Obrazy na stronie

proceeded the generous opposition made by Naboth, when king Ahab would have persuaded him to sell the inheritance of his fathers.* So the law says they were no more than usufructuaries of their land, or rather God's tenants, who was the true proprietor of it.t They were obliged to pay no rent, but the tenths and firstifruits which he had commanded : and Samuel reckons taxes upon corn and wine as one of the encroachments of kings that he threatens the people with.I All the Israelites were then very nearly equal in riches as well as quality : and if, by the increase of a family, the estate in land was forced to be divided into more shares, it was to be made up with industry and labour, by tilling the ground more carefully, and breeding greater numbers of cattle in the desarts and commons.

Thus, it was cattle and other moveables that made one richer than another. They bred the same sort of creatures as the Patriarchs did, and always many more females than males; otherwise they had been liable to many inconveniences, for the law forbad to castrate them. S They had no horses, nor are they of any great use in mountainous countries : their kings had them out of Egypt, when they had occasion for them. The common way of riding was upon asses, even among the rich. To give us a great idea of Jair, one of the judges over the people, the Scripture tells us that he had thirty sons riding upon thirty asses,ll and rulers of thirty!

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

of the Israelites. (Part II. cities. It is recorded of Abdon, another judge, that he had forty sons, and thirty grandsons, that rode upon threescore and ten asses:* and in the Song of Deborah, the captains of Israel are described as mounted upon sleek and shining asses.t"

It does not appear that they had great number of slaves, neither had they occasion for them, being so industrious and numerous in so small a country. They chose rather to make their children work, whom they were obliged to maintain: who served them better than any slaves. The Romans found a great inconvenience at last from that vast multitude of slaves of all nations, which luxury and effeminacy had introduced among them: it was one of the chief causes of the ruin of that empire.. " - Ready money could not be very common among the Israelites : there was no great occasion for it in a country of little trade, and where it was scarcely possible to alienate lands, or run into debt. They were forbidden to take usury. of one another, though they might of strangers:s but, if they observed their law, it was no easy matter to have any dealing with foreigners. Thus their wealth, as I said before, consisted chiefly in land and cattle. · And they are riches of this kind which God

* Judg. xii. 14. '+ Judg, v, 10.- nionis signifies not only white, as it is translated in our Bibles, but sleěk 'or shining ; nitentes, as the Vulgate has it.' And probably the asses here' mentioned might be both; the author's words are ânes polis et luisans.

Lev. xxv. -10. Deut. xv, 1, 3...) § Lev. xxv. 35. Deut. xxjü. 19, || 2 Chron, ii. 17. ;


promises them, such as are most natural and substantial. He speaks to them neither of gold, nor silver, nor precious stones, nor fine furniture; much less of other riches which depend more upon trade, and the inventions of men : but he says he will send rain in its season, that the earth shall bring forth corn in abundance, that the trees shall be laden with fruit, that the harvest, the vintage, and seed-time, shall follow one another without interruption * He promi. ses them plenty of food, undisturbed sleep, safety, peace, and even victory over their enemies. He adds, that he will make them increase and multiply by looking favourably upon them, that his blessing shall make their wives fruitful, that he will bless their herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep, their granaries and cellars, and the works of their hands.† These are the temporal good things which God allows men to expect from him.

Their Arts and Trades.

W E know no people more entirely addicted to agriculture than the Israelites. The Egyptians and Syrians joined manufactures, navigation, and trade to it: but above all, the Phænicians, who finding themselves straitened in point of room, from the time that the Israelites

[ocr errors][merged small]

drove them out of their country, were obliged to live by trade, and be in a manner brokers and factors for all the rest of the world. The Greeks imitated them, and excelled chiefly in arts. On the contrary, the Romans despised mechanics, and applied themselves to commerce.* As for the Israelites, their land was sufficient to maintain them; and the sea coasts were, for the most part, possessed by the Philisțines and the Canaanites, who were the Phenicians. There was only the tribe of Zabulon, whose share of land lay near the sea, that had any temptation to trade; which seems to be foretold in the blessings of Jacob and Moses.

Nor do we see that they applied themselves any more to manufactures. Not that arts were not then invented :f many of them are older than the flood :and we find that the Israelites had excellent workmen at least as soon as the time of Moses. Bezaleel and Aholiab, who made the tabernacle and every thing that was necessary for the service of God, are an instance that put it out of dispute. It is surprising how they came to be so well skilled in arts that were not only very difficult, but very different from one another. They understood melting of metals, cutting and engraving precious stones: they were joiners, makers of tapestry, embroiderers, and perfumers.

There are two of these arts that I most of all admire, the cutting of jewels, and the casting of

[ocr errors][merged small]

figures;* such as the cherubim of the 'ark, and the golden calf which was made at that time. They that understand handicraft ever so little, know how much ingenuity and what a number of tools those works require. If they were invented before, it is a sign that even the arts which serve only for ornament were then brought to great perfection; and if they had any secret, to do the same thing with more ease and a less apparatus, it was still a higher degree of improvement. But this only by the bye, to shew that people were not so dull and ignorant in these antient times as many imagine, the world being two thousand five hundred years old in the days of Moses.

But whether these two famous workmen had learnt from the Egyptians, or their skill was miraculous and inspired by God, as the Scripture seems to say, it does not appear that they had any to succeed them, nor that any of the Israelites were artificers by profession, and worked for the public, till the time of the kings. When Saul began to reign, it is taken notice of, that there was no workman that understood forging iron in all the land of Israel:t and that they were forced to go to the Philistines to sharpen even the instruments which they used in husbandry, , It is true, this was owing to the oppression of the Philistines, to hinder them from making arms. But several years after David was obliged, when he fled, to take the: sword of Goliah, which must have been rather too heavy for him, and take it too out of God's

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PoprzedniaDalej »