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According to act of Congress, in the year 1841, by
In the Clerk's office of the District Court of the Southern District of
STEREOTYPED BY FRANCIS F. RIPLEY,
No. 128 Fulton Street, N. Y.
Gift Tappan Presb.aas. 3-7-1937
THE HEBREW THEOCRACY.
(INTRODUCTORY TO CHAPTERS XXI.--XXIII.)
THE portion of the Book of Exodus comprised in chapters 21, 22, and 23, contains the record of what God spake to Moses, when he drew near to the thick darkness,' after the people had retired from their close vicinity to the sacred mount. The contents of these chapters relate for the most part to the judicial or political regulations which God was pleased to enact for his people, with the occasional intermixture of precepts pertaining to the system of worship. But in order to convey an adequate idea of this department of the Pentateuch, it will be proper to present to the reader a compendious view of the peculiar civil and ecclesiastical polity of the Hebrews, reserving to our subsequent notes, as occasion may require, a more detailed exhibition of its several distinguishing features.
The form of government which prevailed among the descendants of Abraham, prior to the time of Moses, was the patriarchal. Abraham, Isanc, and Jacob, governed their respective families in virtue of that paternal authority which was, in the early ages of the world, universally conceded to the fathers and heads of households. The families thus governed were the natural germs of tribes, every one of which obeyed its own prince (2) nasi), who was originally the firstborn of the founder of the tribe, but in progress of time appears to have been elected. In proportion as the numbers of the tribes were augmented their heads or patriarchs became powerful chiestains, and under the title of princes, elders, and heads of tribes, answered very nearly to the sheikhs and emirs of the Bedouin Arabs and other nomade races of modern times spread over the regions of the East.
Such was the form of the primitive social organization of the chosen people. But after the deliverance from Egypt, when they were to be set apart, and destined to the great object of preserving and transmitting the true religion, God saw fit to bestow upon them a new civil and religious polity wisely adapted to the purposes which, as a nation, they were intended to subserve. Of these, one of the principal undoubtedly was, to keep alive the grand fundamental truth, that there is but one living and true God, and that he only is to be worshipped and adored, loved and obeyed. With a view to this a peculiar constitution was adopted, familiarly known as the Theocracy; according to which God became the temporal king and supreme civil magistrate of the nation. Not that it was possible for Jehovah to sink his character of Lord and Master of the universe in his capacity as civil ruler of the Hebrews. He was still, as Creator and Judge, the God of each individual Israelite, as he is the God of each individual Christian ; but he moreover sustained, both to every individual Israelite, and to the whole collective body of the Israelitish pation, the additional relation of temporal sove. reign. In this character he solemnly proffered himself to the people at Mount Sinai, and in this character he was, with equal solemnity, accepted by their united voice, Ex. 19. 4—8. This polity was doubtless adopted with the design that the obedience which they rendered him as King might become in some measure identified with the reverence due to him as God; as while they yielded the former, they would be less likely to withhold the latter. And it is to be noticed, that it was not till after the transaction recorded Ex. 19. 7–9, in which God was recognised in his character of immediate Ruler of that people, that he proceeded to promulgate from the clouds of Mount Sinai the system of laws and ordinances designed for them as a religious community. In this system, how. ever, the moral code of the Decalogue, which was both uttered and recorded in a different manner from the rest, is to be considered as given, not in his character of national king of the Israelites, but in that of the Creator and Lawgiver of the universe. A like distinction is occasionally to be made elsewhere ; but it is clear that in the chapters before us nearly every ordinance and statute can be referred to some one of the ten commandments, and is to be considered as merely a developement of its sense and spirit. Yet as they are termed emphatically judgments,' they undoubtedly belonged more especially to the civil government, and formed a kind of common law, very analogous to the common law of other lands, having respect to matters at issue between man and man, which became the subject of judicial decision. Though of a temporal character in themselves, they still involved moral considerations, and were for the most part based upon some express precept of the Decalogue.
Since then the Jewish polity was strictly a Theocracy, in which Jehovah appeared as the immediate sovereign and the people of Israel as his immediate subjects, this relation would naturally give rise to certain important results, in the administration of that economy, which well deserve our notice. In the first place, no authority was vested, by the Mosaic constitution, in any one man or body men, nor even in the whole nation assembled, to make new laws, or alter old ones ; their sovereign Jehovah reserving this power exclusively to himself. On the same grounds, the Hebrew constitution recognized no one hereditary chief magistrate, nor gave any power, even to the whole nation, to elect a su. preme governor. It was the especial prerogative of Jehovah to appoint whom. soever he pleased to preside over the people under the title of judge, as his own immediate vicegerent. And such men, we know, were from time to time raised up as the exigencies of the state required them, and, under a special commission from heaven, wrought the most signal deliverances for their countrymen.
