It has been already remarked that the purpose of God in redemption from the beginning looked beyond individuals, beyond families, to a nation. In the larger communities of nations only could the individual man find his complete development, and also the authority of God be manifested to its full extent. The nation, not the family, is the sphere in which, through its manifold relations and activities, our humanity is brought under influences which touch all its springs, and quicken all its powers into action, and where it finds full scope for all its energies. Nations, therefore, as necessary to individual development, both intellectual and moral, are an integral element of God's purpose towards mankind. New and higher revelations of God's Presence among men and of His righteous rule were, also, dependent upon the existence of nations. The Theocracy could not be established, or its ends be attained, till family life expanded into the larger realm of national life. Through His immediate rule over a people chosen by Him, organized by Him, and obedient to Him, could be made manifest to all the world His personal authority as the one Supreme Ruler over all the earth. Through this theocratic relation could be shown forth in action His divine attributes, and the nations see His righteousness and holiness reflected in the institutions He appointed, and
in the character and administration of His government. The preparation for this theocratic kingdom was begun in the election of Abraham, and completed when at Sinai He entered into covenant with the people that had sprung from him, and which had been prepared for its high place by a long process of discipline and trial.
The most important points in God's relations to the Jews may be thus summed up.
First, He separated them from all other peoples by entering into special covenant with them, "putting His name upon them" that they might be unto Him "a people of inheritance." He chose for them a land in which they should dwell, and of which He claimed the exclusive ownership. (Exod. xix. 5, xxiv. 7; Lev. xx. 24, 26, xxv. 23; Deut. vii. 6, xiv. 2.)
Second, Having redeemed them from their bondage in Egypt by mighty judgments upon their oppressors, He led them through the Wilderness, going before them in the cloud and pillar of fire; and, after their land was reached, set up His sanctuary in the place which He had selected, and where He manifested His presence by visible supernatural signs, and which thus became the national civil and ecclesiastical centre. (Exod. vi. 7, xiii. 21, 22.; Lev. xxv. 38; Exod. xxv. 8, xxxiii. 14; Deut. xii. 5.)
Third, He became their Lawgiver and King, all their laws and institutions proceeding directly from Him; and by His direction they acted in all national matters. His will was made known, sometimes by an audible voice, as on Mount Sinai, or by the High Priest through the Urim and Thummim, or through His word spoken by Moses, and later by the prophets. (Exod. iii. 4, 41, xv. 18, xix. 19; Num. x. 35, xxiii. 21; Deut. xxxiii. 5, iv. 12, v. 4; Exod. xxviii. 30; Num. xxvii. 21; Deut. xviii. 18.)
Fourth, If obedient to these laws and institutions, God would bless them with all temporal blessings, and deliver them from all national evils, from pestilence, and drought and famine, from foreign invasion and conquest, and make them an example to all nations. (Deut. vii. 12, xxviii. 1; Lev. xxvi. 3; Deut. xi. 8, etc.)
Fifth, As God's chosen people, and under His special rule, the Jews were lifted up above all other peoples in honor and blessing; and, as a kingdom of priests, they were set in a mediatorial relation to other nations, and through them in the fullness of time should all the peoples of the earth be blessed. (Deut. iv. 7, 8; Exod. xxxiii. 16, xxxiv. 10; Deut. xxvi. 18, xxviii. 1, etc.)
Sixth, If unholy and disobedient, God would visit them with heavy judgments, even giving them up to national destruction, but would not cast them utterly off; and, when repentant, would bring them again to their own land, would renew His covenant with them, and fulfill to them all His promises of blessing, both temporal and spiritual, and be sanctified in them before the eyes of all nations. (Num. xiv. 11; Lev. xxvi.; Deut. xxviii.)
In this choice of the Jews two relations were established, which it is important to keep clearly in mind, — that of Jehovah to the people, and that of Jehovah to the land.
First, The relation of Jehovah to the people. An attentive consideration of the particulars just enumer> ated will show that the government of Jehovah over the Jews was, in the fullest sense of the word, a monarchy. The nation was one of His own creation, in the election of its founder, Abraham, in its tribal divisions, and in its unity as established by Moses. Its national birth was through those mighty acts whereby He delivered the people from the Egyptian yoke, and brought them to Sinai. But it was here in the manifestation of Himself, when "His glory was like devouring fire upon the top of the Mount," and He was heard speaking to them and giving them commandments, that the assembled people had incontestable proof that He was present with them as their Lawgiver and King. And the part which Moses then and subsequently took as the mediator to make known His will, bore so plainly the stamp of Divine authentication, that none could doubt that the laws which he gave in the name of Jehovah, were truly His.
