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nation, or as a profound and original legislator, Moses alike stands out as a wonderful man, not to the eyes of Jews merely, but to all enlightened nations and ages. He was evidently raised up for a remarkable and exalted mission,–not only to deliver a debased and superstitious people from bondage, but to impress his mind and character upon them and upon all other nations, and to link his name with the progress of the human race.

He arose at a great crisis, when a new dynasty reigned in Egypt,–not friendly, as the preceding one had been, to the children of Israel; but a dynasty which had expelled the Shepherd Kings, and looked with fear and jealousy upon this alien race, already powerful, in sympathy with the old regime, located in the most fertile sections of the land, and acquainted not merely with agriculture, but with the arts of the Egyptians,–a population of over two millions of souls; so that the reigning monarch, probably a son of the Sesostris of the Greeks, bitterly exclaimed to his courtiers, “The children of Israel are more and mightier than we!” And the consequence of this jealousy was a persecution based on the elemental principle of all persecution,–that of fear blended with envy, carried out with remorseless severity; for in case of war (and the new dynasty scarcely felt secure on the throne) it was feared the Hebrews might side with enemies. So the new Pharaoh (Rameses II., as is thought by Rawlinson) attempted to crush their spirit by hard toils and unjust exactions. And as they still continued to multiply, there came forth the dreadful edict that every male child of the Hebrews should be destroyed as soon as born.

It was then that Moses, descended from a family of the tribe of Levi, was born,–1571 B.C., according to Usher. I need not relate in detail the beautiful story of his concealment for three months by his mother Jochebed, his exposure in a basket of papyrus on the banks of the Nile, his rescue by the daughter of Pharaoh, at that time regent of the kingdom in the absence of her father,–or, as Wilberforce thinks, the wife of the king of Lower Egypt,–his adoption by this powerful princess, his education in the royal household among those learned priests to whose caste even the King belonged. Moses himself, a great master of historical composition, has in six verses told that story, with singular pathos and beauty; yet he directly relates nothing further of his life until, at the age of forty, he killed an Egyptian overseer who was smiting one of his oppressed brethren, and buried him in the sands,–thereby showing that he was indignant at injustice, or clung in his heart to his race of slaves. But what a history might have been written of those forty years of luxury, study, power, and honor!–since Josephus speaks of his successful and brilliant exploits as a conqueror of the Ethiopians. What a career did the son of the Hebrew bondwoman probably lead in the palaces of Memphis, sitting at the monarch’s table, feted as a conqueror, adopted as grandson and perhaps as heir, a proficient in all the learning and arts of the most civilized nation of the earth, enrolled in the college of priests, discoursing with the most accomplished of his peers on the wonders of magical enchantment, the hidden meaning of religious rites, and even the being and attributes of a Supreme God,–the esoteric wisdom from which even a Pythagoras drew his inspiration; possibly tasting, with generals and nobles, all the pleasures of sin. But whether in pleasure or honor, the soul of Moses, fortified by the maternal instructions of his early days,–for his mother was doubtless a good as well as a brave woman,–soars beyond his circumstances, and he seeks to avenge the wrongs of his brethren. Not wisely, however, for he slays a government official, and is forced to flee,–a necessity which we can hardly comprehend in view of his rank and power, unless it revealed all at once to the astonished king his Hebrew birth, and his dangerous sympathies with an oppressed people, the act showing that he may have sought, in his earnest soul, to break their intolerable bonds.

Certainly Moses aspires prematurely to be a deliverer. He is not yet prepared for such a mighty task. He is too impulsive and inexperienced. It must need be that he pass through a period of preparation, learn patience, mature his knowledge, and gain moral force, which preparation could be best made in severe contemplation; for it is in retirement and study that great men forge the weapons which demolish principalities and powers, and master those _principia_ which are the foundation of thrones and empires. So he retires to the deserts of Midian, among a scattered pastoral people, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea, and is received by Jethro, a priest of Midian, whose flocks he tends, and whose daughter he marries.

The land of Midian, to which he fled, is not fertile like Egypt, nor rich in unnumbered monuments of pride and splendor, with pyramids for mausoleums, and colossal statues to perpetuate kingly memories. It is not scented with flowers and variegated with landscapes of beauty and fertility, but is for the most part, with here and there a patch of verdure, a land of utter barrenness and dreariness, and, as Hamilton paints it, “a great and terrible wilderness, where no soft features mitigated the unbroken horror, but dark and brown ridges, red peaks like pyramids of fire; no rounded hillocks or soft mountain curves, but monstrous and misshapen cliffs, rising tier above tier, and serrated for miles into rugged grandeur, and grooved by the winter torrents cutting into the veins of the fiery rock: a land dreary and desolate, yet sublime in its boldness and ruggedness,–a labyrinth of wild and blasted mountains, a terrific and howling desolation.”

It is here that Moses seeks safety, and finds it in the home of a priest, where his affections may be cultivated, and where he may indulge in lofty speculations and commune with the Elohim whom he adores; isolated yet social, active in body but more active in mind, still fresh in all the learning of the schools of Egypt, and wise in all the experiences of forty years. And the result of his studies and inspirations was, it is supposed, the book of Genesis, in which he narrates more important events, and reveals more lofty truths than all the historians of Greece unfolded in their collective volumes,–a marvel of historic art, a model of composition, an immortal work of genius, the oldest and the greatest written history of which we have record.

And surely what poetry, pathos, and eloquence, what simplicity and beauty, what rich and varied lessons of human experience, what treasures of moral wisdom, are revealed in that little book! How sublimely the poet-prophet narrates the misery of the Fall, and the promised glories of the Restoration! How concisely the historian compresses the incidents of patriarchal life, the rise of empires, the fall of cities, the certitudes of faith, of friendship, and of love! All that is vital in the history of thousands of years is condensed into a few chapters,–not dry and barren annals, but descriptions of character, and the unfolding of emotions and sensibilities, and insight into those principles of moral government which indicate a superintending Power, creating faith in a world of sin, and consolation amid the wreck of matter.

Thus when forty more years are passed in study, in literary composition, in religious meditation, and active duties, in sight of grand and barren mountains, amid affections and simplicities,–years which must have familiarized him with every road and cattle-drive and sheep-track, every hill and peak, every wady and watercourse, every timber-belt and oasis in the Sinaitic wilderness, through which his providentially trained military instincts were to safely conduct a vast multitude,–Moses, still strong and laborious, is fitted for his exalted mission as a deliverer. And now he is directly called by the voice of God himself, amid the wonders of the burning bush,–Him whom, thus far, he had, like Abraham, adored as the Elohim, the God Almighty, but whom henceforth he recognizes as Jehovah (Jahveh) in His special relations to the Jewish nation, rather than as the general Deity who unites the attributes ascribed to Him as the ruler of the universe. Moses quakes before that awful voice out of the midst of the bush, which commissions him to deliver his brethren. He is no longer bold, impetuous, impatient, but timid and modest. Long study and retirement from the busy haunts of men have made him self-distrustful. He replies to the great _I Am_, “Who am I, that _I_ should bring forth the Children of Israel out of Egypt? Behold, I am not eloquent; they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice.” In spite of the miracle of the rod, Moses obeys reluctantly, and Aaron, his elder brother, is appointed as his spokesman.

Armed with the mysterious wonder-working rod, at length Moses and Aaron, as representatives of the Jewish people, appear in the presence of Pharaoh, and in the name of Jehovah request permission for Israel to go and hold a feast in the wilderness. They do not demand emancipation or emigration, which would of course be denied. I cannot dwell on the haughty scepticism and obdurate hardness of the King–“Who is Jehovah, that I should obey _his_ voice?”–the renewed persecution of the Hebrews, the successive plagues and calamities sent upon Egypt, which the magicians could not explain, and the final extorted and unwilling consent of Pharaoh to permit Israel to worship the God of Moses in the wilderness, lest greater evils should befall him than the destruction of the first-born throughout the land.

The deliverance of a nation of slaves is at last, it would seem, miraculously effected; and then begins the third period of the life of Moses, as the leader and governor of these superstitious, sensual, idolatrous, degraded slaves. Then begin the real labors and trials of Moses; for the people murmur, and are consumed with fears as soon as they have crossed the sea, and find themselves in the wilderness. And their unbelief and impatience are scarcely lessened by the tremendous miracle of the submersion of the pursuing host, and all successive miracles,–the mysterious manna, the pillar of cloud and of fire, the smitten rock at Horeb, and the still more impressive and awful wonders of Sinai.

The guidance of the Israelites during these forty years in the wilderness is marked by transcendent ability on the part of Moses, and by the most disgraceful conduct on the part of the Israelites. They are forgetful of mercies, ungrateful, rebellious, childish in their hankerings for a country where they had been more oppressed than Spartan Helots, idolatrous, and superstitious. They murmur for flesh to eat; they make golden calves to worship; they seek a new leader when Moses is longer on the Mount than they expect. When any new danger threatens they lay the blame on Moses; they even foolishly regret that they had not died in Egypt.

Obviously such a people were not fit for freedom, or even for the conquest of the promised land. They were as timid and cowardly as they were rebellious. Even the picked men sent out to explore Canaan, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, reported nations of giants impossible to subdue. A new generation must arise, disciplined by forty years’ experience, made hardy and strong by exposure and suffering. Yet what nation, in the world’s history, ever improved so much in forty years? What ruler ever did so much for a people in a single reign? This abject race of slaves in forty years was transformed into a nation of valiant warriors, made subject to law and familiar with the fundamental principles of civilization. What a marvellous change, effected by the genius and wisdom of one man, in communion with Almighty power!

But the distinguishing labor of Moses during these forty years, by which he linked his name with all subsequent ages, and became the greatest benefactor of mind the world has seen until Christ, was his system of Jurisprudence. It is this which especially demands our notice, and hence will form the main subject of this lecture.

In reviewing the Mosaic legislation, we notice both those ordinances which are based on immutable truth for the rule of all nations to the end of time, and those prescribed for the peculiar situation and exigencies of the Jews as a theocratic state, isolated from other nations.

The moral code of Moses, by far the most important and universally accepted, rests on the fundamental principles of theology and morality. How lofty, how impressive, how solemn this code! How it appeals at once to the consciousness of all minds in every age and nation, producing convictions that no sophistry can weaken, binding the conscience with irresistible and terrific bonds,–those immortal Ten Commandments, engraven on the two tables of stone, and preserved in the holy and innermost sanctuary of the Jews, yet reappearing in all their literature, accepted and reaffirmed by Christ, entering into the religious system of every nation that has received them, and forming the cardinal principles of all theological belief! Yet it was by Moses that these Commandments came. He is the first, the favored man, commissioned by God to declare to the world, clearly and authoritatively, His supreme power and majesty, whom alone all nations and tribes and people are to worship to remotest generations. In it he fearfully exposes the sin of idolatry, to which all nations are prone,–the one sin which the Almighty visits with such dreadful penalties, since this involves, and implies logically, rebellion against Him, the supreme ruler of the universe, and disloyalty to Him as a personal sovereign, in whatever form this idolatry may appear, whether in graven images of tutelary deities, or in the worship of Nature (ever blind and indefinite), or in the exaltation of self, in the varied search for pleasure, ambition, or wealth, to which the debased soul bows down with grovelling instincts, and in the pursuit of which the soul forgets its higher destiny and its paramount obligations. Moses is the first to expose with terrific force and solemn earnestness this universal tendency to the oblivion of the One God amid the temptations, the pleasures, and the glories of the world, and the certain displeasure of the universal sovereign which must follow, as seen in the fall of empires and the misery of individuals from his time to ours, the uniform doom of people and nations, whatever the special form of idolatry, whenever it reaches a peculiar fulness and development,–the ultimate law of all decline and ruin, from which there is no escape, “for the Lord God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” So sacred and awful is this controlling Deity, that it is made a cardinal sin even to utter His name in vain, in levity or blasphemy. In order also to keep Him before the minds of men, a day is especially appointed–one in seven–which it is the bounden duty as well as privilege of all generations to keep with peculiar sanctity,–a day of rest from labor as well as of adoration; an entirely new institution, which no Pagan nation, and no other ancient nation, ever recognized. After thus laying solemn injunctions upon all men to render supreme allegiance to this personal God,–for we can find no better word, although Matthew Arnold calls it “the Power which maketh for righteousness,”–Moses presents the duties of men to each other, chiefly those which pertain to the abstaining from injuries they are most tempted to commit, extending to the innermost feelings of the heart, for “thou shalt not covet anything which is thy neighbor’s;” thus covering, in a few sentences, the primal obligations of mankind to God and to society, afterward expanded by a greater teacher into the more comprehensive law of Love, which is to bind together mortals on earth, as it binds together immortals in heaven.