Another important consequence of the Theocratic polity was, that idolatry be. came not only the transgression of a moral precept of most aggravated character, but also an act of treason against the state. It was a virtual rejection of the authority of their acknowledged Ruler. It was a breach of the original compact, an open rebellion against God, a positive casting off of sworn allegiance, and therefore, on the established principles of all governments, justly meriting capital punishment. We are not to be surprised, therefore, to find idolatry, with witchcraft, magic, necromancy, and other kindred practices connected with it, treated as a crime equal to that of murder, and subjecting all those who were guilty of committing or abetting it, to the utmost penalty of the law. The punishment of an idolatrous city was the irrevocable ban or anathema called but herem, followed by complete destruction, Lev. 19. 31 ; 20. 6. Deut. 17, 26. Nay, so strict was the prohibition on this subject, that the inciter to idolatry was never to be pardoned, even though he should claim the character of a prophet, and utter predictions which should be exactly fulfilled, Deut. 13. 2–12. The nearest relations and the dearest friends were to be delivered up to just punishment if they enticed to idolatry; and the accuser, as the first witness, was required to cast the first stone at the convicted traitor. Even a foreigner who dwelt among the Hebrews, could not be exempted from capital punishment if he practised idolatry himself, or tempted others to practise it; for by so doing he became a rebel, and a leader of rebellion, against the king, and against the whole civil government.
Again, if it be admitted that God sustained the character of temporal prince and legislator to the Israelites, nothing is more natural than that what may be termed the civil or political laws enacted by him in that character should be enforced by temporal sanctions. Accordingly, as it is beyond a doubt that the rewards and punishments annexed to the Jewish civil code were mainly temporal, we find in this view of the subject a sufficient explanation of the fact. The absence in the books of Moses of any very explicit notice of the future existence of the soul, or of a future state of rewards and punishments, has indeed afforded ground of cavil to the skeptic, but there is certainly something inconsistent in the position, that God acted as the temporal sovereign of Israel, and yet that while thus acting he administered the laws of the land, not by the sanction of temporal rewards and punishments in this world, but by the sanction of future rewards and punishments in another world. Accordingly, any one has only to turn to the declarations of the law itself in Deut. 11. 26–28; 28. 1—45, to be convinced that such is not the character of its sanctions.
It is not, however, to be inferred from this, as Warburton has done, that the fact of a future existence, and of future rewards and punishments, was unknown either to Moses or to the nation of Israel. Although the doctrine of future retribution is taught rather by incidental reference than by authoritative declaration, yet the evidence that it was known and believed under the Mosaic economy is abundant and conclusive, as has been shown by Graves (Lect. on the Pentateuch), Faber (on the Three Dispensations), and others. Certain it is, that we cannot suppose the nation of Israel to have enjoyed less of the revelation of a future state than the patriarchs from whom they were descended, and of these the Apostle expressly assures us, that 'they died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and con. fessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, seeking and desiring a better country, even an heavenly.' But the main purpose for which the Jewish economy was established did not require, that any other than temporal sanctions should be explicitly propounded under it. The laws of the Theocracy were to be enforced by an extraordinary providence, and in accordance with this, the grand motives placed before the Hebrews to pursue the good and to avoid the evil were those which were derived from the benefits and calamities, the rewards and pun. ishments of this life. The distinct and prominent exhibition of the doctrine of future awards was reserved for the developements of that more spiritual system,
which we enjoy in the gospel of Him who 'has brought life and immortality to light.'
Once more, it is to be remarked, that in conformity with the peculiar genius of that polity, and in order that the Hebrews might have their relation to God kept constantly before their eyes, the Most High, as their King, caused a royal tent to be erected in the centre of the encampment, where the pavilions of all kings and chiefs were usually erected, and to be fitted up with all the splendor of royalty, as a moveable palace. It was divided into three apartments, in the innermost of which was the royal throne, supported by golden cherubs ; and the foot. stool of the throne, a gilded ark containing the tables of the law, the Magna Charta of church and state. In the ante-room a gilded table was spread with bread and wine, as the royal table, and precious incense was burned. The exte. rior room, or court, might be considered the royal culinary apartment, and there music was performed, like the music at the festive tables of eastern monarchs. (Lev. 21. 6, 8, 17. Num. 28. 2. Deut. 23. 4. Ezek. 44. 7.) God made choice of the Levites for his courtiers, state-officers, and palace guards; and Aaron for the chief officer of the court and first minister of state. For the maintenance of these officers, he assigned one of the tithes which the Hebrews were to pay as rent for the use of the land. He finally required all the Hebrew males, of a suit able age, to repair to his palace every year, on the three great annual festivals, with presents, to render homage to their king; and as these days of renewing their homage were to be celebrated with festivity and joy, the second tithe was expended in providing the entertainments necessary for those occasions. In short, every religious duty was made a matter of political obligation ; and all the civil regulations, even the most minute, were so founded upon the relation of the people to God, and so interwoven with their religious duties, that the He. brew could not separate his God and his king, and in every law was reminded equally of both. Consequently the nation, so long as it had a national exist. ence, could not entirely lose the knowledge, or discontinue the worship of the true God. The succeeding notes will show that this view of the drift and design of this remarkable structure is by no means inconsistent with its having been framed throughout with a typical import, and designed to shadow forth the lead. ing spiritual mysteries of the gospel. But that it actually sustained the character here ascribed to it, we think there can be no doubt.