We may notice here the fact, that at the first there was under the Theocracy no human executive; no one person, or body of persons, to act as Jehovah's representative. The positions of Moses and of Joshua were clearly exceptional, and their work preparatory; nor could they appoint their successors: and the hereditary princes, the heads of the several tribes, had no such official place or duty. By this, however, is not meant that there were not officers fulfilling civil functions, judicial and executive; for this was as necessary under a Theocracy as under a human government. (Exod. xviii. 13, etc.; Deut. xvi. 18.) And the request of Moses, that God would set a man over the congregation, that it be not as sheep that have no shepherd, showed how strongly he felt the need of a head for the people. (Num. xxvii. 15, etc.) But the fact is plain, that no one did stand after Joshua's death before the united tribes as Jehovah's representative. It is not obvious how we are to explain the absence of such a national head: perhaps it was intended to bring into clearer relief the truth of His immediate rule.
It does not appear that it was God's purpose to set aside tribal distinctions, so emphasized in prophecy, and to fuse all into one. (Gen. xlix.) Their unityshould be religious more than political. If pervaded by the true theocratic spirit, this spirit would prove the most powerful bond of national unity, and yet leave full scope for tribal diversities. If unfaithful to Jehovah, no mere political bands could hold them together.
As regards the administration of the theocratic state, it is important to distinguish clearly between the relation of Jehovah to the Jews as their God, and His relation to them as their King. He was, as God, the God of all nations alike, whether they knew and recognized Him as such or not. It was a relation that did not depend on human volition. But the kingly relation was one established by Him with this people only, and with their voluntary assent. (Exod. xix. 5-8.) From this twofold relation of Jehovah to the chosen people, it follows that there must be found in their laws and institutions both permanent and transient elements. Their duties toward Him as their God, and which found their chief expression in their rites of worship, were permanent. The whole ritual, the kinds and order of sacrifice, the priesthood in its several ranks and duties and offices, the sevenfold division of times, the feasts, — all this was unchangeable. No degree of national or individual development could affect them. As typical of higher things to come, they must remain till the antitypes came. And thus it was that Moses was directed to make all these things after the pattern showed him in the Mount, a Divine order which man might not change. (Exod. xxv. 9, 40; Heb. viii. 5, etc.)
As the King of a nation, the laws of Jehovah must be such as were suited to its measure of moral and social development. In one aspect they reflected His own perfections; in another, the imperfections of the people. He dealt with them as a father with his child, condescending for the time to their ignorance and weakness, but ever striving to prepare them, through His teaching and discipline, for the high place to which He had called them. As civil laws, the laws of Jehovah had such penalties attached to their violation as the civil laws of other peoples. Jehovah did not judge and punish acts of disobedience as God, who in His omniscience takes knowledge of the secret motive of the transgressor, and judges according to this, and not to the outward act. This would have made any co-operation of His people in the administration of justice impossible. As under other governments, so here in general, the violation of the laws must be proved by witnesses, and the penalties be inflicted by men. There were, indeed, offences which from their nature could not be so proved; as, for example, eating the blood of a sacrifice: and of such an offender it is said, "I will cut him off from among my people," — a penalty which was understood by the Jews to mean an untimely death supernaturally inflicted. (Lev. xvii. 10.) But this punishment, like the other punishments, was of an act, a transgression of the known law, not punishment of the thought of the heart. Death under the law was a civil penalty, and no more proved the eternal damnation of the offender than it does under human governments. The two spheres of Jehovah's rule — as God, who knows the heart, and whose judgments affect eternity; and as King, who judges according to the outward act, and whose judgments are temporal — must always be kept in mind. We may also notice the distinction between the institutions of the theocratic state and those of other states, springing from the divine Person of the King. A man is sometimes the founder of a state, and stamps his own character upon its political institutions; but he is still one with the people, — the product of his own time, and its exponent. He can, according to the measure of his sagacity, see the needs of the day, and make some provision for them; but he cannot make provision for the remote future, which he cannot foresee. And, as individual rulers and dynasties are constantly changing, the progress of one generation is often lost in the next. Thus the education of a people under one definite, consistent, and permanent polity becomes impossible. But this was the Divine purpose in the election of the Jews. The theocratic King was the same Person in all the successive generations. And He knew the end from the beginning: He established institutions that looked forward to the attainment of a specific end, and were not to be changed till that end was reached. The laws, in their chief features, were not the gradual outgrowth of the national spirit, but were given to mould and to control that spirit. In Divinely ordered channels should run from the first the currents of national life.