All Christian nations have accepted these Ten Commandments, even Mohammedan nations, as appealing to the universal conscience,–not a mere Jewish code, but a primary law, susceptible of boundless obligation, never to be abrogated; a direct injunction of the Almighty to the end of time.

The Ten Commandments seem to be the foundation of the subsequent and more minute code which Moses gave to the Jews; and it is interesting to see how its great principles have entered, more or less, into the laws of Christian nations from the decline of the Roman Empire, into the Theodosian code, the laws of Charlemagne, of Ina, of Alfred, and especially into the institutions of the Puritans, and of all other sects and parties wherever the Bible is studied and revered. They seem to be designed not merely for Jews, but for Gentiles also, since there is no escape from their obligation. They may seem severe in some of their applications, but never unjust; and as long as the world endures, the relations between man and man are to be settled on lofty moral grounds. An elevated morality is the professed aim of all enlightened lawgivers; and the prosperity of nations is built upon it, for it is righteousness which exalteth them. Culture is desirable; but the welfare of nations is based on morals rather than on aesthetics. On this point Moses, or even Epictetus, is a greater authority than Goethe. All the ordinances of Moses tend to this end. They are the publication of natural religion,–that God is a rewarder of virtuous actions, and punishes wicked deeds. Moses, from first to last, insists imperatively on the doctrine of personal responsibility to God, which doctrine is the logical sequence of belief in Him as the moral governor of the world. And in enforcing this cardinal truth he is dogmatic and dictatorial, as a prophet and ambassador of the Most High should be.

It is a waste of time to use arguments in the teaching of the primal principles which appeal to consciousness; and I am not certain but that elaborate and metaphysical reasoning on the nature and attributes of God weakens rather than strengthens the belief in Him, since He is a power made known by revelation, and received and accepted by the soul at once, if received at all. Among the earliest noticeable corruptions of the Church was the introduction of Greek philosophy to harmonize and reconcile with it the truths of the gospel, which to a certain class ever have been, and ever will be, foolishness. The speculations and metaphysics of theologians, I verily believe, have done more harm than good,–from Athanasius to Jonathan Edwards,–whenever they have brought the aid of finite reason to support the ultimate truths declared by an infinite and almighty mind. Moses does not reason, nor speculate, nor refine; he affirms, and appeals to the law written on the heart,–to the consciousness of mankind. What he declares to be duties are not even to be discussed. They are to be obeyed with unhesitating obedience, since no discussion or argument can make them clearer or more imperative. The obligation to obey them is seen and felt at once, as soon as they are declared. What he says in regard to the relations of master and servant; to injuries inflicted on the body; to the respect due to parents; to the protection of the widow, the fatherless, and the unfortunate; to delicacy in the treatment of women; to unjust judgments; to bribery and corruption; to revenge, hatred, and covetousness; to falsehood and tale-bearing; to unchastity, theft, murder, and adultery,–can never be gainsaid, and would have been accepted by Roman jurists as readily as by modern legislators; yea, they would not be disputed by savages, if they acknowledged a God at all. The elevated morality of the ethical code of Moses is its most striking feature, since it appeals to the universal heart, and does not conflict with some of the ethical teachings of those great lights of the Pagan world to whose consciousness God has been revealed. Moses differs from them only in the completion and scope and elevation of his system, and in its freedom from the puerilities and superstitions which they blended with their truths, and from which he was emancipated by inspiration. Brahma and Confucius and Socrates taught some great truths which Moses would accept, but they taught errors likewise. He taught no errors, though he permitted some sins which in the beginning did not exist,–such, for instance, as polygamy. Christ came not to destroy his law, but to fulfil it and complete it. In two things especially, how emphatic his teaching and how permanent his influence!–in respect to the observance of the Sabbath and the relations of the sexes. To him, more than to any man in the world’s history, do we owe the elevation of woman, and the sanctity and blessing of a day of rest. In the awful sacredness of the person, and in the regular resort to the sanctuary of God, we see his immortal authority and his permanent influence.

The other laws which Moses promulgated are more special and minute, and seem to be intended to preserve the Jews from idolatry, the peculiar sin of the surrounding nations; and also, more directly, to keep alive the recognition of a theocratic government.

Thus the ceremonial or ritualistic law–an important part of the Mosaic Code–constantly points to Jehovah as the King of the Jews, as well as their Supreme Deity, for whose worship the rites and ceremonies are devised with great minuteness, to keep His _personality_ constantly before their minds. Moreover, all their rites and ceremonies were typical and emblematical of the promised Saviour who was to arise; in a more emphatic sense their King, and not merely their own Messiah, but the Redeemer of the whole race, who should reign finally as King of kings and Lord of lords. And hence these rites and sacrifices, typical of Him who should offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, are not supposed to be binding on other nations after the great sacrifice has been made, and the law of Moses has been fulfilled by Jesus and the new dispensation has been established. We see a complicated and imposing service, with psalms and hymns, and beautiful robes, and smoking altars,–all that could inspire awe and reverence. We behold a blazing tabernacle of gold and silver and precious woods and gorgeous tapestries, with inner and secret recesses to contain the ark and the tables of stone, the mysterious rod, the urn of manna, the book of the covenant, the golden throne over-canopied by cherubs with outstretched wings, and the mercy-seat for the Shekinah who sat between the cherubim. The sacred and costly vessels, the candlesticks of pure and beaten gold, the lamps, the brazen sea, the embroidered vestments of the priests, the breastplate of precious stones, the golden chains, the emblematic rings, the ephods and mitres and girdles, the various altars for sacrifice, the burnt-offerings, peace-offerings, meat-offerings, and sin-offerings, the consecrated cakes and animals for sacrifice, the rites for cleansing leprosy and all uncleanliness, the grand atonements and solemn fasts and festivals,–all were calculated to make a strong impression on a superstitious people. The rites and ceremonies of the Jews were so attractive that they made up for all other amusements and spectacles; they answered the purpose of the Gothic churches and cathedrals of Europe in the Middle Ages, when these were the chief attractions of the period. There is nothing absurd in ritualism among ignorant and superstitious people, who are ever most easily impressed through their senses and imagination. It was the wisdom of the Middle Ages,–the device of popes and bishops and abbots to attract and influence the people. But ritualism–useful in certain ages and circumstances, certainly in its most imposing forms, if I may say it–does not seem to be one of the peculiarities of enlightened ages; even the ritualism of the wilderness lost much of its hold upon the Jews themselves after their captivity, and still more when Greek and Roman civilization had penetrated to Jerusalem. The people who listened to Peter and Paul could no longer be moved by imposing rites, even as the European nations–under the preaching of Luther, Knox, and Latimer–lost all relish for the ceremonies of the Middle Ages. What, then, are we to think of the revival of observances which lost their force three hundred years ago, unless connected with artistic music? It is music which vitalizes ritualistic worship in our times, as it did in the times of David and Solomon. The vitality of the Jewish ritual, when the nation had emerged from barbarism, was in its connections with a magnificent psalmody. The Psalms of David appeal to the heart and not to the senses. The ritualism of the wilderness appealed to the senses and not to the heart; and this was necessary when the people had scarcely emerged from barbarism, even as it was deemed necessary amid the turbulence and ignorance of the tenth century.

In the ritualism which Moses established there was the absence of everything which would recall the superstitions and rites, or even the doctrines, of the Egyptians. In view of this, we account partially for the almost studied reticence in respect to a future state, upon which hinged many of the peculiarities of Egyptian worship. It would have been difficult for Moses to have recognized the future state, in the degrading ignorance and sensualism of the Jews, without associating with it the tutelary deities of the Egyptians and all the absurdities connected with the doctrine of metempsychosis, which consigned the victims of future punishment to enter the forms of disgusting and hideous animals, thereby blending with the sublime doctrine of a future state the most degrading superstitions. Bishop Warburton seizes on the silence of Moses respecting a future state to prove, by a learned yet sophistical argument, his divine legation, _because_ he ignored what so essentially entered into the religion of Egypt. But whether Moses purposely ignored this great truth for fear it would be perverted, or because it was a part of the Egyptian economy which he wished his people to forget, still it is also possible that this doctrine of immortality was so deeply engraved on the minds of the people that there was no need to recognize it while giving a system of ritualistic observances. The comparative silence of the Old Testament concerning immortality is one of its most impressive mysteries. However dimly shadowed by Job and David and Isaiah, it seems to have been brought to light only by the gospel. There is more in the writings of Plato and Cicero about immortality than in the whole of the Old Testament, And this fact is so remarkable, that some trace to the sages of Greece and Egypt the doctrine itself, as ordinarily understood; that is, a _necessary_ existence of the soul after death. And they fortify themselves with those declarations of the apostles which represent a happy immortality as the special gift of God,–not a necessary existence, but given only to those who obey his laws. If immortality be not a gift, but a necessary existence, as Socrates supposed, it seems strange that heathen philosophers should have speculated more profoundly than the patriarchs of the East on this mysterious subject. We cannot suppose that Plato was more profoundly instructed on such a subject than Abraham and Moses. It is to be noted, however, that God seems to have chosen different races for various missions in the education of his children. As Saint Paul puts it, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,… diversities of workings, but the same God who worketh in all.” The Hebrew genius was that of discerning and declaring moral and spiritual truth; while that of the Greeks was essentially philosophic and speculative, searching into the reasons and causes of existing phenomena. And it is possible, after all, that the loftiest of the Greek philosophers derived their opinions from those who had been admitted to the secret schools of Egypt, where it is probable that the traditions of primitive ages were preserved, and only communicated to a chosen few; for the ancient schools were esoteric and not popular. The great masters of knowledge believed one thing and the people another. The popular religion was always held in contempt by the wise in all countries, although upheld by them in external rites and emblems and sacrifices, from patriotic purposes. The last act of Socrates was to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius, with a different meaning from that which was understood by the people.

The social and civil code of Moses seems to have had primary reference to the necessary isolation of the Jews, to keep them from the abominations of other nations, and especially idolatry, and even to make them repulsive and disagreeable to foreigners, in order to keep them a peculiar people. The Jew wore an uncouth dress. When he visited strangers he abstained from their customs, and even meats. When a stranger visited the Jew he was compelled to submit to Jewish restraints. So that the Jew ever seems uncourteous, narrow, obstinate, and grotesque: even as others appeared to him to be pagan and unclean. Moses lays down laws best calculated to keep the nation separated and esoteric; but there is marvellous wisdom in those which were directed to the development of national resources and general prosperity in an isolated state. The nation was made strong for defence, not for aggression. It must depend upon its militia, and not on horses and chariots, which are designed for distant expeditions, for the pomp of kings, for offensive war, and military aggrandizement. The legislation of Moses recognized the peaceful virtues rather than the warlike,–agricultural industry, the network of trades and professions, manufacturing skill, production, not waste and destruction. He discouraged commerce, not because it was in itself demoralizing, but because it brought the Jews too much in contact with corrupt nations. And he closely defined political power, and divided it among different magistrates, instituting a wise balance which would do credit to modern legislation. He gave dignity to the people by making them the ultimate source of authority, next to the authority of God. He instituted legislative assemblies to discuss peace and war, and elect the great officers of state. While he made the Church support the State, and the State the Church, yet he separated civil power from the religious, as Calvin did at Geneva. The functions of the priest and the functions of the magistrate were made forever distinct,–a radical change from the polity of Egypt, where kings were priests, and priests were civil rulers as well as a literary class; a predominating power to whom all vital interests were intrusted. The kingly power among the Jews was checked and hedged by other powers, so that an overgrown tyranny was difficult and unusual. But above all kingly and priestly power was the power of the Invisible King, to whom the judges and monarchs and supreme magistrates were responsible, as simply His delegates and vicegerents. Upon Him alone the Jews were to rely in all crises of danger; in Him alone was help. And it is remarkable that whenever Jewish rulers relied on chariots and horses and foreign allies, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies. It was only when they fell back upon the protecting arms of their Eternal Lord that they were rescued and saved. The mightiest monarch ruled only with delegated powers from Him; and it was the memorable loyalty of David to his King which kept him on the throne, as it was self-reliance–the exhibition of independent power–which caused the sceptre to depart from Saul.

