Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

became so perverted, that the obvious parable, addressed to him by Nathan, escaped his apprehension, until the reproachful prophet brought it home to his bosom, in the emphatic “ Thou art the man.”

It is further remarkable that the many children of his many wives respectively reflected his own crimes, and re-enacted his evil deeds against himself. His ingratitude to Saul (in seducing Jonathan into rebellion)—his cruelty to Saul's children and grandchildren (even to the sons of that beloved Jonathan-were imaged and punished in the revolt of his own Absalom (a rebel to his father, and the murderer of his brother), in the outrage committed on the wretched Tamar, in the brutal crime of his son, Ammon, and in the seizure of his crown, while he yet lived, by the daring hand of that favourite and eldest born, whom he had fondly named his successor (the much-loved Adonijah).

These frailties of the father, so revisited on him through his children, were the subjects of those peniten. tial effusions, which have become the poetical expression of sin and sorrow, and deep contrition, through the lapse of three thousand years.

In a political point of view, David's policy as a statesman became obviously feeble, in proportion as his moral delinquencies as a man became enormous. If to be weak is to be miserable,” to be wicked is to be weak. But David seems to have lost the respect of men, and the protection of Heaven, by the self-same obliquity of intellect. In the height of his power, the people rebelled and divided into factions; and he who had built “ a cedar palace for himself,” was not permitted “ to raise a temple to the Lord.” By acting as his own irresponsible minister, and “numbering the people," against the will of the priesthood, he lost the support of that still powerful party, which had raised him “ from a sheepcot” to a “throne :” to that throne, from which they had hurled his predecessor.

But while this warrior, prophet, poet, king, has become a warning by his faults and an example by his contrition -while the men of his family violated every law of justice and humanity—what were the crimes and the

vices of the women ? of the women whose lives he had degraded, whose minds he had perverted? Scripture, that veracious book of reference, which conceals not the failings of its elect, nor even the virtues of its outcasts, scripture records not one !-- not one accusation starts forth against them. Michal, Abigail, Ahinoam, Haggith, Syloth, Bathsheba, with so many of lesser note, but haply not fewer charms,--all these, the victims of a system, as destructive of moral developement, as it was at variance with the natural justice of things,—the supposedly born servants of their divine-righted master, violated no law of nature, perpetrated no crime, committed no treachery, (none, at least, which history has recorded); and they are rarely cited, save when honourably brought forward in the exercise of some natural affection, or by the outbreak of some high quality of mind! Of this, the political interference of Bathsheba, in favour of Solomon, and the moral courage with which Michal reproached the effeminacy of her royal husband, were striking instances.

But while the royal wives and concubines of the Armon,* or of the “ cedar palace,” were alternately treated as queens or slaves, were employed as trustworthy servants, and “ left to keep the house, and put in ward,” or incarcerated as prisoners, and “shut up until the day of their death, living in widowhood,” (as the expediency or satiety of their masters might happen to direct,) the females of other classes, less eminent in rank, were perpetually called into action for purposes of religious or state necessity: proving that the belief that women were in more immediate relation with Heaven than men, still prevailed. The wise woman of Tekoah was thus sent by Joab to effect a political stratagem in the court of David, and to cause the recall of his son Absalom. The graceful and astute manner in which she performed her secret services, forwarded the views of her party, subdued the wrath of David, and restored the fratricide, the “ beautiful” Absalom, to his place in his father's favour.

Again, the womanly adroitness of the “ wise woman of Abel in Bethmaachah” saved her native city. She is

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

The Hebrew Harem.

represented as “counselling the people in her wisdom,” and conferring with the general of the besiegers ! Her beautiful exordium is full of demonstrations of the deference paid to such women, in times of the greatest public conflicts.

Thus, too, the wife of Jeroboam became the secret agent and disguised ambassadress of an ambitious hus. band, who sends her to Ahijah,* the prophet, to secure his prayer and protection for their son. Wherever the instrumentality of mind was wanting, the Hebrew women were still, as of old, found coming to the aid of their masters, with powers fully equal to the especial occasion.

That the Hebrew women under the early monarchy transacted business, carried on commercial speculations, and performed all agencies in which forethought and judgment were necessary, (while their masters were engaged in slaughtering their species), is proved by the testimony of one, who, though not prone to flatter them, was yet compelled, in the midst of his seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, to estimate a “virtuous woman's price as above rubies.” That such women did exist, is further proved even by that portrait of the “ lively Hebrews,” which includes every virtue constituting the merit, and entering into the true destiny of the

sex.

