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some of the softer as well as stronger passions of our Nature, pushed forward by the delusions of self-interest, being always at hand to defeat or retard the divine sentence denounced against an INCORRIGIBLE People (of which more hereafter). The repetition of Vows, therefore, for the speedier accomplishment of this great and laborious event (just like the repetition of oaths of allegiance in common states for the better security of the establishment) was enjoined, or at least encouraged, by the Leaders of the Jewish people.
Sometimes the Vow was made by the People, in a Body; like that we find in the Book of Numbers-"And Israel vowed a Vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt, indeed, deliver this people [the Canaanites] into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their Cities. And the Lord hearkened unto the Voice of Israel; and delivered up the Canaanites: and they utterly destroyed them and their Cities." Sometimes again, the vow was made by Particulars; by such whose power or situation best qualified them for the execution of this primary COMMAND: and to these, and for this sole purpose, was this strangely mistaken Text directed. "NONE DEVOTED, WHICH SHALL BE DEVOTED OF MEN," (or, as it is explained in the immediately preceding verse,-no devoted thing, which a man shall devote unto the Lord)" shall be redeemed, but shall be surely put to death." These Vows were called the SANCTIFYING OF DEVOTING men or things. In which, indeed, the Language of Religion is employed; and very naturally, for the reason given above. But to prevent the abusive interpretation of such Vows, in the manner of our PHILOSOPHERS, by suffering more of Religion than the mere language to enter into the idea of them, the People are forbidden to extend their vows to what God himself had sanctified, such as the first-fruits.—Only the firstling of the beasts, which (says Moses) should be the Lord's firstling, no man shall sanctify it. But if man was, for this reason, not to sanctify the first-fruits of beasts, much more was he restrained from sanctifying the first-fruits of Man; since the first-fruits of Man were not to be put to death (like those whom human Vows had devoted), but to be redeemed.
In a word, the men here devoted by men, and not to be redeemed, were No SACRIFICES AT ALL, as the first-fruits of the Children of Israel WERE, and, therefore, to be redeemed; but enemies taken in battle, to whom no quarter had been given; and whose lives, by the Law of Arms, were at the disposal of the Conqueror. M. Voltaire's ignorance of the Law of Moses, which occasions him to mistake a MILITARY EXECUTION for a RELIGIOUS Sacrifice, might have been well excused, had he forborne to abuse what he did not understand. But to know his Virgil no better is a disgrace indeed.
"Quis ILLAUDATI nescit Busiridis aras?"
says the great Poet, in plain detestation of human Sacrifices. Yet in the funeral Rites of Pallas, directed by the Hero of the Poem, (the Model of Religious Piety and civil wisdom) the captives taken in war are slain at the lighted Pile, without the least mark of the Poet's censure or disapprobation.
"Vinxerat, et post terga manus quos mitteret umbris
For their lives were forfeited by the Law of Arms, and only taken with a little more ceremony than is, at present, in use: the military execution being often performed at Tombs and Altars: for in the Pagan World,
• Num. xxi. 2, 3.
Lev. xxvii. 29.
↑ Verse 26.
Superstition had occasioned a confused mixture of things, sacred and prophane. But in the Jewish Republic, where the Church and State were incorporated, this commixture made no other confusion than what arises from the mistakes of Men, ignorant of the nature of that Sacred Oeconomy. -Their God was their King; and their government, in consequence, was Theocratical. So that every act of State was in a certain sense, though not in the common one, an act of Religion. Obedience to the Law was inforced by a Vow; and slaughter in and after Battle, a DEVOTEMENT to the Lord of Hosts; in support of the civil command to exterminate the Canaanites.
But besides the singular Form of the Jewish Republic, which brought in the use of this language, the very genius of the People, modelled, indeed, on a theocratic administration, disposed them to improve that mode of speech; so that matters merely civil and domestic are conveyed to us in the style of Religion.
