Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER II.

THE POLITICAL, MORAL, AND RELIGIOUS CONDITION OF

ISRAEL UNDER THE JUDGES.

1. Conquest of Palestine. In order to understand the mission of the Israelites, it will be necessary to glance at the circumstances under which they entered the land of Canaan. It was no ordinary people that they were commissioned to displace. The Phænicians stood “at the head of the civilization of their timel.” They were the greatest maritime and commercial people then known. Their colonies had spread over all the coasts of the Mediterranean. Their land was the home of the arts and sciences? At a far earlier period than that of Joshua they had risen to eminence. But this was the period of their decay. The vices which for a long time had raged unchecked, had at length produced their usual effect in sapping the manly vigour of the people. Thus the Israelites were destined to play the same part on the shores of the Mediterranean in the fifteenth century before Christ, that the Germans did in the hour of the decrepitude of the Roman empire. There are many common features in the two histories. The austerer morals of the invading peoples, the slaughter of the vanquished, the adoption too often by the conqueror of the habits he began by despising—these were equally characteristics of the conquest of Palestine and the fall of the Roman Empire. But whereas the Germans infused their

1 Bachmann, Buch der Richter. Introduction, p. 21.

2 See Kenrick's Phoenicia, ch. viii., ix. The Greeks owed their literary culture in the first instance to the Phoenicians. The Egyptians were great architects, but they do not appear to have attained much eminence in the other arts. See an article by Stanley Lane Poole, in the Contemporary Review, Sept. 1881.

3 Gen. xiii. 13, cf. xix.

national spirit into the institutions of the more civilized people they had subdued, the Jews introduced a polity of their own into the land in which they settled-a polity of Divine origin, destined to produce incalculable results upon the future of the world.

II. Institutions of the Jews. The idea which underlay the Mosaic institutions was that of a Divine Society, with God as its acknowledged head, the books of Moses as its code of law and morals, and the priesthood, with its prophetic gift of Urim and Thummim!, as the medium of communication between the Ruler and His people. This idea was never destined to be realized. Indeed it was fore-ordained to failure, so far as its adoption as a system by the Jewish community as a whole was concerned?, though its ultimate effect was so beneficial to mankind, and its direct influence so vast upon individuals. During the life-time of Joshua and Phinehas, amid much individual depravitys, an attempt was made to carry on the government in accordance with the provisions of the Law. The elders, at first appointed by Moses, and afterwards by Joshua, or by the common consent of the tribe, we know not which, exercised the necessary civil authority among the people. Matters of moment, whether of war or peace, but especially the former, including, no doubt, the choice of a leader, were decided upon by a general assembly, in which counsel was formally asked of God. The occurrences in Mount Ephraim and at Gibeah, which clearly? occurred during the life-time of the "elders that outlived Joshua," give us a momentary glimpse of the working of the Mosaic institutions. The last five chapters of the book of Judges depict to us Israel under circumstances such as we never meet again. The memories and traditions of Joshua's

[ocr errors]

2

1 See note on ch. i. 1.

Josh. xxiv. 19; cf. Rom. iii. 20; Gal. ii. 16; Heb. vii. 11, 19. 3 As the narratives in ch. xvii-xxi. show. 4 Exod. xviii. 25; Numb. xi. 16.

5 Levit. iv. 15; Deut. xxv. 7, 8, xxix. 10, xxxi. 9, 28; cf. Ruth iv. 2, 4, Josh. xxii. 44 ; Judg. viii. 16.

Josh. xxii. 12; Judg. xx. I. 7 ch. xx. 28.

6

government are yet fresh in men's minds. God is still recognized as the unseen governor of His people. The high priest formally asks counsel of Him in times of perplexity. The people weep and fast and offer burnt offerings before His altar?. There is not a hint of idolatry throughout. Marriage with heathen women is a thing not even thought of. And the ease with which all Israel is gathered together for war“, displaying as it does so marked a contrast with later times, shews that the military organization established by Moses, and perfected by Joshua, was still in existence, in all its completeness. But this state of things did not last long. The moral strength of the people had not been sufficiently developed to maintain its. Consequently when the personal influence of the followers of Joshua was withdrawn, it fell into abeyance, and the successful invasion of Chushan-Rishathaim put an end to it, until the time of the great reformation under Samuel6. The worship of Jehovah still continued, but save in individual cases, its infuence scarcely extended beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the sanctuary?.

III. Collapse of the Israelitish polity. The theocratic polity of Israel disappears, then, most probably, with the death of Phinehas. Henceforth, individual tribes may possess a governmental organization, individual cities may appoint

1

2

4

xx. 18, 23, 28.

XX. 26, xxi. 4. 3 xxi. 7, 16—23.

XX. I, 10, 17. 5 “ Israel had as yet scarcely found time to imbue itself deeply with the great truths which had been awakened into life in it, and to appropriate them as an inalienable possession.” Ewald, Hist. Israel, 11. p. 271.

