Chapter 4 – Distribution of the Whole Territory into Equal Parts

The division of the land was ordered to be made with great exactness, under the care and direction of the High Priest, the Judge, and one of the Princes of each Tribe.  And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, these are the names of the men which shall divide the land unto you, Eleazer, the priest, and Joshua the son of Num; and ye shall take one Prince of every tribe to divide the land by inheritance, Num 34:16-18.  The manner of this division is expressed in another law.  And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man’s inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit, Num 33:54.

This division was accordingly made by Joshua, who, after Gad, Reuben, and the half Tribe of Manasseh, had received the lot of their inheritance beyond Jordan, to the eastern boundaries; and when they, who had been sent out on purpose to describe the land, had described it by cities, and were returned with the description in a book to Joshua, Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh, before the LORD; and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel, according to their divisions, that is, to the Tribes who had not yet received their division, eastward of Jordan.

You see this division of the land by lot, was to the several Tribes according to their families; so that in this division, every Tribe and every family received their lot and share by themselves, distinct from all the other Tribes.  Thus each of the Tribes remained by the Constitution a distinct province, in which all the free-holders were not only Israelites, but of the same Tribe, or the descendants of the same Patriarch of Reuben, or of Judah, & etc.  And the several families were placed together in the same neighborhood, receiving their inheritance in the same part or sub-division of the Tribe; or each Tribe may be said to live together in one and the same County, and each family in one and the same hundred: so that every neighborhood were relations to each other, and of the same families, as well as inhabitants of the same place.  Nor was it permitted for an estate in one Tribe, to become the property of any person belonging to another Tribe, though by the marriage of an heiress; for it was provide by an express law, I the case of the daughters and coheiresses of Zelophehad, Let them marry to whom they like best; only to the family of theTribe of their father shall they marry.  So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from Tribe to Tribe: for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the Tribe of his fathers, Num 36:6,7.

The manner in which the territory was divided by lot is very justly described, I think, by an ingenious author, “It were absurd to think, that this lot determined of proportions; for so a mean man might have come to have been richer that the Prince of the Tribe: but the proportions allotted unto Tribes being stated, though at first but by guess, and entered into the lot book of the surveyors, (who, saith Josephus, were most expert in geometry) the Princes came first unto the urns, whereof the one contained the names of the Tribes that were to draw, the other the names of those parcels of land, that were to be drawn first unto a whole Tribe. thus the name of a Tribe, for example Benjamin, being drawn out of one urn, unto that name a parcel was drawn out of the other urn, for example, the country lying between Jericho and Bethleem. This being done, and the prince of the Tribe having chosen in what place he would take his agreed proportion, whether of fourteen thousand acres, or the like.”  (For our author supposes the Heads of Families and Princes of Tribes had a greater proportion of land assigned to them, on account of their quality and power in the Tribes)  “Then the rest of the country was subdivided in the lot-books, according to the number of families in the Tribe of the Prince, and the parcels subdivided being cast into the urn, the names of the patriarchs into the other, the same Tribe came again by Families.  Thus every patriarch made choice in what one part of this lot he would take his agreed proportion, whether of four thousand acres, or the like.  The remainder was again subdivided, according to the number of names in his Family.  If they were more that the parcel would furnish, at four acres a man;” (which was the proportion according to the estimate of Hecataeus, which our author follows; but should have been on a truer calculation sixteen, or twenty-one, or twenty-five acres for each man) “then was that defect amended by additions of the next parcel, and if they were fewer, then the overplus was cast over unto the next parcel.  Thus the inheritance of the children of Simeon was taken out of the portion of the children of Judah, for the part of the children of Judah was too much for them,” Harrington Commonwealth of Israel, c. 11. s 12.  This gives an easy account of the manner of this lot, which has been pretended by some persons who love objections, to be attended with so many difficulties, as to appear impracticable.  All who have any notion of the manner of drawing our late lotteries, the numbers out of one Wheel, the Blanks and Prizes out of another, will see this division by lot thus explained, to be not only a thing practicable, but very easy and exact.  Every Tribe and every Family being thus settled in their inheritances, became local without remove; each was to continue, and their posterity after them, on the same estate, which originally fell to them for their inheritance.

In order to preserve as near as possible the same balance, not only between the Tribes, but between the Heads of Families, and the Families of the same Tribes, it was further provided, that every man’s possession should be unalienable.

