Israel; therefore whatever overt act amounted to a denial of his right and authority, as king of Israel, whatever amounted to compassing and endeavoring to depose him, was the highest sort of treason in that government, as what is committed against the security of the king, is according to our law, and what was attempted against the emperor, was according to the Roman law, and what deserved the severest punishment according to both.
But the authority of government is to be considered next, in the persons to whom the execution of the laws and justice is committed by the Constitution. These in the Hebrew government, were principally the judge, the national Senate, and the Congregation of all Israel. To oppose then and resist their authority, especially in the execution of their proper offices, as the national states, to levy war against them, was in their Constitution a greater offence, than in ours to kill a chancellor, treasurer or judge, in the execution of their office, as great as to levy war against the king, to hinder and oppose the execution of justice.
One would think there is little need to vindicate the wisdom of laws against high-treason, or the justice of severe punishments for so heinous offences; yet so it is, the Hebrew government is treated with uncommon severity on this account. Our moral philosopher tells us, that “ the decision of the oracle, in the case of the Levite, was without the least truth, natural honor, or common justice…That it is evident here the oracle was neither infallible nor impeccable; so far from it, that he encouraged and prompted the people to the most bloody and cruel outrage that had ever been known or heard of; and an injury done to a single Levite was thought fit to be revenged by cutting off an whole tribe, root and branch, without any regard to natural justice or the least bowels of mercy or compassion…That not less than three hundred thousand lives or souls were sacrificed upon this quarrel, relating to a Levite and his whore…And finally, that by adding one wickedness to another they finished the most perfect piece of malice, revenge and villainy, in the name of the Lord,” Moral Philof Vol. I. 273,280,278,301.
We have many objections more general, censuring the laws against idolates, diviners, witches, and such like offenders, as unjust and cruel and even contrary to the natural rights of conscience; or, as one thinks fit to express it, “ destroying men on the account of religion and conscience,” Ibid 304.
We have seen before, it became the wisdom and goodness of God to put a stop to idolatry, and the great mischiefs which were the common and natural effects of it. That this was the great design of the institution of the Hebrew government, so that to tolerate idolatry in this government must violate all the rules of common sense, as well as the maxims of political wisdom. Now all manner of witchcrafts, sorceries, divinations, or pretences to either of them, were in open profession and practice of idolatry. For they pretended to a knowledge and a power of doing things, above human, in virtue of supernatural powers received from the idols, with whom they were supposed to have an immediate and intimate commerce. Now the very profession of having received such supernatural powers from idols, was an overt act of idolatry, that is of high-treason, in the Hebrew government; for whether such declaration was really true or false in itself, still the treason was the same; for it openly denied Jehovah to be the one true God, as it asserted the power of idols; it was compassing to depose Jehovah, as king of Israel, by asserting the authority of other gods before him. No wonder then it was one of the laws of the Hebrew government, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, Exodus 22:8. Forasmuch as all witches, whether real or pretended, did openly profess and practice idolatry. I think this single observation sufficient to justify the wisdom of these laws against a practice of idolatry, and which was so very likely to corrupt weak minds, eagerly fond of knowing things to come, and the greater part by far of every nation in the world. Let others make good the religion and conscience of witchcraft.
But as great pains have been taken to misrepresent the case of the Benjamite rebellion, and to render the oracle itself odious as encouraging and prompting the people to the most bloody and cruel outrage that had ever been know or heard of, let it be considered a little more distinctly.
