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The Mosaic Polity and Sacrifices

A Sermon.

God of our fathers, the Eternal Exalted Ruler of the world, look with favour upon the remnant of thy people in all their dwelling-places, and hear their voice from wheresoever their prayer may be offered up unto Thee. From one end of the world to the other mankind acknowledge thy existence; for in the very idols which they frame, they confess themselves subject to a creative power which controls them; yet they all walk not in thy light, and they refuse to receive instruction from the revelation which Thou hast made known. Yet we have received the knowledge of thy truth, and been trained in the faith which Thou didst impart to our fathers, thy servants, and we are thus freed from the bonds of superstition and unbelief, which are the heritage of other men, for which grace we return thanks to thy blessed Name. But let us entreat Thee to let thy glory be made manifest to all the earth, cast down the altars of false worship, and rend asunder the vail which is spread over the gentiles, that they may look upon Thee as Thou hast taught us to do, that they may walk in thy light, which was kindled at Sinai, as we do in obedience to thy decrees. And then shall we live securely in our land, and our sacrifices will again be acceptable to Thee as in former years, and in the days of old, when Thou alone wilt be King over all the earth, and thy name be adored as one, as Thou art indeed the sole Creator, blessed for evermore. Amen!


Let us speak about the future of our nation in comparison with the past, in order to strengthen ourselves in faith, and to be obedient to the demands which our religion makes on us. There are men among us, I hope they are but few, with all their vehemence and declamation, who say that we are for ever to wander outcast and scorned in foreign lands, and that the commonwealth of Israel sunk to perpetuity into disjointed fragments from the time that disunion among the tribes, in the first instance, and the inroads of foreign conquerors in the second, destroyed the adhesion of the people to the house of David; that our existence is to be merely spiritual, not national, that we  are to merge quietly into the nations among which we dwell, and should seek for no other redemption than a general enlightenment of the world, and the universal diffusion of the monotheistic principle of our religion. Two things, however, are acknowledged by the supporters of this theory, the first, that the present state of belief and religion among mankind is not to be permanent, and the second, that we can on no account be permitted to give up our own faith and practices, and thus be lost among the nations, or what is the same thing, though they would wish us to be, and remain incorporated among the various states, we should continue to be Jews in practice, distinguished thus from our fellow-citizens of other persuasions in all that relates to our bearing in reference to worship and the arrangement of our family-concerns.

It would be all very well if we had no prophetic records to refer to as arbiters in the question; but if words mean anything at all, they to a certainty signify that not alone are the two above points to be accomplished, but the national restoration of Israel is also to be effected in a manner best consonant with the wisdom and power of Providence. It is not to be denied by any ingenious pleading, that God must have had a great object in view by the establishment of the descendant, of Abraham as a peculiar people, living in a country given to them as their property, governed by laws and a polity eminently their own, however they might be in themselves the product of divine revelation; for though no human counsel was called in to perfect the details, the whole was precisely adapted to the character of the people, and the country they inhabited, whereas, it would be almost impossible to predicate the entire legislation for any people other than Israel, and a country materially differing from. Palestine, I refer as to the latter, to the regulation of the festival in connexion with the annual harvesting, and other similar laws.

