Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Chapter xl

Of the Rights of the Kingdom of God, in Abraham, Moses, the High Priests, and the Kings of Judah

THE FATHER of the faithful, and first in the kingdom of God by covenant, was Abraham. For with him was the covenant first made; wherein he obliged himself and his seed after him to acknowledge and obey the commands of God; not only such as he could take notice of (as moral laws) by the light of nature; but also such as God should in special manner deliver to him by dreams and visions. For as to the moral law, they were already obliged, and needed not have been contracted withal, by promise of the land of Canaan. Nor was there any contract that could add to or strengthen the obligation by which both they and all men else were bound naturally to obey God Almighty: and therefore the covenant which Abraham made with God was to take for the commandment of God that which in the name of God was commanded him, in a dream or vision, and to deliver it to his family and cause them to observe the same.

In this contract of God with Abraham, we may observe three points of important consequence in the government of God's people. First, that at the making of this covenant God spoke only to Abraham, and therefore contracted not with any of his family or seed otherwise than as their wills (which make the essence of all covenants) were before the contract involved in the will of Abraham, who was therefore supposed to have had a lawful power to make them perform all that he covenanted for them. According whereunto God saith, "All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him, for I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord."1 From whence may be concluded this first point, that they to whom God hath not spoken immediately are to receive the positive commandments of God from their sovereign, as the family and seed of Abraham did from Abraham their father and lord and civil sovereign. And consequently in every Commonwealth, they who have no supernatural revelation to the contrary ought to obey the laws of their own sovereign in the external acts and profession of religion. As for the inward thought and belief of men, which human governors can take no notice of (for God only knoweth the heart), they are not voluntary, nor the effect of the laws, but of the unrevealed will and of the power of God, and consequently fall not under obligation.

From whence proceedeth another point; that it was not unlawful for Abraham, when any of his subjects should pretend private vision or spirit, or other revelation from God, for the countenancing of any doctrine which Abraham should forbid, or when they followed or adhered to any such pretender, to punish them; and consequently that it is lawful now for the sovereign to punish any man that shall oppose his private spirit against the laws: for he hath the same place in the Commonwealth that Abraham had in his own family.

There ariseth also from the same a third point; that as none but Abraham in his family, so none but the sovereign in a Christian Commonwealth, can take notice what is or what is not the word of God. For God spoke only to Abraham, and it was he only that was able to know what God said, and to interpret the same to his family: and therefore also, they that have the place of Abraham in a Commonwealth are the only interpreters of what God hath spoken.

The same covenant was renewed with Isaac, and afterwards with Jacob, but afterwards no more till the Israelites were freed from the Egyptians and arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai: and then it was renewed by Moses (as I have said before, Chapter thirty-five), in such manner as they became from that time forward the peculiar kingdom of God, whose lieutenant was Moses for his own time: and the succession to that office was settled upon Aaron and his heirs after him to be to God a sacerdotal kingdom forever.

By this constitution, a kingdom is acquired to God. But seeing Moses had no authority to govern the Israelites as a successor to the right of Abraham, because he could not claim it by inheritance, it appeareth not as yet that the people were obliged to take him for God's lieutenant longer than they believed that God spoke unto him. And therefore his authority, notwithstanding the covenant they made with God, depended yet merely upon the opinion they had of his sanctity, and of the reality of his conferences with God, and the verity of his miracles; which opinion coming to change, they were no more obliged to take anything for the law of God which he propounded to them in God's name. We are therefore to consider what other ground there was of their obligation to obey him. For it could not be the commandment of God that could oblige them, because God spoke not to them immediately, but by the mediation of Moses himself: and our Saviour saith of himself, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true";2 much less if Moses bear witness of himself, especially in a claim of kingly power over God's people, ought his testimony to be received. His authority therefore, as the authority of all other princes, must be grounded on the consent of the people and their promise to obey him. And so it was: for "the people when they saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, removed and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear, but let not God speak with us lest we die."3 Here was their promise of obedience; and by this it was they obliged themselves to obey whatsoever he should deliver unto them for the commandment of God.