Let us take the true state of this case from the Hebrew history itself, which is thus: It came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of Mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehem Judah; and his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father’s house in Bethlehem-Judah; and her husband arose and went after her, to speak friendly to her, and to bring her again; and his father-in-law, the damsel’s father retained him, (Judges 19:1-4) and treated him kindly for several days; so that a full reconciliation was made between the Levite and his concubine, or wife, for so it will presently appear she really was. Returning home, they came to Gibeah, a city of Benjamin, where they met with less hospitality and kindness than was usual in those times among strangers, and then what might have been justly expected from one Israelite to another. Nor did they expect any other kindness from the men of Gibeah, than what was commonly shown to every traveler, in a country where there were no public houses of entertainment. They brought their provision with them, and only wanted a lodging, that they might not be forced to remain all night in the public streets of the city. At length they were received into the house of one who was also of Mount Ephraim; but soon the house was beset with a design to commit a most villainous outrage in violation of all the rights of justice and humanity, as well as one of the most abominable crimes, the sin against nature. They actually proceeded so far in their wickedness and villainy, as to abuse the Levite’s wife, in such manner that she died in a few hours. The Levite so highly injured complains publicly of it; and all who heard his complaint, were sensible of his injury. For all who saw it, said, there was no such deed done not seen, from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day, Judges 19:30. They all esteemed it a crime not fit to be passed over in silence.
Hereupon the congregation of Israel was gathered together…And the chief of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, Judges 20:1-3. So that here was a meeting of the general states, the Senate and people of Israel, and the High National Court of the Hebrrews. They examine into the facts, and send to the tribe of Benjamin, to learn what answer they had to make for themselves, or to deliver up the criminals to justice; but the children of Benjamin would not hearken to their voice…but gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel, Judges 20:13,14. Instead of appearing in the Assembly of Israel, as one of the tribes, or giving any satisfaction to the High National Court assembled to enquire into this affair, they resolved neither to make any excuse, or give the states of Israel any satisfaction, or to pay any regard to the authority of their summons; but resolved to defend the inhabitants of Gibeah right or wrong against the national authority and justice of all Israel, the Senate and people being now assembled in full Parliament. They carry their point so far, as to levy war, and march twenty six thousand men to protect the offenders from public justice. This brought on the civil war, which ended in the ruin of the city of Gibeah, and almost in the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin.
This is the plain account of the whole matter, as reported in the Hebrew history itself. A few obvious reflections will set it in a true light.
It is really of no great consequence in this question, what the personal and moral characters of this Levite and his concubine either truly were or are supposed to be. If “he was a drunken Levite, and if she was an whore,” as our moral philosopher very freely calls them both, it might have justified the magistrates of Gibeah, in punishing them according to law; but sure it could be no justification for a riotous mob to break open houses, to make an attempt of Sodomy, and to commit adultery, rape and murder. Is it not wonderful morality, to excuse as far as possible, such unheard of wickedness, and endeavour, by most uncharitable insinuations, without the least foundation of proof, to cast all the blame upon a poor Levite and his wife? For so she was, how free so ever our moral philosopher make with her character, to call her so often an whore. Concubines, with the Hebrews, were lawful wives, and differed from other wives only in dower, or jointure. “Certain it is,” as Bishop Patrick observes, “such persons were really wives; and it was adultery in any other person that lay with them, but they who had married them.” It has been observed to this purpose by the most eminent and skilful author, in the understanding and knowledge of the Hebrew customs and laws, “That no private person could have a concubine, but on two conditions, that she was an Hebrew, and that he married her,” Maim. Halac. Melac. c. 4. Otho. Lex Rabbin. V. Concubine.
In this case, the history itself plainly makes our Levite’s concubine his wife; for he is expressly called her husband, and her father is as expressly called his father-in-law, Judges 19:3,4. So that she was his wife properly and in the strictest sense, according to law.
But it is not said in the history itself, his concubine played the whore against him, Judges 19:2. It is so said indeed in our translation. It had been decent in a moral philosopher however, to have seen how far the translation of an Hebrew word may be depended upon, before he made it the sole foundation of so heavy a charge, “That it was plain from the story itself, that the woman before her elopement had been a common whore,” Moral Philof. pg. 275. Now any one, without any great knowledge of the Hebrew language, might have known at least, that it is nor plain from the story itself; for Bishop Patrick, whom every English reader who pleases, may consult, observes, “There are those who by the word Tizneh, which we translate played the whore, will have no more meant, but that she was froward, and contumaciously disobedient; so that she could not endure his company, but forsook him,” Patrick on the places. So that according to these, our translators should not have rendered it, she played the whore against him; but that she eloped from him, out of ill humor: and the persons who are of this opinion, are the most eminent for their knowledge of the Hebrew language and history, the Chaldee paraphrast, the LXX or ancient Greek translation, the eminent Hebrew historian Josephus, and the vulgar Latin. But enough of a circumstance, which would be of little consequence to the merits of the cause, if it was as certain and evident, as it is uncertain and groundless.