Nor it is not a matter of doubt, but one deducible from the nature of the Divinity, that the divine decrees are based upon the solid foundation of truth, and are not subject to change or abridgment; since the Lord cannot change his opinion through the accession of a new light in the process of time, which was beyond his reach at the beginning of things. Consequently, it follows that the laws regarding Israel as a people must always continue authoritative, if even not executed for a time through circumstances over which they themselves have no control, so that whenever the circumstances inimical to them cease, they may resume their ancient customs and usages, as though no interruption had ever taken place. To presume that this were not so, would be denying the permanence of religion and ascribe vacillation to God, whereas we are constantly told by all prophets that precisely the reverse is the case, if even simple reasoning from philosophically demonstrated premises were insufficient to convince us of this truth. But with the permanence of the particulars of the Mosaic polity is inseparably connected the nationality of the Israelites upon the soil of Palestine, in order that the annual offerings and sacrifices may be brought in their proper season, as we are commanded in the law. Let us instance the festivals of Passover and Pentecost. On the first we are commanded to offer an omer­full of barley, as the first produce of the harvest, and on the latter two loaves of fresh wheaten flour, both as national offerings to the Bestower of fruitfulness and plenty. We need not argue that no country in the regions of cold Europe, or northern America and Asia, nor any situated on the south side of the equator, could enable us to fulfill those particular injunctions at these respective periods; for in the one case the grain ripens at later season, in the other in an opposite part of the year. There are certainly other lands where the harvest is as early as in Palestine; but this much is certain, that our own ancient heritage enabled us to fulfill the injunctions in question without any difficulty, and hence, to say the least, it is not less advantageously situated in this respect than any other land under the sun. This consideration may appear to some a small matter; but in truth it is not so; for it proves that the most consummate wisdom directed the arrangement of the details of the law, so that they should tally faithfully with one another. If now, to resume the argument, our religion is in its nature permanent, and requires at the same time a certain locality for its perfect execution : it follows that a time will come when the people professing this religion shall be enabled to fulfill to the letter all the duties enjoined on them, precisely as they were originally commanded; and since they are now so situated through acts not their own, though they came as an infliction for their sins, that they are not enabled to assemble at the place where the peculiar rites of their faith are to be observed, they will not be held responsible nor accounted as sinful for not fulfilling all those peculiar duties which are bound by an express injunction of the law to the country of Palestine.

This being the case, and hardly any believing Israelite will deny our premises, it likewise follows that our redemption from our present state of bondage in some lands, and the subjection to anti-biblical laws in all, cannot be accomplished by a mere civil emancipation; for this would still leave us beyond the possibility of satisfying the demands of our religion. We do not ask merely to be free from tyrannical rule; but to see the supremacy of our code restored. There may perhaps be a few unbelievers who pretend to say that the pains and penalties of the Mosaic legislation are barbarous, and uncongenial with the progress of all enlightened civilization; but they surely cannot have correctly examined the details of jurisprudence it lays down; nor the great safeguards it throws around all the members of the commonwealth; nor the deep and searching inquiry which constitutes a prominent feature in the arraignment of criminals; nor the responsibility of the witnesses for false charges, even at the risk of their lives; nor the institution of the cities of refuge to prevent the disgraceful scenes of private vengeance, which disfigure modern times even with all their boasted refinement; nor the perfect security of property, both personal and landed estates, to their possessors; nor the inviolability of character, the absence of the branding iron for minor criminals, the public whipping-post, the sale of the maintenance of the poor to the lowest bidder, the venality of a corrupt system of justice, nor, in short, the whole tenor of our legislation proper, so pure in its details, so holy in its principles.

The crimes for which death is the forfeit are certainly more numerous than the fancies of modern philanthropists would sanction, if their opinions were to he consulted. Let it, however, not be for forgotten that the penalty of death, denounced in the Mosaic Law, is only against crimes of the gravest character: murder, incest, disobedience against parental authority, wounding or cursing father and mother, rebellion against the chief judicial authority, false accusation where life was at stake, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, idolatry, seduction to idolatry, false prophecy, and finally, selling into slavery a fellow Israelite. No one need expose himself to the commission of any of these deeds; consequently any citizen of the state can escape the utmost penalty of the law without any difficulty; none could be seized and condemned by the arbitrary command of any ruler, nor could conviction take place except in open court, upon the clearest and most irrefragable testimony of two men of known probity, upon their parole evidence, given in the presence of the criminal, that they saw him engaged in the crime, and as is said, with warning him of the consequence of his misdeed. Life so hedged round with judicial defenses could not be easily put in jeopardy; and when the doom was, notwithstanding all this, pronounced by a majority of the judges, never less than twenty-three, for this was our practice, of whom thirteen must have been for conviction, the guilt must have been so incontestably proven that the malefactor himself could not have complained of injustice. I know that efforts are now making to banish from the codes all pu­nishments of death for whatever offence, upon the ground that we have no right to take life, since we cannot restore it after taking it away. But have we any more right to deprive a man of his personal liberty, shut him up like a noxious beast for life in the narrow walls of a prison cell, barred out from all intercourse with the world, even the good, save the few that may happen to seek his prison house by special permission of his jailors? A moral discourse is not the most fitting vehicle for the discussion. I only touched upon it incidentally, in connexion with the law of Moses. I must therefore be brief, and answer the query with a single remark. Society, without referring to religion as the basis thereof, has a claim upon each one of its members, that he shall be pledged, with all he possesses, for his good behaviour towards all others; he therefore stakes his property, his liberty and his life, that is, all which he can have, that he will be amenable with them all in case he do anything to the injury of his neighbour individually, or the state in general. Hence if he commits a fraud or theft, his property may be taken from him; if he disturbs the public peace, he may be put under restraint by imprisonment, if a fine previously imposed should have failed to arrest his unlawful behaviour; and lastly, if he deprives another of life, his own earthly existence is the only forfeit which is at all commensurate with the violence committed; it is not that the dead demands the requital of life with life, but only to place others in security, that murders shall not be committed, and because the state or society at large cannot become of right chargeable with the safe-keeping of a man who has shown such a recklessness of the personal rights of others that his escape or release may expose those who are innocent, and, therefore have a right to protection, to renewed danger from his violent and bloodthirsty disposition. The ridiculous sympathy with criminals of the highest degree, together with the trickery of the law, which will not be satisfied with the most positive proof of guilt, is only calculated to rob society of its security, to arm man against his brother, to seek justice by his own strong hand, since an appeal to courts of miscalled justice fails to redress the grievances of which he complains; besides, it levels all crimes by making them all punishable with the same visitation, the prison being for each and for all the only corrective, and the duration of the confinement, though in some cases called perpetual, is necessarily left to the arbitrary will of extra­judicial authorities, which every state or: commonwealth is compelled to recognise. That society is therefore the best governed, in that community are life, limb, liberty and goods the safest, where each individual is held strictly accountable, and the laws are so administered that the certainty of punishment is always at hand to check the criminal inclinations which will more or less rise up in the minds of most men.

