James Frederick McCurdy.

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Judah was at the enthronement of David, his nearest
parallel and his great model. This, also, must be num-
bered among the achievements of David, that he placed
Judah politically a century ahead of the rest of Israel.

§ 530. The great problem of domestic government,
already partly solved in Judah, was not essentially dif-
ferent from that which pressed upon the tribesmen in the
time of the Judges. New divisions, based upon many dif-
ferent sorts of conditions, chiefly geographical and phys-
ical, had arisen. These had now taken the place of the
boundaries which had been allotted to the colonists of
the several tribes. These districts, larger or smaller, were
arranged for purposes of military conscription, of tax-col-
lecting, and above all of judicial trials and religious con-
vocations. Their administration naturally challenged the
attention of the kings, just as they had taxed the energies
of the " Judges." We cannot say in detail what these
divisions were. The greater and the lesser alike must
have fluctuated continually in the northern kingdom, at
least till after the era of Omri. We have already tried to
get a glimpse at the larger movements which effaced the
old, largely theoretical, tribal partition (§ 272, 275). But
it is particularly interesting to note at this point that
at the death of Saul it was not the " tribes " that rallied to
the support of his son Ish-baal against David, but Abner
" made him king over Gilead and over the Asherites ^ and
over Jezreel and over Ephraim and over Benjamin" (2 Sam.
ii. 9). From this statement we learn that only the tribes
nearest Judah were distinguished by name, while for the
outlying members territorial designations were employed
in comprehensive groupings.^ This fact alone may suggest

1 So read for" " Ashurites." The termination instead of the mere
tribal name shows that what the writer had in view was the people clus-
tering around " Asher."

2 The people of Israel north of Jezreel were " Asherites." " Gilead "
comprehended Israel east of the Jordan. " Jezreel " stands for Lssachar
and Western Manasseh. Dan and Simeon had long lost any tribal signifi-


the grave difficulties of government and the practical
issues to be faced. What David and Solomon did and
failed to do in the way of general organization we have
lately observed (§ 522 ff.). That much progress was
made during the forty years of semi-anarchy it is hard to
believe. What was done was to weld more firmly together
those communities which here and there were accustomed
to act together in times of trial. With the attainment of a
stable central government under Onni, it may be assumed
that the administrative divisions, at least those contained
within Ephraim, Manasseh, and Issachar, were established
by royal edict.

§ 531. Now we have only to add one class of officials
to those who had already been recognized in the more
formative preceding period (§ 48G ff.). In addition to the
city elders and local judges we meet now with the
" princes "' of the larger districts. Distinct allusions to
them are rare, but we find them plainly referred to in the
reign of Omri's successor as the " princes of the prov-
inces" (1 K. XX. 14 ff.). It appears from the references
that each of these lieutenants of the king made his own
muster of troops for the' defence of the kingdom, and that
these were preferable as a forlorn hope to the body-guard
of the king (cf. § 520). Their other main functions are
not difficult to determine. They " judged " cases of appeal
from the local elders and judges, and passed on the most
important to the king himself. They looked after the
raising: of the revenue, throucrh subordinate district agents.
They took care of the lands of the priests and the sacred
shrines. They regulated the religious convocations of the
centres of worship. They were, we may presume, in many
cases favourites of the king, holding life appointments for
service to him or to the state. At first they were often
the representatives, by descent or election, of the old chiefs

cance they once possessed. When the names of single tribes are used
hereafter in the Old Testament, except in genealogical references, the usage
is political or territorial, not gentile in the strict sense.



of tribes or clans. About them, as about the king himself
in his capital, clustered and throve a caste of nobles, often
alluded to as "chiefs" and "heads" of the people, who, by
virtue of their landed possessions and their growing bands
of retainers, exercised a sort of feudal authority, judicial
as well as military and industrial.