Let us come to what is more material.
As far as it appears in the history, there was no misbehavior, either in the Levite, or his wife; it is therefore unrighteous to charge them with any on mere suspicion, without any proof. But many of the most abominable crimes are expressly charged on the inhabitants of Gibeah, their attempt on strangers and travelers was an high violation of the laws of hospitality and humanity, and a riotous breach of the peace. It was moreover a breach and violation of the common rights of all the tribes, to a safe passage through the whole country. It was not only an injury to private persons, but to the tribes of Judah and Ephraim, to which the Levite and his wife belonged; and so to all the tribes, as it might be the case of any of them. It quite mistakes the case, or misrepresents it, to make it only the concern of a private Levite; for Levite, or no Levite, the injury was the same. Any man of Judah, Ephraim, or any other tribe, could have no security of travelling safely anywhere, if such open violence was namely suffered to go unpunished. It is true, neither Judah nor Ephraim could call the inhabitants of Gibeah to an account by the Constitution, as the tribes were independent of each other, and no one tribe had jurisdiction over another; but for that very reason this was a cause properly cognizable by the States-general of Israel, and that seems the true reason why the Congregation of all Israel was assembled to enquire into it. The crimes themselves committed by the inhabitants of Gibeah were very great, and made capital by the Hebrew laws. The laws were in particular careful to prevent murders, and to engage all persons to assist in the discovery and punishment of them, that it was in particular provided, that if any person was found slain in a field, and it be not known who hath slain him; then the elders and the judges shall come forth and measure unto the cities, which are round about the slain, Deut 21:1,2. This care was required of the elders and judges of the tribe, that the elders of the city that is next the slain man should bring an heifer and strike off his neck and solemnly purge themselves of having any hand in the murder, or any knowledge of it. And all the elders of that city that are next unto the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer, that is beheaded in the valley; and shall answer and say, our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it, be merciful, o Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge; and the blood shall be forgiven them, Deut 21:6,7,8. That is, to use the words of Bishop Patrick, “The guilt shall be removed from them, which in some sort would have lain upon them, if they had taken no notice of a murder committed so near to their city; nor made inquisition after it, and expressed their abhorrence of it.” The laws, you see, made provision to purge a near city, and in a solemn manner by their magistrates, of any knowledge of a murder, in which they had no hand, and to which they were no ways privy, to preserve an abhorrence of murder, and a care to prevent or detect it. Now in this case, there was a most barbarous murder committed in the midst of a city, aggravated with many enormous circumstances, which the magistrates took no care to prevent, nor did they make any inquisition after it to punish it. And the magistrates of the province or tribe actually joined themselves with the magistrates of the city, in refusing to have it examined before the Senate and people, the National Court of Israel; and actually levied war, and appeared in arms, to oppose the public justice of the Hebrew nation in full Parliament assembled. It is this view of the case, which shows it in its true light. All the children of Israel were gathered together, and the chief of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the Assembly of the people of God, Judges 20:1,2. The word which we translate chief, says Bishop Patrick, “ is in the Hebrew, the corners; which were the strength and support of the people, as the corner-stones are of a building, viz. the heads of their tribes, rulers of thousands and rulers of hundreds, fifties and tens,” Patrick, on the Place That is, this congregation met under its proper officers, not tumultuously and disorderly, as a mob; but led by the princes of tribes, and heads of families, which when nationally assembled, as we have seen in the Constitution of the Hebrew government, made the great Council or Parliament of Israel. And it is to be observed, “there being then no king (or judge) in Israel,” they had the whole national authority, acting according to the advice of the oracle, lodged in themselves. To know then the true reason of this civil war, which proved so fatal to the Benjamites, we should first observe, that the Levite’s complaint of his wife’s murder could go no further, than to bring the cause before the Hebrew Parliament, when the Parliament was met; all that followed, proceeded on quite another foot. The Congregation examined into the truth of the fact, Then said the children of Israel, tell us, how was this wickedness? Tell us, Judges 20:4. in the original is plural, and must mean more than one person, likely the man of the house where the Levite lodged; the Levite’s servant, and it may be some others, confirmed the Levite’s evidence, by testifying themselves to the truth of it. Hereupon the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, what wickedness is this that is done amongst you? Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel, Judges 20:12,13. Upon so easy, so reasonable, so equitable terms, might the tribe of Benjamin have freed itself, from all disturbance and from all danger; but the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel, but the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel, Judges 20:14. So that now the case was quite altered from the murder of a private person, by some children of Belial in the city of Gibeah, to an open rebellion of the whole city, and of the whole tribe of Benjamin, against the whole national authority of Israel. They not only refuse to give up the murderers to justice, but declare openly for their protection, raise an army and march to fight the children of Israel, in defense of them. This was the true reason that began all hostilities, that the whole tribe of Benjamin made themselves accessories to all the crimes the children of Belial in Gibeah had been guilty of. They made themselves in particular guilty of the common injury done to all the tribes, of violating the rights of a safe passage through each other’s dominions. They made themselves principals in a rebellion against the authority of the National Union, and were guilty of high-treason in compassing the subversion of the whole Hebrew government, by levying war against the children of Israel in full Parliament assembled. Was this quarrel with all Benjamin, “ a private quarrel relating to a Levite and his whore?” Was this the real quarrel of the Israelites with all the tribe, or was it levying war against all Israel? And is the punishment of rebels in arms against the government, and actually fighting to destroy it, though with the severity of military execution, “ the most bloody and cruel outrage that had ever been seen or heard of?” Let any man but cast his eyes into history, and he will soon find examples enough to convince him of the contrary.
But there is one transaction relating to the conduct of this Assembly of Israel, which it may not be improper just to take notice of in this place. The punishment of the Benjamites, in actual arms against the government, may appear less hard than the punishment of the men of Jabesh-Gilead. They did not appear upon the general muster. On this account twelve thousand men are ordered to put them to military execution, Judges 21:9. They were not in actual arms against the government, but they were evidently guilty of desertion; a capital crime by the military laws of all nations, and a capital crime of very heinous nature in the Hebrew government. All Israel held their inheritances, as we have seen before, by military service; this was the only defense of the nation and government, to desert this service must greatly endanger the safety and very being of the government itself. It was not only disobedience to the authority of the Hebrew nation, and a violation of the Constitution, but a disobedience of such nature, as if allowed, must end in the destruction of the government. For everyone would soon have found out some pretence or other to excuse their own attendance. Military executions are indeed terrible things, but they are designed to strike terror in some cases, the only means to preserve obedience, and maintain discipline, to prevent yet more terrible evils that may follow on a general license to desertion. Suppose a tribe of Israel had been invaded, and cut off by their enemies, for want of the assistance of the other tribes: Suppose the whole army and strength of the nation cut in pieces, because weakened by the desertion of many, who thought it safer to stay at home, and out of harm’s way, than to run any of the hazards of war in defense of their country, though to save the lives of thousands and preserve the whole nation from destruction.
It should also be observed, that in the heat of war, when men’s spirits are greatly warmed by high provocations, they are sometimes tempted to do severe and cruel things, which a cooler temper and more sedate judgment would have prevented. These are the faults of passion, not the direction of laws, and so far are to be accounted the faults of men, not of a Constitution. I, the rather, take notice of this, as it gives a general answer to many of the objections usually made, to the justice, wisdom and goodness of the Hebrew laws, as given by Moses. When men are faulty, how good so ever their characters may be in other respects; let them bear their own gilt, but let us be careful not to make the laws guilty, for the sake of any man’s weakness or passions.
The importance of this remark may appear in the case of the Benjamites before us. How just, how necessary so ever it was, to punish their rebellion; yet it may be allowed without any reflection, either on the oracle, or the Hebrew laws, that the army of Israel might carry the punishment of the Benjamites too far, and with a severity that might exceed all directions of the law and rules of prudence; and which were by no means either directed or warranted by the oracle. So that when the people came to consider it more coolly after the heat of action, the people repented them for Benjamin, (Judges 21:15) and even the elders of the Congregation consulted how to restore the tribe again, that a tribe might not be destroyed out of Israel, Judges 21:21. It is then very unfair in the moral philosopher, to ascribe all actions in this war to the oracle, or to assert, “that the oracle encouraged the people, and prompted them to the most bloody and cruel outrage that had ever been seen or heard of,” Moral Philos., for which there is not the least foundation of truth. The oracle really directed no more than this, that Judah according to ancient custom should go up first to battle, Judges 20: 18,23,28. And after the Israelites had been beaten at first by the Benjamites, the oracle directs the continuance of the war; and at length the oracle gives them a promise of victory. Now what bloody, what cruel outrages, are encouraged or prompted by any of these oracles? It seems they did not take advice of the oracle, as they ought to have done, but trusted too much to themselves. The first question they ask is, “Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Israel” not whether they should go to war at all. So they began with an irregular step, which is the likely reason why they were at first defeated by the Benjamites, that they might learn not to trust in their numbers and strength, but in the protection of Jehovah. When they last consult the oracle, whether they should continue the war and leave it to God’s direction; they have an answer, that God would deliver the Benjamites into their hands. This is all the concern the oracle had in the whole case, whatever after use was made of the victory, had no direction from the oracle, for the oracle was no ways consulted about it; and therefore it is unrighteous to impute it to the oracle. Let everyone then bear his own blame, and answer for himself for any wrong he had done, what arises either from the corruption of the Constitution, or an undue execution of laws, are the personal faults and misdemeanors of private men; but are not by any rules of reason, justice or equity, chargeable on the laws or Constitution. How great reproach so ever it may be to those who execute good laws ill, no fair reasoner, no honest lover of truth will insist upon it, as a just reproach either on the laws or the lawgiver.
The foregoing account of the Benjamite rebellion might sufficiently serve to shew, how the principles of the Hebrew government are applicable in like cases, and how they give a satisfactory answer to like objections, raised on some other passages of the Hebrew history. But it may not be amiss to make their application more easy and plain, by considering a few instances more, especially as attempts have been made to reflect severely on Samuel and the prophets, “as if they had inflamed, divided and excited the people to rebellion;” and to those religious wars, “by which both kings and prophets were at last exterminated, and the whole nation perfectly enslaved,” Moral Philos. I. 313, 304. Let us see how the foregoing principles show the injustice of the charge in two principal instances, the one of Samuel, in the times of Saul, the other of the prophets in the days of Ahab.
Saul’s expedition against Amalek by Samuel’s direction, according to the command of God, is represented as a project of the prophet to destroy the king. “It is evident,” says our author so often mentioned, “that this was a plot laid by the prophet for the king’s destruction; for if he had not given the soldiers the booty or plunder of the conquered country, the whole army would have mutinied, and deserted; since this was what they had never been denied in all their wars, and then the king must have fallen a sacrifice to the disappointed and enraged soldiery, which was doubtless what the prophet intended,” Ibid 298. So our author; let us see the truth of this case.
Samuel came to Saul, and said unto him, the Lord hath sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel. Now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the Word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass, 1 Samuel 15:1-3.
It appears in the Hebrew history, that when Amalek came out and fought with Israel, that the Lord said unto Moses, write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua; for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under Heaven. Accordingly Moses built an altar, or erected a monumental pillar, which was sometimes the use of altars, in testimony that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation, Exodus 17: 14,15,16.