I cannot dwell on the humanity and wisdom which marked the social economy of the Jews, as given by Moses,–in the treatment of slaves (emancipated every fifty years), in the sanctity of human life, in the liberation of debtors every seven years, in kindness to the poor (who were allowed to glean the fields), in the education of the people, in the division of inherited property, in the inalienation of paternal inheritances, in the discouragement of all luxury and extravagance, in those regulations which made disproportionate fortunes difficult, the vast accumulation of which was one of the main causes of the decline of the Roman Empire, and is now one of the most threatening evils of modern civilization. All the civil and social laws of the Jewish commonwealth tended to the elevation of woman and the cultivation of domestic life. What virtues were gradually developed among those sensual slaves whom Moses led through the desert! In what ancient nation were seen such respect to parents, such fidelity to husbands, such charming delights of home, such beautiful simplicities, such ardent loves, such glorious friendships, such regard to the happiness of others!

Such, in brief, was the great work which Moses performed, the marvellous legislation which he gave to the Israelites, involving principles accepted by the Christian world in every age of its history. Now, whence had this man this wisdom? Was it the result of his studies and reflections and experiences, or was it a wisdom supernaturally taught him by the Almighty? On the solution of this inquiry into the divine legation of Moses hang momentous issues. It is too grand and important an inquiry to be disregarded by any one who studies the writings of Moses; it is too suggestive a subject to be passed over even in a literary discourse, for this age is grappling with it in most earnest struggles. No matter whether or not Moses was gifted in a most extraordinary degree to write his code. Nobody doubts his transcendent genius; nobody doubts his wonderful preparation. If any uninspired man could have written it, doubtless it was he. It was the most learned and accomplished of the apostles who was selected to be the expounder of the gospel among the Gentiles; so it was the ablest man born among the Jews who was chosen to give them a national polity. Nor does it detract from his fame as a man of genius that he did not originate the most profound of his declarations. It was fame enough to be the oracle and prophet of Jehovah. I would not dishonor the source of all wisdom, even to magnify the abilities of a great man, fond as critics are of exalting the wisdom of Moses as a triumph of human genius. It is natural to worship strength, human or divine. We adore mind; we glorify oracles. But neither written history nor philosophy will support the work of Moses as a wonder of mere human intellect, without ignoring the declarations of Moses himself and the settled belief of all Christian ages.

It is not my object to make an argument in defence of the divine legation of Moses; nor is it my design to reply to the learned criticisms of those who doubt or deny his statements. I would not run a-tilt against modern science, which may hereafter explain and accept what it now rejects. Science–whether physical or metaphysical–has its great truths, and so has Revelation; the realm of each is distinct while yet their processes are incomplete: and it is the hope and firm belief of many God-fearing scientists that the patient, reverent searching of to-day into God’s works, of matter and of mind, as it collects the myriad facts and classifies them into such orderly sequences as indicate the laws of their being, will confirm to men’s reason their faith in the revealed Word. Certainly this is a consummation devoutly to be wished. I am not scientist enough to judge of its probability, but it is within my province to present a few deductions which can be fairly drawn from the denial of the inspiration of the Mosaic Code. I wish to show to what conclusions this denial logically leads.

We must remember that Moses himself most distinctly and most emphatically affirms his own divine legation; for is not almost every chapter prefaced with these remarkable words, “And the Lord spake unto Moses”? Jehovah himself, in some incomprehensible way, amid the lightnings and the wonders of the sacred Mount, communicated His wisdom. Now, if we disbelieve this direct and impressive affirmation made by Moses,–that Jehovah directed him what to say to the people he was called to govern,–why should we believe his other statements, which involve supernatural agency or influence pertaining to the early history of the race? Where, then, is his authority? What is it worth? He has indeed no authority at all, except so far as his statements harmonize with our own definite knowledge, and perhaps with scientific speculations. We then make our own reason and knowledge, not the declarations of Moses, the ultimate authority. As a divine oracle to us, his voice is silent; ay, his august voice is drowned by the discordant and contradictory opinions that are ever blended with the speculations of the schools. He tells us, in language of the most impressive simplicity and grandeur, that he _was_ directly instructed and commissioned by Jehovah to communicate moral truths,–truths, we should remember, which no one before him is known to have uttered, and truths so important that the prosperity of nations is identified with them, and will be so identified as long as men shall speculate and dream. If we deny this testimony, then his narration of other facts, which we accept, is not to be fully credited; like other ancient histories, it may be and it may not be true,–but there is no certainty. However we may interpret his detailed narration of the genesis of our world and our race,–whether as chronicle or as symbolic poem,–its central theme and thought, the direct creative agency of Jehovah, which it was his privilege to announce, stands forth clear and unmistakable. Yet if we deny the supernaturalism of the code, we may also deny the supernaturalism of the creation, in so far as both rest on the authority of Moses.

And, further, if Moses was not inspired directly from God to write his code, then it follows that he–a man pre-eminent for wisdom, piety, and knowledge–was an impostor, or at least, like Mohammed and George Fox, a self-deceived and visionary man, since he himself affirms his divine legation, and traces to the direct agency of Jehovah not merely his code, but even the various deliverances of the Israelites. And not only was Moses mistaken, but the Jewish nation, and Christ and the apostles, and the greatest lights of the Church from Augustine to Bossuet.

Hence it follows necessarily that all the miracles by which the divine legation of Moses is supported and credited, have no firm foundation, and a belief in them is superstitious,–as indeed it is in all other miracles recorded in the Scriptures, since they rest on testimony no more firmly believed than that believed by Christ and the apostles respecting Moses. Sweep away his authority as an inspiration, and you undermine the whole authority of the Bible; you bring it down to the level of all other books; you make it valuable only as a thesaurus of interesting stories and impressive moral truths, which we accept as we do all other kinds of knowledge, leaving us free to reject what we cannot understand or appreciate, or even what we dislike.

Then what follows? Is it not the rejection of many of the most precious revelations of the Bible, to which we _wish_ to cling, and without a belief in which there would be the old despair of Paganism, the dreary unsettlement of all religious opinions, even a disbelief in an intelligent First Cause of the universe, certainly of a personal God,–and thus a gradual drifting away to the dismal shores of that godless Epicureanism which Socrates derided, and Paul and Augustine combated? Do you ask for a confirmation of the truths thus deduced from the denial of the supernaturalism of the Mosaic Code? I ask you to look around. I call no names; I invoke no theological hatreds; I seek to inflame no prejudices. I appeal to facts as incontrovertible as the phenomena of the heavens. I stand on the platform of truth itself, which we all seek to know and are proud to confess. Look to the developments of modern thought, to some of the speculations of modern science, to the spirit which animates much of our popular literature, not in our country but in all countries, even in the schools of the prophets and among men who are “more advanced,” as they think, in learning, and if you do not see a tendency to the revival of an attractive but exploded philosophy,–the philosophy of Democritus; the philosophy of Epicurus,–then I am in an error as to the signs of the times. But if I am correct in this position,–if scepticism, or rationalism, or pantheism, or even science, in the audacity of its denials, or all these combined, are in conflict with the supernaturalism which shines and glows in every book of the Bible, and are bringing back for our acceptance what our fathers scorned,–then we must be allowed to show the practical results, the results on life, which of necessity followed the triumph of the speculative opinions of the popular idols of the ancient world in the realm of thought. Oh, what a life was that! what a poor exchange for the certitudes of faith and the simplicities of patriarchal times! I do not know whether an Epicurean philosophy grows out of an Epicurean life, or the life from the philosophy; but both are indissolubly and logically connected. The triumph of one is the triumph of the other, and the triumph of both is equally pointed out in the writings of Paul as a degeneracy, a misfortune,–yea, a sin to be wiped out only by the destruction of nations, or some terrible and unexpected catastrophe, and the obscuration of all that is glorious and proud among the works of men.

I make these, as I conceive, necessary digressions, because a discourse on Moses would be pointless without them; at best only a survey of that marvellous and favored legislator from the standpoint of secular history. I would not pull him down from the lofty pedestal whence he has given laws to all successive generations; a man, indeed, but shrouded in those awful mysteries which the great soul of Michael Angelo loved to ponder, and which gave to his creations the power of supernal majesty.

Thus did Moses, instructed by God,–for this is the great fact revealed in his testimony,–lead the inconstant Israelites through a forty years’ pilgrimage, securing their veneration to the last. Thus did he keep them from the idolatries for which they hankered, and preserved among them allegiance to an invisible King. Thus did he impress his own mind and character upon them, and shape their institutions with matchless wisdom. Thus did he give them a system of laws–moral, ceremonial, and civil–which kept them a powerful and peculiar people for more than a thousand years, and secured a prosperity which culminated in the glorious reigns of David and Solomon and a political power unsurpassed in Western Asia, to see which the Queen of Sheba came from the uttermost part of the earth,–nay, more, which first formulated for that little corner of the world principles and precepts concerning the relations of men to God and to one another which have been an inspiration to all mankind for thousands of years.

Thus did this good and great man fulfil his task and deliver his message, with no other drawbacks on his part than occasional bursts of anger at the unparalleled folly and wickedness of his people. What disinterestedness marks his whole career, from the time when he flies from Pharaoh to the appointment of his successor, relinquishing without regret the virtual government of Egypt, accepting cheerfully the austerities and privations of the land of Midian, never elevating his own family to power, never complaining in his herculean tasks! With what eloquence does he plead for his people when the anger of the Lord is kindled against them, ever regarding them as mere children who know no self-control! How patient he is in the performance of his duties, accepting counsel from Jethro and listening to the voice of Aaron! With what stern and awful majesty does he lay down the law! What inspiration gilds his features as he descends the Mount with the Tables in his hands! How terrible he is amid the thunders and lightnings of Sinai, at the rock of Horeb, at the dances around the golden calf, at the rebellion of Korah and Dathan, at the waters of Meribah, at the burning of Nadab and Abihu! How efficient he is in the administration of justice, in the assemblies of the people, in the great councils of rulers and princes, and in all the crises of the State; and yet how gentle, forgiving, tender, and accessible! How sad he is when the people weary of manna and seek flesh to eat! How nobly does he plead with the king of Edom for a passage through his territories! How humbly does he call on God for help amid perplexing cares! Never was a man armed with such authority so patient and so self-distrustful. Never was so experienced and learned a man so little conscious of his greatness.

“This was the truest warrior
That ever buckled sword;
This the most gifted poet
That ever breathed a word:
And never earth’s philosopher
Traced with his golden pen,
On the deathless page, truths half so sage, As he wrote down for men.”

At length–at one hundred and twenty years of age, with undimmed eye and unabated strength, after having done more for his nation and for posterity than any ruler or king in the world’s history, and won a fame which shall last through all the generations of men, growing brighter and brighter as his vast labors and genius are appreciated–the time comes to lay down his burdens. So he assembles together the princes and elders of Israel, recapitulates his laws, enumerates the mercies of the God to whom he has ever been loyal, and gives his final instructions. He appoints Joshua as his successor, adds words of encouragement to the people, whom he so fervently loves, sings his final song, and ascends the mountain above the plains of Moab, from which he is permitted to see, but not to enter, the promised land; not pensive and sad like Godfrey, because he cannot enter Jerusalem, but full of joyous visions of the future glories of his nation, and breaking out in the language of exultation, “Who is like unto thee, O people saved by Jehovah, the shield of thy help and the sword of thy excellency!” So Moses, the like of whom no prophet has since arisen (except that later One whom he himself foretold), the greatest man in Jewish annals, passes away from mortal sight, and Jehovah buries him in a valley of the land of Moab, and no man knoweth his sepulchre until this day.

