« PreviousContinue »
SAMSON INSPIRED BY THE LORD.
terferes to protect Jacob from the just anger of his father-in-law, from whose house he had secretly absconded with all his family and his ill-gotten wealth. His twelve sons were worthy of such a father ; with the exception of Joseph and Benjamin, they were deceitful and revengeful villains.
Perhaps nothing can display more clearly the barbarous man. ners and morals of the inspired writers of the Old Testament than the history of Sampson. The future birth of this great hero, the Hebrew Hercules, is first announced to his mother, who had been previously barren, and afterwards to both his parents, by an Angel of God, who ascends to heaven with a most imposing effect on the flame of the sacrifice offered by the pious couple. In due time a son was born, “and the Lord blessed him, and the spirit of the Lord began to move him at times.” The first time that the "spirit of the Lord” impelled him to exert his miraculuus strength was on a most unobjectionable occasion. A young lion met Samson in the vineyard of Timnath, “and he rent bim as he would have rent a kid.” His second exploit, bowever, most grievously offends our modem squeamish notions of morality. He had laid a wager of thirty sheets and thirty changes of raiment with some of his young companions that they would not be able to expound a certain riddle, within seven days. By an artful contrivance, his friends expound the riddle, and Samson, inspired by the Lord, goes to Askelon, kills thirty Phi. listines, and with their spoil pays the winners of the wager (Judges, chap. xiv.) No doubt this appeared, in those dark times, to be a very praiseworthy action ; but it does appear strangely revolting to us now, that “the spirit of the Lord” should instigate Samson to commit murder and robbery for the purpose of paying a debt of honour, even although his victims were heathen, and had dominion over his countrymen.
Jephthah sacrifices his daughter to God in consequence of a rash vow be had made to offer up the first creature that came out of his house as a burnt offering on his return from a successful campaign (Judges, chap. xi., verse 31.)
When, after the deatb of Othniel, the children of Israel are subjugated by the Moabites, the Lord raises them up a deliverer
in the person of Ehud, who commences by assassinating King Eglon, to whom he had gained access under pretence of bringing him a present (Judges, chap. iii.) Jael is celebrated as the most blessed among women, on account of the treacherous murder of Sisera, who had entered her tent in the sacred character of a guest (Judges, chap. V., verses 24-26). The prophet Samuel hews the captive king Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal (1 Samuel, chap. XV., verse 33). Jehu, expressly appointed by God to be king, murders king Joram when the latter is still weak with wounds received in battle against the nationa). enemy, and orders the queen mother to be thrown out of a window to the dogs (2 Kings, chap. ix.). The assassination of enemies and tyrants, which the progress of reason and humanity has taught us is neither moral nor expedient, is constantly upheld in the Old Testament as laudable and patriotic.
Even in this short sketch we have produced sufficient evidence to show that the Jewish scriptures were written in an ignorant and barbarous age, when savage customs and manners and a general low standard of morality prevailed—when human life was not held sacred, and the destruction of enemies and heretics by all means was considered lawful and religious. Can the teaching of such an age be fit for us in the present time?
David is said to have murdered a faithful servant to hide his adultery, and bis dying words to Solomon exhort him not to hold Shimei, who had cursed him, guiltless, “and to bring his hoar head down to the grave with blood.” This monster of lust, revenge, and cruelty, is called “the man after God's own heart.”. Solomon, though supernaturally endowed with wisdom, is represented as sinking into sensuality and idolatry, in spite of two personal visits from the Jewish God. If the barbarous and ignorapt writers of these books saw no inconsistency in this mixture of fearful crimes and debasing vices with divine gifts and inspira
• Were not the book containing the history of David thrust upon us with pretensions to supernatural wisdom, we should not judge by modern European notions the chieftain of a barbarous Oriental people. “Scepticism ceases to sneer when superstition forgets to rave.”
THE ANCIENT JEWS NO TEACHERS FOR US.
tion, are we to shut our eyes to the absurdity? Are we to listen respectfully to the coarse invective and obscene descriptions of Hosea and Ezekiel, because their morbid imagination and religious zeal persuaded them that these abominations were revealed by a God, and because their superstitious countrymen believed them and others of the same sort ? Are these benighted barbarians fit teachers for the youth of the present day? No; the perusal of their writings can do no possible good, but we may hope that the more purified taste and moral feeling of the day prevents the pollution which might be expected from their wide circulation, and will soon destroy the belief in their supernatural origin.
CHAPTER THE NINTH.
