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hands of their enemies." The conspiracy of Abimelech (the natural son of Gideon), the murder of his numerous brothers, his atrocious crimes, and disgusting vices, again threw the Israelites into the anarchy (for such was the reign of the thirty tyrants). Then followed the atrocious vow of Jephthah, and its atrocious accomplishment,* (only relieved by the patriotic devotion of his heroic daughter, the one bright gleam that fell upon the darkness of outraged humanity.) At Jephthah's death, the conquest of Israel by the Philistines once more threatened the utter annihilation of a people, who were again saved by the mercy of Providence, through the agency of woman.
Women of the Hebrews under the Philistines. The Mother of Samson. Naomi and Ruth. Under the Theocracy. Hannah.
THE Israelites were already forty years in the bondage of the Philistines, when the angel of the Lord appeared unto the wife of Manoah (a Danite), and promised her a son, who should deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines. "Then the woman came and told her husband ;" and the birth of the last of the patriot rulers of Israel verified the prophecy. The struggles of Samson for his country, and his great and eventful life (terminated by a death of self-sacrifice, the most remarkable in story), had lost its influence over those for whom he had suffered. The subsequent anarchies and crimes, the substitution of the grossest idolatry for the purest theism,
* The vow of Jephthah, and its accomplishment, was the result of his own ferocious nature and superstitious ignorance; and the murder or sacrifice of his innocent child" was neither asked of him by God, nor exacted by the law," says Josephus. Antiquity, sacred and profane, relates no parallel to this strange and terrible expiatory offering, to appease the wrath of the God of mercy: for when the faith of Abraham was put to the proof, another victim was found to save humanity its most unnatural crime, the ram caught in the thicket, to become Abraham's burnt offering, in place of his own son. So, too, in the mythological counterpart of this event, Diana presents a stag to the knife of Agamemnon, and rescues his beautiful child!
when " every man did that which seemed right in his own eyes, ,"* and the law and the prophets were alike forgotten, form a dreary picture, only relieved by the beautiful episode of two private and lowly women: and thus the flickering flame of moral truth and of spiritual hope was again preserved and fed by woman, as the celestial fire, in Pagan times, was committed to the vigilance of the vestal priestess !
The story of Naomi and Ruth is full of simplicity and beauty; and in the conversion of the fair young Moabitess (the grandmother of the future king David), and the bringing her into the pedigree of the Messiah, there is offered a type of the calling of woman, in the fulness of time, to the great mission of redemption. The honour done to the women of Israel, by the elders and the people, on the marriage of Ruth with Boaz, is a further confirmation of the virtues of their female ancestors. For "all the people that were in the gates, and the elders said: We witness that the Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachael and Leah, which two did build the house of Israel."+
The Israelites were again vanquished in battle by the Philistines; and their temporal government, vested in the person and family of the grand sacrificer, or high priest, Eli, became purely theocratical. But the first of their theocrats saw the holy ark pass into the profane hands of idolatrous enemies, and 30,000 of the Hebrew army, including his own sons, left on the field of battle. That there was still some patriot feeling extant in Israel to lament this disgrace, is proved, not only by Eli having been struck down by grief for the loss of the ark, but by the death of his daughter-in-law, who gave premature birth to a son, whom she named Ichabod, or "Ignominy," from her own sense of the disgraceful event which hurried her to the grave.
The loss of the ark was, perhaps, a type of the approaching downfall of the reigning hierarchy. The sons of the hereditary High Priest had become drunk with a power which was now irresponsible on earth; and the
* Judges, chap. xxi.
+ Ruth, chap. iv.
crimes and vices of the sacerdotal family, (outrageous to society and impious to God,) accomplished those changes in the government of Israel, for which the people had been gradually prepared. The hereditary priesthood was losing its hold on public opinion; and some new manifestations of power, consecrated by heaven, and approved by man, had long been called for. A transition was at hand; and to make way for the breaking up of old and inapplicable combinations, new forms of government had become inevitable.
But the miraculous agency by which this change was to be worked out, was again given to woman. Hannah, the childless wife of Elkanah, the Levite of Ramathaim, had long wept her sterility; for "her adversary had provoked her sore, for to make her fret," on that account(a trait of manners still familiar in the East). Hannah was to Elkanah what Rachael had been to Jacob, the beloved wife of his bosom, beloved beyond his other and more fruitful wives, as is proved in his fond and consolatory address, on observing her dejection. "Hannah, why weepest thou? why canst thou not eat?" and "Why is thy heart grieved?-am not I worth more to thee than ten sons ?"