“That was the grandest funeral
That ever passed on earth;
But no one heard the trampling,
Or saw the train go forth,–
Perchance the bald old eagle
On gray Bethpeor’s height,
Out of his lonely eyrie
Looked on the wondrous sight.”

* * * * *

“And had he not high honor–
The hillside for a pall–
To lie in state, while angels wait With stars for tapers tall;
And the dark rock-pines, like tossing plumes, Over his bier to wave,
And God’s own hand, in that lonely land, To lay him in the grave?”

* * * * *

“O lonely grave in Moab’s land!
O dark Bethpeor’s hill!
Speak to these curious hearts of ours, And teach them to be still!
God hath his mysteries of grace, Ways that we cannot tell;
He hides them deep, like the hidden sleep Of him he loved so well.”


1100 B.C.


After Moses, and until David arose, it would be difficult to select any man who rendered greater services to the Israelitish nation than Samuel. He does not stand out in history as a man of dazzling intellectual qualities; but during a long life he efficiently labored to give to the nation political unity and power, and to reclaim it from idolatries. He was both a political and moral reformer,–an organizer of new forces, a man of great executive ability, a judge and a prophet. He made no mistakes, and committed no crimes. In view of his wisdom and sanctity it is evident that he would have adorned the office of high-priest; but as he did not belong to the family of Aaron, this great dignity could not be conferred on him. His character was reproachless. He was, indeed, one of the best men that ever lived, universally revered while living, and equally mourned when he died. He ruled the nation in a great crisis, and his influence was irresistible, because favored alike by God and man.

Samuel lived in one of the most tumultuous and unsettled periods of Jewish history, when the nation was in a transition state from anarchy to law, from political slavery to national independence. When he appeared, there was no settled government; the surrounding nations were still unconquered, and had reduced the Israelites to humiliating dependence. Deliverers had arisen occasionally from the time of Joshua,–like Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson,–but their victories were not decisive or permanent. Midianites, Amorites, and Philistines successively oppressed Israel, from generation to generation; they even succeeded in taking away their weapons of war. Resistance to this tyranny was apparently hopeless, and the nation would have sunk into despair but for occasional providential aid. The sacred ark was for a time in the hands of enemies, and Shiloh, the religious capital,–abode of the tabernacle and the ark,–had been burned. Every smith’s forge where a sword or a spear-head could be rudely made was shut up, and the people were forced to go to the forges of their oppressors to get even their ploughshares sharpened.

On the death of Joshua (about 1350 B.C.), who had succeeded Moses and led the Israelites into Canaan, “nearly the whole of the sea-coast, all the strongholds in the rich plain of Esdraelon, and, in the heart of the country, the invincible fortress of Jebus [later site of Jerusalem], were still in the hands of the unbelievers.” The conquest therefore was yet imperfect, like that of the Christianized Saxons in the time of Alfred over the pagan Danes in England. The times were full of peril and fear. They developed the military energies of the Israelites, but bred license, robbery, and crime,–a wild spirit of personal independence unfavorable to law and order. In those days “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” It was a period of utter disorder, anarchy, and lawlessness, like the condition of Germany and Italy in the Middle Ages. The persons who bore rule permanently were the princes or heads of the several tribes, the judges, and the high-priest; and in that primitive state of society these dignitaries rode on asses, and lived in tents. The virtues of the people were rough, and their habits warlike. Their great men were fighters. Samson was a sort of Hercules, and Jephthah an Idomeneus,–a lawless freebooter. The house of Micah was like a feudal castle; the Benjamite war was like the strife of Highland clans. Jael was a Hebrew Boadicea; Gideon, at the head of his three hundred men, might have been a hero of mediaeval romance.

The saddest thing among these social and political evils was a great decline of religious life. The priesthood was disgraced by the prevailing vices of the times. The Mosaic rites may have been technically observed, but the officiating priests were sensual and worldly, while gross darkness covered the land. The high-priests exercised but a feeble influence; and even Eli could not, or did not, restrain the glaring immoralities of his own sons. In those evil days there were no revelations from Jehovah, and there was no divine vision among the prophets. Never did a nation have greater need of a deliverer.

It was then that Samuel arose, and he first appears as a pious boy, consecrated to priestly duties by a remarkable mother. His childhood was passed in the sacred tent of Shiloh, as an attendant, or servant, of the aged high-priest, or what would be called by the Catholic Church an acolyte. He belonged to the great tribe of Ephraim, being the son of Elkanah, of whom nothing is worthy of notice except that he was a polygamist. His mother Hannah (or Anna), however, was a Hebrew Saint Theresa, almost a Nazarite in her asceticism and a prophetess in her gifts; her song of thanksgiving on the birth of Samuel, for a special answer to her prayer, is one of the most beautiful remains of Hebrew poetry. From his infancy Samuel was especially dedicated to the service of God. He was not a priest, since he did not belong to the priestly caste; but the Lord was with him, and raised him up to be more than priest,–even a prophet and a judge. When a mere child, it was he who declared to Eli the ruin of his house, since he had not restrained the wickedness and cruelty of his sons. From that time the prophetic character of Samuel was established, and his influence constantly increased until he became the foremost man of his nation, second to no one in power and dignity since the time of Moses.

But there is not much recorded of him until twenty years after the death of Eli, who lived to be ninety. It was during this period that the Philistines had carried away the sacred ark from Shiloh, and had overrun the country and oppressed the Hebrews, who it seems had fallen into idolatry, worshipping Ashtaroth and other strange gods. It was Samuel, already recognized as a great prophet and judge, who aroused the nation from its idolatry and delivered it from the hand of the Philistines at Mizpeh, where a great battle was fought, so that these terrible foes were subdued, and came no more into the borders of Israel during the days of Samuel; and all the cities they had taken, from Ekron unto Gath, were restored. The subjection of the Philistines was followed by the undisputed rule of Samuel, under the name of Judge, during his life, even after the consecration of Saul.

The Israelitish Judge seems to have been a sort of dictator, called to power by the will of the people in times of great emergency and peril, as among the Romans. “The Theocracy,” says Ewald, “by pronouncing any human ruler unnecessary as a permanent element of the State, lapsed into anarchy and weakness. When a nation is without a government strong enough to repress lawlessness within and to protect from foes without, the whole people very soon divides once more into the two ranks of master and servant. In Deborah’s songs all Israel, so far as lay in her circle of vision, was divided into princes and people. Hence the nation consisted of innumerable self-constituted and self-sustained kingdoms, formed whenever some chieftain elevated himself whom individuals or the body of citizens in a town were willing to serve. Gaal, son of Zobah, entered Shechem with troops raised by himself, just like a condottiere in Italy in the Middle Ages. As it became evident that the nation could not permanently dispense with an earthly government, it was forced to rally round some powerful leader; and as the Theocracy was still acknowledged by the best of the nation, these leaders, who owed their power to circumstances, could not easily be transformed into regular kings, but to exceptional dictators the State offered no strong resistance.”

And yet these rulers arose not solely by force of individual prowess, but were expressly raised up by God as deliverers of the nation in times of peculiar peril. And further, the spirit of Jehovah came upon them, as it did upon Deborah the prophetess, and as it did still more remarkably upon Moses himself.

The last and greatest of these extemporized leaders called Judges, was Samuel. In him the people learned to put their trust; and the national assembly which he summoned was completely guided by him. No one of the Judges, it would seem, had his seat of government in any central city, but where he happened to live. So the residence of Samuel was at his native town of Ramah, where he married. It would seem that he travelled from city to city to administer justice, like the judges of England on their circuits; but, unlike them, on his own supreme authority,–not with power delegated by a king, but acknowledging no superior except God himself, from whom he received his commission. We know not at what time and whom he married; but his two sons, who in his old age shared power with him, did not discharge their delegated functions more honorably than the sons of Eli, who had been a disgrace to their office, to their father, and to the nation. One of the greatest mysteries of human life is the seeming inability of pious fathers to check the vices of their children, who often go astray under an apparently irresistible impulse or innate depravity, in spite of parental precept and example,–thus seeming to show that neither virtue nor vice can be surely transmitted, and that every human being stands on his individual responsibility, with peculiar temptations to combat, and peculiar circumstances to influence him. The son of a saint becomes mysteriously a drunkard or a fraud, and the son of a sensualist becomes an ascetic. This does not uniformly occur: in fact, the sons of good men are more likely to be an honor to their families than the sons of the wicked; but why are exceptions so common as to be proverbial?

It was no light work which was imposed on the shoulders of Samuel,–to establish law and order among the demoralized tribes of the Jews, and to prepare them for political independence; and it was a still greater labor to effect a moral reformation and reintroduce the worship of Jehovah. Both of these objects he seems to have accomplished; and his success places him in the list of great reformers, like Mohammed and Luther,–but greater and better than either, since he did not attempt, like the former, to bring about a good end by bad means; nor was he stained by personal defects, like the latter. “It was his object to re-enkindle the national life of the nation, so as to combat successfully its enemies in the field, which could be attained by rousing a common religious feeling;” for he saw that there could be no true enthusiasm without a sense of dependence on the God of battles, and that heroism could be stimulated only by exalted sentiments, both of patriotism and religion.

But how was Samuel to rekindle a fervent religious life among the degenerate Israelites in such unsettled times? Only by rousing the people by his teachings and his eloquence. He was a preacher of righteousness, and in all probability went from city to city and village to village,–as Saint Bernard did when he preached a crusade against the infidels, as John the Baptist did when he preached repentance, as Whitefield did when he sought to kindle religious enthusiasm in England. So he set himself to educate his countrymen in the great truths which appealed to the inner life,–to the heart and conscience. This he did, first, by rousing the slumbering spirits of the elders of tribes when they sought his counsel as a prophet, the like of whom had not appeared since Moses, so gifted and so earnest; and secondly, by founding a school for the education of young men who should go with his instructions wherever he chose to send them, like the early missionaries, to hamlets and villages which he was unable to visit in person. The first “school of the prophets” was a seminary of missionaries, animated by the spirit of a teacher whom they feared and admired as no prophet had been revered in the whole history of the nation since Moses.

Samuel communicated his own burning spirit wherever he went, and the burden of his eloquence was zeal and loyalty for Jehovah. Before his time the prophets had been known as seers; but Samuel superadded the duties of a religious teacher,–the spokesman of the Almighty. The number of his disciples, whom he doubtless commissioned as evangelists, must have been very large. They lived in communities and ate in common, like the primitive monks. They probably resembled the early Dominican and Franciscan friars of the Middle Ages, who were kindled to enthusiasm by such teachers as Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura. Like them they were ascetics in their habits and dress, wearing sheepskins, and living on locusts and wild honey,–on the fruits which grew spontaneously in the rich valleys of their well-watered country. It did not require much learning to arouse the common people to new duties and a higher religious life. The Bible does not inform us as to the details by which Samuel made his influence felt, but there can be no doubt that by some means he kindled a religious life before unknown among his countrymen. He infused courage and hope into their despairing hearts, and laid the foundation of military enthusiasm by combining with it religious ardor; so that by the discipline of forty years,–the same period employed by Moses in transmuting a horde of slaves into a national host of warriors; a period long enough to drop out the corrupted elements and replace them with the better trained rising generation,–the nation was prepared for accomplishing the victories of Saul and David. But for Samuel no great captains would have arisen to lead the scattered and dispirited hosts of Israel against the Philistines and other enemies. He was thus a political leader as well as a religious teacher, combining the offices of judge and prophet. Everybody felt that he was directly commissioned by God, and his words had the force of inspiration. He reigned with as much power as a king over all the tribes, though clad in the garments of humility. Who in all Israel was greater than he, even after he had anointed Saul to the kingly office?

