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with extreme regret, because, besides her, he had neither son nor daughter*,) sacrificed for her pains, according to the then established custom of Idolatry; which, on such occasions, required a Sacrifice of what was most dear or precious to the offerer. For, I hardly believe that Jephthah
I was, at this time, so learned in the Law, as even the Poet Voltaire; or that he had proceeded, like him, so far in the sacred text, as to misunderstand or misinterpret this famous twenty-seventh Chapter of Leviticus, in support of so impious an action. The unhappy father appears, at this time, to understand so little of the Law, as not to be able to distinguish what it had in common with Paganism, (namely, the custom of offering eucharistical Sacrifices on every great and fortunate event) from what it had in direct opposition to it (viz. that dire impiety of human Sacrifice).
The account here given appears to be the natural explanation of a plain Story. But Commentators, full of the ideas of Papal, rather than of the Mosaic times; and paying a blind reverence to the character of a Judge of Israel, make the Daughter, to save her father's honour, return vow for vow; and so consecrate herself to a Virgin State. Solutions like these expose Sacred Scripture to the scorn and derision of unbelievers.
But against our account of JEPHTHAH's Vow, which makes the whole to be conceived and perpetrated on Pagan principles and practices, our adversaries,
1. Bid us observe, that the action is not condemned. A censure, they think, it could not have escaped, had the Sacred Historian deemed it an impiety.
2. That the text tells us further, that Jephthah went out in the Spirit of the Lord t, and therefore they conclude, that he returned in the same Spirit.
3. Lastly, that Jephthah is extolled by the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews I, and numbered in the class of sacred Heroes.
To these objections, in their order.
First, They who lay so much stress on the Action's having passed uncensured, consider neither the nature of the Composition, nor the genius of the Historian. The narrative itself is a brief Compendium, or rather extract from the Records of State, entered as things passed, and + Ver. 29. | Ch. xi. ver. 32.
* Ver. 34.
then laid up in the Archives of their Scribes. In this species of Composition it is not the wont to dwell either on the causes, the qualities, or the consequences of Actions, but simply to tell the naked Facts..
Nor had the Writers of those tiines improved History into an art. They transcribed or abridged, merely for the sake of the people's information in facts, of what they found recorded in their venerable Archives. This was the case in the Story of the lying Prophet, in the affair of the Altar af Bethel*. His crine is neither condemned, nor is his punishment recorded. Had the History been a Romance, forged at pleasure, both these particulars had assuredly been dwelt upon at large.
Besides, as the nature and quality of actions are best seen by the Laws and Customs of the people concerned; and the action in question was well understood, both by the Writer, and his Readers, to be condemned by the Mosaic Ritual, it less needed a Censure. The faithful, Followers of the Law, for whose service this adventure was recorded, wanted no historian of prophetic Authority to tell them, (after they had seen human sacrifices exe-. crated in almost every page of their History) that Jephthah's sacrifice of his Daughter was either an impious imitation of Pagan practices, or an ignorant presumption in the half-paganized Votary, that he was here.complying with the famous precept of the Law in Leviticus t, when indeed (as we have shewn at large) it related to quite another thing.
But further, it is not peculiar to this story, to furnish an objection (such as it is) from the sacred Writer's not interposing with his own judgment, concerning the moral quality of the action related. Scripture abounds with instances of this sort; a silence occasioned by one or other of the causes here explained.
2. But Jephthah (which is the second objection) went out in the spirit of the Lord, and therefore (they conclude) he must needs return in the same spirit.
Now though, on a less important occasion, I should be tempted to acquiesce in the Criticism, though not in the spirit, of Spinosa, that this expression was to be put to the account of the sacred phraseology of the Jews;
* 1 Kings xiii. + Ch. xxvii. ver. 29. VOL. VI. В в
and to mean no more than the strength, the courage, and the address of a consummate leader; yet the language being here applied to a Judge of Israel, and in the actual exercise of his office, I can readily allow that it signifies some supernatural assistance.
But what then? when the work committed to him, and for which he was thus qualified, was well over, we have no reason to suppose that the same spirit constantly rested on him, but very much to conclude the contrary. One of his most illustrious successors, SAMSON, had still a larger share of this divine Spirit imparted to him; yet nobody imagines that it rested with him ; when, contrary to
; the Law, he chose a wife from among the Philistines, or revealed the secret intrusted with him to Delilah; delinquencies much less criminal than the Sacrifice of a Daughter.