Thus highly coloured, both in the Camp, and in the Temple of the Lord of Hosts, was the language of the Jewish People. Which gave a pretence to the detestable Spinosa, to insinuate, that the whole of the Mosaic Religion consisted only in a SACRED PHRASEOLOGY. Though what he insinuates proves only, yet proves fully, that the DEVOTEMENT in question was a civil not a sacrificial Rite. "Judæi" (says he) "nunquam causarum mediarum sive particularium faciunt mentionem, nec eas curant, sed Religionis ac pietatis, sive ut vulgo dici solet, devotionis causa, ad Deum semper recurrunt. Si enim, ex. gr. pecuniam mercatura lucrati sunt, eam a Deo oblatam aiunt ; si aliquid, ut fit, cupiunt, dicunt, Deum eorum cor disposuisse; si aliquid etiam cogitant, Deum id iis dixisse aiunt," &c.*
Having now examined the pretended PRECEPT or Command; and shewn that it has no relation to HUMAN SACRIFICE, but to quite another thing; we proceed to the EXAMPLE, the case of JEPHTHAH: for, on the Law of human Sacrifices (says the Poet Voltaire) it was, that Jephthah, who sacrificed his Daughter, founded his oath of Devotement.-As this EXAMPLE hath given more alarm to the Friends of Religion than it deserves, and drawn them into forced and unnatural constructions of his rash and foolish Vow, it may be proper to consider the Man and his Manners, fairly and at large.
JEPHTHAH,† a Bastard son of Gilead, by an Harlot, being cast out from a share of his Paternal Inheritance, by the legitimate Issue, took refuge in a strange land. What effects this expulsion must have on his religious Sentiments, we may learn from the case of DAVID; who thus expostulates with Saul, on his exile-"If" (says he) "they be your Counsellors, who have advised you to this unjust usage of me,-cursed be they before the Lord; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, GO, SERVE OTHER GODS." Now, if David, so learned and zealous in the Law, was exposed at least to this inevitable temptation, by his exile in a foreign land, what must we think of Jephthah in similar circumstances? who had nothing of David's knowledge of the Law, and consequently none of his zeal for its support. In this foreign Land, Jephthah associated himself to a dissolute Band of Outlaws, who lived upon rapine and violence: not (it is confessed) the most discreditable profession, in those early ages of barbarous manners. Amongst these men, he soon got to be the leader, and
Tract. Theol. cap. i. This was said by Spinosa in order to decry the MIRACLES recorded in Scripture. But with the usual luck of every attempt of the same kind. For were this very exaggerated account a true one, a stronger proof, of the reality and frequency of Miracles, could hardly be conceived in the nature of things. Since no People but such who had lived under a real THEOCRACY, could have contracted a turn of mind productive of so singular a Phraseology. † Judges xi. xxvi. 19.
a distinguished Chief in all their lawless expeditions. So that his fame for military atchievements filled all the Regions round about.
At this time, the Israelites, in punishment for one of their defections from their God and King, were labouring under the oppression of the idolatrous Borderers. And the Amorites making an excursion into Gilead; the Israelites of this place, as most immediately concerned, sought to provide for themselves, as well as for their brethren (now become repentant), some Leader of superior power and distinguished capacity. And the Reputation of their Kinsman, Jephthah, made them first apply to him.
But Jephthah, with the frank roughness of a soldier of fortune, naturally upbraided them, on this occasion, with their former neglect and injustice, in permitting his father's house so cruelly to cast him out, to want and misery; and now, as meanly, without redressing his injuries, to fly to him in their distress.
They reply, they were now come to make him that amends, by their choice of him for Head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
Jephthah accepts this satisfaction: and an Act is made of their proceedings, according to the religious customs of those times.
All this while, the Republic, the THEOCRACY itself, seems to have been little thought of, by this future Judge of Israel. Indeed the honour of so sacred a station had small charms for our licentious Outlaw.
However, in consequence of the reconciliation, and in pursuance of the Choice which the Gileadites had made of him, for their Head and Leader, he enters on his office. And now, perhaps, for the first time, he observed, towards his enemies, all the punctilios of the Law of Arms.