The great outward event in the life of Samuel was the transition of the Israelites from a theocratic to a monarchical government. It was a political revolution, and like all revolutions was fraught with both good and evil, yet seemingly demanded by the spirit of the times,–in one sense an advance in civilization, in another a retrogression in primeval virtues. It resulted in a great progress in material arts, culture, and power, but also in a decline in those simplicities that favor a religious life, on which the strength of man is apparently built,–that is, a state of society in which man in his ordinary life draws nearest to his Maker, to his kindred, and his home; to which luxury and demoralizing pleasures are unknown; a life free from temptations and intellectual snares, from political ambition and social unrest, from recognized injustice and stinging inequalities. The historian with his theory of development might call this revolution the change from national youth to manhood, the emerging from the dark ages of Hebrew history to a period of national aggrandizement and growth in civilization,–one of the necessary changes which must take place if a nation would become strong, powerful, and cultivated. To the eye of the contemplative, conservative, and God-fearing Samuel this change of government seemed full of perils and dangers, for which the nation was not fully prepared. He felt it to be a change which might wean the Israelites from their new sense of dependence on God, the only hope of nations, and which might favor another lapse to pagan idolatries and a decline in household virtues, such as had been illustrated in the life of Ruth and Boaz,–and hence might prove a mere exchange of that rugged life which elevates the soul, for those gilded glories which adorn and pamper the mortal body. He certainly foresaw and knew that the change in government would produce tyranny, oppression, and injustice, from which there could be no escape and for which there could be no redress, for he told the people in detail just what they should suffer at the hands of any king whom they might have; and these were in his eyes evils which nothing could compensate,–the loss of liberty, the extinction of personal independence, and a probable rebellion against the Supreme Jehovah in the degrading worship of the gods of idolatrous nations.

When the people, therefore, under the guidance of so-called “progressive leaders,” hankered for a government which would make them like other nations, and demanded a king, the prophet was greatly moved and sore displeased; and this displeasure was heightened by a bitter humiliation when the elders reproached him because of the misgovernment of his own sons. He could not at first say a word, in view of a demand apparently justified by the conduct of the existing rulers. There was a just cause of complaint. If his own sons would take bribes in rendering judgment, who could be trusted? Civilization would say that there was needed a stronger arm to punish crime and enforce the laws.

So Samuel, perplexed and disheartened, fearing that the political changes would be evil rather than good, and yet feeling unable to combat the popular voice, sought wisdom in prayer. “And the Lord said, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should reign over them. Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” The Almighty would not take away the free-will of the people; but Samuel is required to show them the perversity of their will, and that if they should choose evil the consequences would be on their heads and the heads of their children, from generation to generation.

Samuel therefore spake unto the people,–probably the elders and leading men, for the aristocratic element of society prevailed, as in the Middle Ages of feudal Europe, when even royal power was merely nominal, and barons and bishops ruled,–and said: “This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He shall take your sons and appoint them for himself for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots; and he shall appoint captains over thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear [plough] his ground and reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectioners [or perfumers] and cooks and bakers. And he will take your fields and your vineyards and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants; and he will take the tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to his officers and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. And he will take the tenth of your sheep; and ye shall be his servants. And ye will cry out in that day because of your king which ye have chosen you, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” It would thus appear that the monarchy which the people sought would necessarily become nearly absolute, limited only by the will of God as interpreted by priests and prophets,–for the theocracy was not to be destroyed, but still maintained as even superior to the royal authority. The future king was to be supreme in affairs of state, in the direction of armies, in the appointment of captains and commanders, in the general superintendence of the realm in worldly matters; but he could not go contrary to the divine commands as they would be revealed to him, without incurring a fearful penalty. He could not interfere with the functions of the priesthood under any pretence whatever; and further, he was required to rule on principles of equity and immutable justice. He could not repel the divine voice, whether it spake to his consciousness or was revealed to him by divinely commissioned prophets, without the certainty of divine chastisement. Thus was his power limited, even by invisible forces superior to his own; for Jehovah had not withdrawn his special jurisdiction over the chosen people for whom he was preparing a splendid destiny,–that is, through them, the redemption of the world.

Whether the people of Israel did not believe the predictions of the prophet, or wished to have a kingly government in spite of its evils, in order to become more powerful as a nation, we do not know. All that we know is that they persisted in their demand, and that God granted their request. With all the memories and traditions of their slavery in the land of Egypt, and the grinding despotism incident to an absolute monarchy of which their ancestors bore witness, they preferred despotism with its evils to the independence they had enjoyed under the Judges; for nationality, to which the Jewish people were casting longing eyes, demands law and order as the first condition of society. In obedience to this same principle the grinding monarchy of Louis XIV. seemed preferable to the turbulence and anarchy of the Middle Ages, since unarmed and obscure citizens felt safe in their humble avocations. In like manner, after the license of the French Revolution the people said, “Give us a king once more!” and seated Napoleon on the throne of the Bourbons,–a ruler who took one man out of every five adults to recruit his armies and consolidate his power, which he called the glory of France. Thus kings have reigned by the will of the people,–or, as they call it, by the grace of God,–from Saul and David to our own times, except in those few countries where liberty is preferred to material power and military laurels.

The peculiar situation of the Israelites in a narrow strip of territory which was the highway between Syria and Egypt, likely to be overrun by Aramaeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, to say nothing of the hostile nations which surrounded them, such as Moabites and Philistines, necessarily made them a warlike people (like the inhabitants of the Swiss Cantons five or six hundred years ago), and they were hence led to put a high estimate on military qualities, especially on the general who led them to battle. They accordingly desired a greater centralized power than the Judges wielded, which could be exercised only by a king, intrenched in a strong capital. Their desire for a king was natural, and almost excusable if they were willing to pay the inevitable price. They simply wished to surrender liberty for protection and political safety. They did not repudiate the fundamental doctrine of their religion; they simply wanted a change of government,–a more efficient administration.

The selection of a king did not rest with the people, however, but with the great prophet who had ruled them with so much wisdom and ability, and who was regarded as the interpreter of the will of God.

Samuel, by the direction of God, did not go into the powerful tribe of Ephraim, which possessed one half of the Israelitish territory, to select a sovereign, but to the smallest of the tribes, that of Benjamin,–the most warlike, however,–and to one of the least of the families of that tribe, dwelling in very humble life. Kish, the Benjamite, had sent out his son Saul in quest of three asses which had strayed away from the farm,–a man so poor that he had no money to give to the seer who should direct his search, as was customary, and was obliged to borrow a quarter of a shekel from his servant when they went together to seek the counsel of Samuel. But this obscure youth was “a choice young man, and a goodly.” He had a commanding presence, was very beautiful, and was head and shoulders taller than any other man of his tribe,–a man every way likely to succeed in war. Samuel no sooner saw the commanding figure and intelligent countenance of Saul than he was assured that this was the man whom the Lord had chosen to be the future captain and champion of Israel. He at once treated him with distinguished honor, and made him sit at his own table, much to the amazement of the thirty nobles who also were bidden to a banquet. The prophet took the young man aside, conducted him to the top of his house, anointed him with the sacred oil, kissed him (a form of allegiance), and communicated to him the will of God. But Saul was only privately consecrated, and with rare discretion told no man of his good fortune,–for he had not yet distinguished himself in any way, and would have been laughed to scorn by his relatives, as Joseph was by his brothers, had he revealed his destiny.

Nor did Samuel dare to tell the people of the man whom the Lord had chosen to rule over them, but assembled all the tribes, that the choice might be publicly indicated. Probably to their astonishment the little tribe of Benjamin was “taken,”–that is pointed out, presumably by lot, as was their custom when appealing for divine direction; and out of the tribe of Benjamin the family of Matri was chosen, and Saul the son of Kish was selected. But Saul could not be found. With rare modesty and humility he had hidden himself. When at length they brought him from his hiding-place Samuel said unto the people, “See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people!” And such was the authority of Samuel that the people shouted, saying, “God save the king!”–a circumstance interesting as being the first recorded utterance of a cry that has been echoed the world over by many a loyal people.

Not yet, however, was Saul clothed with full power as a king. Samuel still remained the acknowledged ruler until Saul should distinguish himself in battle. This soon took place. With heroic valor he delivered Jabesh-Gilead from the hosts of the Ammonites when that city was about to fall into their hands, and silenced the envy of his enemies. In a burst of popular enthusiasm Samuel collected the people in Gilgal, and there formally installed Saul as King of Israel.

Samuel was now an old man, and was glad to lay down his heavy burden and put it on the shoulders of Saul. Yet he did not retire from the active government without making a memorable speech to the assembled nation, in which with transcendent dignity he appealed to the people in attestation of his incorruptible integrity as a judge and ruler. “Behold, here I am! Witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind my eyes therewith? And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us; neither hast thou taken aught of any man’s hand.” Then Samuel closed his address with an injunction to both king and people to obey the commandments of God, and denouncing the penalty of disobedience: “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth and with all your heart, for consider what great things He hath done for you; but if ye shall do wickedly, ye shall be consumed,–both ye and your king.”

Saul for a time gave no offence worthy of rebuke, but was a valiant captain, smiting the Philistines, who were the most powerful enemies that the Israelites had yet encountered. But in an evil day he forgot his true vocation, and took upon himself the function of a priest by offering burnt sacrifices, which was not lawful but for the priest alone. For this he was rebuked by Samuel. “Thou hast done foolishly,” he said to the King; “for which thy kingdom shall not continue. The Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.” We here see the blending of the theocratic with the kingly rule.

Nevertheless Saul was prospered in his wars. He fought successfully the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Amalekites, and the Philistines, aided by his cousin Abner, whom he made captain of his host. He did much to establish the kingdom; but he was rather a great captain than a great man. He did not fully perceive his mission, which was to fight, but meddled with affairs which belonged to the priests. Nor was he always true to his mission as a warrior. He weakly spared Agag, King of the Amalekites, which again called forth the displeasure and denunciation of Samuel, who regarded the conduct of the King as direct rebellion against God, since he was commanded to spare none of that people, they having shown an uncompromising hostility to the Israelites in their days of weakness, when first entering Canaan. This, and similar commands laid upon the Israelites at various times, to “utterly destroy” certain tribes or individuals and all of their possessions, have been justified on the ground of the bestial grossness and corruption of those pagan idolaters and the vileness of their religious rites and social customs, which unfortunately always found a temptable side on the part of the Israelites, and repeatedly brought to nought the efforts of Jehovah’s prophets to bring up their people in the fear of the Lord, to recognize Him, only, as God. It was not easy for that sensual race to stand on the height of Moses, and “endure as seeing him who is invisible.” They too easily fell into idolatry; hence the necessity of the extermination of some of the nests of iniquity in Canaan.

Whether Saul spared Agag because of his personal beauty, to grace his royal triumph, or whatever the motive, it was a direct disobedience; and when the king attempted to exculpate himself, inasmuch as he had made a sacrifice of the spoil to the Lord, Samuel replied: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying his voice?… Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,–for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as an iniquity and idolatry.” The prophet here sets forth, as did Isaiah in later times, the great principles of moral obligation as paramount over all ceremonial observances. He strikes a blow at all pharisaism and all self-righteousness, and inculcates obedience to direct commands as the highest duty of man.

Saul, perceiving that he had sinned, confessed his transgression, but palliated it by saying that he feared the people. But this policy of expediency had no weight with the prophet, although Saul repented and sought pardon. Samuel continued his stern rebuke, and uttered his fearful message, saying, “Jehovah hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine that is better than thou.” Furthermore Samuel demanded that Agag, whom Saul had spared, should be brought before him; and he took upon himself with his aged hand the work of executioner, and hewed the king of the Amalekites in pieces in Gilgal. He then finally departed from Saul, and mournfully went to his own house in Ramah, and Saul saw him no more. As the king was the “Lord’s anointed,” Samuel could not openly rebel against kingly authority, but he would henceforth have nothing to do with the headstrong ruler. He withdrew from him all spiritual guidance, and left him to his follies and madness; for the inextinguishable jealousy of Saul, that now began to appear, was a species of insanity, which poisoned his whole subsequent life. The people continued loyal to a king whom God had selected, but Samuel “came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.” To be deserted by such a counsellor as Samuel, was no small calamity.

Meanwhile, in obedience to instructions from God, Samuel proceeded to Bethlehem, to the humble abode of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah, one of whose sons he was required to anoint as the future king of Israel. He naturally was about to select the largest and finest looking of the seven sons; but God looketh on the heart rather than the outward appearance, and David, a mere youth, and the youngest of the family, was the one indicated by Jehovah, and was privately anointed by the prophet.