Such were the women who 6 considered a field and bought it, and planted a vineyard” with the fruit of their own hands; who “ made fine linen and sold it, and delivered girdles to the merchants ;" who “purchased wool and flax, and worked willingly with their own hands;" who “ rose while it was yet night, and gave meat to their household, and tasks to their maidens ;” and who, while they “stretched forth their hands to the needy, and opened it to the poor,” were themselves “ clothed in silk and purple," and " surrounded by coverings of tapestry;" looking well to their households, and “not eating the bread of idleness.” Well might 66 the hearts of their husbands trust” in such women, “by whom the number of their days were doubled," and rejoice in the possession

* There is a beautiful picture of this interview by Angelica Kaufman.

[ocr errors]

of such servants as left them “no need of spoil ;” (i. e. no necessity of a sanguinary struggle for subsistence, to the men whose life had hitherto been warfare, and whose object was plunder.) It is remarkable that while the men of Israel were perpetually in the battle-field, the women were incessantly occupied with the arts of peace and utility-arts which alone forward the blessings of civilisation, and foster the better virtues of humanity.

From the earliest establishment of the monarchy, statecraft, assuming a new form, was transferred to the interior of the palace; and personal influence with the monarch was substituted for nobler agencies, in the conduct of affairs. If, under this new condition, female intervention became more common, it was usually founded on qualities the least ele. vated and estimable ; and the ends to which it was directed too frequently partook of the corruption of the means. That such was not always the case, that the women sometimes rose above the atmosphere of an Oriental court, and threw their weight into the scale of patriotism and public happiness, is an honourable evidence of virtues in despite of circumstance, and of energies capable of escaping from a prescribed path.

In the last years of David's reign, and as the “ days of the king drew near that he should die,” Israel was rent by the hostile factions of his two rival sons, Adonijah, the eldest, brother of his beloved Absalom, and Solomon, the youngest, the only son of the beautiful and influential Bathsheba. The fond and enfeebled father had accorded, while he yet lived, to his favourite Adonijah all the insignia of royalty, and had even permitted him to proclaim himself king, and to go forth with the customary royal retinue of " chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.” David had not at any time “ displeased this favoured son" by saying “why hast thou done so ?" for Adonijah, like his unfortunate brother, was beautiful in his person “and a goodly man,” and “ his mother bore him after Absalom”—both of them strong claims to the predilection of David.

Joab, the captain-general of the army, had long espoused the cause of Adonijah; so did the flower of the men of Judah, and many of his own numerous brothers; and they

[ocr errors]

all attended a feast, which the young king (de facto) of Israel

gave to his adherents at Enrogel, in the suburbs of Jerusalem. *

But among these brothers, Solomon (the youngest) was not invited ; and among these partisans, neither the high priest, Zadoc ; nor Nathan the prophet, minister of David ; nor Benaiah, the captain of his guards, appeared. They were the friends of Bathsheba, and the supporters of her son's pretensions, (for rights he had none,) to the throne.

At the moment when the royal revels of Adonijah were still celebrating, Nathan hastened to Bathsheba, to acquaint her with a circumstance, which threatened ruin to her maternal ambition, and to his own views.

- Get thee" (he said) “ unto King David, and say unto him, didst not thou, my lord ! Oking! swear unto thy handmaid, saying, assuredly thy son, Solomon, shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne! Why then doth Adonijah reign ? Behold, while thou yet talkest with the king, I shall come in after thee, and confirm thy words."

The scene that followed (so feebly described by the lay chroniclert of the Jews) is too full of admirable and curious detail, to need an apology for transcribing it. Bathsheba went immediately into the king's chamber, “ who was very old.” She found his young and innocent nurse,# Abishag, “ministering to his infirmities;" and, bowing to him, she entered at once on her mission. lord, thou swearest by the Lord thy God unto thine handmaid, saying: assuredly, Solomon, thy son, shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne. behold, Adonijah reigneth ; and now, my lord the king, thou knowest it not.

And thou, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are upon thee, that thou shouldst tell them, who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.

“Otherwise it shall come to pass, when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon shall be counted as offenders.

- My

And now,

*

Josephus. First Book of Kings. † Josephus, book 7, chap. 9.

The virtue of the young Abishag, the Sæur de Charité of the aged and dying king, is celebrated by Josephus, and authenticated by the scripture. VOL. I.

9

« ZurückWeiter »