Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

gour.” * The injunctions respecting Hebrew slaves were no less merciful. “ If thy 6 brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew " woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee “ six years, in the seventh year thou shalt “ let him go free from thee; and thou shalt “ not let him go away empty; but thou 6 shalt furnish him liberally out of thy 6 flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy 66 wine-press: and of that wherewith the “ Lord thy God hath blessed thee, thou “ shalt give unto him.” † It should seem also, as if all other bondmen or slaves (even those that were captured in war or brought from the neighbouring Heathen nations) were to be emancipated in the year of the Jubilee; that is, every fiftieth year: for it is said universally, Ye shall hallow the • fiftieth year; and proclaim liberty through66 out all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.”* The utmost care, in short, is taken throughout to guard against every species of tyranny and oppression, and to protect the helpless and weak from the wanton insolence of prosperity and power. The tenderness of the divine legislature thought no creature below its notice; and extended itself to the minutest articles of social and domestic life, which, though unnoticed by less benevolent lawgivers, do, in fact, constitute a very great and essential part of human happiness and misery.

* Lev. xxv. 43.

+ Deut. xv. 12, 13. Other instances of this humanity in the Jewish law, may be seen in Deut. xxii. 6, 8. xxiv. 5, 6, 12, 13, to the end. Rousseau himself (Emile, lib. 5. p. 6.) commends the benevolent spirit of the law mentioned Ex. xxii. 26, 27. See also on this point the ancient part of the Universal History, vol. iii. 8vo. p. 136, note b. and p. 152.

With such heavenly institutions as these (which we shall in vain look for in any Pagan government) is every page of the Jewish law replete. It is from these we are to form our judgment of the Jews, of their Religion, and its Divine Author *'; and if these had their proper effect on the manners of the people, they must have produced upon the whole a constant and habitual (though, perhaps, from the very nature of their situation, a confined) benevolence, much superior, not only to that of their rude cotemporaries, but to the boasted lenity of much later and more polished nations.

* Lev. xxv. 10.

+ A consideration of the general temper and disposition of law will be found of great advantage to civil life ; and will supply us with very useful theory. It is reaching the heart in the first instance, and making ourselves masters of the genius of a whole people at once, by reading them in that glass which represents them best, the turn of their civil in

It will be readily understood, that every thing which has been here said to vindicate the Jewish nation in general from the charge of distinguished cruelty, is applicable to king David in particular. But he may also lay claim to some peculiar indulgence from the singularity of his own circumstances, which were frequently very unfavourable to humanity. It was his fortune to pass through almost every scene of life, and to meet with almost every incident in his way that could be injurious to his temper, or give an edge to his resentments. Extremes of happiness or misery, sudden transitions from the one to the other, the persecutions of enemies, and the unkindness of friends, are circumstances which seldom fail of hurting the mind, and vitiating the most benevolent disposition. All these did David experience in quick succession, and in their fullest extent.

stitutions. There is scarce a passage in all antiquity more happily imagined, than that where Demosthenes tells us, that the laws of a country were considered as the morals of a state, and the character of a whole people taken collectively. Dr. Taylor's Elements of Civil Law, 2d edit. p. 160.

He was originally nothing more than a shepherd; and at a time when his youth and inexperience seemed to disqualify him for any more important business than that of feeding a flock, he broke out at once the champion and preserver of his country. Transplanted on a sudden from a cottage to a court, he experienced alternately the smiles and the frowns of a capricious monarch; was sometimes flattered with the hope of being united to him by the closest bonds of affinity, and sometimes in danger of being struck by him with a javelin to the wall. Driven at length from his presence, and torn from the arms of those he loved, “ his soul was hunted from city to city;" and after suffering the last distresses of human nature, he was not only restored to the honours he had lost, but seated on the throne of Israel. And here, though sura

112

rounded with all the pleasures and magnificence of an Eastern monarch, yet was he at the same time not only harassed with the common uneasinesses of life, and the cares inseparable from royalty, but experienced a succession of the bitterest sufferings and the heaviest domestic calamities; was once more driven from Jerusalem, deserted by his friends, cursed by his enemies, and persecuted by his darling son ; whose death did indeed put a period to his public calamities, but plunged him in the deepest affliction, and was very near bringing down his gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

When to these private considerations we add those more general ones above-mentioned, we can hardly be surprised at any excesses of severity that king David occasionally gave way to. We shall rather be surprised to find, in so tumultuous and military a kind of life, many striking instances of humanity, many amiable tendernesses, many uncommon and heroical exertions of generosity, which plainly indicated a temper constitutionally good and right, but labouring under the weight of numberless

« FöregåendeFortsätt »