Amalek was the first of the nations, that made war with Israel, and as a first and chief enemy of Israel, was sentenced from the times of Moses to be cut off. A memorial of this sentence is erected by Moses in his own times, to preserve it in constant memory, that the Hebrew nation might never forget it, or be ever tempted to enter into alliances or friendships with it. It was moreover one of the standing military laws, with respect to the cities of those people, which God gave them for their inheritance. Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth, but thou shalt utterly destroy them, Deut. 20:16,17. This was an original and standing law of the Constitution, a punishment severe indeed, but appointed for persons whose crimes deserved the severest punishments, and who, as was shown before, were wisely made examples for the warning of the whole nation of Israel, as well as the neighbor nations, to keep themselves from so provoking abominations
The same reasons then, which justify the punishment of the Canaanites in general, will justify the particular punishment of the Amalekites. It is plain in history, that this sentence against Amalek had not been executed when Samuel directed Saul to take upon himself the execution of it. The weak state of the Hebrews under their occasional judges, and while they were oppressed by several neighbor nations, may account for the reasons why it had been deferred so long; but now the power of the nation was united in a king, Saul had gained great advantages over the Philistines, and it was high time to improve those advantages to a better settlement of the Hebrew nation in the promised land, which was of very great importance to the safety as well as the prosperity of their government. And what could be more advisable than to begin with Amalek ? Was it unbecoming a prophet to put Saul in mind of a solemn law and perpetual edict of Jehovah, to root out Amalek? Was it unbecoming Samuel as a counselor, to advise Saul to begin with an ancient, dangerous and inveterate enemy, the more dangerous as they were ready to attack the Hebrews behind, if ever they should be put to defend themselves against any new attempts of the Philistines, a rich powerful and formidable people, as Saul notwithstanding the subjection of the Amalekites soon found with the loss of his life?
Where now is it evident in this history, that (as our author observes) this was a plot laid by the prophet for the king’s destruction? The crimes after Amalek, the sentence pronounced against Amalek, the monumental pillar to keep it in perpetual remembrance, were all as old as the days of Moses, above three hundred years before Samuel or Saul, either the prophet or the king were born. But it may be the plot did not lie in this, that Saul was exhorted to make war with Amalek, because the Lord had said, I will have war with Amalek from generation to generation, or till that evil generation was rooted out. Samuel’s plot it should seem rather lay in this, that he had ordered all the spoil or booty should be destroyed, and not given to the army for, says our author, “if he (Saul) had not given the soldiers the booty or plunder of the conquered country, the whole army would have mutinied and deserted; since this is what they had never been denied in all their wars, and then the king must have fallen a sacrifice to the disappointed and enraged soldiery, which was doubtless what the prophet intended.” Amazing confidence! So positive in asserting what is so groundless, and so false.
What! Had the army never been denied the booty in all their wars? Who, that had ever read the crime or punishment of Achan, but would blush at asserting what is so evidently false, unless everything must be right with a moral philosopher, if it may serve for matter of accusation against a prophet.
At the siege of Jericho the city was put under an anathema or curse, almost in the same words as Samuel uses concerning Amalek , and the city shall be accused , it and all that are therein, to the Lord, Joshua 6:17. This military anathema or curse was the Hebrew phrase for military execution; the effects of which are thus explained, And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword, Joshua 6:21.
But Achan committed a trespass in the accursed thing; for he saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, Joshua 7:21, and he coveted and took them. For this crime he was condemned to death, all Israel stoned him with stones, and his memory was afterwards mentioned with ignominy as the troubler of Israel.
Was it then doubtless, the intention of Samuel to raise a mutiny in the army against Saul for denying the spoils, which was what they had never been denied in all their wars? Doubtless, an old prophet and judge in Israel could not intend any such thing. For he could not, indeed hardly any one Israelite could be ignorant of the direct contrary, if only from the exemplary punishment of Achan.
The disobedience of Saul in this case, was really a very aggravated fault. It was not only assuming to himself a dispensing power, but it was a direct violation of the original laws of Jehovah; which, we have already seen, were sacred and unalterable by the constitution.
Now to assume and exercise a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws, was justly understood by our legislature, as a principal evidence, that the late King James II did endeavor to subvert and extirpate the laws and liberties of this kingdom, see Stat. 1. Wm. and Mary, Sef. ii. c. 2. This fair representation of the case, may shew how unfairly the conduct of the prophet Samuel is reflected upon, not only without any foundation of truth, but even against the plainest evidence of truth to the contrary.
