Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

of the Judges, 13 a true sanctuary and a real religious centre at Shiloh. It is designated with the distinct names House of God, Abode of the Lord, and Tent of Meeting.' It contained the Ark of the Covenant,"s which symbolised the presence of God,' and bore the mysterious figures of the Cherubim;"7 which was regarded as Israel's most precious treasure, or their “ honour,”18 and accompanied the armies on military expeditions, for their own most powerful protection, and to the consternation of their enemies.19 At Shiloh was “the light of God," burning from evening to morning;21 here the people“ appeared before the Lord,"22 offered up and redeemed vows, killed sacrifices on a holy altar, and consumed the meals of the eucharistic offerings in the society of their families.23 Shiloh was the place of popular assembly for deliberation on national affairs; there met the delegates of the tribes; and there were sometimes the head-quarters of the army.24 The prophet Nathan said to David, in the name of God, I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a Tent and in a Tabernacle”;25 which words confirm the existence of a national place of worship after the time of Moses; and the prophet Jeremiah also mentions Shiloh as the religious centre before the erection of the Temple on Zion, and calls it the place where“ God made His name dwell at first."26_ But all these points do not prove the unity of the sanctuary; they show merely that solemn or religious actions were frequently, perhaps even chiefly, performed at Shiloh, or at the place where the Ark happened to be: that this was not exclusively the case, as would be required by the commandments of the Pentateuch, is abundantly clear from the many deviations and exceptions which have been above pointed out.

Quite analogous is the case with the Levites. We find them at all times after Moses employed for religious offices, often honoured with great confidence, and sometimes consulted on difficult questions; they carried the Ark, and their services for sacred functions were taken with predilection; so that, for instance, Micah, after having obtained a Levite to superintend his domestic worship, exclaimed with joyful satisfaction: “ Now I know that the Lord will do me good, since I have a Levite to be my priest."7 The authority of the Levites grew considerably from the time of Samuel: among the servants of Saul, no Hebrew was found who would lay hands on the priests of Nob; Doeg the Edomite alone showed himself ready to perform the impious deed;28 though Saul himself had so little respect for the class, that he committed at Nob, the town of the priests, a general massacre of men and beasts. 29 Solomon was reluctant to kill the priest Ebiathar, who had joined the usurper Adoniah, “ because he had borne the Ark of the Lord”; yet he deposed him from his priestly office, and expelled him from the capital.30 The same monarch, though himself consecrating the Temple and blessing the people, ordered the Ark and the other holy vessels to be brought into the sacred edifice by priests and Levites ;3' priests were not

13 Judg. xviii. 31.

14 i Sam. i. 7, 21; Judg. xviii. 31; 1 Sam. i. 9; iii. 3; ii. 22.

15 1 Sam. iv.3, etc.
16 Ibid. iv.3, 7, 8; vi. 19.
17 Ibid. iv. 4; 2 Sam. vi. 2.

18 i Sam. iv. 18, 21, 22; comp. Psalm Ixxviii. 60, 61.

19 1 Sam. iv. 3; comp. Num.x. 35. The Ark was, however,temporarily also at Bethel (Judg. xx. 26, 27; xxi. 2, 4), and at other places, as in Gibeon; comp. 1 Chr. xvi. 39; xxi. 29; 2 Chr. i. 3; comp. 1 Ki. iii. 4.

20 i Sam. iii. 3. 21 See on Exod. xxvii. 20, 21; compare Ler. xxiv. 2-4.

22 1 Sam. i. 22; comp. Deut. xvi. 16.

23 i Sam. i. 3, 4, 21; ii. 33; xiv, 3, etc.; comp. Deut. xii, 17, 18.

24 Comp. ver. 10; Josh. xxi. 2; Judg. xviii. 31; xxi. 12, 19.

25 2 Sam. vii. 6.
26 Jer. vii. 12; comp. xxvi. 6.

27 Judg. xvii, 13; see xx, 28; 1 Sam. i. 9; vi. 5; vii. 1; xiv. 3; 2 Sam. xv. 24; 1 Kings viii. 3, 4, 6; comp. Josh. iii. 3; viji. 33; see also Num, xxvii. 19; xxxii. 2; Deut. xxvii. 9; Josh. xvii. 4; Jer. xviii.18.

I Sam, xxii, 18.
29 Ibid. ver. 19.
30 i Kings ii. 26, 27.

