John Kitto Morning Bible Devotions: August 2

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John Kitto Morning Bible Devotions: August 2

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The Call of the Tribes


The difficulties which have been found in the first transaction, by which the new king won to himself honor in Israel, were stated yesterday, and we may now see what evidence can be afforded of the probability of the Scriptural account, and the feasibility of the transaction.

There being at this time no military profession among the Israelites—none who were actually soldiers; but the men were to be called from the flocks and the fields to march against their enemies—the case has no parallel among ourselves, with whom anything like this would imply the necessity of some previous training of the raw levies to the use of their weapons before they could be trusted to face the enemy in battle. This, however rapidly and imperfectly done, would necessarily consume considerable time. But it was not so among the Israelites. With them, as is still the case in most eastern nations, every man was familiar with the use of weapons from his youth, and was at all times ready and qualified to take his part in such martial operations as the simple tactics and rude discipline of that age required. Besides, all the men between the ages of twenty and sixty were deemed liable to the call for military service, and were, in their several tribes, registered for it. There was no confusion when they were called out by a competent authority. A man had only to take down the weapons he possessed—and every one possessed some sort of weapon—and hasten to the place of rendezvous in his own tribe, where he put himself under the orders of the officers, who, in their various grades, were well known to him, being the chiefs of the tribes and families. The admirable order of encamping large bodies of men, and of marching them under their banners, which had been established in the wilderness, was, no doubt, retained for military purposes, and must materially have contributed to facilitate their movements and to prevent confusion.

All the men took the field at their own expense, providing their own food; for the cause was their own, and they looked for no pay, save the spoil of their enemies, beyond the acquisition of a national advantage, the redress of a general wrong, or the resistance of a public aggression. The difficulty of provisioning so large a host is therefore imaginary. Every man provisioned himself—taking with him a few days’ supply of light and portable food—some bread, some cheese, some olives, some hard dried dates, some dried figs and raisins, and other matters of this description. If detained in the field longer than expected, one man in ten was appointed to provide food for the rest, as was done when Israel was out to avenge the Levite, Jdg_20:10.

The difficulties presented by the state of the country to the rapid passage of messengers and the march of armies, are altogether imaginary, and founded upon the present neglected state of the same land. It is entirely forgotten by most persons, that the presence of unexampled facilities of communication throughout the country was ensured by the law respecting the cities of refuge, to which the innocent man-slayer might flee from the pursuit of the avenger. Every facility for their flight was to be provided. “The way was to be prepared” (Deu_19:3), not only, as the Jewish writers explain, to those six cities on either side Jordan, but to the forty-eight cities of the Levites, which were places of sanctuary; and if, as we have reason to believe, the ways were “prepared” in the manner described by the old Jewish writers, there could have been no ancient country better provided with wide and commodious roads for messengers and travellers. All these roads, which, from the manner in which the cities were dispersed, must have intersected the country in all directions, were kept wide, level, dry, and plain, with convenient bridges over rivers, with posts, the indications on which, directing travellers from place to place, were so plainly written that those who ran might read; Note: Whence the phrase in Hab_2:2, “Make it plain, that he may run that readeth it.” and with every possible contrivance for rendering travelling as easy and expeditious as possible. It is not unlikely that traces of those ancient ways still exist in the well-made roads which travellers sometimes fall in within parts now forsaken, and which, in ignorance of these circumstances, they set down for Roman roads. The utmost care was bestowed on this matter by the local authorities, because it was deemed that the nearest town or village incurred the burden of blood-guiltiness, if, through any obstruction upon the road, the course of the fugitive manslayer were so retarded as to enable the avenger of blood (goel) to overtake him and wreak his vengeance upon him.

Although the use of swift camels (dromedaries) is difficult in the present state of the country, they might well be used on such roads as these; and in the absence of saddle-horses, which were not at this time in use, they might be, and doubtless were, employed on extraordinary occasions like this; and those of the right breed, trained for the saddle, travelling without baggage, and with only a single rider, have been known to go as much as two hundred miles in twenty-four hours. We may be sure that no available means of expediting the message were neglected; and if dromedaries were at all known in Palestine, as they were, and if the state of the roads allowed of their being used, as was the case, there can be no doubt they were employed; and by these means the summons might have been transmitted to the uttermost parts of the land in an incredibly shorter space of time than has been imagined.

Again, throughout the East there are trained runners who can, for a long time, accompany a horse at full speed, and who do habitually attend on foot the princes and great men, when they ride out. There were, doubtless, such men in Israel, for in the next generation we find men employed to run before Absalom’s chariot; and how much this accomplishment of swift running was valued and cultivated, even among young men of station in Israel, for the sake of the swift transmission of intelligence in time of war, is seen in the case of Ahimaaz, Note: 2Sa_15:27; 2Sa_18:19; 2Sa_18:23; 2Sa_18:27. the son of the high-priest Zadok; of Cushi, and of Asahel, king David’s nephew, who was “light of foot as a wild roe.” Note: 2Sa_2:18. It is quite likely that the message should have been taken from town to town by such swift runners in turn, one after another, until it reached the utmost limits of the land.

There is yet another resource, which there is much reason to suppose was employed on this, as we know that it was on many other occasions. It is very possible that the alarm, of summons for a general armament, was conveyed by beacons, or fiery signals kindled upon the tops of the hills, so that when the human messenger arrived they would find the people ready assembled in arms at the several towns of their tribes in which they were wont to assemble on such occasions. Such signals were particularly available in Canaan, by reason of the mountainous nature of the country, and by the absence of any plains of great extent in which no eminences occur. By this means the calls to arms, transmitted from post to post, would reach the utmost bounds of the land in the course of a few hours. These beacons are often mentioned by the prophets, Note: See, inter alia, Isa_5:26; Isa_11:10; seq. 13:2; 18:3; 30:17; 49:22; 62:10. Jer_4:6; Jer_50:2; Jer_51:12; Jer_51:27. Zec_9:16. and were in use not only among the Hebrews but among all nations inhabiting hilly countries; and being easily perceived at a vast distance from each other, especially in the night-time, and being, moreover, distinguished by some well-known differences, according to the notice or order intended to be conveyed, were immediately answered by the sound of the trumpet in the valleys below. By such means not a city or village, whether in a low or high situation, but would in less than the space of one night, be roused by the general alarm, and receive some intimation of its object, either from the nature of the signal, or from the difference in the sound of the trumpets. When, therefore, the signal was for a general armament, all men able to bear arms were bound to repair at once, with weapons and provisions, to their respective standards, where they put themselves under the orders of their tribal commanders, and were mustered by the chiefs or captains of hundreds, of thousands, and at last by the chief or prince of the tribe, after which they had only to await orders from the king or general-in-chief, as to when they were to commence their march, and to what point their course was to be directed.

It will thus be seen that the couriers, bearing the parts of the oxen, and charged with the urgent mandate of the king had only to repair to the places known to be those where the several tribes usually assembled within their own territories, where they would find them under arms, ready to march, and awaiting the orders which they brought. This statement incidentally meets the puerile objection of some, that the two oxen must have been cut up into mince-meat in order that a small portion might be sent to all the towns and villages of Israel; and we can see that if, as Josephus affirms, the legs only of the animals were thus employed, these would have sufficed. In confirmation of this view it may be observed that the Levite separated the dead body of his concubine into twelve parts, one for each of the tribes of Israel. This was all that he felt to be necessary, and doubtless all that was required now; and assuredly for the same reason—that each portion was sent direct to the place which was recognized as the center of union in each of the tribes.