He sent to know of the Children of Ammon, why they committed hostilities against his countrymen. They answered, that the Israelites had unjustly dispossessed them of their Lands; and that they were now assembled in arms to recover the inheritance of their Fathers. To this, the Bastard of Gilead, like an able Advocate, as well as a determined Chieftain, replied, That when Israel, under the conduct of Moses, had left Egypt, to take possession of the Land, promised to their Forefathers, and now given to them by their GOD, they had craved leave of the intermediate People, and particularly of the Children of Ammon, for a free passage through their Country, according to the Law of Nations, which being denied unto them, they forced their way; and when hostilely opposed, and their enemies overcome battle, they took possession, as, by the Laws of War, they might do, of the Lands of the Conquered. So far was well; and suitable to the dignity of a Judge of Israel.
But, by what follows, it appears, that our famous Adventurer was, as yet, more than half a Pagan; for thus he proceeds-So now the Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his People Israel; and shouldest thou possess it? WILT NOT THOU POSSESS THAT WHICH CHEMOSH, THY GOD, GIVETH THEE TO POSSESS? So whomsoever the LORD, our God, shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.* * This was said, on the Gentile principle of local tutelary Deities, in all the grossness of that notion; not yet refined and rationalized by our Adventurer, on the ideas of the Law. But when he resumes the civil argument, he again reasons better: and very solidly pleads the general law of PRESCRIPTION, in defence of his People.-While Israel (says he) dwelt in Heshbon and her Towns, and in Aroer and her Towns, and in all the Cities that be along, by the Coasts of Arnon, THREE HUNDRED YEARS; Why therefore did ye not recover them WITHIN THAT TIME? But the force of this Argument making no impres† Verse 26.
• Judges xi. 23, 24.
sion, the negotiation ended in an appeal to arms. Jephthah leads out his Troops against Ammon. And, in the Forefront, without doubt, were those faithful Bands, which he had collected and disciplined in the Land of Tob.
The first step he takes to invite Success, was the making an absurd Pagan Vow, that, if he returned with Victory, he would sacrifice, for a burnt-offering to God, whatsoever came first out of the doors of his house* to welcome his return. He came back a Conqueror; and his Daughter, impatient to celebrate his Triumph, being the first who met him, was, for his Oath's sake, (though with extreme regret, because, besides her, he had neither son nor daughter,†) sacrificed for her pains, according to the then established custom of Idolatry; which, on such occasions, required a Sacrifice of what was most dear or precious to the offerer. For, I hardly believe that Jephthah was, at this time, so learned in the Law, as even the Poet Voltaire; or that he had proceeded, like him, so far in the sacred text, as to misunderstand or misinterpret this famous twenty-seventh Chapter of Leviticus, in support of so impious an action. The unhappy father appears, at this time, to understand so little of the Law, as not to be able to distinguish what it had in common with Paganism, (namely the custom of offering eucharistical Sacrifices, on every great and fortunate event) from what it had in direct opposition to it (viz. that dire impiety of human Sacrifice).
The account here given appears to be the natural explanation of a plain Story. But Commentators, full of the ideas of Papal, rather than of the Mosaic times; and paying a blind reverence to the character of a Judge of Israel, make the Daughter, to save her father's honour, return vow for row; and so consecrate herself to a Virgin State. Solutions like these expose Sacred Scripture to the scorn and derision of unbelievers.
But against our account of JEPHTHAH'S Vow, which makes the whole to be conceived and perpetrated on Pagan principles and practices, our adversaries,
1. Bid us observe, that the action is not condemned. A censure, they think, it could not have escaped, had the Sacred Historian deemed it an impiety.
2. That the text tells us further, that Jephthah went out in the Spirit of the Lord, and therefore they conclude, that he returned in the same Spirit.
3. Lastly, that Jephthah is extolled by the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and numbered in the class of sacred Heroes.
To these objections, in their order.
