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dwellings all in ruin, and their smiling fields laid waste→→ their females cut off-and their whole substance destroyed! The penitence of their persecutors could not repair these multiplied evils-and in one respect they had tied their own hands. In their phrenzied indignation, at the national assembly, they had made a solemn vow, that no man in Israel should give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite! To save their rash oath, and yet do something to express their returning kindness to the ruined tribe→ they sent them four hundred young women whom they had spared at the massacre of Jabesh-Gilead. Still, as many were left without companions, another act of injustice was undertaken to remedy the first-and to avert from themselves the curse pronounced on him who should give a wife to the proscribed people.
A religious festival was held annually at Shiloh, at which the maidens were accustomed to dance, in imitation of the idolatrous rites of the heathens. This was now the season, and the unmarried Benjamites were advised to repair thither, and concealing themselves in the vineyards, seize upon the young women when an opportunity offered, and thus would their fathers remain guiltless!
CATHERINE. Then it appears, after all, that the other tribes were a thousand times more criminal than the original offenders, whom they affected to punish!
MRS. M. Thus it is, my dear, with poor human nature. We censure without charity the faults of others, whilst we do the same, or worse, ourselves!
CATHERINE. Did the reigning judge remain an inactive spectator of these horrible disorders?
MRS. M. The immorality and impiety of the Israelites
during the administration of the Judges, might lead us to conclusions unfavourable to the characters of the latter; but the chronology of some parts of their annals is so indistinct, that we may charitably refer their greatest deviations to the times when their historian says, "there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes," or in other words, perhaps, in that interregnum which might happen between the death of one Judge, and the appointment of another, not indeed to apologize for them, for they were never without an infallible monitor, had they chosen to ask counsel-but to relieve this distinguished order from the censure implied in your very obvious question.
About the same period in which the transactions I have been relating occurred, we find a man sacrificing his own daughter, or otherwise disposing of her, to perform a rash vow, in direct opposition to the law and custom of his country.
FANNY. To whom, mother, do you allude?
- MRS. M. To Jephthah, whose disposition of his daughter has occasioned some discussion, not altogether satisfactory at last. The Israelites, ever ready to burst from the shackles of their own divine institutions, had renewed their forbidden intercourse with the natives, who on their part were ever ready to ensnare them. They married into their families, adopted their manners, and acknowledged their gods. Incense arose from their verdant hills, and their vines and palms were interwoven into bowers for Baalim and Ashtaroth, the patrons of Zidon and Syria ! Insolence and domination were the fruits of familiarity with an unprincipled people, and eighteen, years the
deluded Israelites reaped their merited reward in the depredations of the Philistines on the one hand, and the Ammonites on the other. At length awakened from their delirium, they acknowledged the justice that had afflicted them, and implored the pity of their heavenly father; and to manifest their sincerity, they cut down the groves and demolished the altars they had impiously built. Resolving to drive out the invaders, they formed a camp in Mizpah, and chose Jephthah for their chief.
The gallant Jephthah was a Gileadite, who had been driven by his brethren from his father's house, because "he was the son of a strange woman"-a gentile perhaps, and therefore obnoxious to the hatred of a Hebrew family. An enterprising spirit, which made him famous in his retirement beyond Mount Hermon, on the border of Syria, and had probably given uneasiness to his fellow-citizens, was the true cause of his banishment, while the other served as a fair pretext. Fitted by a daring soul to conduct the projected war, he was invited by his native town to take the command of the troops, with a promise to continue him as chief, if he should subdue their enemies. Remembering their former injustice, he reproached the envoys, with coming to him in their distress, and refused to assist them until he had obtained a confirmation of their offer.
Before Jephthah took any hostile step, he sent to the king of Ammon, to enquire why he appeared in Gilead with an army?" Because Gilead is mine," returned the king, "from the river Arnon unto Jabbok and Jordan. Those lands were wrested from me by the Israelites when they came out of Egypt: restore, therefore, peaceably my right." A second message from the chief reminded him, that his ancestors had lost their lands by their active oppo
sition to the passage of the Israelites through it into Canaan: that no claim had disturbed the possession these last had acquired, now, for three hundred years, and that they would defend what the Lord their God had given them. But the Ammonites persisted in their claim, and war was declared.
The Israelitish general having now the rights of his nation to defend, as well as personal honour to acquire, made a formal vow on the eve of the expected battle, that if the enemy should be given into his hand, he would offer a burnt-offering, or he would consecrate to the Lord whatsoever came forth first to meet him from his house when he returned in peace.
The war was successful, and Jephthah returned in triumph to his dwelling. But short-lived are the triumphs of mortals!-The door of his house is opened, and a beloved daughter comes forth with instruments of music to welcome his return! His daughter-the only child of his affection, the innocent victim of his unlawful oathJephthah could not conceal his distress! He told her his engagement, adding, "I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back!" Full of pity for her father, and pious gratitude for the deliverance of her country, the amiable maiden submitted; requiring only permission to retire with her female companions for a time, to lament her hard destiny!
CHARLES. Dear mother! do not tell us that Jephthah sacrificed his only child!
MRS. M. Alas, my son !-there is the difficulty which I am not able to solve to my own perfect satisfaction. The act was so unnatural, human sacrifices were so strictly forbidden, that some commentators have embraced a con
struction of the words" he did according to his vow," less revolting than your apprehension. We are told in the conclusion of the story, that it became a custom for the daughters of Israel to go four days in the year, to lament, or to talk with the daughter of Jephthah; from which they suppose she retired to a solitude in the mountains, and was condemned to a single life.
CATHERINE. To relinquish altogether the society of his daughter-that daughter too his only child, might indeed fill the heart of Jephthah with sorrow: but a burntoffering implies the death of the victim.
MRS. M. The advocates for the more favourable construction of Jephthah's vow, make it convertible to the case as it might happen, by rendering the words, and offer it, into a conditional promise-or offer it, as might be suitable, when the thing devoted should be seen. Certain animals no more than human creatures, might be offered in sacrifice-but they might be vowed and afterwards redeemed. It is reasonable to suppose that Jephthah, having this alternative, would not hesitate to save his only daughter.
Amongst the Judges of Israel we must not omit the celebrated Samson, whose supernatural strength enabled him to perform such miraculous achievements.
CHARLES. Do you call Samson a Judge? I had supposed him a sort of lawless adventurer, who took advantage of his extraordinary strength, to commit depredations on his neighbours.
MRS. M. Your error has arisen from reading the story of "the strongest man" unconnected with the history of his nation. Great events fill the mind with delight, and sink deep into the memory, whilst the moral end is unattended to, or forgotten.