Saul, of course, did not know on whom the choice had fallen as his successor, but from that day on which he was warned of the penalty of his disobedience divine favor departed from him, and he became jealous, fitful, and cruel. He presented a striking contrast to the character he had shown in his early days,–being no longer modest and humble, but proud and tyrannical. Prosperity and power had turned his head, and developed all that was evil in him. Nero was not more unreasonable and bloodthirsty than was Saul in his latter days. Prosperity developed in Solomon a love of magnificence, in Nebuchadnezzar a towering vanity, but in Saul a malignant envy of all extraordinary merit, and a sullen determination to destroy the persons it adorned. The last person in his kingdom of whom apparently he had reason to be jealous, was the ruddy and beardless youth whom he had sent for to drive away his melancholy by his songs and music. Nor was it until David killed Goliath that Saul became jealous; before this he had no cause of envy, for kings do not envy musicians, but reward them. David’s reward was as extravagant as that which Russian emperors shower upon singers and dancers: he was made armor-bearer to the King,–an office bestowed only upon favorites and those who were implicitly trusted and beloved. Little did the moody and jealous King imagine that the youth whom he had brought from obscurity to amuse his melancholy hours by his music, and probably his wit and humor, would so soon, by his own sanction, become the champion of Israel, and ultimately his successor on the throne.

In the latter part of the reign of Saul the enemies with whom he had to contend were the various Canaanitish nations that had remained unconquered during the hard struggle of four hundred years after the Hebrews had been led by Joshua to the promised land. The most powerful of these nations were the Philistines. “Strong in their military organization, fierce in their warlike spirit, and rich by their position and commercial instincts, they even threatened the ancient supremacy of the Phoenicians of the north. Their cities were the restless centres of every form of activity. Ashdod and Gaza, as the keys of Egypt, commanded the carrying trade to and from the Nile, and formed the great depots for its imports and exports. All the cities, moreover, traded in slaves with Edom and southern Arabia, and their commerce in other directions flourished so greatly as to gain for the people at large the name of Canaanites,–which was synonymous with ‘merchant,’ Even the word ‘Palestine’ is derived from the Philistines. Their skill as smiths and armorers was noted; the strength of their cities attest their strength as builders, and their idols and golden mice and emerods show their respect for the arts of peace.” It is supposed that they had settled in Canaan about the time of Abraham, and were originally a pastoral people in the neighborhood of Gesar, or emigrants from Crete. When the Israelites under Joshua arrived, they were in full possession of the southern part of Palestine, and had formed a confederacy of five powerful cities,–Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, Gath, and Ekron. In the time of the Judges they had become so prosperous and powerful that they held the Israelites in partial subjection, broken at intervals by heroes like Shamgar and Samson. Under Eli there was an organized but unsuccessful resistance to these prosperous and warlike heathen. Under Samuel the tide of success was turned in Israel’s favor at the battle of Mizpeh, when the Israelites erected their pillar at Ebenezer as a token of victory. The battle of Michmash, gained by Saul and Jonathan after an immense slaughter of their foes, was so decisive that for twenty-five years the Israelites were unmolested. In the latter part of the reign of Saul the Philistines attempted to regain their ascendency, but on the death of Goliath at the hand of David they were driven to their own territories. The battle of Gilboa, where Saul and Jonathan were slain, again turned the scale in favor of the Philistines. Under David the Israelites resumed the aggressive, took Gath, and completely broke forever the ascendency of their powerful foes. Under Solomon it would appear that the whole of Philistia was incorporated with the Hebrew monarchy, and remained so until the calamities of the Jews gave Philistia to the Assyrian conquerors of Jerusalem, and finally it fell into the hands of the Romans. The Philistines were zealous idolaters, and in times of great religious apostasy they succeeded in introducing the worship of their gods among the Israelites, especially that of Baal and Ashtaroth.

Samuel did not live to see the complete humiliation of his nation which succeeded the bloody battle when Saul was slain; but he lived to a good old age, and never lost his influence over the Israelites, whom he had rescued from idolatry and to whom he had given political unity. Although Saul was king, we are told that Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He died universally lamented. There is no record in the Scriptures of a death attended with such profound and general mourning. All Israel mourned for him. They mourned because he was a good man, unstained by crime or folly; they mourned because their judge and oracle and friend had passed away; they mourned because he had been their intercessor with God himself, and the interpreter of the divine will. His like would never appear again in Israel. “He represents the independence of the moral law, as distinct from regal and sacerdotal enactments. If a Levite, he was not a priest. He was a prophet, the first in the regular succession of prophets. He was also the founder of the first regular institutions of religious instruction, and communities for the purposes of education. From these institutions were developed the universities of Christendom.”

In a spiritual and religious sense the prophet takes the highest rank in the kingdom of God on earth. Among the Hebrews he was the interpreter of the divine will; he predicted future events. He was a preacher of righteousness; he was the counsellor of kings and princes; he was a sage and oracle among the people. He was a reformer, teaching the highest truths and restoring the worship of God when nations were sunk in idolatry; he was the mouth-piece of the Eternal, for warning, for rebuke, for encouragement, for chastisement. He was divinely inspired, armed with supernatural powers,–a man whom the people feared and obeyed, sometimes honored, sometimes stoned; one who bore heavy responsibilities, and of whom were demanded disagreeable duties. We associate with the idea of a prophet both wisdom and virtue, great gifts and great personal piety. We think of him as a man who lived a secluded life of meditation and prayer, in constant communion with God and removed from all worldly rewards,–a man indifferent to ordinary pleasures, to outward pomp and show, free from personal vanity, lofty in his bearing, independent in his mode of life, spiritual in his aims, fervent and earnest in his exhortations, living above the world in the higher regions of faith and love, disdaining praises and honors, soft raiment and luxurious food, and maintaining a proud equality with the greatest personages; a man not to be bought, and not to be deterred from his purpose by threatenings or intimidation or flatteries, commanding reverence, and exalted as a favorite of heaven. It was not necessary that the prophet should be a priest or even a Levite. He was greater than any impersonation of sacerdotalism, sacred in his person and awful in his utterances, unassisted by ritualistic forms, declaring truths which appealed to consciousness,–a kind of spiritual dictator who inspired awe and reverence.

In one sense or another most of the august characters of the Old Testament were prophets,–Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Elijah, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. They either foretold the future, or rebuked kings as messengers of omnipotence, or taught the people great truths, or uttered inspired melodies, or interpreted dreams, or in some way revealed the ways and will of God. Among them were patriarchs, kings, and priests, and sages uninvested with official functions. Some lived in cities and others in villages, and others again in the wilderness and desert places; some reigned in the palaces of pride, and others in the huts of poverty,–yet all alike exercised a tremendous moral power. They were the national poets and historians of Judaea, preachers of patriotism as well as of religion and morals, exercising political as well as spiritual power. Those who stand out pre-eminently in the sacred writings were gifted with the power of revealing the future destinies of nations, and above all other things the peculiarities of the Messianic reign.

Samuel was not called to declare those profound truths which relate to the appearance and reign of Christ as the Saviour of mankind, nor the fate of idolatrous nations, nor even the future vicissitudes connected with the Hebrew nation, but to found a school of religious teachers, to revive the worship of Jehovah, guide the conduct of princes, and direct the general affairs of the nation as commanded by God. He was the first and most favored of the great prophets, and exercised an influence as a prophet never equalled by any who succeeded him. He was a great prophet, since for forty years he ruled Israel by direct divine illumination,–a holy man who communed with God, great in speech and great in action. He did not rise to the lofty eloquence of Isaiah, nor foresee the fate of nations like Daniel and Ezekiel; but he was consulted and obeyed as a man who knew the divine will, gifted beyond any other man of his age in spiritual insight, and trusted implicitly for his wisdom and sanctity. These were the excellences which made him one of the most extraordinary men in Jewish history, rendering services to his nation which cannot easily be exaggerated.


1055-1015 B.C.


Considering how much has been written about David in all the nations of Christendom, and how familiar Christian people are with his life and writings, it would seem presumptuous to attempt a lecture on this remarkable man, especially since it is impossible to add anything essentially new to the subject. The utmost that I can do is to select, condense, and rearrange from the enormous quantity of matter which learned and eloquent writers have already furnished.

The warrior-king who conquered the enemies of Israel in a dark and desponding period; the sagacious statesman who gave unity to its various tribes, and formed them into a powerful monarchy; the matchless poet who bequeathed to all ages a lofty and beautiful psalmody; the saint, who with all his backslidings and inconsistencies was a man after God’s own heart,–is well worthy of our study. David was the most illustrious of all the kings of whom the Jewish nation was proud, and was a striking type of a good man occasionally enslaved by sin, yet breaking its bonds and rising above subsequent temptations to a higher plane of goodness. A man so elevated, with almost every virtue which makes a man beloved, and yet with defects which will forever stain his memory, cannot easily be portrayed. What character in history presents such wide contradictions? What career was ever more varied? What recorded experiences are more interesting and instructive?–a life of heroism, of adventures, of triumphs, of humiliations, of outward and inward conflicts. Who ever loved and hated with more intensity than David?–tender yet fierce, brave yet weak, magnanimous yet unrelenting, exultant yet sad, committing crimes yet triumphantly rising after disgraceful falls by the force of a piety so ardent that even his backslidings now appear but as spots upon a sun. His varied experiences call out our sympathy and admiration more than the life of any secular hero whom poetry and history have immortalized. He was an Achilles and a Ulysses, a Marcus Aurelius and a Theodosius, an Alfred and a Saint Louis combined; equally great in war and in peace, in action and in meditation; creating an empire, yet transmitting to posterity a collection of poems identified forever with the spiritual life of individuals and nations. Interesting to us as are the events of David’s memorable career, and the sentiments and sorrows which extort our sympathy, yet it is the relation of a sinful soul with its Maker, by which he infuses his inner life into all other souls, and furnishes materials of thought for all generations.

David was the youngest and seventh son of Jesse, a prominent man of the tribe of Judah, whose great-grandmother was Ruth, the interesting wife of Boaz the Jew. He was born in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem,–a town rendered afterward so illustrious as the birthplace of our Lord, who was himself of the house and lineage of David. He first appears in history at the sacrificial feast which his townspeople periodically held, presided over by his father, when the prophet Samuel unexpectedly appeared at the festival to select from the sons of Jesse a successor to Saul. He was not tall and commanding like the Benjamite hero, but was ruddy of countenance, with auburn hair, beautiful eyes, and graceful figure, equally remarkable for strength and agility. He had the charge of his father’s sheep,–not the most honorable employment in the eyes of his brothers, who, according to Ewald, treated him with little consideration; but even as a shepherd boy he had already proved his strength and courage by an encounter with a bear and a lion.

Until David was thirty years of age his life was identified with the fading glories of the reign of Saul, who laid the foundation of the military power of his successors,–a man who lacked only the one quality imperative on the vicegerent of a supreme but invisible Power, that of unquestioning obedience to the divine directions as interpreted by the voice of prophets. Had Saul been loyal in his heart, as David was, to the God of Israel, the sceptre might not have departed from his house,–for he showed some of the highest qualities of a general and a ruler, until his jealousy was excited by the brilliant exploits of the son of Jesse. On these exploits and subsequent adventures, which invest David’s early career with the fascinations of a knight of chivalry, I need not dwell. All are familiar with his encounter with Goliath, and with his slaughter of the Philistines after he had slain the giant, which called out the admiration of the haughty daughter of the king, the love of the heir-apparent to the throne, and the applause of the whole nation. I need not speak of his musical melodies, which drove the fatal demon of melancholy from the royal palace; of his jealous expulsion by the King, his hairbreadth escapes, his trials and difficulties as a wanderer and exile, as a fugitive retreating to solitudes and caves of the earth, parched with heat and thirst, exhausted with hunger and fatigue, surrounded with increasing dangers,–yet all the while forgiving and magnanimous, sparing the life of his deadly enemy, unstained by a single vice or weakness, and soothing his stricken soul with bursts of pious song unequalled for pathos and loftiness in the whole realm of lyric poetry. He is never so interesting as amid caverns and blasted desolations and serrated rocks and dried-up rivulets, when his life is in constant danger. But he knows that he is the anointed of the Lord, and has faith that in due time he will be called to the throne.

