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
It happened at that time, that Abimelech and Phicol the captain of his army spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do.
and Mizpah, for he said, "Yahweh watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another.
The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." Then Jacob swore by the fear of his father, Isaac.
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
He said, "Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you plan to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?" Moses was afraid, and said, "Surely this thing is known."
God said moreover to Moses, "You shall tell the children of Israel this, 'Yahweh, 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 to all generations.
Moses answered, "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice; for they will say, 'Yahweh has not appeared to you.'"
Moses said to Joshua, "Choose men for us, and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with God's rod in my hand."
Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God.
Listen now to my voice. I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You represent the people before God, and bring the causes to God.
Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lower part of the mountain.
then his master shall bring him to God, and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever.
If the thief isn't found, then the master of the house shall come near to God, to find out if he hasn't put his hand to his neighbor's goods.
Israel took all these cities: and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its towns.
Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its towns, and drove out the Amorites who were there.
The elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam, and spoke to him the words of Balak.
You shall make judges and officers in all your gates, which Yahweh your God gives you, according to your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
If there arises a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within your gates; then you shall arise, and go up to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose; and you shall come to the priests the Levites, and to the judge who shall be in those days: and you shall inquire; and they shall show you the sentence of judgment. read more. You shall do according to the tenor of the sentence which they shall show you from that place which Yahweh shall choose; and you shall observe to do according to all that they shall teach you: according to the tenor of the law which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the sentence which they shall show you, to the right hand, nor to the left. The man who does presumptuously, in not listening to the priest who stands to minister there before Yahweh your God, or to the judge, even that man shall die: and you shall put away the evil from Israel. All the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously. When you are come to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall dwell therein, and shall say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me;"
then the elders of his city shall send and bring him there, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
Your eyes shall not pity; life [shall go] for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
and she shall put the clothing of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.
then shall the father of the young lady, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the young lady's virginity to the elders of the city in the gate;
Manasseh had three heights in Issachar, in Asher Beth Shean and its towns, and Ibleam and its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns.
The princes of Succoth said, "Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?"
He caught a young man of the men of Succoth, and inquired of him: and he described 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?" They answered, "They were like you. Each one resembled the children of a king."
It was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah out of the land of Tob;
Jephthah came to Mizpah to his house; and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances: and she was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
It happened, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles."
But certain worthless fellows said, "How shall this man save us?" They despised him, and brought him no present. But he held his peace.
The king said to the guard who stood about him, "Turn, and kill the priests of Yahweh; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew that he fled, and didn't disclose it to me." But the servants of the king wouldn't put forth their hand to fall on the priests of Yahweh.
Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder;
It happened in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate. It was so, that when any man had a suit which should come to the king for judgment, then Absalom called to him, and said, "What city are you from?" He said, "Your servant is of one of the tribes of Israel."
King David sent to Zadok and to 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 speech of all Israel has come to the king, to return him to his house.
King Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men.
besides [that which] the traders [brought], and the traffic of the merchants, and of all the kings of the mixed people, and of the governors of the country.
The horses which Solomon had were brought out of Egypt; and the king's merchants received them in droves, each drove at a price. A chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six hundred [shekels] of silver, and a horse for one hundred fifty; and so for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did they bring them out by their means.
King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, "What counsel do you give me to return answer to this people?"
So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and to the nobles who were in his city, who lived with Naboth.
The men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent to them, according as it was written in the letters which she had sent to them.
The king said to Hazael, "Take a present in your hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of Yahweh by him, saying, 'Will I recover from this sickness?'"
In the seventh year Jehoiada sent and fetched the captains over hundreds of the Carites and of the guard, and brought them to him into the house of Yahweh; and he made a covenant with them, and took an oath of them in the house of Yahweh, and showed them the king's son.
Jehoiada made a covenant between Yahweh and the king and the people, that they should be Yahweh's people; between the king also 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 that was found in the house of Yahweh, and in the treasures of the king's house.
But 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.
David said, "Of these, twenty-four thousand were to oversee the work of the house of Yahweh; six thousand were officers and judges;
Of the Izharites, Chenaniah and his sons were for the outward business over Israel, for officers and judges.
He set judges in the land throughout all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, "Consider what you do: for you don't judge for man, but for Yahweh; and [he is] with you in the judgment. read more. Now therefore let the fear of Yahweh be on you. Take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with Yahweh our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of bribes." Moreover in Jerusalem Jehoshaphat appointed Levites and priests, and of the heads of the fathers' [houses] of Israel, for the judgment of Yahweh, and for controversies. They returned to Jerusalem. He commanded them, saying, "Thus you shall do in the fear of Yahweh, faithfully, and with a perfect heart. Whenever any controversy shall come to you from your brothers who dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them, that they not be guilty towards Yahweh, and so wrath come on you and on your brothers. Do this, and you shall not be guilty. Behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of Yahweh; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, in all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and may Yahweh be with the good."
At the same time came to them Tattenai, the governor beyond the River, and Shetharbozenai, and their companions, and said thus to them, "Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to finish this wall?"
Then we asked those elders, and said to them thus, "Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to finish this wall?"
Leave the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in its place.
and that whoever didn't come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the assembly of the captivity.
Let now our princes be appointed for all the assembly, and let all those who are in our cities who have married foreign women come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and its judges, until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, until this matter is resolved."
The rulers didn't know where I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest who did the work.
Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even to the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, [that is], twelve years, I and my brothers have not eaten the bread of the governor.
Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the children of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king's hand in all matters concerning the people.
They also reel with wine, and stagger with strong drink. The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink. They are swallowed up by wine. They stagger with strong drink. They err in vision. They stumble in judgment.
Moreover Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah had made intercession to the king that he would not burn the scroll; but he would not hear them.
It happened in the sixth year, in the sixth [month], in the fifth [day] of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell there on me.
Then came certain of the elders of Israel to me, and sat before me.
It happened in the seventh year, in the fifth [month], the tenth [day] of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of Yahweh, and sat before me.
In a controversy they shall stand to judge; according to my ordinances shall they judge it: and they shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts; and they shall make my Sabbaths holy.
The lion has roared. Who will not fear? The Lord Yahweh has spoken. Who can but prophesy?
Listen to this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who tell their husbands, "Bring us drinks!"
"I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in every town; yet you haven't returned to me," says Yahweh.
Thus the Lord Yahweh showed me: and behold, he formed locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and behold, it was the latter growth after the king's harvest.
But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.
God has set some in the assembly: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various kinds of languages.