The wisdom of this Constitution had provided for a release of all debts and servitudes every seventh year, that the Hebrew nation might not moulder away from so great a number of free subjects, and be lost to the public in the condition of slaves, (see Deut 15:1,2,12).  It was moreover provided, by the Law of Jubilee, which was every fiftieth year, that then all lands should be restored, and the estate of every Family, being discharged from all encumbrances, should return to the Family again.  For this there was an express law.  Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family, Lev 25:10.  It was further enacted, And the land shall not be sold for ever: or, as in the margin, to be quite cut off or alienated from the family; for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me, Lev 25:23.

By this Agrarian Law of the Hebrews, all estates were to be kept in the same Families, as well as the same Tribes to which they originally belonged at the first division of the land by Joshua; so that how often soever a man’s estate had been sold or alienated from on Jubilee to another, or how many hands soever it had passed through, yet in fifty years every estate must return to the heirs of the persons who were first possessed by it.

It was at first an excellent Constitution, considering the design of this Government, to make so equal a division of the land among the whole Hebrew nation, according to the poll.  It made provision for settling and maintaining a numerous and a brave Militia of six hundred thousand men, which if their force was rightly directed and used, would be a sufficient defense not only against any attempts of their less powerful neighbors, to deprive them of the liberty or religion, but considering moreover the natural security of their country into which no inroads could be made but through very difficult passes.  It was a force sufficient to defend them against the more powerful empires of Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon. The wisdom of this Constitution is yet further observable, as it provided against all ambitious designs of private persons, or persons in authority, against the public liberty; for no person in any of the Tribes, or throughout the whole Hebrew nation, had such estate and possessions, or were allowed by the Constitution t procure them, that could give any hopes of success in oppressing their brethren and fellow subjects.  They had no riches to bribe indigent persons to assist them, nor could there at any time be any considerable number of indigent persons to be corrupted.  They could have no power to force their fellow-subjects into a tame submission to any of their ambitious views.  The power in the hands of so many freeholders in each Tribe, was so unspeakably superior to any power in the hands of one or of a few men, that it is impossible to conceive how any such ambitious designs should succeed, if any persons should have been found so weak as to attempt them.

Besides this equal and moderate provision for every person, wisely cut off the means of luxury, with the temptations to it, from example.  It almost necessarily put the whole Hebrew nation upon industry and frugality, and yet gave to everyone such a property, with such an easy state of liberty, that they had sufficient reason to esteem and value them, and endeavor to preserve and maintain them.

It may not be improper to take notice here, of an observation of Lord Bacon, to show the political wisdom of this part of the Hebrew Constitution.  He is observing the wisdom of the law, which required “that all houses of husbandry, that were used with twenty acres of ground, or upwards, should be maintained and kept up forever; together with a competent proportion fo land, to be used and occupied with them.”  By these means, he observes, “the houses being kept up, did of necessity enforce a dweller, not to be a beggar or cottager, but a man of some substance.- This, he proceeds, did wonderfully concern the might and manhood of the Kingdom, to have farms as it were of a standard sufficient to maintain an able body out of penury; and did in effect amortize a great part of the lands of the Kingdom unto the hold and occupation of the yeomanry or middle people, of a condition between gentlemen and cottagers, or peasants.- Thus did the King sow Hydra’s teeth, he concludes, whereupon (according to the poet’s fiction) should rise up armed men for the service of the Kingdom, Lord Bacon Hist. Hen. VII. P. 72.

How much does this observation of one of the wisest and most able politicians recommend the Constitutions of the Hebrew Government to us, as they made such provision not only for a numerous soldiery, but of such persons also who were likely to make a good soldiery; of men bred up neither in a servile nor indigent condition, but in a free and sufficiently plentiful condition; not of persons who had nothing of their own to lose, but of persons who had both a valuable property and liberty to defend.

When a good constitution is once well settled, it is a next point of wisdom to provide, that it may be preserved in after-times.  The Agrarian, or Law of Jubilee, was such a wise provision, to perpetuate this division of lands and estates, and thereby to continue the Hebrew nation, a numerous and a powerful people.

This was of very great importance to the design, for which this Government was formed.  It was intended to remain a distinct nation, separate from all other nations of the earth for many hundred years; from the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and their possession of the promised land, till the coming of Shiloh, the Kingdom of the Messiah.  For it was a separate nation, they were to preserve the true religion in the knowledge of worship of the one true God, from the corruption of that prevailing idolatry, which had almost destroyed both from of the face of the whole earth.