§ 532. We are at length prepared in some measure to
understand the social as well as the political condition of
Israel in the times most fully known to us. From the
days of Ahab onwards the inner life of the people is pre-
sented to us with realistic power and detail, partly through
the practical homely discourses of the Prophets, and partly
because of the interest given to the internal history of both
kingdoms by the prophetic way of looking at society and
politics (§ 14, 214, 295 ff.). The stovj, as it unfolds itself,
is henceforth less of a compilation or series of reminis-
cences, and more of a contemporary portraiture. Through
it we obtain a nearer acquaintance with the times and the.
lives and manners of the people.

§ 533. Our previous inquiries, imperfect as they have
been, have furnished us with at least an outline of the
domestic, social, and political system of Israel. We have
learned, moreover, to see not merely that certain qualities
and institutions were peculiar to the Semites, and more
especially to the Hebrews, but also that in all these three
regions of the early history there was a notable progress
or development. We are now struck by certain salient
features of both the narrative and prophetical picture of the
condition of Israel in the ninth and eighth centuries before
our era. We observe that while on the religious side there
was a prevailing degeneration with occasional attempts at
reform, there was in public life, and in that vitally impor-
tant region where social and private conduct and motive
intersect and interact, a steadily increasing moral laxity
and degradation. If we ask, who are aimed at in the
bitter denunciations and the stern reprobation that point
the moral of the tale, we naturally assume that the whole


of the people are transgressors of the divine law and the
consequent victims of the divine justice. But a brief con-
sideration shows that this is an error. Just as at an early-
stage of this fateful era there were seven thousand men
who had not bowed the knee to Baal, so there was never
lacking a remnant who kept their faith with Jehovah and
their brethren. Who, then, are the incriminated objects
of the divine displeasure ? Who were those that were
undermining the state and imperilling the very existence
of Israel ? It was the leaders of societj^ the powerful, the
wealthy, the noble. The afflicted and the needy are never
arraigned like the judges and the rulers of the people.
How these men of influence gained their position and how
they used their power are questions vital to the under-
standing of the most critical periods of Old Testament

§ 534. The inner changes in the spirit and life of Israel
were due in large measure to corresponding changes in the
relations of the governed and governing classes. Yet after
the time of David there was no change in the political
constitution or in the popular conceptions of the rights of
rulers of any grade or function. In practice as in theory
the king was always absolute. We have manifold repre-
sentations in the Old Testament of kingship both actual
and ideal, and no higher conceptions of a good king have
ever been given to the world than those which are pre-
sented in the proverbial wisdom of the Hebrews. But no
constitutional obligations were laid upon any one of the
rulers, nor any restriction put upon his arbitrary authority.^
Whether they could most fairly be symbolized by the olive,
the fig, the vine, or the bramble of Jotham's famous para-
ble (Jud. ix. G ff.), their good or their bad conduct alike
was the expression of their own sweet will. Kings, strictly
speaking, did not need advisers. Young princes like Absa-
lom or Rehoboam mi^ht seek counsel. Older nionarehs
were apparently independent of it ; none were bound to

1 See Note ] in appendix.


defer to it. These considerations bring out in clearest
light the much misunderstood warnings of the first king-
maker. Samuel told his people that if they would have a
king they would make the choice at their peril, and his
gloomy prognostications of " the manner of the king that
should reign over them " (1 Sam. viii. 9 ff.) were justified
on the simple ground that unchecked power tends to make
men despots and unlimited opportunity to make them
unscrupulous. Perhaps the wonderful thing, after all, is
not that the evil kings of Israel and Judah should have
been so numerous, but that there should have been any
kings at all of a high and noble type.

§ 535. There was, of course, one supreme sanction
whose tremendous obligation should not fail to solemnize
and humble any one of Israel's kings, — the duty of defer-
ence to Jehovah as his vicegerents and servants. And in
truth the sphere of religion formed an exception to the
rule that the king did not brook control or even seek for
counsel. The king resorts to the priests and prophets
for divine oracles, and even performs sacrifices himself.
For Jehovah is above the king, and the prophet or priest
who communicates the oracles is by the nature of the case
superior in his own proper sphere. But this exceptional
relation served in its frequent abuse only to heighten the
arrogance of the monarch and to increase his chances of
augmenting his prerogative.^ Through it he was tempted
to make tributary to him the whole priestly class and the
guilds of the prophets, whose support would not only add
to his prestige, but further his schemes of personal and
political aggrandizement.