We may thus readily understand why it was that God through Moses did not give His people a few fundamental principles or rudimentary institutions, and leave their further unfolding to circumstances. The Mosaic legislation was a unity. Its several laws were integral parts of a whole: they all combined to the attainment of one end. There was indeed to be growth, but it was organic growth: there was adaptation to changing relations, but ever with the preservation of the organic framework, the new being always in the same line of movement as the old. This was possible, because Moses was taught of God, whose purpose embraced the future no less than the present.
As the great end of the Theocracy was religious, — to bring the people to know and to trust in their God, — many of its laws appealed to faith; and, if faith was wanting, they would not be observed. Such were those respecting the Sabbatic periods and rest of the land, the keeping of the feasts, the law of tithes and offerings. It was impossible that obedience in many cases could be enforced if the spirit of obedience was wanting.
In its elements the Mosaic legislation must have much in common with contemporaneous legislation cf other peoples, because of ideas and customs then universally prevalent. Not a few ancestral usages were tolerated by Moses because of " the hardness of their hearts," as divorce and blood revenge; but these were not to be permanent. (Matt. xix. 8.) The law had in it new elements, which would in time develop themselves, and eliminate all that was unworthy, and prepare the people to receive statutes and ordinances reflecting in a higher degree the perfect justice, wisdom, and holiness of their Divine King.
It was impossible that these two relations of Jehovah to His people, as their God and their King, could be dissevered, and they be faithful in the one and unfaithful in the other. The national life could not be divided into two discordant spheres. Their civil prosperity was dependent on their religious faithfulness. Hence arose the peculiar strength, and also the peculiar weakness, of the Jewish state. Abiding faithful to their covenant, and obeying and worshipping Jehovah, there was nothing conducive to national well-being that was not promised them. Their King was all-powerful, and neither men nor the forces of nature could resist His will. Thus the possibility of unexampled material prosperity and greatness was set before them. But Jehovah did not rule them by force, — their obedience must be voluntary; and therefore He might be among them as a strong man that is bound, unable to bless them, unable even to defend them, because of their moral condition. On the contrary, His presence with them, if they were unfaithful, must bring upon them special judgments. He could not see His laws disobeyed, His sanctuary defiled, without inflicting deserved punishment.
Second, The relation of Jehovah to the Land. His choice of the land of Canaan was announced by Jehovah many years before He gave His people possession, its relative position and physical peculiarities fitting it for His purpose. It wonderfully fulfilled two conditions: First, as a place of training and discipline, — a land where for a time they might be hidden away till prepared to take their proper place among the nations. Defended on all sides by natural barriers, they could "dwell apart." Second, as a land where they could bear their witness to Jehovah, when His time had come. As midway between Egypt and Chaldaea, and adjacent to Asia Minor, the name of Jehovah might be made known through them to the peoples both of the East and the West.
Of this land, Jehovah gave to His people possession, but not ownership. "The land is mine, for ye are pilgrims and sojourners with me." (Lev. xxv. 23.) The whole tenure of landed property was determined by the fact that He was the sole owner, and they only tenants at will, and their possession of it was conditioned upon the fulfillment of their covenant obligations. If faithful to Him, He would defend them from the invasion of enemies; their land should not be visited with drought, nor by devastating insects; there should not be pestilence or famine, but the rain should fall in its season, and the land be filled with plenty. But, if unfaithful, He would visit them with judgments until He had brought the land unto desolation, and scattered the people among the heathen.
As it is necessary in every state that there should be a central seat, a capital where the sovereign dwells, and from whence goes forth the law, so was it here. When the people had taken full possession of the land, Jehovah Himself selected the place where He would dwell, and where should be seen the symbol of His Presence. "I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God." Thus by His Presence the land was hallowed. It had been defiled by its heathen inhabitants, but henceforth it should be holy. "Defile not the land . . . wherein I dwell." As His land, it could not become the permanent possession of any other people; it could not be alienated from the end to which He had designed it. He might, indeed, as a punishment for their sins, scatter His people abroad among the nations, and even give up His own city and temple to overthrow: but His special relation to the land did not cease; it remained His; and no nation could set up in it a stable and prosperous government, or make it the permanent abode of its people. It must remain a land set apart till His purpose is fulfilled in it.
This relation of the Jews to their land, through Jehovah, was a most important element in their history. To be thrust out of it, and to be scattered among the nations, was the heaviest punishment that could be inflicted upon them, since it was inflicted by their King, and was the proof to all the world of their rebellion. Separated from the land, they were separated from Him who had chosen it for them, and who dwelt in it. His temple was there, and only in the temple could the appointed rites of worship be carried on. Nor could the law in many of its chief provisions be executed in any other land. Had it been possible to find another country, and to make it their own, this would not have restored their relation to Jehovah as their King: this relation was inseparably connected with the land He had given them. They could not dwell elsewhere and be His people, and fulfill their calling.