Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

redeemable at all times, and destined to return to their original owners in the year of jubilee. But, on the contrary, houses in cities and large towns were, when sold, redeemable only during one year ; after which the sale was held binding for ever. There was indeed an exception in this case in favour of the Levites, who could at any time redeem “ the houses of the cities of their possession,” and who, moreover, enjoyed the full advantage of the fiftieth year. · The Hebrews, like most other nations in a simi. lar state of society, held their lands on the condition of military service. The grounds of exemption allowed by Moses prove clearly that every man of competent age was bound to bear arms in defence of his country,-a conclusion which is at once strikingly illustrated and confirmed by the conduct of the Senate or Heads of Tribes, in the melancholy war undertaken by them against the children of Benjamin. Upon a muster of the confederated army at Mizpeh, it was discovered that no man had been sent from Jabesh-gilead to join the camp; whereupon it was immediately resolved that twelve thousand soldiers should be despatched to put all the inhabitants of that town to military execution. And the congregation commanded them, saying, Go and smite Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and children ; and the only reason assigned for this severe order was, that “when the people were numbered, there were none of the men of Jabesh-gilead there."*

The reader will now be prepared to accompany

* Judges xxi. 8–13.

us while we make a few remarks on the civil constitution of the Hebrews, both as it respected the government of the several tribes viewed as separate bodies, and as it applied to that of the whole nation as a confederated republic.

The tribes of Israel, strictly speaking, amounted only to twelve, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. But as the posterity of Joseph was divided into two tribes, it follows that the host which entered the Land of Canaan under Joshua compre. hended thirteen of these distinct genealogies. Viewed in reference to merely secular rights and duties, however, the offspring of Levi having no part nor lot with their brethren are not usually reckoned in the number; while on other grounds, and chiefly an invincible propensity to idolatrous usages, the tribe of Dan at a later period was sometimes excluded from the list. In the twenty-sixth chapter of the book of Numbers, we have an account of the enrolment which was made on the plains of Moab; from which the numerical strength of the eleven secular tribes may be exhibited as follows:

Joseph, (including Ephraim and Manasseh,)...85,200
Judah,................................................... 76,500
Issachar,............

................................64,300

.............60,500 Asher,.......

.46,400 Benjaming.............................

..................45,600 Naphtali.....

...........45,400

....40,500

...........22,200 This catalogue comprehended all the men above twenty years of age, to which may be added 23,000 of the tribe of Levi, “ all males from a month old and upward : for they were not numbered among

Zebulun, .....

....53,400

Dan,

[ocr errors]

.....43,730

Reuben,.......
Gadg..............
Simeong...........

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the children of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel.” The whole amounted to six hundred-and-six thousand seven hundred.*

In every tribe there was a chief called the Prince of the Tribe, or the Head of Thousands; and under him were the Princes of Families, or Commanders of Hundreds. For example, we find that, at the muster which was made of the Hebrews in the Wilderness of Sinai, Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, was Prince of the Tribe of Judah. This tribe, again, like all the others, was divided into several Families; the term being used here not in its ordinary acceptation, to signify a mere household, but rather in the heraldic sense, to denote a lineage or kindred descended from a common ancestor, and constituting the main branches of an original stock. In this respect the Israelites were guided by the same principle which regulates precedency among the Arabs, as well as among our own countrymen in the Highlands of Scotland.

It appears, moreover, that a record of these Fa. milies, of the households in each, and even of the individuals belonging to every household, was placed in the hands of the chief ruler ; for it is related that, on the suspicion excited with regard to the spoils of Jericho and the discomfiture at Ai, “ Joshua brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken ; and he brought the family of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken ; and he

* Numbers xxvi. 62.

brought his household man by man, and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken."*

We may collect, from the twenty-sixth chapter of the book of Numbers, that the Heads of Families, at the time the children of Israel encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan, were in number fiftyseven. If to these we add the thirteen Princes, the Heads of Tribes, the sum of the two numbers will be seventy; whence there is some ground for the conjectures of those who allege, that the council which Moses formed in the Wilderness consisted of the patriarchal chiefs, who in right of birth were recognised as bearing a hereditary rule over the several sections of the people. · It is probable that the first-born of the senior family of each tribe was usually received as the prince of that tribe, and that the eldest son of every subordinate family succeeded his father in the honours and duties which belonged to the rank of a patriarch. But the sacred narrative presents too few details to permit us to form with confidence any general conclusions in regard to this point. The case of Nahshon, besides, has been viewed as an instance quite irreconcilable with such an opinion; and it certainly seems to prove, that if the Prince of the Tribe was not elective, he was not always, at least, the direct descendant of the original chief. Nahshon, as has just been stated, was the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, who was a younger son of Hezron the son of Pharez, who was a younger son of Judah.t

* Joshua vi. 16, 17, 18.

+ 1 Chron. ü. 10, 11.

From the particulars now stated, we find that every tribe had a Head who presided over its affairs, administered justice in all ordinary cases, and led the troops in time of war. He was assisted in these important duties by the subordinate officers, the Chiefs of Families, who formed his council in such matters of policy as affected their particular district, supported his decisions in civil or criminal inquiries, and, finally, commanded under him in the field of battle.

But the polity established by the Jewish lawgiver was not confined to the constitution and government of the separate tribes. It likewise extended its regulations to the common welfare of the whole, as one kingdom under the special direction of Jehovah ; and provided that on all great occasions they should have the means of readily uniting their councils and their strength. Even during the less orderly period which immediately followed the settlement of the Hebrews in the land of their inheritance, we find traces of such a general government; a national senate, whose deliberations guided the administration of affairs in all cases of difficulty or hazard; a judge, who was invested with a high degree of executive authority as the first magistrate of the commonwealth; and, lastly, the controlling voice of the congregation of Israel, whose concurrence appears to have been at all times necessary to give vigour and effect to the resolutions of their leaders. To these constituent parts of the Hebrew government we may add the Oracle or voice of Jehovah, without whose sanction, as revealed by Urim and Thummim, no mea

« AnteriorContinuar »