The case of the prophets in Ahab’s time, is full out as plain. I shall say nothing of the character or authority of the prophets, which, besides that the consideration of them is in an abler hand (Leland), is not very material to the question before me. I am only to show how the foregoing principles of the Hebrew civil government will entirely remove all those objections arising from this part of the Hebrew history, so far as the revelation of Moses can be concerned in it. For it is to be observed, that no man’s private behavior, though bred in the schools of the prophets, can be any just reflection either on those schools or their institutions; least of all, on the original laws and constitutions of Moses. Who was ever so unreasonable, as to make the private misbehavior of persons bred in any universities, whether fellows of colleges or heads of houses, a reflection on nurseries of learning? Whoever inferred from thence that precepts of virtue were not taught in them, because some of their scholars proved vicious, notwithstanding their education.
If then four hundred prophets, or four times as many persons, educated or living in the colleges of prophets, should think it for their interest to court King Ahab and Queen Jezabel, and prophesy smooth things, such as should please them, however false. What is this to Moses and his revelation, to the character and authority of true and faithful prophets? Micajah, a true prophet, calls these four hundred Ahab’s prophets, not the Lord’s. Now therefore the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee, I Kings 22:23. These court prophets, who gave themselves up to a spirit of falsehood to please the King, are yet by our author shrewdly supposed “to have conspired together to send King Ahab up to Ramoth Gilead, that he might there fall I battle; which took effect, and the king was slain, though they had all assured him in the name of the Lord, that he should gain the victory and return in peace,” Moral Philos I. 315. True, all Ahab’s own prophets had given him such assurance; but Micajah, the true prophet of the Lord, had assured him of the contrary; for which freedom the king committed him to prison, and ordered him to be fed with the bread and water of affliction. You see thus plainly, neither the true prophets of the Lord, nor any of the laws or constitutions of the Mosaical revelation, are the least concerned in this case of Ahab. You see further how groundless it is to charge even these court prophets with a conspiracy to send the King to war, that he might fall in battle. The history shows how much Ahab loved to be deceived, when it was proposed to consult Micajah, he said, I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil, I Kings 22:8. But Ahab’s prophets were much better courtiers, they aimed only at pleasing him. And what advantage could these prophets have, by a conspiracy against Ahab’s life? They might hope something from his favor while he lived, but had little to expect if by his death the credit of the true prophets of the Lord should be revived. But to return from the mis-conduct of the false prophets to the conduct of the true.
Our author observes, “Experience by this time had evinced, that it was impossible for the regal power and prophetic office to subsist together, and therefore Ahab hoped to have put an end to this holy order, and thereby have cut off the occasion of any more religious wars…He therefore seems to have formed a design, and laid a scheme, if possible, to root them out, and to establish some other religion more friendly and beneficent to mankind; and that might not obstruct his alliances with other nations,” Moral Philos. 312. So our author represents the idolatry of Ahab in comparison with the worship of the true God, as the established religion of the Hebrew nation. Ahab had married Jezabel daughter of the king of Zidon, an idolater. “She was a woman of great policy and contrivance, by whom he might execute his designs without seeming to be directly engaged in it himself. She laid a scheme for the destruction of the Lord’s prophets, and for which (as our author tell us) she seemed to have had some appearance of natural justice,” Ibid 314. The prophets it seems were against a toleration of idolatry, or a suspension of the laws against idolaters in the Hebrew government, by King Ahab’s prerogative; but Queen Jezabel thought this zeal of the prophets “contrary to the law of nature, and nations; and therefore she laid a design for the destruction and extermination of these prophets, as enemies not only to their own country, but to the common peace and tranquility of the world,” Ibid 314. And, does our author think so too? Would he have his readers think thus with Queen Jezabel, and justify her design for the destruction and extermination of the prophets for these reasons? Let the foregoing principles of the Hebrew government determine the case.
We have seen the justice, wisdom and goodness of putting a stop to idolatry, by the Hebrew Constitution…that idolatry was high-treason in the Hebrew government…that the prohibition of marriage with idolaters being one of the original laws of Jehovah, was unalterable, and not to be dispensed with, by any power or authority in that government…That a toleration of idolatry in that government was subversive of the chief design and principal end of the Constitution, irreconcilable to common sense, as well as to political wisdom…That it was a breach of the covenant of Jehovah, or of the original contract between Jehovah and the nation, and of the oath of allegiance to Jehovah, by which all persons were bound from the lowest of the people to the highest magistrate.
