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LAWS FOR THE WIVES OF ISRAEL.
THE laws instituted for the protection, the position, the duties, of the wives of Israel, were more peculiar to the manners and customs of the East only, than those relative to mothers, which can be obeyed and attended to in every age and clime. Still much was instituted, even with regard to wives, which marked and fixed their position, and decidedly elevated woman in the scale of being, and proved that, though, as was just and wise, "her desires must bow to her husband, and he should rule over her," yet that this rule was to be one of perfect confidence and love.
It has always appeared a mystery, how any person, even among the Gentiles, who has seriously reflected on, and studied the word of God, can assert that it was only through the preaching of Jesus and his apostles that woman took her proper station, and those ordinances were given, which restrained the passions of men, and made marriage a pure and holy tie. Centuries before the advent of Christianity, those laws were given, which, regarding and prohibiting too near consanguinity in marriage, are acknowledged and obeyed by the whole civilised world. Where do we find, amid the Gentile nations, the purity, the chastity, the stainless virtue of woman, to the extent which is still the glory of Israel, and which owes its origin simply to the laws which were issued by the Lord through Moses; seeming, indeed, most terribly severe, but blessed in their very seve
rity by the beautiful purity in Israel which they wrought? Were the law of Moses universally received, how different would be the aspect of the world!
Polygamy was permitted in Israel, at the period of the delivery of the law, simply because the Eternal's mercy would not interfere with an immemorial usage, which His wisdom knew, from local customs and longindulged habit, would demand violence to be relinquished. The laws He instituted in no way interfered with those habits of His people which custom had endeared; His prescience leaving to time that improvement and greater refinement of the human race, which demands ages to accomplish, but which would at length fling aside of itself every fetter that once had linked it to the customs of less enlightened nations. The Eternal never works by super-human agency, when His gracious plans can be accomplished without it. "A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday when passed, and as a watch in the night;" but His infinite wisdom knew, that, to finite man, that period is ever fraught with progression, and His omniscience leaves to time, according to the reckoning of humanity, the effect of His law in the amelioration and improvement of the human race. Our very banishment amid the nations, a banishment occasioned by Israel's sinful abuse of the tender mercies of the Lord-by his retrogression, instead of advancement, in the glorious career to which he was destined by his indulgence of every guilty passion, and utter forgetfulness of his father's God to bow down before the idols of his idolatrous wives-this very banishment will purify Israel from the grosser part of his Eastern nature, and render him fitted, by increase of
purity and refinement, to become once more the firstborn of the Lord, from whose beautiful land those laws shall issue once again, to emanate in reviving light and gladness over the whole world.
But, though permitted by the Mosaic law, polygamy was so restricted, that the protection, happiness, and well-doing of both wives were provided for; no partiality could permit injustice; the man that did so was punishable by law. "If a man have two wives, the one beloved and the other hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated, and if the first-born son be hers that is hated, then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit all that he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved first-born before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the first-born, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath."
The Hebrew term translated hated here, as in the case of Leah, does not signify so strong a feeling, but simply the one less beloved than the other. And, as had already been practically illustrated in the wives of the Patriarch Jacob, this law provides for, and fixes the perfect equality of both; guarding the less beloved from all the evil effects of indiscriminate partiality, and utterly preventing the father from doing injustice to her offspring. The care taken of every member of a Jewish family-from the strongest to the weakest-by the law of God, would, had that law been obeyed, have effectually prevented that fearful abuse of the Lord's mercy in not interfering with the ancient customs of His people, which in the time of the monarchy so disgraced and desecrated Israel.
But let not the scoffer cast the odium of such abuse on the Jewish Law. That law was pure-infused with the love, the compassion, the fostering care, the justice, and the severity of the God from whom it came. Its OBEDIENCE would have wrought "the days of heaven upon the earth." Its DISOBEDIENCE, springing from the innate sinfulness of man, wrought evil from the good, and plunged the whole nation of Israel into that fearful abyss of crime, which could only be expiated by ages of misery and blood.
But though allowed to exist without being considered a crime at the period of the redemption from Egypt, for the reasons stated above, the laws of Moses, relating to conjugal duties, provided for one wife alone, thus proving the superior and holier purity of such unions in the sight of God, and thus forcibly marking the distinction between those customs which were to last for ever, through every age, and race, and clime, and those which were merely nationalised from previous habit and association.
The oneness of heart and feeling, of purpose and obedience, which was ordained by God Himself, from the very beginning, to exist between husband and wife, and which could only spring from perfect equality, is most beautifully infused throughout the law. Inferred from the simple fact, that in every recorded instance of enumeration at festivals, eating of holy meats, obedience to commandments, &c., the wife is not distinctly mentioned, although every other domestic relation is expressly stated. As one with her husband, the wife was included in the emphatic thou, to whom the command or ordinance was addressed. The children and servants of a household might have rebelliously turned aside from the
precepts of the Lord, but the wife's duty and happiness were one with her husband's. Her will was his, when that will was guided and sanctified by the will of God. That she could require the divine command individually to keep holy the Sabbath day, to share the feast of the offerings, &c. was a supposition too utterly at variance with her duty as a daughter and wife in Israel, to demand a distinct law; being counted amongst those to whom Moses proclaimed, "When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God, in the place which He shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing; Gather the people together, men, women, and children, and the stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law," no Hebrew wife could have needed more, for she, as well as her husband-one with him-was the recipient, the obeyer, and the promulgator of every law in which there was no specified distinction of individual duties.
That the omission of wife in the commandments and ordinances which specify other members of the family, cannot be taken in any other light, is proved by the fact, that wherever there was a possibility of her occupying a distinct position, or being engaged in any devices or employments contrary to the will of her husband, she is expressly named.
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife," is emphatically commanded by the same Divine Voice which omitted her, or rather included her in the "thou" to whom the fourth of the same precepts, whence the line we have quoted was the tenth, was given. Thus guarding her