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greater degree of blindness and impurity in other nations, as the Greeks and Egyptians; who were in other respects the most enlightened..
CHAP. XX. political State, Liberty, and domestic
AFTER religion we must say something of the political state of the Israelites. They were perfectly free, especially before they had kings. They had neither homages, nor manours, nor prohibitions from hunting or fishing; nor any of those kinds of dependencies which are so common among us, that lords themselves are not exempt from them. For we see sovereign princes, that are vassals, and even officers under other soves reigns, as in Germany and Italy. They enjoyed therefore that liberty so highly valued by the Greeks and Romans, and it was their own fault that they did not enjoy it for ever; it was God's design they should, as appears from his reproof delivered to them by Samuel, when they asked for a king :* and Gideon seemed to be well apprised of it, since, when they offered to make * him king, and secure the kingdom to his posterity, he answered generously, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.t
Their government was therefore neither a monarchy, aristocracy, nor democracy, but a theocracy,* as Josephus calls it: that is, God himself governed them immediately by the law that he had given then. As long as they observed it faithfully, they lived in freedom and safety; as soon as they transgressed it to follow their own imaginations, they fell into anarchy and confusion; which the Scripture shews, when, to account for the prodigious wickedness of the times, it says, In those days there was no king in
* Though they were guided by God's peculiar direction, yet the form of their government was at first aristocratical, which continued to be the basis of it ever after. It commenced from the death of Jacob, who divided them into twelve tribes, appointing his sons, with the two sons of Joseph, to be rulers or princes orer them: Gen. xlix. see also Exod. vi. 4. Josh. xxii. 14. No one tribe had superiority over another; for it is said, Deut. xlix. 16. Dan shall judge his people in the same manner as one of the tribes of Israel. And hence it is, that, upon the death of Joshua, the people enquire of God, who should go up for them against the Canaanites, Judg. i. 1. Froin this view we see the meaning of that important prophecy, Gen. xlix. 10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah till Shiloh come: not a sceptre, as most interpreters understand it, to arise in Judah's family some ages after the death of Jacob, which is against the propriety of all language; not a dominion, to be exercised by Judah, over all the other tribes, which it never obtained; but that the government now settled in each of the tribes, which would depart from the rest long before the coming of Shiloh, should remain with Judah till Shiloh came. Accordingly the Assyrian captivity was ruin to the ten tribes; but the Ba. bylonish captivity was only a seventy years transportation of Judah into a foreign country, where they continued under heads and rulers of their own; which privilege they enjoyed till after the death of Christ, and, in some sort, till the destruction of Jerusalem.--See this proved at large in the third incomparable Dissertation of the Bishop of London.
Israela Israel, every one did what was right in his own eyes.* This confusion divided and weakened them, and made them become a prey to their enemies; till, recollecting themselves, they returned to God, and he sent them some deliverer. Thus they lived under the Judges, relapsing time after time into idolatry and disobedience to the law of God,t and consequently into slavery and confusion, and as often repenting. At . last they chose rather to have a master over them than to continue in freedom by faithfully obserying the law of God. ," Their liberty reduced to these just bounds consisted in a power to do every thing that was not forbidden by the law, without obligation to do any more than it commanded; or being subject to the will of any particular man, but the fathers of families, who had great power over their servants and children at home. There were some Hebrews slaves to their brethren: and the law mentions two cases that reduced them to that condition; poverty, which obliged them to sell themselves; I and commission of theft, which they were not able to make amends for. It appears that the second case comprehended debts likewise, by the example of the widow, whose oil Elisha multiplied, that she might have enough to pay her creditors, and save her children from slavery.ll It is true, these Hebrew slaves might regain their freedom at the end of six years, that is, in the sabbatical year; and if they were then not disposed to make use of this privilege, they might claim their liberty and that of their children in the Jun bilee or fiftieth year. It was recommended to them to use their brethren mildly, and rather to make slaves of strangers. We see how submissive their slaves were to them, by the words of the Psalmist; As the eyes of servants look unto the hands of their masters, even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God. From which we may collect that they often gave orders by signs, and that servants were to watch their least motions.
The Israelites had a power of life and death over their slaves, and this was then common to them with all nations. For slavery proceeded from the right they acquired by conquest in war,* when, instead of killing their enemies, they chose rather to give them their lives, that they might have the use of them; so it was supposed the conqueror always reserved the power of taking away their lives, if they committed any thing that deserved it; that he acquired the same power over their children, because they had never been born, if he had not spared the father, and that he transmitted this power when he alienated his slave. This is the foundation of the absolute power of masters: and they seldom abused it, for their interest obliged them to preserve their slaves, who made part of their riches: which is the reason of the law, that he should not be punished who had smote a servant, if he continued alive a day or two after. He is
1. Lev. xxv. 40. Psa. cxxi. 2.
his money,* says the law, to shew that this loss was a sufficient punishment: and one may presume in this case that the master only intended his correction. But if the slave died under the strokes, it was to be supposed the master had a real design to kill him, for which the law declares him punishable; in which it was more merciful than the laws of other people, who did not make that distinction. The Romans, for more than five hundred years, had a power to put their slaves to death, to imprison their debtors upon default of payment, and to sell their own children three times over before they were out of their power;t and all by virtue of those wise laws of the twelve tables which they brought from Greece, at the time when the Jews were restored, after they returned from captivity, that is, about a thousand years after Moses. .
As to the paternal power of the Hebrews, the law gave them leave to sell their daughters ;I but the sale was a sort of marriage, as it was with the Romans. We see however by a passage in Isaiah, that fathers sold their children to their creditors :ll and in the time of Nehemiah the poor proposed to sell their children for something to live upon, and others bewailed themselves that they had not wherewith to redeem their children that were already in slavery. I They had the power of life and death over their
. * Exod. xxi. 20, 21..
+ Instit. de his qui sui vel al. § 2. Inst. quib. mod. jud. Pai. $ 6.
Exod. xxi. 7. $ Per Ccemptionem. ] Isaiah 1. 1. lehem, 1, 2, 5.