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Having made these preliminary observations, we proceeded to notice some faint vestiges of a limited patriarchal government in the story of Cain and of Lamech before the flood, and in the sentence denounced by Noah after that deluge upon a wicked son and his future descend. ants.
Omitting several other traces of civil authority, exercised by succeeding patriarchs, let us advert a few mo. ments to the sentence, pronounced by Jacob just before his death on each of his respective sons, and the several tribes, of which they were the destined founders. Two of these sons, viz. Simeon and Levi, for their perfidious and barbarous murder of the Shechemites, are thus denounced by their dying father" Cursed be their an. ger, for it was fierce ; and their wrath, for it was cruel ; I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” This prophetic dooin was remarkably verified.
For though the land of Canaan was divided among the Is. raelites by the contingency of lots ; yet the tribe of Simeon had no distinct portion assigned to it, but only a small inheritance in the midst of the tribe of Judah ; and the posterity of Levi had no separate inheritance in lands, like the rest of the Hebrews, except a few cities with their suburbs taken from the possessions of all the other tribes. Thus the families of Simeon and Le. vi, in exact agreement with this prophecy, continued divided and scattered in Israel, to the end of their commonwealth. This address of Jacob to his sons foretels with great exactness many other surprising traits in the characters and circumstances of their future offspring. We will select one remarkable instance. In blessing the tribe of Judah he utters this prediction-" The scepter shall pot depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his
feet, until Shiloh come ; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” That by Shiloh is intended the Messiah appears from the import of the Hebrew word, which the most learned critics derive from verbs, signifiing either to send, to enjoy peace, or to prosper and save; and which accordingly denotes the great promised Messenger, Peace maker, or Saviour. It also appears from its being included in the appropriate blessing pronounced upon judah, to whom the preeminence or highest privilege belonged ; from the gathering of the people to this Shiloh, which is the same with all nations being converted to and blessed in him; from the consent of all the antient, and many of the modern Jews, as well as Christians; and finally from the exact agreement of the prophecy, thus understood, with the truth of facts before and after the coming of Christ. It is a fact, that a scepter or lawgiver, that is the supreme government of Israel was first set up in the tribe of Judah, in the person of David, and continued in that tribe, in a line of regular descent from him till the time of the Babylonish captivity ; after which it still subsisted in the same tribe under a different form, till the birth of our Saviour. But soon after this event Judea was made a Roman province; its civil administration was transferred to Roman governors ; and not long after its capital city was destroyed, and its surviving inhabitants dispersed. Since this dispersion the family of Judah has been so far from possessing civil authority, that its very existence, as a distinct tribe, has been confounded and lost. This train of facts at once explains the meaning, and proves the divine inspiration of this antient prediction. Having briefly traced the history of that authority, which was possessed by the early ancestors of the Jew
ish nation, we are prepared to examine the special government of this people from the commencement of their civil polity to its final extinction. To form a just estimate of this government, we must first attend to its lead. ing design, or inquire what objects the Deity proposed in its erection. If we can show that the ends designed by it were worthy of God, and that the means employed were eminently adapted to those ends, you will need no other proof of its wisdom and excellence. The Hebrew constitution, like all good governments, was intended to protect the freedom, property, and peace of the community at large, and of its several members. But this was not its only intention. It was also designed to preserve in that nation the knowledge and service of the one true God, and to set up an effectual barrier against the contagious and destructive evils of idolatry. Agreeably, the Jewish form of government was founded in a mutual and explicit contract to the following purpose :-The people, on their part, solemnly chose orac. cepted Jehovah as their political, as well as religious Sovereign, engaging to adhere to his worship and laws, in opposition to every species of idolatry: God, on his part, promised that on this condition he would govern, protect and bless them in a peculiar and immediate way, Securing to them not only the transcendent privileges and comforts of the true religion, but high degrees of tempoporal liberty, peace and prosperity. The reasons why temporal blessings and evils are so much employed to enforce this constitution, are weighty and obvious. It was fit that God, as the political King of Israel, should guard his laws with political sanctions. Such sanctions were peculiarly needful and beneficial to so gross a people, as the Jews, and in a period of the world, when the doc
trine of a future retribution was so feebly discovered, and
you will ask, was it proper to protect the true religion, and prevent idolatry, by civil establishments and temporal considerations ? Did not this directly operate to crush free inquiry, and to foster religious persecution, hypocrisy, and severity ?-We reply, as the Jewish constitution was a Theocracy, in which Jehovah was the temporal Sovereign; as that people held the land of Canaan, and all their peculiar privileges, upon the footing of their alliance to him; so idolatry in them was high treason against their acknowledged King, and against that original compact, on which their national happiness and even existence depended. Besides, God had given that nation peculiar and abundant evidence that he was the true and only Deity, and that every blessingand calamity result
ed from his favor or displeasure. It was therefore both just and merciful to enact severe penalties against those, who should traiterously revolt from him. Such penalties were but an equitable counterpart to the high rewards connected with obedience. They were needful and benevolent guards to the public virtue and safety. They implied no infringement of the just rights of the subject, any more than the penal laws of other states, which punish conspiracies against the constitution. In short, they were absolutely necessary, as things then were, not only to preserve rational piety and virtue, with their attendant blessings, among the Jews, but to prevent their total extinction through the world. Those, who censure the Jewish government for thus patronising the true religion, do not sufficiently consider the evil nature and effects of idolatry, and its rapid and general propagation in the early ages. Even the antient Egyptians, a people celebrated for wisdom and science, were among the most stupid and extravagant idolaters. The Hebrews themselves, notwithstanding their special religious advantages, were exceedingly addicted to this prevailing abomination. Lest any should view idolatry as a harmless or venial error, I will mention some of the dreadful evils wrapped up in it ; that we may be struck with that enlightened and benevolent policy, which aimed to arrest and destroy it. One of the principal evils of idolatry was, that it led away the human mind from the knowledge, obedience, and imitation of the all perfect Being, and of course from that true holiness and morality, which alone could engage his acceptance and blessing ; and transferred its homage to imaginary local divinities, whose protection was to be obtained by magical rites, or by absurd, imD