§ 536. We have thus incidentally come upon a class of
officials formally independent of the king, and yet morally
responsible, like him, for the government or misgovernment

1 The earlier kings who midei'took upon occasion to offer sacrifices
themselves, were in the very nature of the case not absolutely dependent
on the priesthood for their knowledge of the will of Jehovah. After the
priestly class became more distinct and powerful they are found in both of


of the country. If we seek for other examples, let us recall
what has been said (§ 486 ff.) of the orders of men in Israel
who bore a share in the administration of its internal affairs
— the city elders, the local judges, the princes of the prov-
inces. It was from these classes that the " rulers of the
people " Avere mainly drawn. A series of vital questions
at once suggest themselves. How far were these rulers
independent of the king? What opportunities did they
have for working upon the masses of the people ? What
effect had their conduct and practice upon the relations of
society and upon its well-being, as well as upon their own
status and influence ? Upon these and similar matters we
have at least inferential evidence. And we shall see that
the priests and prophets who held a position traditionally
more inviolable and august than even that of the king,
were more than equalled in their influence upon the cur-
rent history of Israel by these heads of society, whose
position was maintained through the royal sufferance
backed up by prescriptive and conventional toleration.

§ 537. As to the relations between the "rulers" and
the king, it must be remembered in the first place that
there was always an aristocracy in Israel, and that it was
the leading men who are almost exclusively to be taken
into account among the factors of the political and social
life of the people. At first these were the heads of the
clans or tribes, then the elders of the city, and besides,
when great estates had been founded, the more powerful
landholders. It is such as these who, with the chiefs of
the hundreds and the thousands that were enrolled for the
national defence, are the " elders of Israel," who took part,
for example, in the elevation of David to be the sole reign-
ing monarch (2 Sam. iii. 17), who after a solemn covenant

the kingdoms of Israel to be, as a rule, quite subservient to royal influence.
On the other hand, the Propliets, who were naturally more independent
than the priests, though liable also to subservience, retained their honor
and self-respect in greater measure, and became, upon the whole, increas-
ingly a saving factor in the state, as the priesthood went on degenerating.


with him anointed him king in Hebron (2 Sam. v. 3). Such
also at a later date were the people of "Israel" who in-
stalled Rehoboam (1 K. xii. 1), and the "congregation,"
necessarily a representative assembly, who elected and
crowned Jeroboam I (1 K. xii. 20). Naturally also it
was they who were active in the revolutions by wliich
alone it was possible to replace an intolerable occupant
of the throne by one more to the liking of the dominant
party. They were accordingly the main moral stay and
support of the king under a stable and popular dynasty.

§ 538. We have seen that the king's rule was absolute.
But since these local authorities stood primarily for the
people at large, encroachment upon their rights would not
be lightly attempted by any monarch. It was also his
policy to retain their countenance and good-will. Their
liberty of action among the common people was, however,
specially secured by the king's preoccupation with his own
affairs. In Oriental monarchies it is rare that the king's
interest extends much beyond the limits of the capital, his
hunting-grounds and garden, his summer and winter resi-
dences. The typical rulers of Assyria and Babylon were
exceptions (cf. § 117, 180). Among kings of Israel, David,
Solomon, and Uzziah were conspicuous for their wider
views. Apart from their function as the supreme court of
aj)peal, their activity, even in the cases of the most ener-
getic, rarely brought them into contact with the sphere of
the local magnates. The average monarch, in time of peace,
would be satisfied with hearing daily the reports of his
secretary and treasurer, especially the latter, and then
betaking himself to the amusements which he regarded as
the end of life, or at least of the life of a prince. Finally,
a cordon of courtiers, respectable in numbers at least,
effectually cut him off from habitual association with the
mass of the people. There was thus apt to be little royal
interference with the personal designs of local rulers.
Even the acts of the favourite official, the district tax-
collector, were little regarded, unless he failed, by extor-


tion or otherwise, to raise the amount of revenue for
which he and his men were responsible. On the other
liand, an intriguing, selfish king found acceptable tools
and accomplices in like-minded leaders of the people
(Hos. vii. 3).



§ 539. With these general facts in view, let us now
follow in imagination the social changes of the Hebrew
jDeople during the centuries of their life in Palestine.
From the very outset there were found the three social
degrees which appear in every rudimentary state, even in
communities of nomads. These may be indicated in gen-
eral terms as nobles, common men, and slaves. For pur-
poses of rough comparison we may think of the three old
Saxon grades of eorls, ceorls, and serfs, or more vaguely
still of the feudal distinctions into gentry, freemen, and
villeins. Most fundamental was the division in ancient
Semitic society between master and slave. To this we
must call particular attention on account of its importance
in the evolution of the Hebrew people. The position of
slaves in a fully constituted household has already been
described (§ 405). The vicissitudes of national life which
induce and perpetuate slavery bring us to the very root
and fibre of the social system of Israel. In general, the
distinction between master and man is that the former
owns property, while the latter tends it for him in ex-
change for protection and sustenance. Thus as the nature
of property changes, the character of servitude changes
with it. In the purely nomadic life even the most power-
ful sketch could employ but fcAV slaves. Accordingly
Semitic nomads addicted themselves more to slave-trading
than to slave-holding. Servitude upon a small scale, and
of the simple, genial, patriarchal type, was a regular feature



of tribal life. But in the ordinary household of the camp
neither room nor occupation could be found for many
domestic servants. Among an agricultural population
servile labour was nearly everywhere a convenience, and
upon a large proportion of estates a necessity.

§ 540. Other causes co-operated strongly with the de-
mand for labour to promote and extend slavery. One of
them was the necessity of providing for captives taken in
war. Among the Semites of the historical ages the slay-
ing of prisoners, which had been the custom in days of
primitive savagery, was done away except in the cases,
unfortunately quite frequent, of hereditary feuds and
religious crusades, or of prolonged resistance or rebellion.
The alternative was to put the captives to useful work.
In the pastoral stage of society the limited choice among
kinds of labour united with other important causes to
hasten the manumission of the bondmen and their assimi-
lation to the tribesmen. On the other hand, the conditions
of settled life furnished ready employment for prisoners.
The necessity of utilizing these human chattels even tended
to promote agricultural and industrial enterprise. That
this predisposing cause operated on a large scale during
the recuperative periods of Israel's early settlement goes
without saying.i An occasion of the extension of bond-
service was found in the practical working of the system
of domestic vassalage. In general, tributaries were regu-
larly reckoned as "slaves " of their suzerains (^e.g. Gen. ix.
26 f. ; 2 K. xvi. 7 ; xvii. 3 ; xxiv. 1) ; and not infrequently
they at length became personal retainers and servitors. A
special and very important form of this relation is shown

1 Thus agriculture must have been vastly promoted in the Lowland
from the time of David onward by the labour of Philistine bondmen taken
during the frequent wars on the western border of Judah. To a less
extent the same would be true of the Israelitish settlements east of the
Jordan. It was thus, no doubt, that David (1 Cln-. xxvii. 25 ff.) and
Uzziah (2 Chr. xxvi. 9 f.) were so well enabled to carry on their extensive
plantations, both of them having annexed by force large portions of the
most productive portions of Philistia.