The country of the Hebrew nation, the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, were very great and powerful empires.  The Hebrew Constitution had provided no standing army for a national defense, but had rather made it impracticable; yet the whole nation being obliged to appear in arms when legally summoned, the whole nation was as a standing army.  And if the Hebrews had preserved the original Constitution, or the Mosaical, they would always have had an army of near six hundred thousand men in readiness, for the defense of their country at all times.  This military service, by which the Hebrews held their land, is of such consequence to the right understanding of the Constitution, that it will deserve a particular attention.

The exceptions, allowed by the military laws, of persons excused from attendance on the army, necessarily suppose the obligations of all other persons to attend the military service.  The officers were to speak to the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.  And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.  And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest h die in the battle, and another man take her, Deut 20:5-7.  This expression, let him go and return to his house, plainly shows, that though some persons were to be dispensed with, as to their attendance on the army for the service of war, yet they were to appear at the general muster, and to be excused thee by the proper officers; and that they could not excuse themselves or their absence from the muster on any plea,  how true soever it was, or however good in law it might be in itself.

The dispensations directed to be given by the law on these occasions, was to be for one year only.  When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, Deut 24:5.  This political wisdom, to dismiss cowards before an engagement, lest the army should be seized with fear, no ways excused their actual attendance in the camp; and we find that even when they were not excused all service.  They were still to assist the army, by supplying the camp with water, provision, and necessities, by making or mending roads, and by such like services, as a learned author observes from Maimonides.

What great stress does Moses lay on the important obligation of uniting the whole military power of the nation, for their settlement? there is as a great reason, to lay the same stress upon it for their security and defense afterwards.

When the tribes of Reuben and Gad desired their settlement on the east of Jordan, Moses said unto them, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? Num 32:6.  Moses charges it upon them as a most heinous offence, if they had any intention, as they seemed to have, to separate their proportion, or quota of troops, from the other tribes, and thereby disunite and weaken the army of Israel.  If the Tribes were permitted to take care of themselves, and their own private interests only, without just regard for the public good of the whole nation, by assisting it with all their forces united, the very being of the government and nation would be always exposed to great danger.  Moses therefore further reasons with the Tribes of Ruben, and Gad, Behold ye are risen up in your father’s stead, (Num 32:14) or imitate those who being sent to discover the land, so greatly disheartened the Israelites, that they were near resolving not to go into the land which Jehovah had given them; but as the anger of Jehovah was kindled against them, so it must be expected it will be kindled against those, who, in imitating them, are an increase of evil doers, to augment yet the fierce anger of Jehovah towards Israel.

The Tribes were sensible, of so just and reasonable expostulation.  They came to Moses and promised, that they would only settle their children and their flocks, but that they themselves would go ready armed before the children of Israel, till (say they) we have brought them to their place.  We will not return to our houses, until the children of Israel have inhabited every man his inheritance, Num 32:17,18. The this promise Moses replies, If ye will do this things, If ye will go armed before Jehovah to war, and will go all of you armed before Jehovah, until he hath driven out all his enemies before him, and the land be subdued before Jehovah; then afterwards ye shall return, and be guiltless before Jehovah: but if ye will not do so, behold ye have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out, Num 33:20-23.

That the union of the whole force of any state, is necessary to it being, preservation, and establishment, everyone is ready to grant; because it is too plain for any to deny.  The wisdom of such Constitutions, as are necessary to keep the force of a state so united, must be then unquestionable also, and of as great concern to every government, as it preservation in any good state of peace, liberty and prosperity; and this will sufficiently justify any laws against desertion, that are necessary to prevent such an evil, how severe soever the execution of them may appear in some instances, which yet have been represented as too severe by far for constitutions of Divine original.  If there are any persons who really think so, if any honest persons are stumbled at it in the Hebrew history and government, sure they have never considered that desertion has been most reasonably judged a capital crime, in all nations and constitutions in the world, that lenity in such cases would be found great cruelty in the end; for it would sacrifice the safety as well as liberties of a whole nation, to the impunity of a few very great offenders.  Such offences against a government are never to be excused or passed over with an easy punishment, when it so manifestly endangers the welfare and being of the whole; and therefore all such objections (we shall see more particularly hereafter) are founded only on ignorance, or willful error.  They are so far from proving any want of equity or wisdom in such constitutions, that they only prove the objectors are incapable judges of either, or unfair judges of both.

The whole force of the Hebrew nation seems to have been well kept together, during the administration of Moses and Joshua.  Then the Hebrew arms prevailed everywhere; but when the Tribes began to be settled, they fell to their husbandry, were so intent on their own private affairs (says Josephus 1. 5. C. 2.), that they greatly neglected many of the Constitutions for the public good.  They neglected to possess themselves of the whole land of promise, they left many of the Canaanites to remain in it; and they severally defended themselves, when attacked by their neighbor enemies in separate parties, as if they had been so many separate distinct governments, rather than twelve united provinces in the one Kingdom of Jehovah as you see manifestly in the history of their Judges, (Judges 2:1).