APOLOGIES FOR MOSES.
The religiously educated inquirer is constantly perplexed in his study of the Pentateuch, by the alleged personal action of an Almighty God in the legislation and policy of the Jews, which prevents his accounting for the apparent omissions and barbarities in their law, and for their merciless foreign and civil wars, by any deficiency of civilisation and enlightenment in their legislators and rulers. Defenders of the supernatural wisdom of the Bible are driven to the strangest shifts in order to scramble through this insurmountable difficulty,
In one of Bishop Burnet's conversations with Lord Rochester,
* Burnet expressly says that this miserable being (who for five years was never quite sober, and was distinguished for a complete disregard of truth) had not examined the evidences and doctrines of Christianity, and that his (so-called) infidelity only appeared in his inveterate habit of scoffing. He tells us of the fits of ghostly terror and dread of damnation to which bis convert was subject, and by every page of his story makes it quite clear that
TERMS OFFERED TO SOME OF THE CANAANITES.
that penitent sinner ventures to express to the worthy prelate a doubt of the justice of the wholesale massacre of the Canaanite nations. Burnet argues that “God must have an absolute right over the lives of all his creatures," and that, “ if he could take away their lives without injustice or cruelty, he had a right to appoint others to do it.” And furthermore, “the taking away people by the sword is a much gentler way of dying than to be smitten with a plague or a famine; and for the children that were innocent of their father's faults, God could in another state make that up to them.” Which is, of course, a most ample explanation.
In Matthew Henry and Scott's “Commentary on the Bible," we find the following attempt to justify these same massacres, with reference to the twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, from the tenth to the eighteenth verse :-"In dealing with the worst of enemies the laws of justice and honour must be observed ; and as the sword must never be taken in hand without cause, so not without cause shown. Even to the proclamation of war must be subjoined an offer of peace, if they would accept it upon reasonable terms. That is, say the Jewish writers, upon condition that they renounce idolatry, worship the God of Israel as proselytes of the gate that were not circumcised, pay to their new masters a yearly tribute, and submit to their government.” Very reasonable terms, truly! and it will be seen that the pations to whom they were offered were very leniently treated in comparison with those who were found in possession of the promised land. “The nations of Canaan are excepted from the merciful provisions of this law. Remnants might be left of the cities that were far off, because by them the Israelites were not in so much danger of being infected with idolatry; nor was their country so directly and immediately intended in the promise. But of the cities that were given to Israel for an inheritance, none of the inhabitants must be
Rochester was no unbeliever, but a glaring example of the inefficacy of religious education and supernatural terrors to supply motives and build up habits of virtuous action. Yet this is still a stock-piece among the clergy.
left. Since it could not be expected that they should be cured of their idolatry, they would infect Israel.” Can anything be more clear ? This Almighty Being “ could not expect that the Canaanites should be cured of their Paganism, did expect that his favourite Jews would easily be cured of their Theism, and therefore, as the shortest and easiest method, ordered the idolaters to be exterminated !
Mr. Henry Rogers, in his “Reason and Faith” (p. 82), says: “ Against the alleged absurdity of the laws of Moses, such works as that of Michaelis have disclosed much of that relative wisdom which aims not at the abstractedly best, but at the best which a given condition of humanity, a given period of the world's bistory, and a given purpose, could dictate. In pondering such difficulties as still remain in those laws, we may remember the answer of Solon to the question, whether he had given the Athenians the best laws: be answered, 'No, but the best of which they were capable;' and the illustrious Montesquieu remarked, "When Divine Wisdom said to the Jews, “I have given you precepts which are not good,” this signifies they had only a relative goodness; this is the sponge which wipes out all the difficulties which are to be found in the Law of Moses.' This is a truth which we are persuaded a more profound philosophy will understand the better, and only those legislative pedants will refuse weight to it, who would venturously propose to give New Zealanders and Hottentots, in the starkness of their savage ignorance,
the complex forms of the British Constitution."
Mr. Rogers seem to think that the cases of giving a political constitution and a code of laws and morals are analogous. The Hottentots may be unfit to exercise any of the functions of legis. lation, but would it be too “venturous” in an English ruler to try to teach them our English morality ? Would such a person be a moral “ pedapt p” Are the rules of civilised morals too complex for the comprehension of a New Zealander or Hottentot ? No one has ever complained of Moses not granting the Jews a modern constitution, but of his baving taught them a cruel system of morals and customs, not calculated to humanise and civilise them, but to perpetuate " the starkpess of their savage ignorance,"