Judged by this standard, the Mosaic polity is of all others the only one which apportions punishment to crime, which in its worst inflictions regards the criminal as a brother, whose misdeeds, if they can be amended with minor visitations, can be atoned for, and he be restored to the bosom of society; whereas, when this is not possible, he must sacrifice his earthly existence for the happiness of others. We could enlarge; but we must forbear for the present; enough we have shown that the permanence of the law, in its civil details, no less than those properly called religious, can be maintained to its fullest extent, should our state be ever restored, and we need not dread the severity of some enactments, even when viewed by the light of an advanced civilization, and the march of discovery, so far superior to what was known at the time when Moses wrote down the statutes which he had received from the Most High.

The reasonableness of the sacrifices and offerings, to continue the subject with which we started, is not deducible from human wisdom, but simply we are to abide by them as they are divine decrees. I know well enough that many good men among us and the gentiles have endeavoured to establish their origin in something to which paganism had accustomed our fathers; but such a solution does not seem consonant with the wisdom of God, nor with the fact that offerings are mentioned as already in existence with the immediate children of Adam, consequently they are almost as old as the presence of man on earth. It is enough for us to know that they became incorporated in the Mosaic legislation as a duty appertaining to the temple service on every day in the year, and no reason was assigned other than that they should be, as the Bible terms it, a ריח ניחח “an agreeable savour” which, so to say, the Lord of all would smell as their smoke ascended, and receive it as a token of obedience of his servants for which He would accept them in favour. Many, not satisfied with viewing sacrifices in the light of a statute, given as a test of obedience, for which, therefore, no other reason can be discovered, have endeavoured to give them a mystical, or with others a typical solution, and arranged thus all to their own satisfaction, and have arrived at length at the conclusion that they have ceased for ever, the object for which they were instituted having been accomplished. But the words of Scripture bear no trace of any such grounds; we are merely told that so should be done to obtain for us atonement; but nothing is hinted of any especial mystery being connected with a burnt or sin offering, nor that either of them was a type of any event past or future. Consequently, if our position is correct, that the whole scheme was a special ordinance, neither originating in pagan rites, nor terminable by any supposititious fulfillment of their object at the happening of any particular event: it must result as a necessary deduction, that we are not empowered to assume that the sacrifices of Judah and Jerusalem will not be acceptable again at a time to come; but the rather, that it is absolutely requisite, both from reason and prophecy, that with the restoration of the Jewish people, the sacrifices, with all the other institutions of the priesthood, will be likewise re-established. The law was given to be for ever remembered; years and ages of troubles have passed over it no less than over its possessors; and still it is the study of millions of enlightened spirits, and it has exerted, and continues to do so still, an irresistible power over the march of civilization. Can it then be presumed for a moment that any portion of its contents should be a mere accommodation to circumstances, and the religious enactments especially, only inserted to act as a mere negation to other ideas foreign to its holiness? Consequently the whole of it must be of equal importance, of equal duration, as all its parts are of equal sanctity, and that therefore nothing contained therein but will again be practised whenever the opportunity and occasion may again demand them.