What sort of persons then must the prophets have been, if they could have fallen in with King Ahab’s design, to abolish the worship of the one true God, in order to introduce idolatry as a more friendly religion, and more beneficent to mankind? If they could have thought with Queen Jezabel, that the punishment of idolatry, according to the laws of the Hebrew government, was contrary to the law of nature and nations, what honest man in all Israel, prophet or no prophet, but would have endeavored, as far as he lawfully might, to prevent the utter subversion of the religion, laws and constitutions of his country, on which his own liberties, property and happiness did depend. For the same power that destroyed the Constitution, might destroy every man’s right and properties, which were only to be supported by it. Naboth’s right to his vineyard would be brought to depend on the King’s will, as much as the laws against idolatry.
The wisdom of our government has declared it inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom, to be governed by a Popish Prince, or by any king or queen marrying a papist; and therefore it is enacted, (I W. & M. Ses. Ii. c. 2.) that every such person shall be excluded, and be forever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the crown and government of this realm…And in all and every such case or cases, the people of these realms shall be, and are hereby absolved of their allegiance.
If Queen Jezabel would have thought these methods of preservation against the danger of popery contrary to the laws of nature and nations, I hope no honest Englishman, who has seen in experience, that Popery is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom, but will own it to be a wise and necessary provision, to preserve his religion, liberty and property, and endeavor to prevent the least breach in this security to our happiness from the present Protestant succession. Whether idolatry was not as inconsistent with the safety and welfare of the Hebrew government, let every man judge?
I shall but just take notice of one observation more of our author’s in this charge against the prophets: “That every king and royal family, who could not come into these measures, were marked out for destruction; and the most formidable and bloody rebellions raised against them for encouraging and supporting idolatry,” Moral Philos. I. 303. This charge of rebellion against kings and royal families sounds great, and may perhaps lead unthinking people to imagine some divine hereditary right of succession in these kings and royal families; and that it must be an heavy aggravation of rebellion in the prophets, to oppose the exercise of the royal prerogative for the establishment of idolatry. But pray observe who these kings and royal families were; Ahab was the son of Omri, a general officer, who came to be king by slaying Zimri, who had conspired against Elah his king, and killed him. Elah was the son and successor of Baasha, who began his royal family by conspiring against, and slaying Nadab the son of Jeroboam; and this Jeroboam, the founder of his royal family, obtained his crown by a revolt from the kingdom and family of David. You see, here are three royal families of Omre, Baasha and Jeroboam, all of them founded in less than fifty years; all of them founded by subjects either conspiring against their kings, and slaying them, or revolting from them. In which of these royal families was the divine right of hereditary succession? If in none of them, what will all this outcry of formidable and bloody rebellions against every king and royal family amount to? In a word, it was by the Hebrew government an essential limitation of the power and prerogative of every magistracy whatever, of the Congregation of all Israel, of the national Senate, of the Judge, and of the King, whether separately or jointly, that their power did not extend to repeal the laws against idolatry, or to dispense with the execution of them. For it was a breach of the first covenant, or original contract between Jehovah and the Hebrew nation, which required they should have no other Gods before him. It could not therefore possibly be rebellion, to oppose all attempts against the laws, rights and liberties of the nation. It would have been rebellion against the government, not to have endeavored to support and maintain it, against all such attempts of an unlawful prerogative.
Upon the whole, considering the true design of the Hebrew government, the several parts of it will, I hope, appear wise and well chosen to answer the ends proposed by them. And as the design of erecting a government to put a stop to idolatry, and to preserve in it the knowledge and worship of the one true God, the best principles of virtue, of private and public happiness, appears a kind and good design, as well as agreeable to justice. It will prove an unanswerable defense of that part of revelation, and show from the constitution of the government itself, how weak, how groundless, how false the usual objections against it really are.