The Kings of Israel and Judah were under a Law not safely to be transgress'd.

OUR author might be pardon'd if he only vented his own follies; but he aggravates his own crime, by imputing them to men of more credit; and tho I cannot look upon Sir Walter Raleigh as a very good interpreter of Scripture, he had too much understanding to say, That if practice declare the greatness of authority, even the best kings of Israel and Judah were not tied to any law, but they did whatsoever they pleased in the greatest matters;[1] for there is no sense in those words. If practice declares the greatness of authority, even the best were tied to no law, signifies nothing, for practice cannot declare the greatness of authority. Peter the Cruel of Castile, and Christian the 2d of Denmark, kill'd whom they pleas'd; but no man ever thought they had therefore a right to do so: and if there was a law, all were tied by it, and the best were less likely to break it than the worst. But if Sir Walter Raleigh's opinion, which he calls a conjecture, be taken, there was so great a difference between the kings of Israel and Judah, that as to their general proceedings in point of power, hardly anything can be said which may rightly be applied to both; and he there endeavours to show, that the reason why the ten tribes did not return to the house of David, after the destruction of the houses of Jeroboam and Baasha, was, because they would not endure a power so absolute as that which was exercised by the house of David.[2] If he has therefore anywhere said that the kings did what they pleased, it must be in the sense that Moses Maimonides says, The kings of Israel committed many extravagancies, because they were insolent, impious, and despisers of the law.[3] But whatsoever Sir Walter Raleigh may say (for I do not remember his words, and have not leisure to seek whether any such are found in his books) 'tis most evident that they did not what they pleased. The tribes that did not submit to David, nor crown him till they thought fit, and then made a covenant with him, took care it might be observed whether he would or not. Absalom's rebellion follow'd by almost all Israel, was a terrible check to his will. That of Sheba, the son of Bichri, was like to have been worse, if it had not been suppressed by Joab's diligence; and David often confessed the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him. Solomon indeed overthrowing the law given by Moses, multiplying gold and silver, wives and horses, introducing idolatry, and lifting up his heart above his brethren, did what he pleased; but Rehoboam paid for all: the ten tribes revolted from him, by reason of the heavy burdens laid upon them; stoned Adoram who was sent to levy the tributes, and set up Jeroboam, who, as Sir Walter Raleigh says in the place before cited, had no other title than the courtesy of the people, and utterly rejected the house of David. If practice therefore declares a right, the practice of the people to avenge the injuries they suffered from their kings, as soon as they found a man fit to be their leader, shews they had a right of doing it.

'Tis true, the best of the kings, with Moses, Joshua and Samuel, may in one sense be said to have done what they pleased, because they desired to do that only which was good. But this will hardly be brought to confer a right upon all kings: And I deny that even the kings of Judah did what they pleased, or that it were anything to our question if they did. Zedekiah professed to the great men (that is, to the Sanhedrin) that without them he could do nothing.[4] When Amaziah, by his folly, had brought a great slaughter upon the tribe of Judah, they conspired against him in publick council: whereupon he fled to Lachish, and they pursuing him thither, killed him, avowed the fact, and it was neither question'd, nor blamed:[5 ]which examples agree with the paraphrase of Josephus on Deut. 17. He shall do nothing without the consent of the Sanhedrin; and if he attempt it, they shall hinder him.[6] This was the law of God, not to be abrogated by man; a law of liberty directly opposite to the necessity of submitting to the will of a man. This was a gift bestowed by God upon his children and people; whereas slavery was a great part of the curse denounced against Ham for his wickedness, and perpetually incumbent upon his posterity. The great Sanhedrin were constituted judges, as Grotius says, most particularly of such matters as concern'd their kings;[7] and Maimonides affirms, that the kings were judged by them: The distribution of the power to the inferior Sanhedrins, in every tribe and city, with the right of calling the people together in general assemblies as often as occasion required, were the foundations of their liberty; and being added to the law of the kingdom prescribed in the 17th of Deuteronomy (if they should think fit to have a king) established the freedom of that people upon a solid foundation. And tho they in their fury did in a great measure waive the benefits God had bestowed upon them; yet there was enough left to restrain the lusts of their kings. Ahab did not treat with Naboth as with a servant, whose person and estate depended upon his will, and does not seem to have been so tender-hearted to grieve much for his refusal, if by virtue of his royal authority he could have taken away his vineyard and his life: But that failing, he had no other way of accomplishing his design, than by the fraud of his accursed wife, and the perfidious wretches she employed. And no better proof that it did fail, can reasonably be required, than that he was obliged to have recourse to such sordid, odious, and dangerous remedies: but we are furnished with one that is more unquestionable; Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall they lick thy blood, even thine.[8] This shews that the kings were not only under a law, but under a law of equality with the rest of the people, even that of retaliation. He had raised his heart above his brethren; but God brought him down, and made him to suffer what he had done; he was in all respects wicked, but the justice of this sentence consisted in the law he had broken, which could not have been, if he had been subject to none. But as this retaliation was the sum of all the judicial law given by God to his people, the sentence pronounced against Ahab in conformity to it, and the execution committed to Jehu, shews, that the kings were no less obliged to perform the law than other men, tho they were not so easily punished for transgressing it as others were; and if many of them did escape, it perfectly agrees with what had been foretold by Samuel.

[1] [Patriarcha, ch. 22, quoting Raleigh, History of the World, bk. 2, ch. 16.]

[2] 2 L. Hist. cap. 19. [Raleigh, History of the World, bk. 2, ch. 19, sec. 6.]

[3] Quia superbi erant corde, impii, & spretores legis. Mor. Nevoch. [Perhaps a paraphrase of The Code of Maimonides, Book 14: The Book of Judges, Treatise Five: Kings and Wars, ch. 3.]

[4] Jerem. 38.

[5] 2 Kings 14.

[6] Antiq. Jud. [Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, bk. 4, ch. 8.]

[7] [Grotius, De jure, bk. 1, ch. 3, sec. 20.]

[8] 1 Kings 21.