As to the possibility of the restoration, it is not necessary to frame any argument. God redeemed us before this from the slavery of Egypt, and again rescued us from the power of Babylon, and both times we journeyed to Palestine, established the worship in the temple, and resisted successfully the foreign foe. Why He should not be enabled to do the same deed again, is beyond my power of imagination to entertain; the unwillingness of the scattered Israelites themselves is the greatest difficulty; but in his good providence He will devise the means, equally as He did when in Egypt the contented slaves said to Moses: “Leave off from us, that we may serve the Egyptians; for we had better serve the Egyptians than perish in the wilderness.” But who heeded their opposition? who regarded the refusal of their tyrant to grant, their freedom? Let sacred history tell, how the reluctant obtained their liberty, and how the unwilling ruler was forced to yield. And now, has the Lord forsaken Israel?  Do his thunders sleep? have his lightnings lost their brightness and their fearful force? Look up to the heavens, whether dressed with the brilliance of the day, or clad in the sombre garments of the night; let the seasons speak, whether they do not change in their wonted regularity, and produce plenty or dearth as their Master and ours may decree; ask of the ocean whether his roarings are not controlled by the same mighty Hand that cleft before the ransomed the waters of the Arabian Sea; and then tell me, that the same Force which scattered us cannot gather us again together, that the same Being who broke the power of ruthless rulers, cannot accomplish the same work again, that the God who established his kingdom in the midst of our tribes, who sighed for the  galling-bonds of slavery, will not come again to reign triumphantly as the King of Israel and the Chief of the nations. We may be unwilling to go forth; we may prefer the lands of our captivity where we enjoy freedom and security as the boon only of righteous gentiles; but prophecy tells us that we shall nevertheless be sent forward from our exile, again to inhabit the hills and valleys of lovely Palestine, then restored to its fertility, its sweet soil cleansed from the foot of marauding savages that now defile it by their noxious presence. In mute surprise, unbelief will ask in the words of the prophet Isaiah (66:8), “Who hath heard the like? who hath seen such things? shall a land be made to travail in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? that Zion hath travailed, also brought forth her children?” And we are answered:

והביאו את כל אחיכם מכל הגוים מנחה לה׳ בסוסים וברכב ובצבים ובפרדים ובכרכרות על הר קדשי ירושלם אמר ה׳ כאשר יביאו בני ישראל את המנחה בכלי טהור בית ה׳ ׃ ישעיה ס״ו כ׳

“And they shall bring all your brethren out of all nations as an offering unto the Lord, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord.” (verse 20.)

Let, like Pharaoh of old, the rulers of the earth say, “We know not the Lord, nor will we let Israel go free;” let us say, “We will rather be subject to many kings and states than free citizens of Palestine under the government of the Lord’s anointed;” the word which was spoken before the overthrow of our state will be fulfilled, and in one day, like it was at the going forth from Egypt, shall a nation be born, and carried forward to their inheritance, purified from their transgressions, through the long captivity which they had to endure, and the many persecutions they had to encounter for the sake of their faith. The place of assembly will be the holy mountain at Jerusalem, and the polity will be the one which Moses ordained through the command of the Supreme; for we are told that there will be priests and “Levites, to stand before the sanctuary to make atonement for the people.” (Ezek. 45:17.) And as respects all the world, each man will cast away his follies and idols, and mankind will seek to know the Creator of all heaven and earth, acknowledging that they had hitherto walked in darkness and embraced folly instead of wisdom, falsehood instead of truth. But then, when the son of David reigns in peace and in glory, when the law of God will be inscribed in the hearts of all, and no one lift his sword against his brother, sacrifices will ascend on high from pure and undefiled hands, justice will erect her throne in every spot to decide with equity for high and low, and all flesh will come on every new moon day from month to month, and Sabbath to Sabbath, on the days held sacred by the ordinance of God among the children of Israel, to bow down and to worship at the shrine of the Lord, in fear and in reverence. May this be speedily accomplished and our eyes behold the glory of God. Amen!