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for certain trespasses against the state or the authority of its great Sovereign ; but they had no power to expiate moral guilt, especially presumptuous sins against God, considered as the moral Governor and Judge of men's hearts.
Such were the outlines of the Jewish administration during the life of Moses, and of his successor Joshua. After the death of these excellent rulers, the people became corrupt, and the government degenerated both in its form and execution. It was administered first by occasional judges, then by a long race of kings, and at length ended in a tributary commonwealth. litical changes, however great, were by no means equal to those, which the most celebrated governments of Greece and Rome underwent in a far less space of time. The Roman people, so famous for their wisdom, their ardent and jealous zeal for liberty, effected or permitted greater and more pernicious alterations in their polity in one century, than the whole Jewish history can furnish. It is a preeminent trait of the Hebrew constitution, that it made the best provisions against frequent and dangerous innovations. It precluded the usual incitements and engines of selfish ambition, by securing a perpetual equality of landed property, by forbidding usury, by barring all the citizens against great wealth, or extreme poverty, by rendering departments of power burdensome rather than lucrative, by appropriating every station of eminence to heads of houses and leaders of tribes, by duly balancing the several parts both of the local and general governments, and thus rendering it impracticable for any person or order of men to seize the property or free. dom of their country. To what source then shall we ascribe the political calamities, which that people experienced ? I answer, we must trace them to their own nego
lect or abuse of their original constitution. When Joshua and the elders of his council died, it appears that the people chose no chief magistrate or counsellors in their place. The consequence was a temporary anarchy, in which, we are told, every man did what was right in his own eyes. This state of things gave rise to occasional judges, of whom we read in the next book to that of Joshua. These officers were appointed only on particular occasions; to deliver the people, for instance, from the power of some oppressor. They resemble therefore the Roman dictators, who were created on some extra. ordinary emergencies, and whose power, while in office, was very great. The history of these judges proves that their office was temporary, and their authority in some respects absolute. Though the duration of their power was not precisely limited, like that of the dictators ; yet we may rationally conclude that when they had accom. plished the end of their appointment, they retired to a private station. This is naturally inferred from the answer of Gideon, when the people offered to invest him and his family with perpetual sovereignty~ I'will not rule over you; nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you."
This noble declaration proves, that in the view of this pious patriot permanent and hereditary dominion in one person and family was inconsistent with the Hebrew theocracy.
Asone main object of these lectures is theelucidation and defence of scripture, we will stop a few moments to explain a remarkable circumstance related of one of these judges, which has created much dispute among serious readers and learned critics, both Jewish and Christian. The circumstance, towhich I refer, is the singular vow, and the corresponding action of Jepthah. This judge and captain of Isa
rael, when going out to war against an invading foe,solemnly vowed, that if Jehovah would crown him with victory, he would, on his return, offer up for a bnrnt offering whatever should come forth from his house to meet him. Having gained a complete victory, and returning in triumph to his house, he was met by his daughter, an only child, who came out to congratulate him on the glorious event. Though he was overwhelmed with sorrow at meeting such an object after making such a vow, yet the history. informs us that he did with his daughter according to his engagement. Several infidel writers have eagerly laid hold of this story, as an indelible blot upon the Jewish religion, which allowed a Hebrew judge to sacrifice his own child ; while many Jewish commentators, zealous to prevent or to repel such a charge, have denied the fact in this instance, and have insisted that Jepthah devoted his daughter not to death, but only to perpetual celibacy, or the life of a religious recluse ; and many
learned Christians have embraced the same hypothesis, not only from pious tenderness for the honor of the Jewish scriptures and law, but from their inability to reconcile such an unnatural murder with the good character given of Jepthah in the epistle to the Hebrews. No one would rejoice more than myself in vindicating this renowned captain from so barbarous a deed. But all the learned criticism, which his advocates have employed on the Hebrew text, have not, I think, fairly rescued it from the common interpretation. Nor can I see that the honor either of the Jewish or Christian revelation is much interested in this question. It will not follow that the law of Moses allowed the practice of human sacrifices, because one of the Hebrew magistrates was once chargea. ble with it, or because his conduct in this instance was
not explicitly censured. It is sufficient that the Mosaic law nowhere requires nor warrants such sacrifices, but in general pointedly forbids and condemns them as heathenish and detestable, and that no one instance of a decid, edly good and great man offering up such victims occurs in the whole Jewish history. We grant that Jepthah is ranked by one of the New Testament writers in the catalogue of antient believers and worthies ; but this gives no sanction to his conduct in the case before us, any more than the high approbation bestowed on David's general character implies a specific commendation of his adultery and murder. As the children of Israel in those early times were comparatively rude and barbarous in their opinions and manners ; and as Jepthah in par. ticular had enjoyed very slender advantages for religious knowledge ; we may suppose that he made and performed his rash vow with a truly pious though misguided zeal ; at least we may suppose him to possess so much faith in the God of Israel, as enabled him to defend his cause and people with laudable heroism, for which he is justly commended in scripture, though he might want that noble principle, which constitutes the good man and the heir of salvation.' “ It is highly probable that Homer derived his fable of Agamemnon's sacrificing his daughter Jphigenia from some tradition of Jephthah's sacrifice. And indeed the name Jphigenia seems to be a corruption of Jepthigenia, the daughter of Jepthah."*
The next change, which occurs in the Hebrew government, is the substitution of kings in the room of tempora. ry judges. We are informed that when Samuel, the last and best of the judges, was bending under the weight of
Ovid has introduced and dressed up a similar story, which was evidently borrowed from the same source.
years, the people came to him and clamorously demanded a king to judge them like all the other nations. This request was exceedingly displeasing to Samuel, who charged them with great wickedness in asking for a king ; and when he referred the matter to God, the Most High declared that by this act they had rejected him, that he should not reign over them. From hence some writers have inferred that monarchy is in its very nature criminal ; that it impiously invades the prerogative of the Supreme Ruler, as well as the equal rights of man ; that to desire and especially to set up kingly government is not only treason against human liberty, but rebellion against God. This inference was plausibly enforced on the American people, in the beginning of the year 1776, by a very popular but desultory writer ; and this sentiment, with others equally well timed, operated with the swiftness and force of the electric fluid in preparing this country for a formal separation from the British monarch. But however beneficial this doctrine may have been to America at a critical moment, yet it is not fairly deducible from the passage before us.
For the criminality of the Jews in wishing for a king arose from the peculiarity of their original constitution, which had been settled by God himself, and which placed the royal authority in his hands. Hence their request implied a rebellious wish to change his model of government, to set up another sovereign in his place, to conform their political system to that of their surrounding nations, and thus to hazard the great object of the constitution, which was to keep them at a sacred distance from heathen customs and man. ners. This part therefore of the Jewish history furnishes no general argument against monarchy. At the same time we maintain that so far as the character of any peo