It was not until the bloody battle with the Philistines, which terminated the lives of both Saul and Jonathan, that David’s reign began in about his thirtieth year,[3]–first at Hebron, where he reigned seven and one half years over his own tribe of Judah,–but not without the deepest lamentations for the disaster which had caused his own elevation. To the grief of David for the death of Saul and Jonathan we owe one of the finest odes in Hebrew poetry. At this crisis in national affairs, David had sought shelter with Achish, King of Gath, in whose territory he, with the famous band of six hundred warriors whom he had collected in his wanderings, dwelt in safety and peace. This apparent alliance with the deadly enemy of the Israelites had displeased the people. Notwithstanding all his victories and exploits, his anointment at the hand of Samuel, his noble lyrics, his marriage with the daughter of Saul, and the death of both Saul and Jonathan, there had been at first no popular movement in David’s behalf. The taking of decisive action, however, was one of his striking peculiarities from youth to old age, and he promptly decided, after consulting the Urim and Thummim, to go at once to Hebron, the ancient sacred city of the tribe of Judah, and there await the course of events. His faithful band of six hundred devoted men formed the nucleus of an army; and a reaction in his favor having set in, he was chosen king. But he was king only of the tribe to which he belonged. Northern and central Palestine were in the hands of the Philistines,–ten of the tribes still adhering to the house of Saul, under the leadership of Abner, the cousin of Saul, who proclaimed Ishbosheth king. This prince, the youngest of Saul’s four sons, chose for his capital Mahanaim, on the east of the Jordan.

[Footnote 3: Authorities differ as to the precise date of David’s accession.]

Ishbosheth was, however, a weak prince, and little more than a puppet in the hands of Abner, the most famous general of the day, who, organizing what forces remained after the fatal battle of Gilboa, was quite a match for David. For five years civil war raged between the rivals for the ascendency, but success gradually secured for David the promised throne of united Israel. Abner, seeing how hopeless was the contest, and wishing to prevent further slaughter, made overtures to David and the elders of Judah and Benjamin. The generous monarch received him graciously, and promised his friendship; but, out of jealousy,–or perhaps in revenge for the death of his brother Asahel, whom Abner had slain in battle,–Joab, the captain of the King’s chosen band, treacherously murdered him. David’s grief at the foul deed was profound and sincere, but he could not afford to punish the general on whom he chiefly relied. “Know ye,” said David to his intimate friends, “that a great prince in Israel has fallen to-day; but I am too weak to avenge him, for I am not yet anointed king over the tribes.” He secretly disliked Joab from this time, and waited for God himself to repay the evil-doer according to his wickedness. The fate of the unhappy and abandoned Ishbosheth could not now long be delayed. He also was murdered by two of his body-guard, who hoped to be rewarded by David for their treachery; but instead of gaining a reward, they were summarily ordered to execution. The sole surviving member of Saul’s family was now Mephibosheth, the only son of Jonathan,–a boy of twelve, impotent, and lame. This prince, to the honor of David, was protected and kindly cared for. David’s magnanimity appears in that he made special search, asking “Is there any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him the kindness of God for Jonathan’s sake?” The memory of the triumphant conqueror was still tender and loyal to the covenant of friendship he had made in youth, with the son of the man who for long years had pursued him with the hate of a lifetime.

David was at this time thirty-eight years of age, in the prime of his manhood, and his dearest wish was now accomplished; for on the burial of Ishbosheth “came all the tribes of Israel to David unto Hebron,” formally reminded him of his early anointing to succeed Saul, and tendered their allegiance. He was solemnly consecrated king, more than eight thousand priests joining in the ceremony; and, thus far without a stain on his character, he began his reign over united Israel. The kingdom over which he was called to reign was the most powerful in Palestine. Assyria, Egypt, China, and India were already empires; but Greece was in its infancy, and Homer and Buddha were unborn.

The first great act of David after his second anointment was to transfer his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem, then a strong fortress in the hands of the Jebusites. It was nearer the centre of his new kingdom than Hebron, and yet still within the limits of the tribe of Judah, He took it by assault, in which Joab so greatly distinguished himself that he was made captain-general of the King’s forces. From that time “David went on growing great, and the Lord God of Hosts was with him.” After fortifying his strong position, he built a palace worthy of his capital, with the aid of Phoenician workmen whom Hiram, King of Tyre, wisely furnished him. The Philistines looked with jealousy on this impregnable stronghold, and declared war; but after two invasions they were so badly beaten that Gath, the old capital of Achish, passed into the hands of the King of Israel, and the power of these formidable enemies was broken forever.

The next important event in the reign of David was the transfer of the sacred ark from Kirjath-jearim, where it had remained from the time of Samuel, to Jerusalem. It was a proud day when the royal hero, enthroned in his new palace on that rocky summit from which he could survey both Judah and Samaria, received the symbol of divine holiness amid all the demonstrations which popular enthusiasm could express. “And as the long and imposing procession, headed by nobles, priests, and generals, passed through the gates of the city, with shouts of praise and songs and sacred dances and sacrificial rites and symbolic ceremonies and bands of exciting music, the exultant soul of David burst out in the most rapturous of his songs: ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in!'”–thus reiterating the fundamental truth which Moses taught, that the King of Glory is the Lord Jehovah, to be forever worshipped both as a personal God and the real Captain of the hosts of Israel.

“One heart alone,” says Stanley, “amid the festivities which attended this joyful and magnificent occasion, seemed to be unmoved. Whether she failed to enter into its spirit, or was disgusted with the mystic dances in which her husband shared, the stately daughter of Saul assailed David on his return to his palace–not clad in his royal robes, but in the linen ephod of the priests–with these bitter and disdainful words: ‘How glorious was the King of Israel to-day, as he uncovered himself in the eyes of his handmaidens!’–an insult which forever afterward rankled in his soul, and undermined his love.” Thus was the most glorious day which David ever saw, clouded by a domestic quarrel; and the proud princess retired, until her death, to the neglected apartments of a dishonored home. How one word of bitter scorn or harsh reproach will sometimes sunder the closest ties between man and woman, and cause an alienation which never can be healed, and which may perchance end in a domestic ruin!

David had now passed from the obscurity of a chief of a wandering and exiled band of followers to the dignity of an Oriental monarch, and turned his attention to the organization of his kingdom and the development of its resources. His army was raised to two hundred and eighty thousand regular soldiers. His intimate friends and best-tried supporters were made generals, governors, and ministers. Joab was commander-in-chief; and Benaiah, son of the high-priest, was captain of his body-guard,–composed chiefly of foreigners, after the custom of princes in most ages. His most trusted counsellors were the prophets Gad and Nathan. Zadok and Abiathar were the high-priests, who also superintended the music, to which David gave special attention. Singing men and women celebrated his victories. The royal household was regulated by different grades of officers. But David departed from the stern simplicity of Saul, and surrounded himself with pomps and guards. None were admitted to his presence without announcement or without obeisance, while he himself was seated on a throne, with a golden sceptre in his hands and a jewelled crown upon his brow, clothed in robes of purple and gold. He made alliances with powerful chieftains and kings, and imitated their fashion of instituting a harem for his wives and concubines,–becoming in every sense an Oriental monarch, except that his power was limited by the constitution which had been given by Moses. He reigned, it would seem, in justice and equity, and in obedience to the commands of Jehovah, whose servant he felt himself to be. Nor did he violate any known laws of morality, unless it were the practice of polygamy, in accordance with the custom of all Eastern potentates, permitted to them if not to their ordinary subjects. We infer from all incidental notices of the habits of the Israelites at this period that they were a remarkably virtuous people, with primitive tastes and love of domestic life, among whom female chastity was esteemed the highest virtue; and it is a matter of surprise that the loose habits of the King in regard to women provoked so little comment among his subjects, and called out so few rebukes from his advisers.

But he did not surrender himself to the inglorious luxury in which Oriental monarchs lived. He retained his warlike habits, and in great national crises he headed his own troops in battle. It would seem that he was not much molested by external enemies for twenty years after making Jerusalem his capital, but reigned in peace, devoting himself to the welfare of his subjects, and collecting materials for the future building of the Temple,–its actual erection being denied to him as a man of blood. Everything favored the national prosperity of the Israelites. There was no great power in western Asia to prevent them founding a permanent monarchy; Assyria had been humbled; and Egypt, under the last kings of the twentieth dynasty, had lost its ancient prestige; the Philistines were driven to a narrow portion of their old dominion, and the king of Tyre sought friendly alliance with David.

In the course of time, however, war broke out with Moab, followed by other wars, which required all the resources of the Jewish kingdom, and taxed to the utmost the energies of its bravest generals. Moab, lying east of the Dead Sea, had at one time given refuge to David when pursued by Saul, and he was even allied by blood to some of its people,–being descended from Ruth, a Moabitish woman. The sacred writings shed but little light on this war, or on its causes; but it was carried on with unusual severity, only a third part of the people being spared alive, and they reduced to slavery. A more important contest took place with the kingdom of Ammon on the north, on the confines of Syria, caused by the insults heaped on the ambassadors of David, whom he sent on a friendly message to Hanun the King. The campaign was conducted by Joab, who gained brilliant victories, without however crushing the Ammonites, who again rallied with a vast array of mercenaries gathered in their support. David himself took the field with the whole force of his kingdom, and achieved a series of splendid successes by which he extended his empire to the Euphrates, including Damascus, besides securing invaluable spoils from the cities of Syria,–among them chariots and horses, for which Syria was celebrated. Among these spoils also were a thousand shields overlaid with gold, and great quantities of brass afterward used by Solomon in the construction of the Temple. Yet even these conquests, which now made David the most powerful monarch of western Asia, did not secure peace. The Edomites, south of the Dead Sea, alarmed in view of the increasing greatness of Israel, rose against David, but were routed by Abishai, who penetrated to Petra and became master of the country, the inhabitants of which were put to the sword with unrelenting vengeance. This war of the Edomites took place simultaneously with that of the Ammonites, who, deprived of their allies, retreated with desperation to their strong capital,–Rabbah Ammon, twenty-eight hundred feet above the sea, and twenty miles east of the Jordan,–where they made a memorable but unsuccessful resistance.

It was during the siege of this stronghold, which lasted a year, that David, no longer young, oppressed with cares, and unable personally to bear the fatigues of war, forgot his duties as a king and as a man. For fifty years he had borne an unsullied name; for more than thirty years he had been a model of reproachless chivalry. If polygamy and ferocity in war are not drawbacks to our admiration, certain it is that no recorded crime or folly that called out divine censure can be laid to his charge. But in an hour of temptation, or from strange infatuation, he added murder to adultery,–covering up a great crime by one of still greater enormity, evincing meanness and treachery as well as ungoverned passion, and creating a scandal which was considered disgraceful even in an Oriental palace. “We read,” says South in one of his most brilliant paragraphs, “of nothing like adultery in a persecuted David in the wilderness, when he fled hither and thither like a chased doe upon the mountains; but when the delicacies of his palace softened and ungirt his spirit, then it was that this great hero fell by a glance, and buried his glories in nocturnal shame, giving to his name a lasting stain, and to his conscience a fearful wound.” Nor did he come to himself until a child was born, and the prophet Nathan had ingeniously pointed out to him his flagrant sin. He manifested no wrath against his accuser, as some despots would have done, but sank to the ground in the greatest anguish and grief.

Then it was that David’s repentance was more marvellous than his transgression, offering the most memorable instance of contrition recorded in history,–surpassing in moral sublimity, a thousand times over, the grief of Theodosius under the rebuke of Ambrose, or the sorrow of the haughty Plantagenet for the murder of Becket. His repentance was so profound, so sincere, so remarkable, that it is embalmed forever in the heart of a sinful world. Its wondrous depth and intensity almost make us forget the crime itself, which nevertheless pursued him into the immensity of eternal night, and was visited upon the third and fourth generation in treason, rebellion, and wars. “Be sure your sin will find you out,” is a natural law as well as a divine decree. It was not only because David added Bathsheba to the catalogue of his wives; it was not only because he coveted, like Ahab, that which was not his own,–but because he violated the most sacred of all laws, and treacherously stained his hands in the blood of an innocent, confiding, and loyal subject, that his soul was filled with shame and anguish. It was this blood-guiltiness which was the burden of his confession and his agonized grief, as an offence not merely against society and all moral laws, but also against his Maker, in whose pure eyes he had committed his crimes of lust, deceit, and murder. “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and have done this evil in Thy sight!” What a volume of theological truth blazes from this single expression, so difficult for reason to fathom, that it was against God that the royal penitent felt that he had sinned, even more than against Uriah himself, whose life and property, in a certain sense, belonged to an Oriental king.