in the process of absorption and assimilation by which
Palestine became wholly Hebraic. Great numbers of the
Canaanites, including entire settlements (Jud. i. 30 ff.),
were made tributary to the Hebrew invaders, instead of
being put to death. Of course the tribute could not be
long continued, and so we are told in general terms that
" when Israel was become strong they put the Canaanites
to task-work " (Jud. i. 28). The final step was taken when
members of this servile population, who had long been
indistinguishable from their fellow-labourers of Hebrew
descent, after submitting to the rite of circumcision and
the cult of Jehovah, here and there and everywhere be-
came adopted into Israelitish families. They thus lost
their racial identity as completely as the Kenites and
Kenizzites had done among the clansmen of Judah (§ 186).
§ 541. Finally, servitude was greatly extended by the
self-subjection of impoverished or unfortunate freemen.
Sons and daughters of struggling families on small prop-
erties were frequently sent into service during the early
times of the settlement, in order to keep the patrimony
intact. So common was the custom that the appropriate
legislation occupies more space in the " Book of the Cove-
nant" than any other rubric (Ex. xxi. 1-11). Hebrew so-
ciety, even in more settled days, was, by virtue of its very
constitution, in a constant state of flux. Slaves were,
indeed, always numerous. Doubtless their number de-
creased after the earlier days of the monarchy, with the
more general settlement of the country and more widely
diffused prosperity. As great estates increased in num-
ber, there was, of course, more demand for manual toil.
But this was satisfied rather by the engagement of hired
labourers than by the importation of slaves. Hirelings,
indeed, came in course of time to be a considerable ele-
ment of the population. 1 Their absence from the earliest

1 On the subject of hired servants in Israel, see Bennett, "Economic
Conditions of the Hebrew Monarchy," in The Thinker, vol. iii (1893),
p. 802 f.


code seems to prove that servile labour was relatively
more common at the time of the occupation of Canaan,
and, indeed, that slaves performed all the needful work.
That hired service did not displace slave labour at any
time, was in large measure due to the fact that wide-
spread calamity was frequent in the history of Israel.
Great misfortunes, such as prolonged unsuccessful wars
like those against Damascus, dearth, famine or pesti-
lence, must in various ways have shaken the organic
framework of society, chiefly through the multiplication
of hopeless debtors and the pauperizing of large masses
of the community. An immediate result of famine espe-
cially was to " swell the list of those unhappy poor who
were reduced to barter liberty for bread" ^ (2 K. iv. 1 ; Isa.
1. 1 ; Nell. V. 5, 8). It is noteworthy that Amos, whose
reminiscences of such seasons of suffering (iv. 6 ff.) have
given so pathetic an undercurrent to his prophecy, is also
full of sympathy for the helpless poor (ii. 6 f . ; v. 11 f.;
viii. 6), particularly because of their enslavement by the
leading men, even for the trivial debt of a silver piece or
a pair of shoes.

§ 542. The servile condition was within its limits very
elastic. It reached from the extreme of rigour and cruel
suffering to circumstances of ease and comfort, and even
of affluence (2 Sam. ix. 9 ff.). It admitted of positions of
responsibility as trusted agents (Gen. xxiv.), and as coun-
sellors (1 Sam. ix. 5 ff. ; xxv. 14 ff.), just as in Oriental
courts a slave has often been the chief adviser of the
king. In view of tlie initial hardships of most modes of
slave-making, as above described, it is gratifying to know
that in Israel, at least, the tendency was on the whole
towards permanent amelioration. To this end economic
prudence would conspire, in the minds of the masters,
with the dictates of humanity and the sanctions of the

^ I appropriate the words of Hallam (Middle Ages, American edition,
1880, vol. i, p. 317), employed to describe a similar state of things in
Western Europe during the famines of the eleventh century a.d.


religion of Jehovah. Hence provisions for the protection
of slaves occupy a large place in the earliest legislation
(Ex. xxi. 20 f. ; 26 f. ; 32). These ordinances are to be
judged of in the light of the general fact that according
to primitive custom the master had the power of life and
death over the slave.^

§ 543. Extraordinary and admirable is the enactment
made to suit the settled conditions of later times, that a
fugitive slave was not to be delivered to his master, but
should have his choice of residence unmolested accordinof
to his liking (Deut. xxiii. 15 f.). Thus Israel, by the an-
nulling of its old " fugitive slave law," attained almost at
a bound a moral and legal position which was not reached
by England till the year 1772 of our era, nor by the United
States of America till nearly a century later.^ The sab-

1 Slavery was in fact, at least in very many instances, an amelioration
of the infliction of death. That is to say, slaves were originally, perhaps

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 39)