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David’s Numbering Of The People–The Politics Of The Situation
by [?]

What I replied, and in that instance usefully replied–for it sufficed to check one who was gravitating downwards to infidelity, and likely to settle there for ever if he once reached that point–was in substance this:

Firstly, that the plea, with regard to the numbers as most extraordinary, was so far from affecting the credibility of the statement disadvantageously, that on that ground, agreeably to the logic I have so scantily expounded, this very feature in the case was what partly engaged the notice of the Scriptural writer. It was a great army for so little a nation. And therefore, would the writer say, therefore in print I record it.

Secondly, that we must not, however, be misled by the narrow limits, the Welsh limits, to suppose a Welsh population. For that whilst the twelve counties of Wales do not now yield above half-a-million of people, Palestine had pretty certainly a number fluctuating between four and six millions.

Thirdly, that the great consideration of this was the stage in the expansion of society at which the Hebrew nation then stood, and the sublime interest–sublime enough to them, though far from comprehending the solemn freight of hopes confided to themselves–which they consciously defended. It was an age in which no pay was given to the soldier. Now, when the soldier constitutes a separate profession, with the regular pay he undertakes the regular danger and hardships. There is no motive for giving the pay and the rations but precisely that he does so undertake. But when no pay at all is allowed out of any common fund, it will never be endured by the justice of the whole society or by an individual member that he, the individual, as one insulated stake-holder, having no greater interest embarked than others, should undertake the danger or the labour of warfare for the whole. And two inferences arise upon having armies so immense:

First, that they were a militia, or more properly not even that, but a Landwehr–that is, a posse comitatus, the whole martial strength of the people (one in four), drawn out and slightly trained to meet a danger, which in those times was always a passing cloud. Regular and successive campaigns were unknown; the enemy, whoever he might be, could as little support a regular army as the people of Palestine. Consequently, all these enemies would have to disperse hastily to their reaping and mowing, just as we may observe the Jews do under Joshua. It required, therefore, no long absence from home. It was but a march, but a waiting for opportunity, watching for a favourable day–sunshine or cloud, the rising or subsiding of a river, the wind in the enemy’s face, or an ambush skilfully posted. All was then ready; the signal was given, a great battle ensued, and by sunset of one anxious day all was over in one way or another. Upon this position of circumstances there was neither any fair dispensation from personal service (except where citizens’ scruples interfered), nor any motive for wishing it. On the contrary, by a very few days’ service, a stigma, not for the individual only, but for his house and kin, would be evaded for ages of having treacherously forsaken the commonwealth in agony. And the preference for a fighting station would be too eager instead of too backward. It would become often requisite to do what it is evident the Jews in reality did–to make successive sifting and winnowing from the service troops, at every stage throwing out upon severer principles of examination those who seemed least able to face a trying crisis, whilst honourable posts of no great dependency would be assigned to those rejected, as modes of soothing their offended pride. This in the case of a great danger; but in the case of an ordinary danger there is no doubt that many vicarious arrangements would exist by way of evading so injurious a movement as that of the whole fighting population. Either the ordinary watch and ward, in that section which happened to be locally threatened–as, for instance, by invasion on one side from Edom or Moab, on another side from the Canaanites or Philistines–would undertake the case as one which had fallen to them by allotment of Providence; or that section whose service happened to be due for the month, without local regards, would face the exigency. But in any great national danger, under that stage of society which the Jews had reached between Moses and David–that stage when fighting is no separate professional duty, that stage when such things are announced by there being no military pay–not the army which is so large as 120,000 men, but the army which is so small, requires to be explained.[2]