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We have seen, from time to time, that it was not the spirit of the Law to encourage free-will offerings.* In the next following chapter, we find a short series of regulations, tending (while they secured the integrity of all who should choose to make vows, whether relating to the dedication of some gift, or to some ascetic observance,)t to diminish their frequency, and especially to obviate the inconvenience of their being made by persons so situated, that the cost of their fulfilment would fall upon others. If a person in an independent condition made a vow, (alike a woman, widow or divorced, as a man of full age,) he made it on his own responsibility, and he must keep it. If it was made by one in a relation of dependence, a wife, or an unmarried daughter, who might make it lightly, as not being personally liable for the cost, it was of no binding force, unless the husband or father were acquainted with it, and either expressly, or by silence, testified his consent at the time. His consent at the time made the vow his own, which he was not afterwards at liberty to retract; § otherwise he would have been tempted to negligence on the subject, and the priests, or any others interested, might be wronged. The married woman who made a vow, and became a widow before the time for its fulfilment, was liable or not upon the same principles ; that is, if her husband had assented, her engagement continued good against herself, and, without doubt, being construed as his own engagement, was a lawful incumbrance on the
bullocks offered on the seven successive days, amounted to the number of seventy, a favorite number with the Jews. It has been estimated, (Lowman's “Rational of the Ritual” &c., p. 205,) that if the yearly expense of the national sacrifices were assessed equally upon the twelve tribes, the sum payable annually by each, would, at a liberal computation, amount to less than five hundred dollars. pp. 308, 330,
# Numb. xxx. 2, 13. | xxx. 3-9.
ġ xxx. 15.
property he had left; if he had dissented, she and his estate were free.* The case of male children, continuing members of their father's family, is not treated. It is probable, that in mere boyhood a person was not capable of making a legal vow, and that after that period he was bound, as he was able, to provide for himself the means of executing whatever vow he made. It can hardly be supposed, (though such, without authority from the text, has been the exposition of some commentators,) that the observance of the vow of an ignorant and thoughtless child would be exacted when he should arrive at full age.
Hitherto such contests as we have seen the Israelites engaged in, appear to have been of a defensive character, according to the strictest acceptation of that phrase. We are now to read of an assault of theirs upon a neighbouring tribe, the Midianites; and questions present themselves respecting the justifiableness of that assault, and of the manner in which it was conducted. We are told, that Moses received a divine command to “avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites,” that is, to punish the Midianites for their recent treachery ; that, in pursuance of this command, he despatched a party of twelve thousand men, who attacked some of the cities of that people, put to death a portion of its male population, and returned with numerous prisoners (women and children), and a large booty of beeves, asses, and sheep; and that Moses commanded an indiscriminate slaughter of the women of adult age, and the male children, and a retention of the female children as slaves, prescribing also the principles of a division of all the spoil.
In conducting this argument, I wave any benefit which may be supposed to be derived from the representation, that the whole, or a part, of these transactions, took place by virtue of a divine command. When it is urged, that the acts were morally wrong, and therefore, being inconsistent with the character of God, were not done by the authority of any delegate of his, the apologist of the Mosaic records. reasons in a vicious circle, if he replies, that a divine command determines the character of an act, and that accordingly the acts in question, being commanded by God, were right.
* Numb. xxx. 10-13.
† xxxi. 1-47.
Was it right, then, upon acknowledged principles, for the Israelites, under the existing circumstances, to attack the people of Midian? This, I think, is a question which needs not detain us long.
When I say, “acknowledged principles,” I am of course understood to mean, principles acknowledged by those who regard self-defence as the first law of nature, both for individuals and communities; a law, nowhere abrogated in Scripture. To enter into the controversy here with such as hold a different opinion, would be to write what would be superfluous for the great mass of Christians.
Of the lawful causes of war, none is more unanimously asserted by the writers upon public law, than an attempt, on the part of one community, against the political institutions, and so against the integrity and internal peace of another. A just war, no doubt, must be a defensive war. But a wise and effectual selfdefence does not begin when the arm of violence is actually uplifted, and the assailed stands powerless before it. In order, even, to be merciful to the antagonist, it will often be best to anticipate his action, when his injurious purpose has been ascertained. So against that enemy, which, without having itself unsheathed the sword, has attempted to overthrow the government of
a country, and bring on it the ruin of anarchy and civil conflict, all the rights of war, as universally understood, take effect.* That which in our times would be done by a nation, which should send emissaries into another nation to preach rebellion, was done, in the instance before us, by the Midianites against the people of Israel. They endeavoured to withdraw that people from their allegiance, and thus not only to remove the principles of all their union, prosperity, and peace, but to prepare them to become an easy conquest for their own arms.
But though self-protection is the right and the duty of individuals and of nations, vengeance (properly so called) is not the duty nor the right of either. Violent measures are justified, so far as they are necessary for security, (present and future,) and not a step further. What degree and kind of violent procedure existing circumstances may thus render necessary, is a question, without doubt, which men are liable to determine wrong, their judgment being subject to be swayed, in such cases, by their passions. But the principle is none the less clear, on account of one or another erroneous application which may be made of it. In the present instance, the national existence of the Israelites, and ultimately the lives of themselves and their children, (not to speak of the accomplishment of the great peculiar objects which their national separation was designed to promote,) depended on their being secure against such treacherous attempts as had lately been made. Under the circumstances, it had become allowable and requisite for them to do all that was needful, to guard against the repetition of such.
* It would be useless to multiply authorities, which might be had, to an indefinite extent, by turning to the approved writers on international jurisprudence. See (instar omnium) Vattel, “ Droit des Gens” &c., livre 2, Sġ 49-57.
How much, then, was needful to that end? This is the question that remains; and, keeping this statement of it distinctly in view, I suppose that we may come to a solution of the problem of the consistency of Moses' conduct, on this occasion, with the character which ostensibly he bore.
If it is right to wage war at all, it is not only right to wage it in such a manner as will effect its object, but it would be wrong to wage it in any other manner. War is, of its nature, the infliction of suffering in order to an ulterior good. The infliction of any degree of suffering is unjustifiable, except so far as it tends to that result. And if, in the prosecution of a war, the measures adopted are of such lenity, as to be unsuitable to produce the contemplated end of protection for the present, and security for the future, the mitigated evil becomes then uncompensated, causeless, unjustifiable evil. It is not mercy; it is cruelty and crime.
No principle is clearer than this to the eye of reason, nor more familiarly recognised in the proceedings of communities, especially in the '
usages of war; though, when any application of it, however wise and just, leads to severities which we are not accustomed to think of as belonging to the necessity of the case, our feelings are naturally shocked. It is the business of humanity to keep continually in view a mitigation of the miseries of war, and to induce nations to settle their disputes at less cost to one another. But, as long as forcible defence continues to be necessary against profligate invasion, so long the force exerted ought to be terrible enough to accomplish its eventually merciful end.
The principle not only bears upon the general system of the conduct of wars, but has a righteous application to its details. — A small garrison, for example, with the advantage of its fortifications, might put to death