“Nor do we charge ourselves,” says Edward Irving, “with the defence of those backslidings which David more keenly scrutinized and more bitterly lamented than any of his censors, because they were necessary, in a measure, that he might be the full-orbed man to utter every form of spiritual feeling. And if the penitential psalms discover the deepest hell of agony, and if they bow the head which utters them, then let us keep those records of the psalmist’s grief and despondency as the most precious of his utterances, and sure to be needed by every man who essayeth to lead a spiritual life; for it is not until a man, however pure, honest, and honorable he may have thought himself, and have been thought by others, discovereth himself to be utterly fallen, defiled, and sinful before God,–not until he can, for expression of utter worthlessness, seek those psalms in which David describes his self-abasement, that he will realize the first beginning of spiritual life in his own soul.”

Should we seek for the cause of David’s fall, for that easy descent in the path of rectitude,–may we not find it in that fatal custom of Eastern kings to have more wives than was divinely instituted in the Garden of Eden,–an indulgence which weakened the moral sense and unchained the passions? Polygamy, under any circumstances, is the folly and weakness of kings, as well as the misfortune and curse of nations. It divided and distracted the household of David, and gave rise to incessant intrigues and conspiracies in his palace, which embittered his latter days and even undermined his throne.

We read of no further backslidings which seemed to call forth the divine displeasure, unless it were the census, or numbering of the people, even against the expostulations of Joab. Why this census, in which we can see no harm, should have been followed by so dire a calamity as a pestilence in which seventy thousand persons perished in four days, we cannot see by the light of reason, unless it indicated the purpose of establishing an absolute monarchy for personal aggrandizement, or the extension of unnecessary conquests, and hence an infringement of the theocratic character of the Hebrew commonwealth. The conquests of David had thus far been so brilliant, and his kingdom was so prosperous, that had he been a pagan monarch he might have meditated the establishment of a military monarchy, or have laid the foundation of an empire, like Cyrus in after-times. From a less beginning than the Jewish commonwealth at the time of David, the Greeks and Romans advanced to sovereignty over both neighboring and distant States. The numbering of the Israelitish nation seemed to indicate a desire for extended empire against the plain indications of the divine will. But whatever was the nature of that sin, it seems to have been one of no ordinary magnitude; and in view of its consequences, David’s heart was profoundly touched. “O God!” he cried, in a generous burst of penitence, “I have sinned. But these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand be upon me, I pray thee, and upon my father’s house!”

If David committed no more sins which we are forced to condemn, and which were not irreconcilable with his piety, he was subject to great trials and misfortunes. The wickedness of his children, especially of his eldest son Amnon, must have nearly broken his heart. Amnon’s offence was not only a terrible scandal, but cost the life of the heir to the throne. It would be hard to conceive how David’s latter days could have been more embittered than by the crime of his eldest son,–a crime he could neither pardon nor punish, and which disgraced his family in the eyes of the nation. As to Absalom, it must have been exceedingly painful and humiliating to the aged and pious king to be a witness of the pride, insolence, extravagance, and folly of his favorite son, who had nothing to commend him to the people but his good looks; and still harder to bear was his rebellion, and his reckless attempt to steal his father’s sceptre. What a pathetic sight to see the old warrior driven from his capital, and forced to flee for his life beyond the Jordan! How humiliating to witness also the alienation of his subjects, and their willingness to accept a brainless youth as his successor, after all the glorious victories he had won, and the services he had rendered to the nation! David’s history reveals the sorrows and burdens of all kings and rulers. Outward grandeur and power, after all, are a poor compensation for the incessant cares, vexations, and humiliations which even the most favored monarchs are compelled to accept,–troubles, disappointments, and burdens which oppress both soul and body, and induce fears, suspicions, jealousies, and animosities. Who would envy a Tiberius or a Louis XIV. if he were obliged to carry their load, knowing well what that burden was?

Then again the kingdom of David was afflicted with a grievous famine, which lasted three years, decimating the people, and giving a check to the national prosperity; and the Philistines, too, whom he thought he had finally subdued, renewed their ancient warfare. But these calamities were not all that the old king had to endure. A new rebellion more dangerous even than that of Absalom broke out under Sheba, a Benjamite, who sounded the trumpet of defiance from the mountains of Ephraim, and who rallied under his standard ten of the tribes. To Amasa, it seems, was intrusted the honor and the task of defending David and the tribe of Judah, to which he belonged,–the king being alienated from Joab for the slaying of Absalom, although it had ended that undutiful son’s rebellion. The bloodthirsty Joab, as implacable as Achilles, who had rendered such signal services to his sovereign, was consumed with jealousy at this new appointment, and going up to the new general-in-chief as if to salute him, treacherously stabbed him with his sword,–but continued, however, to support David. He succeeded in suppressing the rebellion by intrigue, and on the promise that the city should be spared, the head of the rebel was thrown over the wall of the fortress to which he had retired. Even this rebellion did not end the trials of David, since Adonijah, the heir presumptive after the death of Absalom, conspired to steal the royal sceptre, which David had sworn to Bathsheba he would bequeath to her son Solomon. Joab even favored the succession of Adonijah; but the astute monarch, amid the infirmities of age, still possessed a large measure of the intellect and decision of his heroic days, and secured, by a rapid movement, the transfer of his kingdom to Solomon, who was crowned in the lifetime of his father.

In all these foul treacheries and crimes within his own household may be seen the distinct fulfilment of the punishment foretold by Nathan the prophet, as prepared for David’s own “great transgression.” God’s providence is unerring, and men indeed prepare for themselves the retribution which, in spite of sincere repentance, is the inevitable consequence of their own violations of law,–physical, moral, and spiritual. God gave David the new heart he longed for; but the evil seeds sown bore nevertheless evil fruit for him and his children.

Aside from these troubles, we know but little of the latter days of David. After the death of Absalom, it would seem that he reigned ten years, on the whole tranquilly, turning his attention to the development of the resources of his kingdom, and collecting treasure for the Temple, which he was not to build. He was able to set aside, as we read in the twenty-second chapter of the Chronicles, a hundred thousand talents of gold and a million talents of silver,–an almost incredible sum.

If a talent of silver is, as estimated, about L390, or $1950, it would seem that the silver accumulated by David would have amounted to nearly two billion dollars, and the gold to a like sum,–altogether four billions, which is plainly impossible. Probably there is a mistake in the figures. We read in the twenty-ninth chapter of Chronicles that David gave to Solomon, out of his own private property, three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver,–together, nearly $74,000,000. His nobles added what would be equal to $120,000,000 in gold and silver alone, besides brass and iron,–altogether about $194,000,000, which is not incredible when we bear in mind that a single family in New York has accumulated a larger sum in two generations. But even this sum,–nearly two hundred million dollars,–would have more than built all the temples of Athens, or St. Peter’s Church at Rome. Whether the author of the Chronicles has exaggerated the amount of the national contribution for the building of the Temple or not, we yet are impressed with the vast wealth which was accumulated in the lifetime of David; and hence we infer that the wealth of his kingdom was enormous. And it was perhaps the excessive taxation of the people to raise this money, outside of the spoils of successful wars, that alienated them in the latter days of David, and induced them to rally under the standards of usurpers. Certain it is that he became unpopular in the feebleness of old age, and was forced to abdicate his throne.

David’s premature old age presented a sad contrast to the vigor of his early days. He was not a very old man when he died,–younger than many monarchs and statesmen who in our times have retained their vigor, their popularity, and their power. But the intense labors and sorrows of forty years may have proved too great a strain on his nervous energies, and made him as timid as he once was bold. The man who had slain Goliath ran away from Absalom. He was completely under the domination of an intriguing wife. He showed a singular weakness in reference to the crimes of his favorite son, so as to merit the bitter reproaches of his captain-general. “Thou hast shamed this day,” said Joab, “the faces of all thy servants; for I perceive had Absalom lived, and all of us had died this day, then it had pleased thee well.” In David’s case, his last days do not seem to have been his best days, although he retained his piety and had conquered all his enemies. His glorious sun set in clouds after a reign of thirty-three years over united Israel, and the nation hailed the accession of a boy whose character was undeveloped.

The final years of this great monarch present an impressive lesson of the vanity even of a successful life, whatever services a man may have rendered to his country and to civilization. Few kings have ever accomplished more than David; but his glory was succeeded, if not by shame, at least by clouds and darkness. And this eclipse is all the more mournful when we remember not only his services but his exalted virtues. He was the most successful and the most admired of all the monarchs who reigned at Jerusalem. He was one of the greatest and best men who ever lived in any nation or at any period. “When, before or since, has there lived an outlaw who did not despoil his country?” Where has there reigned a king whose head was less giddy on a throne, or who retained more humility in the midst of riches and glories, unless it were Marcus Aurelius or Alfred the Great? David had an inborn aptitude for government, and a power like Julius Caesar of fascinating every one who came in contact with him. His self-denial and devotion to the interests of the nation were marvellous. We do not read that he took any time for pleasure or recreation; the heavy load of responsibility and care never for a moment was thrown from his shoulders. His penetration of character was so remarkable that all stood in fear of him; yet fear gave place to admiration. Never had a monarch more devoted servants and followers than David in his palmy days; he was the nation’s idol and pride for thirty years. In every successive vicissitude he was great; and were it not for his cruelty in war and severity to his enemies, and his one great lapse into criminal self-indulgence, his reign would have been faultless. Contrast David with the other conquerors of the world; compare him with classical and mediaeval heroes,–how far do they fall beneath him in deeds of magnanimity and self-sacrifice! What monarch has transmitted to posterity such inestimable treasures of thought and language?

It is consoling to feel that David, whether exultant in riches and honors, or bowed down to the earth with grief and wrath, both in the years of adversity and in his prosperous manhood, in strength and in weakness, with unfailing constancy and loyalty turned his thoughts to God as the source of all hope and consolation. “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God!” He has no doubts, no scepticism, no forgetfulness. His piety has the seal of an all-pervading sense of the constant presence and aid of a personal God whom it is his supremest glory to acknowledge,–his staff, his rock, his fortress, his shield, his deliverer, his friend; the One with whom he sought to commune, both day and night, on the field of battle and in the guarded recesses of his palace. In the very depths of humiliation he never sinks into despair. His piety is both tender and exultant. In the ecstasy of his raptures he calls even upon inanimate nature to utter God’s praises,–upon the sun and moon, the mountains and valleys, fire and hail, storms and winds, yea, upon the stars of night. “Bless ye the Lord, O my soul! for his mercy endureth forever.” And this is why he was a man after God’s own heart. Let cynics and critics, and unbelievers like Bayle, delight to pick flaws in David’s life. Who denies his faults? He was loved because his soul was permeated with exalted loyalty, because he hungered and thirsted after righteousness, because he could not find words to express sufficiently his sense of sin and his longing for forgiveness, his consciousness of littleness and unworthiness when contrasted with the majesty of Jehovah. Let not our eyes be fixed upon his defects, but upon the general tenor of his life. It is true he is in war merciless and cruel; he hurls anathemas on his enemies. His wrath is as supernal as his love; he is inspired with the fiercest resentments; he exhibits the mighty anger of Homer’s heroes; he never could forgive Joab for the slaughter of Abner and Absalom. But the abiding sentiments of his heart are gentleness and magnanimity. How affectionately his soul clung to Jonathan! What a power of self-denial, when he was faint and thirsty, in refusing the water which his brave companions brought him at the risk of their lives! How generously he spared the life of Saul! How patiently he bore the rebukes of Nathan! How nobly he treated the aged Barzillai! His impulses were all generous. He was affectionate to weakness. He had no egotistic ends. He forgot his own sorrows in the sufferings of his people. He had no pride in all the pomp of power, although he never forgot that he was the Lord’s anointed.

When we pass from David’s personal character to the services he rendered, how exalted his record! He laid the foundation of the