And notwithstanding the covenant constituteth a sacerdotal kingdom, that is to say, a kingdom hereditary to Aaron; yet that is to be understood of the succession after Moses should be dead. For whosoever ordereth and establisheth the policy as first founder of a Commonwealth, be it monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, must needs have sovereign power over the people all the while he is doing of it. And that Moses had that power all his own time is evidently affirmed in the Scripture. First, in the text last before cited, because the people promised obedience, not to Aaron, but to him. Secondly, "And God said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. And Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but they shall not come nigh, neither shall the people go up with him."4 By which it is plain that Moses, who was alone called up to God (and not Aaron, nor the other priests, nor the seventy elders, nor the people who were forbidden to come up), was alone he that represented to the Israelites the person of God; that is to say, was their sole sovereign under God. And though afterwards it be said, "Then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel, and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone,"5 etc.; yet this was not till after Moses had been with God before, and had brought to the people the words which God had said to him. He only went for the business of the people; the others, as the nobles of his retinue, were admitted for honour to that special grace which was not allowed to the people; which was, as in the verse after appeareth, to see God and live. "God laid not His hand upon them, they saw God, and did eat and drink" (that is, did live), but did not carry any commandment from Him to the people. Again, it is everywhere said, "The Lord spake unto Moses," as in all other occasions of government, so also in also in the ordering of the ceremonies of religion, contained in the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st chapters of Exodus, and throughout Leviticus; to Aaron, seldom. The calf that Aaron made, Moses threw into the fire. Lastly, the question of the authority of Aaron, by occasion of his and Miriam's mutiny against Moses, was judged by God Himself for Moses.6 So also in the question between Moses and the people, who had the right of governing the people, when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly "gathered themselves together against Moses, and against Aaron, and said unto them, ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is amongst them, why lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?"7 God caused the earth to swallow Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with their wives and children, alive, and consumed those two hundred and fifty princes with fire. Therefore neither Aaron, nor the people, nor any aristocracy of the chief princes of the people, but Moses alone had next under God the sovereignty over the Israelites: and that not only in causes of civil policy, but also of religion: for Moses only spoke with God, and therefore only could tell the people what it was that God required at their hands. No man upon pain of death might be so presumptuous as to approach the mountain where God talked with Moses. "Thou shalt set bounds," saith the Lord, "to the people round about, and say, Take heed to yourselves that you go not up into the Mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the Mount shall surely be put to death."8 And again, "Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze."9 Out of which we may conclude that whosoever in Christian Commonwealth holdeth the place of Moses is the sole messenger of God and interpreter of His commandments. And according hereunto, no man ought in the interpretation of the Scripture to proceed further than the bounds which are set by their several sovereigns. For the Scriptures, since God now speaketh in them, are the Mount Sinai, the bounds whereof are the laws of them that represent God's person on earth. To look upon them, and therein to behold the wondrous works of God, and learn to fear Him, is allowed; but to interpret them, that is, to pry into what God saith to him whom He appointeth to govern under Him, and make themselves judges whether he govern as God commandeth him, or not, is to transgress the bounds God hath set us, and to gaze upon God irreverently.

There was no prophet in the time of Moses, nor pretender to the spirit of God, but such as Moses had approved and authorized. For there were in his time but seventy men that are said to prophesy by the spirit of God, and these were all of Moses his election; concerning whom God said to Moses, "Gather to me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people."10 To these God imparted His spirit; but it was not a different spirit from that of Moses; for it is said, "God came down in a cloud, and took of the spirit that was upon Moses, and gave it to the seventy elders."11 But as I have shown before, Chapter thirty-six, by spirit is understood the mind; so that the sense of the place is no other than this, that God endued them with a mind conformable and subordinate to that of Moses, that they might prophesy, that is to say, speak to the people in God's name in such manner as to set forward (as ministers of Moses, and by his authority) such doctrine as was agreeable to Moses his doctrine. For they were but ministers; and when two of them prophesied in the camp, it was thought a new and unlawful thing; and as it is in the 27th and 28th verses of the same chapter, they were accused of it, and Joshua advised Moses to forbid them, as not knowing that it was by Moses his spirit that they prophesied. By which it is manifest that no subject ought to pretend to prophecy, or to the spirit, in opposition to the doctrine established by him whom God hath set in the place of Moses.

