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EXODUS XIX. 1. - XXIII. 33.
ConstituTION OF THE HEBREW STATE, BEFORE UNDER THE
Law. – THE ISRAELITES AN AGRICULTURAL PEOPLE. CoNFEDERATION OF THE TRIBES. — Jewish OFFICERS IN EGYPT. — Magis. TRACY IN THE WILDERNESS. — PROGRESSIVE CHARACTER OF THE LEGISLATION, CONNECTED WITH THE JOURNAL CHARACTER OF THE RECORD. – SECULAR CHARACTER OF SOME OF THE LAWS. - Cox
THE DECALOCUE, AND OF THE REST OF THE CODE ANNOUNCED [POS Mount Sinai. — INCOMPLETENESS OF THE Sys.
- MINUTE AND RUDE CHARACTER OF SOME PROVISIOXS. The MANNER OF PROMULGATING THE LAW, SUITABLE TO GIVE IT AUTHORITY.
The Israelites within three months after leaving Egypt, as soon as they could become in some degree accustomed to their new condition, are conducted to Mount Sinai, to receive, with suitably impressive accompaniments, the Law, which, through their whole future national existence, was to be the basis of their civil and religious institutions. It is proper that we should here attend to some important general characteristics of the Mosaic legislation ; and I would preface my remarks upon these with a few observations on the constitution of the Jewish society, as the Law found it, and as the Law was designed to shape it.
The constitution of any community, in respect to the relations which its members bear to one another, is perhaps determined by nothing so much, as by the prevailing occupations of that community.
The Jews were an agricultural people. — At no period of their history did they gain their subsistence, like
the aborigines of this country, by the chase; an unsettled mode of life, which forbids the growth of civilization, and the organization of a well regulated society.
- At no early period of their history were they addicted to those pursuits of commerce, which, leading to extensive intercourse with other nations, tend to destroy a people's individuality, and, by causing large accumulations of wealth in the hands of successful adventurers, produce inequality of ranks. — At no period were they extensively employed in mechanical arts, an occupation which is apt to make a people quiescent and unwarlike. To whatever degree they exercised these arts in Egypt, it appears to have been by a temporary necessity of their enslaved condition. Artisans they had in the wilderness, but the way in which they are spoken of, in the thirty-first chapter, is alone enough to indicate, that their occupation was peculiar to a few; and, even at much later periods, such incidental references as we have to the subject,* indicate that the needful manufacturing processes were carried on only in families.
The Jews were, through their whole national history, graziers and agriculturists. Their three great patriarchs led a nomadic life, as we read at length in the book of Genesis. When Jacob went down into Egypt, his family was established in a fixed residence in Goshen, for the advantage of pasturage for his flocks and herds; † and, when they were transferred from Egypt to Canaan, that territory was divided among them in such a manner, as to make every man a permanent landholder; and the inclination to commercial employments, which their central position might else have encouraged, was effectually checked by some specific enactments for
* 1 Chron. iv. 21; Prov. xxxi. 24. + Gen. xlv. 10; xlvii. I et seq.
Both the arrangements last named, designed to make and keep the Jews an agricultural people, will hereafter attract our more particular attention. At present I have but to remark, that they laid (particularly the former) the basis of the Jewish social state, in the principle of equality among the citizens. Every citizen was the possessor of an entailed inalienable landed property; every cultivator was himself a proprietor; a principle, which, under whatever varieties of formal administration, would seem most effectually to secure the spirit and essence of a republic.
At the time of the Exodus, we find the aggregate nation made up of a confederacy of twelve tribes or clans, named after their respective ancestors, the twelve sons of Jacob.
These formed together a federate sovereignty, which may be compared to the districts of Greece in ancient times, or more correctly, though still imperfectly, to the Cantons of Switzerland in our own day, to the late States of Holland, to the clans of Scotland before the union, or to the United States of Americą. We shall presently read of the tribes having their several princes, their separate military organization, their distinct encampments, and eventually their respective territories in the Holy Land. We shall read, in the sequel of the history, of single tribes, or alliances of them, carrying on war on their own account,* and we shall have occasion to explain some of the most important political movements, on the ground of jealousies and rivalships between these sections of the nation.
From the little that is told us of the period intervening between the settlement of Jacob in Egypt, and the emancipation of his posterity under Moses, we do not learn how far the people were trusted with any administration of their own affairs. It may be sup
Josh. xvii. 14-18; Judges iv. 10; 1 Chron. iv. 41 – 43; v. 18 - 22.
posed, that, dwelling together, as for the most part they seem to have done, in one community, their convenience would dictate arrangements, which would be prescribed, authorized, or tolerated by their rulers, for investing suitable individuals of their own number with some kind of official prerogative. Accordingly, as early as the time when the first movement towards emancipation was made, we find certain Israelites, sustaining this relation to the people, made instruments of Pharaoh's oppressions. Beside these, we are not expressly told of any Jewish officers before Moses' appointment of Judges agreeably to Jethro's advice. It is highly probable, however, that there was already, or soon after, something in the nature of representative government; so far, at least, as to allow of convenient mutual consultation on matters of common concern.
Moses is said to have assembled and addressed “ all the congregation,” † by which can hardly be meant the whole congregated people, (for they were too numerous to be addressed at once,) but rather persons authorized to listen and act in their behalf. In another place he is represented as speaking “in the ears of all the congregation of Israel ”;but in the second preceding verse, he is only said to have collected, in order to this communication, “all the elders of their tribes, and their officers.” § This last text, where it speaks of the “ elders ” of the tribes, confirms a supposition, which independently would be extremely natural, that whatever representation existed was not so much of formal institution, as of a conventional patriarchal character. *
* Called in Hebrew dimmi ; a word which our translators commonly render “officers,” but generally, on the authority of the Septuagint, (ypade ja tiis) "scribes." Lev. viii. 3-5.
| Deut. xxxi. 30. Ś So too Deut. xxix. 2. Compare 10, where, however, the sense is obscured in the English version by the interpolation of the italicized word, with. In Numbers i. 16, xvi. 2, Michaelis even proposes, with some plausibility, at least, to render "p, wp, instead of " famous," and "renowned,” called; that is, called of the congregation, or deputed.
That progressive character of the Jewish Law, on which, assuming its existence, I have heretofore made some remarks, here forces itself upon our notice. The establishment of the code in all its details was a work of time. Supposing it even to have proceeded entirely and immediately from the Divine Mind, still it was fit, for the people's sake, that they should first be made acquainted with its leading principles; and subsequently, and by degrees, with their forms and modes of particular application. Supposing, on the other hand, the agency of Moses in respect to it to have been such as I suggested on a former occasion,t then we should expect, that its outline would be first conceived and promulgated by him, and that, by the benefit of further experience, it would be amended, retrenched, and enlarged. And in either case we should expect, for obvious reasons, what we are actually to find, as we proceed ; viz. that in many instances laws would be first announced when an incident occurred to call for them, and that exceptions and alterations would be made, from time to time, agreeably to changing circumstances.
We may accordingly clearly distinguish, as I think, in the last four books of the Pentateuch, three separate editions, so to call them, of the Law. The final revision appears in the book of Deuteronomy, where, the people being about to occupy a settled habitation, whatever in the Law was peculiar to the exigencies of a wandering life in the wilderness, lost its use, and
* The same is the inference to which we are led by Exod. iv. 29, xix. 7.
† pp. 145 - 148.