The purpose of this article will be to sketch in outline the forms of government among the Hebrews at successive periods of their history. The indications are in many cases vague, and it is impossible to reconstruct the complete system; at no period was there a definitely conceived, still less a written, constitution in the modern sense. For fuller details reference should be made throughout to the separate articles on the officials, etc., mentioned.
We may at once set aside Legislation, one of the most important departments of government as now understood. In ancient communities, law rested on Divine command and immemorial custom, and could as a rule be altered only by 'fictions.' The idea of avowedly new legislation to meet fresh circumstances was foreign to early modes of thought. At no period do we find a legislative body in the Bible. Grote's dictum that 'The human king on earth is not a lawmaker, but a judge,' applies to all the Biblical forms of government. The main functions of government were judicial, military, and at later periods financial, and to a limited extent administrative.
1. During the nomadic or patriarchal age the unit is the family or clan, and, for certain purposes, the tribe. The head of the house, owing to his position and experience, was the supreme ruler and judge, in fact the only permanent official. He had undisputed authority within his family group (Ge 22; 38:24; De 21:13; Jg 11:34). Heads of families make agreements with one another and settle quarrels among their dependents (Ge 21:22; 31:45); the only sanction to which they can appeal is the Divine justice which 'watches' between them (Ge 31:49,53; 49:7). Their hold over the individual lay in the fact that to disobey was to become an outlaw; and to be an outcast from the tribe was to be without protector or avenger. The heads of families combined form, in a somewhat more advanced stage, the 'elders' (Ex 3:15; 18:21; Nu 22:7); and sometimes, particularly in time of war, there is a single chief for the whole tribe. Moses is an extreme instance of this, and we can see that his position was felt to be unusual (Ex 2:14; 4:1; Nu 16). It was undefined, and rested on his personal influence, backed by the Divine sanction, which, as his followers realized, had marked him out. This enables him to nominate Joshua as his successor.
2. The period of the 'Judges' marks a higher stage; at the same time, as a period of transition it appeared rightly to later generations as a time of lawlessness. The name 'Judges,' though including the notion of champion or deliverer, points to the fact that their chief function was judicial. The position was not hereditary, thus differing from that of king (Jg 9 ff. Gideon and Abimelech), though Samuel is able to delegate his authority to his sons (1Sa 8:1). Their status was gained by personal exploits, implying Divine sanction, which was sometimes expressed in other ways; e.g. gift of prophecy (Deborah, Samuel). Their power rested on the moral authority of the strong man, and, though sometimes extending over several tribes, was probably never national. During this period the nomadic tribe gives way to the local; ties of place are more important than ties of birth. A town holds together its neighbouring villages ('daughters'), as able to give them protection (Nu 21:25,32; Jos 17:11). The elders become the 'elders of the city'; Jg 8:6,14,18 mentions officials (s
Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do;
and Mizpah, for he said, "May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other.
"The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us " So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac.
"Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel.
But he said, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and said, "Surely the matter has become known."
God, furthermore, said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you ' This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.
Then Moses said, "What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, 'The LORD has not appeared to you.'"
So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand."
Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God.
"Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God,
"Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.
And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
"If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor's property.
Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages.
Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there.
So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak's words to him.
"You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
"If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses. "So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. read more. "You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. "According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. "The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. "Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again. "When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,'
then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
"Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
"She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.
then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
In Issachar and in Asher, Manasseh had Beth-shean and its towns and Ibleam and its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns, the third is Napheth.
The leaders of Succoth said, "Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army?"
And he captured a youth from Succoth and questioned him. Then the youth wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men.
Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, "What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?" And they said, "They were like you, each one resembling the son of a king."
When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob;
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.
And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel.
that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."
But certain worthless men said, "How can this one deliver us?" And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.
And the king said to the guards who were attending him, "Turn around and put the priests of the LORD to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me " But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the LORD.
Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder.
Now in the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate; and when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, "From what city are you?" And he would say, "Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel."
Then King David sent to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, saying, "Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, 'Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house, since the word of all Israel has come to the king, even to his house?
Now King Solomon levied forced laborers from all Israel; and the forced laborers numbered 30,000 men.
besides that from the traders and the wares of the merchants and all the kings of the Arabs and the governors of the country.
Also Solomon's import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king's merchants procured them from Kue for a price. A chariot was imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150; and by the same means they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and to the kings of the Arameans.
King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, "How do you counsel me to answer this people?"
So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, and sent letters to the elders and to the nobles who were living with Naboth in his city.
So the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them, just as it was written in the letters which she had sent them.
The king said to Hazael, "Take a gift in your hand and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the LORD by him, saying, 'Will I recover from this sickness?'"
Now in the seventh year Jehoiada sent and brought the captains of hundreds of the Carites and of the guard, and brought them to him in the house of the LORD. Then he made a covenant with them and put them under oath in the house of the LORD, and showed them the king's son.
Then Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and the people, that they would be the LORD'S people, also between the king and the people.
All the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah.
Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasuries of the king's house.
Then the people of the land killed all those who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place.
Of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the LORD; and 6,000 were officers and judges,
As for the Izharites, Chenaniah and his sons were assigned to outside duties for Israel, as officers and judges.
He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city. He said to the judges, "Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD who is with you when you render judgment. read more. "Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe." In Jerusalem also Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the heads of the fathers' households of Israel, for the judgment of the LORD and to judge disputes among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Then he charged them saying, "Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully and wholeheartedly. "Whenever any dispute comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them so that they may not be guilty before the LORD, and wrath may not come on you and your brethren. Thus you shall do and you will not be guilty. "Behold, Amariah the chief priest will be over you in all that pertains to the LORD, and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, in all that pertains to the king Also the Levites shall be officers before you Act resolutely, and the LORD be with the upright."
At that time Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues came to them and spoke to them thus, "Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?"
"Then we asked those elders and said to them thus, 'Who issued you a decree to rebuild this temple and to finish this structure?'
"Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site.
and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the leaders and the elders, all his possessions should be forfeited and he himself excluded from the assembly of the exiles.
"Let our leaders represent the whole assembly and let all those in our cities who have married foreign wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of each city, until the fierce anger of our God on account of this matter is turned away from us."
The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.
Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor's food allowance.
Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king's representative in all matters concerning the people.
And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment.
Even though Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.
It came about in the sixth year, on the fifth day of the sixth month, as I was sitting in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD fell on me there.
Then some elders of Israel came to me and sat down before me.
Now in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me.
"In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths.
A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria, Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, Who say to your husbands, "Bring now, that we may drink!"
"But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities And lack of bread in all your places, Yet you have not returned to Me," declares the LORD.
Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm when the spring crop began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king's mowing.
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.