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History of the Hebrew Commonwealth.
Form of Government after the Death of Joshua_In Egypt_In the
Wilderness_Princes of Tribes and Heads of Families--Impatience to take Possession of Promised Land - The Effects of itRenewal of War-Extent of Holy Land-Opinions of Fleury, Spanheim, Reland, and Lowman-Principle of DistributionEach Tribe confined to a separate Locality-Property Unalienable_Conditions of Tenure_Population of the Tribes—Number of principal Families—A General Government or Natural Council—The Judges_Nature of their Authority-Not Ordinary Magistrates–Different from Kings, Consuls, and Dictators_Judicial Establishments-Judges and Officers_Described by Josephus-Equality of Condition among the Hebrews—Their Inclination for a Pastoral Life_Freebooters like the Arabs -Abimelech, Jephthah, and David _Simplicity of the Times-Boaz and Ruth_Tribe of Levi_Object of their Separation—The learned Professions Hereditary, after the Manner of the EgyptiansThe Levitical Cities—Their Number and Uses_Opinion of Mi. chaelis–Summary View of the Times and Character of the Hebrew Judges.
LEARNED men have long exercised their ingenuity with the view of determining the precise form of the social condition which was assumed by the Israelites when they took possession of the Promised Land. The sacred writer contents himself with stating, that “ it came to pass a long time after the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age; and he called for all Israel, for their elders,
and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers.” The purport of the address he delivered on this occasion, and which is given at length in the twenty-third chapter of the book which bears his name, was solely to remind them of their religious obligations as the chosen people of Jehovah, and of the labours that they had yet to undergo in subduing the remainder of Canaan. Neither in this speech, nor in the exhortation with which he afterwards at Shechem endeavoured to animate the zeal and constancy of his followers, did he make any allusion to the form of government that it behoved them to adopt ; declining even to direct their choice in the appointment of a chief, who might conduct their armies in the field, and preside in the deliberations of the national council.
The first events which occurred after the demise of Joshua appear to establish the fact, that to every tribe was committed the management of its own affairs, even to the extent of being entitled to wage war and make peace without the advice or sanction of the general senate. The only government to which the sons of Jacob had hitherto been accustomed, was that most ancient and universal system of rule which gives to the head of every family the direction and control of all its members. We find traces of this natural subordination among them, even under the pressure of Egyptian bondage. Dur. ing the negotiations which preceded their deliverance under the ministry of Moses, the applications and messages were all addressed to the patriarchal rulers of the people. “ Go gather the elders of Israel together," was the command of Jehovah to the son of Amram, when the latter received authority
to rescue the descendants of Isaac from the tyranny of Pharaoh.
But during the pilgrimage in the Wilderness, and more particularly when the tribes approached the confines of the devoted nations of Canaan, the original jurisdiction of the family chiefs was rendered subordinate to the military power of their inspired leader, who, as the commander of the armies of Israel, was esteemed and obeyed by his followers as the lieutenant of the Lord of Hosts. In truth, the martial labours to which his office called him, placed the successor of Moses at the head of his countrymen in quality of a general, guiding them on their march or forming their array in the field of battle, rather than as a teacher of wisdom or the guardian of a peculiar faith and worship. Until the conquered lands were divided among the victorious tribes Joshua was a soldier and nothing more; while, on the other hand, the congregation of the Hebrews, who seconded so well his military plans, appear at that juncture on the page of history in no other light than that of veteran troops, rendered hardy by long service in a parching climate, and formidable by the arts of discipline under a skilful and warlike leader.
From the exode, in short, till towards the end of Joshua's administration, we lose sight of that simple scheme of domestic superintendence which Jacob established among his sons. The Princes of Tribes, and the Heads of Families, were converted into captains of thousands, of hundreds, and of fifties; regulating their movements by the sound of the trumpet, and passing their days of rest amid the vigilance and formality of a regular encampment. But no sooner did they convert the sword into a ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook, than they unanimously returned to their more an. cient form of society. As soon as there appeared a sufficient quantity of land wrested from the Canaanites, to afford to the tribes on the western side of the Jordan a competent inheritance, Joshua “ sent the people away, and they departed;" and from this moment the military aspect that their community had assumed gave way to the patriarchal model, to which in fact all their institutions bore an immediate reference, and to the restoration of which their strongest hopes and wishes were constantly directed.
Actuated by such views, it cannot be denied that the Hebrews manifested an undue impatience to enjoy the fruits of their successful invasion. They had fought, it should seem, to obtain an inheritance in a rich and pleasant country, rather than to avenge the cause of pure religion or to punish the idolatrous practices of the children of Moab and Am. mon. As soon therefore as the fear of their name and the power of their arms had scattered the inhabitants of the open countries, the Israelites began to sow and to plant; being more willing to make a covenant with the residue of the enemy, than to purchase the blessings of a permanent peace by enduring a little longer the fatigue and privations of war. Their eagerness to get possession of the land flowing with milk and honey, seems to have compelled Joshua to adopt a measure, which led at no distant period to much guilt and suffering on the part of his people. He consented that they should occupy the vacant fields before the na
tions which they had been commissioned to displace were finally subdued ; that they should cast lots for provinces which were still in the hands of the native Gentiles ; and that they should distribute, by the line and the measuring-rod, many extensive hills and fair valleys which had not yet submitted to the dominion of their swords.
The effects of this injudicious policy soon ren. dered themselves apparent; and all the evils which were foreseen by the aged servant of God, when he addressed the congregation at Shechem, were realized in a little time to their fullest extent. The Hebrews did indeed find the remnant of the nations among whom they consented to dwell proving scourges in their sides and thorns in their eyes, and still able to dispute with them the possession of the good land which they had been taught to regard as a sacred inheritance conferred upon them in virtue of a divine promise made to their fathers. For example, the author of the book of Judges relates, “ the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains ;" for, he adds, “ they would not suffer them to come down to the valley.” Hence arose the fact, that the Israelites did not for several hundred years complete their conquest of Palestine. The Canaanites, recovering from the terror which had fallen upon them in the commencement of the Hebrew invasion, attempted not only to regain possession of their ancient territory, but even to obliterate all traces of their defeat and subjection. What movements were made by the petty sovereigns of the country, in order to effect their object, we are nowhere expressly told ; but we find, from a consultation held by the southern tribes of Israel, soon after the death