First, They who lay so much stress on the Action's having passed uncensured, consider neither the nature of the Composition, nor the genius of the Historian. The narrative itself is a brief Compendium, or rather extract from the Records of State, entered as things passed, and then laid up in the Archives of their Scribes. In this species of Composition it is not the wont to dwell either on the causes, the qualities, or the consequences of Actions, but simply to tell the naked Facts.
Nor had the Writers of those times improved History into an art. They transcribed or abridged, merely for the sake of the people's information in facts, of what they found recorded in their venerable Archives. This was the case in the story of the lying Prophet, in the affair of the Altar of Bethel. His crime is neither condemned, nor is his punishment recorded. Had the History been a Romance, forged at pleasure, both these particulars had assuredly been dwelt upon at large.
Besides, as the nature and quality of actions are best seen by the Laws
† Verse 34.
↑ Verse 29.
§ Heb. xi. 32.
Judges xi. 31.
1 Kings xiii.
and Customs of the people concerned; and the action in question was well understood, both by the Writer, and his Readers, to be condemned by the Mosaic Ritual, it less needed a Censure. The faithful Followers of the LAW, for whose service this adventure was recorded, wanted no historian of prophetic Authority to tell them, (after they had seen human sacrifices execrated in almost every page of their History) that Jephthah's sacrifice of his Daughter was either an impious imitation of Pagan practices, or an ignorant presumption in the half-paganized Votary, that he was here complying with the famous precept of the Law in Leviticus,* when indeed (as we have shewn at large) it related to quite another thing.
But further, it is not peculiar to this story, to furnish an objection (such as it is) from the sacred Writer's not interposing with his own judgment, concerning the moral quality of the action related. Scripture abounds with instances of this sort; a silence occasioned by one or other of the causes here explained.
2. But Jephthah (which is the second objection) went out in the spirit of the Lord, and therefore (they conclude) he must needs return in the same spirit.
Now though, on a less important occasion, I should be tempted to acquiesce in the Criticism, though not in the spirit, of Spinosa, that this expression was to be put to the account of the sacred phraseology of the Jews; and to mean no more than the strength, the courage, and the address of a consummate leader; yet the language being here applied to a Judge of Israel, and in the actual exercise of his office, I can readily allow that it signifies some supernatural assistance.
But what then? when the work committed to him, and for which he was thus qualified, was well over, we have no reason to suppose that the same spirit constantly rested on him, but very much to conclude the contrary. One of his most illustrious successors, SAMSON, had still a larger share of this divine Spirit imparted to him; yet nobody imagines that it rested with him; when, contrary to the Law, he chose a wife from amongst the Philistines, or revealed the secret intrusted with him to Delilah; delinquencies much less criminal than the Sacrifice of a Daughter.
3. But then, "the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews extols him; and lifts him into the number of the most distinguished of the Jewish Heroes."-But for what is he thus extolled?-For his rash vow? No surely. David is extolled in the same place, and in the same manner. Is it for the murder of Uriah, and adultery with his Wife? Surely neither of the Heroes are extolled for these exploits; but for their FAITH in God, and their zeal for the advancement of the THEOCRACY. So says the Writer himself; where, recapitulating the works and atchievements of FAITH, he goes on, in these words-And what shall I more say, For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak, and of Samson and of JEPHTHAH, of David also and Samuel, &c.t-This FAITH was so active and eminent in DAVID, that, notwithstanding his two gross immoralities, he is called by God himself, A MAN AFTER HIS OWN HEART. For, as this illustrious Title neither covered, nor atoned, for his crimes, so neither did his crimes hinder its being bestowed upon him, when the question only concerned his zeal for the Law and the THEOCRACY; as I have shewn to these Philosophers, on another occasion.
To conclude with JEPHTHAH.-We know, though only in general, that he lived long enough in the exercise of his Ministry, and, consequently, under the occasional guidance of God's holy Spirit, to wipe out all the † Heb. xi. 32.
Lev. xxvii. 29.