Still, Hannah in the bitterness of her soul, prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore." "She vowed a vow to the Lord of Hosts," and her vow was accepted, and fulfilled. Her interview with the high priest in the temple, her defence against his suspicions, her calling herself " a woman of sorrowful spirit, who had come to pour out her soul before the Lord," are all in the earnestness of a high conviction; and her beautiful prayer,* and her naming the son of that prayer, "the asked of God," because "she had asked him of the Lord," are circumstances marking the highest intensity of female sensibility, and of its tenacity of purpose.
Hannah, conscious of her calling, now stood apart from
"Oh Lord of Hosts, if thou wilt indeed look upon the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thy handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life." The evil of polygamy is forcibly painted in these jealousies among the wives of Elkanah.
her family, and on the ceremony of the yearly sacrifice, refused to accompany them to the temple, after the birth of her son. She refused to go" till her child was weaned," when she would offer him herself to the Lord, there to abide for ever (the future theocrat of Israel, when Eli and his sons should be swept away.) But when she had presented her "asked of God" in the temple, "with offerings of value," and with all the high ceremonies and forms prescribed by the Hebrew laws, and when she had "left him to serve in the temple ;" then she came forth, under a new and holy inspiration, a prophetess, like Miriam, a reformer, like Deborah.* She attacked the vices of the existing priesthood,† and prophesied their downfall; she attacked the feebleness of the nobles,‡ and foretold their prostration; and she imaged out the growing anarchy of the tribes, and the consequent necessity of a temporal chief, to compress it. She gave hope to the poor,§ counsel to the rich; and she was the first who declared that divine dogma, which the wisdom and experience of mankind have never since surpassed, that "the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed"-the religion of truth, the philosophy of fact!
The women of the Hebrews seem always to have been in the van of political civilisation; and Hannah, throughout her sublime canticle, predicted the revolution working in the opinion of the people, their growing dislike to the hereditary priesthood (the sons of Eli, the high priest,) whom they regarded as the "sons of Belial, that knew not the Lord," whose downfall would precede a new order of government. Eli himself was not insensible to the impending evil; and, struck with the conviction of his house's approaching ruin, had reproved his consecrated sons, the heirs of his spiritual and temporal power, saying: "Why do ye such things, for I hear of your doings by all people; it is no good report that I hear."
The awful denunciation which foretold" that these, the descendants of Aaron, should be cut off in the flower of their age," was fulfilled to the letter. "The faithful
* Hannah's song-Samuel, chap. i.
+ Ibid. verse 3.
§ Ibid. chap. ii. verse 8.
priest" who was to succeed them, the sole hierarch of İsrael, in whose hands was to be lodged all power and office,* was already ministering at the altar," being a a child girded with a linen ephod." His mother had been thanked by the aged Eli for the "loan which she had lent to the Lord," and he had blessed both Elkanah and his wife with this prayer so honourable to Hannah, “the Lord give thee seed of this woman," &c.† Hannah lived to see the fulfilment of her own fond prophecies and high intentions, and to behold, in the son of her vow, and the minister of her early consecration, "a prophet of the Lord, and a ruler of the people." "All Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord! and Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life."+
The Women of the Hebrews under the Monarchy. The Witch of Endor.
THE predestined greatness of the son of Hannah's prayer was accomplished. Her "asked of God," the infant votarist of her consecration, was raised over the people and the hierarchy, to all the power, spiritual and temporal, by which man has ruled most puissantly over his species. Prophet in the temple, sole sacrificer at the altar, warrior in the field, irresponsible ruler every where, he reigned in all the unquestioned authority of a theocrat, whose power (vested in his own person) was considered a "right divine." But again, the demoralization which follows irresponsible power, worked its natural consequences; and Samuel could not transmit to his degenerate sons the high destiny which his mother had worked out for him.
The yoke of hereditary spiritual authority, (even though
* Samuel, chap. xxii. verse 12.
+ Ibid. chap. ii. verse 20. Ibid. chap. vii. verse 15.