They were warned of these miscarriages by an Angel.  It somewhat affected them for the present; so that when the angel of the LORD spake these words unto all the children of Israel, the people lifted up their voice, and wept, Judges 2:4.  Yet it did not reform their after-conduct; for they returned and corrupted themselves more than their fathers; and they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way, Judges 2:19.

Therefore the following history of the Judges was just what might have been expected; the power of the remaining Canaanites, occasional Judges raised by parties to deliver them, as they were oppressed severally in their Tribes, the small undisciplined armies set on foot for their defense, were the natural effects of their neglect in keeping up to the Constitutions of their government.  In an history of so great confusion, we cannot hope to meet with an administration after the original plan, laid down by Moses; nor therefore to learn from instances in that history, the form of regulating the Hebrew Militia in times of peace, or how an army was raised, and ready to march for the public defense, when the people, who were to compose such armies, were settled in their several possessions.  Yet we have manifest footsteps of a wise Constitution for keeping up a constant force of twenty-four thousand men, ready to make an immediate stand against any sudden attempt; and which, as appears from that Constitution, might be reinforced very easily by greater numbers, as any occasion should be considerable enough to call for it.

In the times of David we find, that twenty-four thousand men attended in their courses every month.  This number consisted likely of two thousand of each Tribe.  Now the children of Israel after their number, to wit, the chief fathers and captains of thousands and hundreds, and their officers that served the King in any matter of the courses, which came in and went out month by month throughout all the months in the year, of every course were twenty and four thousand, 1 Chron 27:1.

Such a rotation made the military service very easy to the whole nation, which was so necessary to the safety of the whole.  Twenty-four thousand a month, out of six hundred thousand subject to military service, obliged each person to actual duty but one month in two years, except on extraordinary occasions; and yet it afforded a sufficient guard of defense against any sudden invasion, or attempts to disturb the peace of the nation.

It has been further observed, that this rotation of militia was at the same time a rotation of the Representative of the Hebrew nation, as well as a standing guard.  “This Assembly,” says the eminent author, Harrington in the Commonwealth of Israel, c. iii.  Sec I., “had not only a civil, but a military office or function.”  And further remarks, “While the whole people being an army, Moses could propose to them in body, or under their staves and standards of their camps; as he needed not, so he used not any Representative, but when Joshua had let the people go, and the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance, to possess the land, (Judges 11:6) how was it likely to enjoy peace, and secure safety, without the wing of some such guard as this?  How was it possible to have the advice and consent of the nation, without some such Representative:  And what could be more equal, easy and effectual, than to perform this duty by turns or courses?” From such like considerations our author concludes, “there is little doubt that this congregation was according to the Constitution of Moses.” Id. Ib. Sec. 2.

It is a farther confirmation of this observation that David actually used this Assembly in the highest affairs of state.

This Assembly, when called together by David, is styled the Congregation, the known word to signify an Assembly of the whole nation, or of its Representative; and it was in this Congregation that they made Solomon, the son of David, King the second time; or confirmed by a parliamentary sanction what before was done by David’s nomination, in the presence only of a few of his principal officers, on the sudden attempt of Adonijah to seize on the Kingdom for himself. 1 Chron 29:1,21 and 1 Kings 1.  The same Assembly, at the same time that they anointed him, or appointed by their resolution Solomon to be anointed unto the Lord to be Chief Governor, appointed Zadok to be Priest, Abiathar having joined Adonijah in his rebellion; so that this Assembly confirmed as by authority of Parliament, or as the representatives of the people, two of the highest acts of government, the settlement of the Crown, and of the High Priesthood.  (see Bettram, de Republic of the Hebrews)

It is moreover very likely, that David, who introduced a Body-Guard, or a sort of Praetorian Bands, the Cheretbites and Pelethites, which yet were not above six hundred, would have preferred a standing army, formed to discipline by himself, and commanded by officers of his own Nomination, to a Country Militia, some out of every Tribe, and commanded by their own officers, if this had not been a known and ancient part of the Constitution, from which it was not convenient to depart. (2 Samuel 15:18)

These orders of the Hebrew Government seem of greater consequence than they are usually though to be, by the very little notice commonly taken of them; but which, rightly understood, will serve to explain some other things not easily to be explained without them, as may further appear in its proper place.