1 Kings viii, 3, 4, 6-11.

23

31

seldom the mediators between the king and the people, and the councillors of the crown;' and not long afterwards we find the men of the tribe of Levi as the legal and exclusive servants of the Temple. Then they steadily advanced towards obtaining that prominent position accorded to them in the Pentateuch, which, for instance, appoints them the judges in all difficult cases, and enjoins the punishment of death upon every disregard shown for their decisions;; for “the priests, the sons of Levi, the Lord hath chosen to minister to Him, and to bless in the name of the Lord, and by their word shall every controversy and every offence be tried”;" till their condition entirely cortesponded with the enthusiastic praise bestowed upon them in the blessing of Moses: “ They shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel Thy law; they shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon Thy altar”; they became ultimately the regular and appointed instructors of the people in the precepts of Mosaism; and the respect entertained for them deepened into veneration and spontaneous submission.

Hence we may thus briefly sketch the progress of the tribe of Levi. The first solid foundation for its future distinction was laid by the noble character and brilliant genius of Moses. One of the chief objects of his attention was the regulation of the religious affairs of his people. This task was peculiarly arduous at a time when the Hebrews had largely imbibed the idolatrous notions of the pagans, and were with difficulty restrained from superstitious worship. But it appears that Moses was in his plans vigorously supported by the members of his tribe.? The memory of this laudable co-operation is preserved in the narrative of the zeal with which, after the worship of the golden-calf, the Levites seized the sword to punish the offenders, and to vindicate the glory of the only God of Israel, when, subduing their dearest human feelings, they slew “ every man his son, and every man his brother.” Some such act was considered as their initiation in the sacred covenant with God, and as a claim to His peculiar blessing; and the song of Moses alludes to it with unmistakable terms: "Levi said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; he did not acknowledge his own brothers, nor know his own children; for they have observed the word of God, and kept His covenant." When, therefore, the men of Levi, after the immigration into Canaan, failed to secure territorial property, because the warlike part of the tribe hazarded wild and suicidal expeditions resulting in all but total destruction, the remaining more peaceful part followed, with enhanced energy, in the path traced out by their great model, their leader and legislator. Compelled to seek a scanty subsistence in all parts of the country, they availed themselves of their dispersion for obtaining a legiti. mate influence in religious matters. And it may be easily imagined, that many Israelites, and more especially the chiefs of the families, absorbed as they were by their agricultural and domestic pursuits, and not unfrequently engaged in protracted wars, gladly entrusted the management of their sacrifices and other sacred duties to men who had exhibited sincerity and eagerness in upholding the purity of faith, and who, without property and worldly cares, seemed anxious to extend and to strengthen the religious institutions. Thus the Levites were gradually substituted for the firstborn sons, with respect to the priestly functions originally devolving upon the latter. But the Levites did not obtain these valuable prerogatives without serious opposition. In the first place, they were not free from jealousy within their own tribe. The elder branches of them, the Aaronites, had reserved for themselves the performance of all higher rites, especially at the common national sanctuary, the interior of which they claimed as their exclusive sphere of action; while they admitted the other lin of the

[ocr errors]

1 2 Sam. xix, 12; 1 Ki. i. 7, 39; iv. 4.

Comp. Joel i. 9, 13, 16; ii. 14, 17, etc. 3 Deut. xvii. 8-13. * Deut. xxi. 5; comp. 1 Chr. xxiii. 4. * Deut. xxxiii, 10; comp. 2 Chr. xix. ll.

6 2 Chr. xvii. 7-9; Mal. ii. 37.
? Comp. 1 Sam. ii. 28.
& Exod. xxxii. 26-29.
9 Deut. xxxiii. 9.
10 Exod. xiii. 2, 13; sce supra, p.505.