8 On the importance of Samuel's resormation see Jost, Geschichte des Israelitischen Volkes, 1. 199, “ As Moses took them out of Egypt,” he says, “ another was wanted to rescue them from Canaanitish influences. This was Samuel."

? Hengstenberg adduces the songs of Deborah and Hannah, the character of Gideon, and the Nazarite vow of Samson, as evidence that the old belief had not entirely died out (Geschichte des Reiches Gottes, II. 76). He might have instanced the whole of Sam. i.-iv., including the conduct of Hannah and the character of Eli, as proofs that among the people a devout minority was to be found quite sufficient to make God's Law a living influence, at least to a certain extent, even in the worst of times. See also p. 20.

their elders, two or three tribes may combine for common action, but no instance appears of all Israel acting in concert. Everything is confusion and disorganization, except when some leader arises who is capable of arousing the courage of a dispirited

a people. Then the successful hero becomes the centre of their hopes and affections. The whole government is vested in his person. He “judges Israel," we are told". That is, the warlike leader becomes, by common consent, a civil magistrate. He exercises full, and if he pleases, almost despotic authority. But the recollection of the Theocracy is yet too vivid to permit of his assuming the title of king of Israel, or of his bequeathing his power to his descendants. As the history progresses, the disorganization becomes more complete. The song of Deborah represents the tribes as incapable of a common effort. Judah is not even mentioned", and historians have wondered at the isolation of this tribe, which, after Othniel, did not produce a single judge, and which is not further referred to in the history except as being partially included in the general distress caused by the incursions of the Philistines and Ammonites. It would seem as if the tribe of Judah (in which the small tribe of Simeon was included)4, secure in its numbers and mountain fastnesses, had held aloof from its brethren, and had maintained its independence until subjugated by the Philistiness. But not only was Judah content to stand apart. Though Ephraim and Manasseh and Benjamin and Issachar gave some slight assistance

are

1 Some have compared the judges to the Carthaginian and Tyrian suffetes. The names no doubt of common origin, since the Carthaginians were the descendants of the ancient Phoenicians who spoke a kindred language to the Hebrew. But the suffetes (Ewald, Hist. Israel, 11. 36; Kenrick, Phoenicia, p. 268) were regular magistrates appointed by public election, and forming an integral portion of the political organization of the people, whereas the Judges were heroes (cf. Jost I. 175) who owed their influence to a victory over their country's oppressors, and whose very office testified to the utter disorganization of their nation.

Judg. vii. 23. 3 And was probably therefore not included in Jabin's oppression (Jost I. 178).

* See ch. i. 3, 17; cf. Josh. xix. 1,9; Numb. xxvi. 14.
5 See notes on ch. v. 17, viii. 1; cf. also ch. xv. 11, 1 Sam. iv.

JUDGES

2

2

in the struggle against Jabin?, Reuben, Gilead (i.e. Gad and half Manasseh), Dan and Asher held aloof. Upon Zebulun and Naphtali fell the brunt of the battle? These two last tribes, with the half tribe of Manasseh and part of Asher, took part in Gideon's attack on the Midianites, and Ephraim came to their assistance afterwards3. No mention is made of any other tribes, save as scoffing at Gideon and his little band4. After the deliverance by Gideon matters became still worse. Shechem, the capital, so far as Israel had a capital, chooses a king for itself without communication with the rest even of its own tribe, and the result is civil war. Jephthah ruled only over the region beyond Jordanó. The judges who succeeded him were judges only of the northern tribes. Samson's authority was still more circumscribed, and was due only to the fear inspired by his personal prowess. He does not seem ever to have rallied round him even the scantiest band of his fellow countrymen. And when he is said to have “judged Israel,” the words can only refer to an extremely limited area, and a jurisdiction of a most precarious kind, as the words "in the days of the Philistines7” clearly imply. A kind of hegemony seems to have been claimed by Ephraim, as possessing the principal city (Hebron, perhaps, excepted8), as well as from its central position, and from the tabernacle worship having been set up at Shiloh, within its borders. But even this undefined superiority was not very cheerfully recognized. Gideon admitted ilo, but Judah does not seem ever to have acknowledged it, and Jephthah the Gileadite rejected it with scorn 10.

IV. Religious Apostasy. This political disorganization was the direct result of the religious declension. The only possible means of supremacy and even of safety for Israel was a resolute maintenance of the worship of the sanctuary 12, for

[ocr errors]

B xii. 7.

7

xv. 20.

9 viii. 2.

1 ch. v. 14.
2 ch. v. 16-18.

3 ch. vi. 35, vii. 24. 4 viii. 6, 8.

6 xii. 8–14. 8 See i. 10, ix. 1 (notes).

10 xii. 1-4. See also Jost 1. 195; Hengstenberg 11. 72 sqq. ; Hitzig, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 107; Ewald, Hist. Israel, II. 321.

11 Wilberforce, Heroes of Hebrew History, 164, 165. 12 Hengstenberg II. 12, 74 ; Hitzig 107.

« PreviousContinue »