3.-- But then, “ the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrew's extols him; and lifts him into the number of the most distinguished of the Jewish Heroes.”—But for what is he thus extolled ?--For his rash vow ? No surely. David is extolled in the same place, and in the same manner. Is it for the murder of Uriah, and adultery with his Wife? Surely neither of the Heroes are extolled for these exploits ; but for their faith in God, and their zeal for the advancement of the THEOCRACY. So says the Writer himself; where, recapitulating the works and achievements of Faith, he goes on, in these words And what shall I more say, For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak, and of Samson and of JEPHTHAH, of David also and Samuel, &c.*—This FAITH was so active and eminent in David, that, notwithstanding his two gross immoralities, he is called by God himself, A MAN AFTER HIS OWN HEART. For, as this illustrious Title neither covered, nor atoned, for his crimes, so neither did his crimes hinder its being bestowed upon him, when the question only concerned his zeal for the Law and the THEOCRACY ; as I have shewn to these Philosophers, on another occasion.
To conclude with JEPHTHAH.-We know, though only in general, that he lived long enough in the exercise of his Ministry, and, consequently, under the occasional guid
* Heb. xi. 32,
ance of God's holy Spirit, to wipe out all the Pagan impressions of his ill education. DAVID, with a much better in his early youth, kept on improving in the knowledge of the Law. He was at first somewhat scandalized at the prosperity of the wicked: but when he came into the sanctuary, i. e. when he had gained a more exact and perfect knowledge of the Dispensation, then, as he tells us, he understood the end of those men.- In these respects, indeed, we are left more to our conjectures concerning JEPHTHAH. His History tells us, he judged Israel for six years * We are further informed (and this is all) that he defeated the Ephraimitest; who had picked a groundless quarrel with him; which ended as it is fit all such quarrels should end.
But, though we have now done with the personal Character of Jephthah, and his rash Vow; we have something more to say of the general Character of a Judge of Israel, as it holds in common with that of many other of God's chosen servants: whose faults and imperfections the malice of Unbelievers have carefully drawn out, and objected to us, as matter of scandal; tending to impeach the veracity of Sacred History, and the Evidence that God thus interposed in support of his revealed Will.
To clear up this matter, it may be sufficient to observe, that when God sees fit, in an extraordinary way, to give a new revelation of his will to man, we may conclude, - from the very nature of things, that he will not disgrace his own DISPENSATION, by the use of unworthy Instruments.
Both the dignity and interests of Revelation require, that the first Bearers of these glad tidings to mankind should be fully possessed of that power of Virtue which true religion only can bestow.
The dignity of Revelation requires that so bright an emanation from the very source of light and purity should not be conveyed to us through a polluted medium. The interests of it, likewise, reclaim against such an unworthy Service.
A sanctity of manners, which is so necessary to support the mission, is the natural and inseparable attendant on the Office. For, in the promulgation of a new Religion, besides those marks of truth arising from the purity and * Judges xii. 7. + Ch. xii. ver. 1.
B B 2
reasonableness of the Doctrine, which shew it to be WORTHY of the Author to whom it is ascribed, there is need, in order to prove that it ACTUALLY CAME FROM HIM, of certain MIRACULOUS powers, declarative of the nature of the Dispensation; and attendant on the sanctia fication of the heart of the Messenger.
But the character of God's Instruments, and the conduct of Providence in the use of them, may be very different from those who are only raised up, and employed for the
, support of an established Dispensation ; as in the Jewish
; economy; or for the reformation of it, as in the Christian: though in the Jewish, administered by an extraordinary Providence, these Instruments may have had extraordinary powers intrusted to them, which those of the Christian had not.
Here 11. l: for the support or reforinàtion of things received and established] the same conclusion, for the necessity of sanctity of manners, will not hold. It being sufficient, for this purpose, that God, in the settled course of his Providence, is incessantly producing GOOD OUT OF EVIL. And the irregular Instruinent is frequently made to serve, without his knowledge, and even against his will, the great ends of piety and truth.
Of the eviełence of this, the History of the Church affords us many examples.
When God had gradually prepared, and, at length, fitted his Chosen People for the reception of the Law, his early Instruments were sclected froin the most virtuous amongst men, Noah, ABRAHAM, and Moses :
And, again, when he first prepared the World for the promulgation of the Gospel (which was the completion of the Law) lie comınitted the care of it to men of the most unblemished and exemplary characters; such as Jolin the Baptist, and the blessed Apostles.
But, in the Establishment, in the Support, and in the Reformation of Religion (the second and juferior Operation of Divine Love to Man) God did not disdain to employ less perfect Instruments, in either Dispensation. lie' served himself of DAVID for the Law, and of CONSTANTINE for the GOSPEL. And under the former of these Dispensations, both before and after the period here referred to, when he had decreed, either to execute