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not endure his service, but preferred to run away even into a heathen country; and it is not a little singular that the first and only instance of a slave-hunter figuring in sacred history is that of this condemned liar, hypocrite, and blasphemer. But he captures his servants in the country of the Philistines, and not in a land under Hebrew law. Doubtless, they were foreigners and heathen, not Hebrews, or they would not have fled away to Achish king of Gath; they would have been secure against Shimei's claim in their own country, but there was no law for the protection of slaves in the land of the Philistines; and, although they imagined themselves more secure from pursuit there, especially as they must have known that their master himself was a prisoner of State within certain limits in Jerusalem, yet the rage of Shimei defeated their calculations, and they were brought back. It may have been by some friendship of Achish with Shimei, and a spite against king Solomon, that this was accomplished, which made king Solomon the more ready to inflict upon Shimei, without any farther reprieve, the sentence he had brought upon himself. .
The history in 2 Chron. 28: 8–15, has an important bearing in illustration of this and other statutes, especially those for the protection of the Hebrews from becoming slaves. The kingdoms of Judah and Israel were at war, and the latter had taken captive of the former two hundred thousand, whom they proposed to keep for bond-men and bondwomen, the ordinary fate of those taken captive in war. But the fierce wrath of God was instantly threatened, if they carried this intended crime into execution; and some able and patriotic leaders of the tribe of Ephraim resisted the proposition with such effectual energy, that the men of the army left the captives to their disposal; whereupon they generously clothed and fed them and carried them back free to their own country. The intention had been, contrary to the divine law, to bring them into bondage in a manner expressly forbidden. It is to be feared that in some instances the legal prohibitions against such slavery had already been set at defiance both by rulers and people in the two king
doms; but never yet had the attempt been made in so bold and public a manner, and on so huge a scale, to over-ride the laws.
There are very decisive intimations, however, that look as if this iniquity of a forced and continued bondage, by which the Jewish masters retained their servants contrary to law, had become, at a later period, one of the great outstanding crimes of the nation. After the divulsion of the kingdom into two, those persons unjustly held in bondage would be likely to take refuge from cruel taskmasters in one kingdom by fleeing into the other; and the law in Deuteronomy was unquestionable and explicit : “ Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee. He shall dwell with thee, where it liketh him best. Thou shalt not oppress him.” Contrary to this great statute of Jehovah, there may have been compacts or compromises, between the two kingdoms, for the delivering up of such fugitives; or if not between the kingdoms, at least between confederacies of masters. But, whatever fugitive slave laws might be passed, or compacts entered into, they were all as so many condemned statutes, judged and condemned beforehand by the law of God, and to be held null and void by those who would keep his commandments. Nevertheless, with the example once set, first in one king. dom, then in the other, of such unrighteous statutes, it might become comparatively easy, through powerful local interests, by the combination of large holders, or of those who could profitably become slave-masters by trading with the heathen, not only to evade the divine law, but at length to get statutes passed, though manifestly and directly contrary to it, for the protection of slave-property, or to assist in retaining or recovering such property. There might be enactments for the interest of the masters, setting at nought all the provisions of the divine law for the limitation of servitude, the preventing of slavery, and the protection and emancipation of indentured servants.
That some such form of oppression began to be prevalent soon after the separation of the kingdoms of Judah and Is
rael, the tenor of the Prophets and the Psalms, from Joel to Malachi, leads us to suppose. It is probable that this legislation for the masters, this care for their interests and their favor, this oppression of those whom they held in bondage, and this disregard of the divine law in their behalf, are referred to by the prophet Amos, especially in the fourth chapter of his prophecy, where God rebukes the princes, the rulers, and the wealthy and great men, for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy, but saying to their masters : Bring business and wealth, and let us trade and drink together (Amos 4: 1. Compare also Amos 2: 6.) : “ They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes." Scott's note on the first of these passages presents the case in a manner not improbable : “ They crushed and trampled on their unresisting brethren, and sold them for slaves. Having made the iniquitous bargain, perhaps on low terms, they required from the purchaser, in this slave-trade, to be treated with wine.” It may have been partly in reference to such sins as these, that the rebuke of God by the prophet Micah was directed, that "the statutes of Omri were kept, and all the counsels of the house of Ahab” (Micah 6: 16). For, immediately after that indictment, it is asserted that men are hunting every man his brother with a net, and the prince asketh, and the judge asketh, for a reward, and the great man uttereth his mischievous desire, and so they wrap it up, the best of them being as a brier, and the most upright sharper than a thorn-hedge' (Micah 7: 2, 3, 4).
It was in reference to such iniquity, this great and glaring guilt of oppression especially, that many passages in the Prophets and the Psalms were written. “ Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed, to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people” (Isa. 10:1). “ He looked for judgment, but behold oppression” (Isa. 5: 7). 6 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. Your hands are full of blood. When make many prayers, I will not hear. Put away the evil of VOL. XIII. No. 50.
your doings. Seek judgment; relieve the oppressed” (Isa. 1: 10, 17). “Wo unto them which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him. Therefore, as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust, because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 5: 23, 24. Comp. Jer. 6: 6 and 7: 5, 6 and 22: 17).
It is in the light of such historic references, showing to what a degree the Jews had corrupted justice, and set up oppression, in a system of precedent and law, in contempt of the divine law, that we come to the consideration of the great illustrative record in Jer. xxxiv. The progress of the iniquity and the ruin therein recorded had been gradual, from father to son, from generation to generation (Jer. 34: 14); but at length it arose to the crisis of an open, combined, and positive rebellion against God, in entirely trampling under foot the great ordinance against Hebrew slavery, contained in Ex. 21: 2, and confirmed and guarded by other statutes. The crime of injustice and rebellion was the more marked and daring, because it had been preceded by a fitful penitence and acknowledgment of the oppression, and acceptance of the law as righteous, and a return to its observ. ance, with a new covenant to that effect. So the whole people, princes and people, loosed their grasp upon the servants they had been unjustly retaining in bondage, and for a season, at the word of the Lord, let them go. But on reflection, they felt that it was too great a sacrifice of power, and a relinquishment of property, to which they would not submit. “ So they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids” (Jer. 34: 11). Then came the word of the Lord, and its execution followed, as the lightning doth the thunder : “ Because ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbor, behold I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to
the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jer. 34: 17).
It throws a solemn light of additional warning upon this transaction, to compare with this chapter of Jeremiah, the contemporary prophecy of Ezekiel, in the twenty-second chapter of that prophet. As men gather silver, brass, iron, lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it, so God informed Ezekiel that he was now gathering the whole house of Israel, that had become dross, priests, princes, prophets, and people, in the midst of Jerusalem, to pour out his fury upon them, and melt them as refuse metals in the midst of the fire. The indictment of their wickedness in this chapter, issued just three years before the prediction of Jeremiah, in the thirty-fourth of his prophecy, closes with these words : “ The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have veced the poor and needy ; yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath ; their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God.”
Almost at the same moment, and in view of the same predicted event, though residing at so wide a distance from each other, these two prophets were charged with God's denunciation against the same sin of oppression, as the one climacteric occasion and cause of the destruction of the nation. God refers the people back to the first covenant of freedom (in Ex. xxii), abolishing and forbidding slavery forever ; and the violation of that covenant, in the attempt to establish the forbidden sin, is distinctly and with sublime and awful emphasis, marked by Jehovah in his one, final, conclusive reason for giving over the nation into the hand of their enemies, and sweeping the whole community into bondage. It would not be possible to transmit, in historic form, a more tremendous reprobation of the sin of slavery,