house of Levi to the inferior offices only, and regarded them as their subordinate servants." The dissatisfaction of the latter is reflected in the rebellion of Korah, who demanded equal privileges with the most favoured of his kinsmen;'2 though even Samuel, who was no Aaronite, without obstacle or censure, entirely acted in the capacity of priest. But further, the increasing spiritual power of the Levites naturally roused, in a still higher degree, the animosity of many Israelites, who were unwilling altogether to renounce a most essential part of their dignity and authority; and that adverse feeling was, of course, strongest in the firstborn tribe of Reuben, which, if any part of the people was to be singled out for the priesthood of the nation, was pre-eminently entitled to such distinction; whence we find, in the history of Korah, besides the two hundred and fifty Israelites who embraced his plans, “princes of the congregation, men of fame and renown,” three Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram, and On, expressly named as the chiefs and instigators of the sedition."— The growing influence of the Levites was further materially retarded, if not checked, from another side, namely, by the activity of the prophets. This circumstance was most fortunate for the Hebrew commonwealth, and ultimately proved no less beneficial for the stability of the Levitical institutions. The tendency to an oppressive spiritual supremacy, which seems inseparable from a permanent and hereditary priesthood, was during a long period successfully counteracted by those free and enlightened teachers, who insisted upon piety of the heart rather than rigid ceremonies, who incessantly diffused fresh and fruitful ideas, and thus happily obviated a stagnation of religious life invariably resulting from a prematurely fixed final standard of religious thought. The prophets, drawing their lessons from the eternal sources of the mind, fettered by no conventional form, and eager to spread that truth and virtue which are the common ends of all mankind, constantly corrected, enlarged, and refined, the current notions, till the latter assumed that degree of purity which recommended them as an excellent basis of national faith, and took a hold on the people strong enough to spiritualise and to render innoxious even a complicated system of rituals. Hence it may be accounted for, that the priesthood attained its greatest developnient only when the prophetic element of the nation fell into dissolution and decay; that a degeneracy of priests and prophets was usually simultaneous, and was in both deplored as an equal calamity for the nation ;* that for a long time the former listened to the authority of the latter, and, to avoid conflicts, adopted their advice and warning; but that at last the priests, not unfrequently supported by the strong arm of the kings, felt assurance and power enough obstinately to oppose their will to that of the prophets, and if arguments failed, to have recourse to material force and persecution.' Thus the blessing of Moses, addressed to Levi, could conclude with the menacing and confident words, “Smite the loins of those who rise against him, and of those who hate him, that they may rise no more." 16

IV. JUDAH, VERS. 8–12. After describing the deplorable and certainly insignificant political condition of the eldest tribes, the poem proceeds to delineate with glowing colours, and with fervid enthusiasm, the eminence, the glory, and brilliant prosperity of Judah, manifest by a slight glance at its history.

From very remote times the men of Judah exercised a certain preponderance in the Hebrew nation. On the wanderings through the desert, after the exodus from Egypt,

11 Num. xviii. 2.
12 Num. xvi. I, et seq.
13 Num. xvi. 2.
11 Mic. iii. 11; Jer. v. 31; vi. 13; xxiii.

11; Lament. iv. 13; Ez. xxii. 6; Zephı. iii. 4.

Is Comp. Jer. xx.; Xxvi. 7, et seq., etc. 16 Deut. xxxii, 11.

they marched before all the other tribes. They long owed this authority to their acknowledged power as a community, rather than to the prominent distinction of individual members; the earliest chiefs were not chosen from their ranks; they unmurmuringly recognised the leadership of the Levite Moses, the Ephraimite Joshua, and the Benjamite Saul; yet in difficult or national schemes, the initiative was willingly entrusted to their hands; and each successive undertaking fortified their own strength and the reliance of the Hebrews in their singleness of purpose and unwavering energy. At the conquest of Canaan, they were the first to secure property and to expel or subdue the heathens; and on that occasion they achieved memorable feats of heroism faithfully preserved in the records of the nation. With an honourable disinterestedness, they assisted the weaker tribes in their wars for the acquisition of territory. When Benjamin had provoked the vengeance of the brother tribes, they were appointed as the first to march out in the federal army. From them sprung Othniel, the first Judge of Israel," who obtained glorious victories over the distant and mighty nations of Mesopotamia; and the circumstance that they gave, perhaps, no other Judge to the people, may justly be adduced as a proof of their advancing power, since Judges arose only when external dangers or internal confusion was to be averted by a strong administration, such as was ordinarily enjoyed by Judah. From a kindred reason, this tribe is scarcely mentioned in the subsequent periods of the Judges; it is passed over in the song of Deborah, certainly not because it was too unimportant, but because it had then already assumed an independent position in reference to the other tribes, and could rely upon its own power for safety and progress, With its habitual moderation, it subordinated itself to the young and small tribe of Benjamin, when the people, anxious for monarchical government, had accepted Saul as the first king. But when the latter showed his incapacity for a firm and beneficent rule, the tribe of Judah did not hesitate to come forward and to claim the prerogative due to it by its healthful and vigorous condition, and ultimately accorded to it after a long and determined warfare with its rivals. David was, at last, proclaimed king over all Israel,and his reign heralded the most brilliant epoch in the history of the Hebrews; he made their name respected over a large part of Asia; he inspired them with a wholesome self-respect, which expanded their energies and raised their aims and hopes; he enlarged the boundaries of the realm, and knew how to defend them; he brought the surrounding nations, so long a scourge and a terror to Canaan, under his sceptre; he founded a commonwealth, which could proudly take rank among the great empires of the East; and he laid a strong political basis for the growth of those truths and ideas which secured to the Israelites an imperishable monument in history, and made them the instructors of the human race. The work commenced by David was worthily continued by his gifted

Solomon added splendour to the solidity of the preceding reign; he knew how to apply the treasures, accumulated by his father, and how to acquire even greater wealth by the enterprises of navigation and commerce; he created a lasting centre of religious worship by building a magnificent temple, round which a large part of the piety, learning, and intelligence of the nation gradually rallied, and which proved a safeguard against a permanent relapse into ignorance and superstition; he encouraged literature, and was himself one of its most successful cultivators; he gave, in a word, an effectual impulse to all the arts that adorn, and the intellectual pursuits which refine the mind. At no time of their existence could the Hebrews look with greater satisfaction upon the affairs of their country than in the middle of Solomon's reign, when peace prevailed at home and abroad, powerful kings courted their alliance, the national resources were flourishing and vastly increasing, when agriculture obtained its due

son.

I Num. ii. 3; x. 14.
? Judg. i. 1-20.
3 Judg. xx. 18.

* Judg. ii. 9, 10.
5 2 Sam. v. 1-5.

Comp. 2 Sam. viji, 1–14.

[ocr errors]

share of attention, and the graces of civilization spread a charm of beauty over public and social life. To this time refers the chief portion of the words which in our poem are addressed to Judah. His royal dignity; the willing submission of the other tribes, rejoicing in his glory, because it partially redounds on themselves; the complete prostration of heathen nations; the tranquillity and peace with which, like an unapproachable lion, he enjoys the fruit of his victories;? the abundance of the most precious produce of the soil, and of other property: all this is so clearly and forcibly expressed in the blessing that it scarcely requires further elucidation.

But several weighty circumstances rendered it impossible that Judah should retain the undisputed dominion for a considerable period. Simultaneously with Judah, the tribe of Ephraim had steadily grown in authority and organisation, by a series of events which we have before attempted to trace (see pp.487—493). It was hence but natural that the Ephraimites, always aspiring and conscious of their importance, should eagerly avail themselves of the least weakness or mistake on the part of Judah, to vindicate their independence, and to undermine the power of their rival. When, therefore, the latter half of Solomon's reign exhibited symptoms of decline, and when the accession of the following king, Rehoboam, was accompanied with acts devoid of all wisdom and discretion; Ephraim proclaimed its own sovereignty, which was readily acknowledged by nine other tribes. The question, which of the two kingdoms would gain the predominance, might for some time have appeared seriously doubtful. In territorial extent,'° in numerical strength, and in the possession of cities of ancient sacredness, such as Shiloh, Gilgal, and Bethel, Ephraim was decidedly superior to Judah; and the ambition of the new dynasty left no doubt that it would fully avail itself of such important advantages. On the other hand, the kingdom of Judah enjoyed a concentration and unity which proved mighty bulwarks of strength; its citizens had inherited the manly sense of independence which had always distinguished their forefathers; they had in their midst the Temple, which, by keeping alire their religious feelings, steeled their moral courage, and beneficially influenced their life and conduct; and they were, by two long and successful reigns, fully accustomed to the rights and duties of monarchical government. When, therefore, by the co-operation of the prophet Ahijah, and most probably by a public proclamation at Shiloh, his native town and for centuries the place of general or national assemblies," the division was accomplished, and the power of both kingdoms appeared so equally balanced that the subjection of one of them by the other could only be realised by a desperate and destructive war; the moderate and prudent men of Israel reasonably wished that both realms should recognise and respect each other, and, without mutual envy, pursue their own growth and advancement. This is the point of view from which our address is to be understood: The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, even if many flock to Shiloh, and join the crown of Joseph. In this sense we interpret those words, which from the earliest times have been a subject of the most vehement dispute, and which have called forth an incredible variety of expositions. The spirit of our passage may therefore be best illustrated by the following words, which, in the First Book of Kings, the prophet Ahijah addresses to Jeroboam: “ To his (David's] son will I give one tribe, that David My servant may have a light always before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Me, to let My name dwell there. And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. ... And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not for ever.” In fact, Judah

» 13

7 Comp. 1 Ki. v. 5.
8 Comp. Num. xiii. 23, 24; Joel i. 7,

Cant. i. 14.
9 Comp. 1 Sam. xxv. 2;

Am. i. 1; 2 Chron. xxvi, 10.

el seq.;

19 Comp. Josh. xv, and p. 487.
" See p. 509; comp. 1 Ki. xiv. 2, et seq.
12 Comp. vers. 10 and 26.
13 i Ki. xi. 36-39.

L L

« ElőzőTovább »