Aaron being dead, and after him also Moses, the kingdom, as being a sacerdotal kingdom, descended by virtue of the covenant to Aaron's son, Eleazar the high priest: and God declared him, next under Himself, for sovereign, at the same time that He appointed Joshua for the general of their army. For thus God saith expressly concerning Joshua: "He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him before the Lord; at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him."12 Therefore the supreme power of making war and peace was in the priest. The supreme power of judicature belonged also to the high priest: for the Book of the Law was in their keeping, and the priests and Levites only were the subordinate judges in causes civil, as appears in Deuteronomy, 17. 8, 9, 10. And for the manner of God's worship, there was never doubt made but that the high priest, till the time of Saul, had the supreme authority. Therefore the civil and ecclesiastical power were both joined together in one and the same person, the high priest; and ought to be so, in whosoever governeth by divine right; that is, by authority immediate from God.

After the death of Joshua, till the time of Saul, the time between is noted frequently in the Book of Judges, "that there was in those days no king in Israel"; and sometimes with this addition, that "every man did that which was right in his own eyes." By which is to be understood that where it is said, "there was no king," is meant, "there was no sovereign power," in Israel. And so it was, if we consider the act and exercise of such power. For after the death of Joshua and Eleazar, "there arose another generation that knew not the Lord, nor the nor the works which He had done for Israel, but did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baalim."13 And the Jews had that quality which St. Paul noteth, "to look for a sign," not only before they would submit themselves to the government of Moses, but also after they had obliged themselves by their submission. Whereas signs and miracles had for end to procure faith, not to keep men from violating it when they have once given it, for to that men are obliged by the law of nature. But if we consider not the exercise, but the right of governing, the sovereign power was still in the high priest. Therefore whatsoever obedience was yielded to any of the judges (who were men chosen by God extraordinarily to save His rebellious subjects out of the hands of the enemy), it cannot be drawn into argument against the right the high priest had to the sovereign power in all matters both of policy and religion. And neither the judges nor Samuel himself had an ordinary, but extraordinary, calling to the government, and were obeyed by the Israelites, not out of duty, but out of reverence to their favour with God, appearing in their wisdom, courage, or felicity. Hitherto therefore the right of regulating both the policy and the religion were inseparable.

To the judges succeeded kings: and whereas before all authority, both in religion and policy, was in the high priest; so now it was all in the king. For the sovereignty over the people which was, before, not only by virtue of the divine power, but also by a particular pact of the Israelites in God, and next under Him, in the high priest, as His vicegerent on earth, was cast off by the people, with the consent of God Himself. For when they said to Samuel, "make us a king to judge us, like all the nations,"14 they signified that they would no more be governed by the commands that should be laid upon them by the priest, in the name of God; but by one that should command them in the same manner that all other nations were commanded; and consequently in deposing the high priest of royal authority, they deposed that peculiar government of God. And yet God consented to it, saying to Samuel, "Hearken unto the voice of the people, in all that they shall say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee; but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them."15 Having therefore rejected God, in whose right the priests governed, there was no authority left to the priests but such as the king was pleased to allow them; which was more or less, according as the kings were good or evil. And for the government of civil affairs, it is manifest, it was all in the hands of the king. For in the same chapter they say they will be like all the nations; that their king shall be their judge, and go before them, and fight their battles;16 that is, he shall have the whole authority, both in peace and war. In which is continued also the ordering of religion: for there was no other word of God in that time by which to regulate religion but the Law of Moses, which was their civil law. Besides, we read that Solomon "thrust out Abiathar from being priest before the Lord":17 he had therefore authority over the high priest, as over any other subject, which is a great mark of supremacy in religion. And we read also that he dedicated the Temple; that he blessed the people; and that he himself in person made that excellent prayer, used in the consecrations of all churches and houses of prayer;18 which is another great mark of supremacy in religion. Again, we read that when there was question concerning the Book of the Law found in the Temple, the same was not decided by the high priest, but Josiah sent both and others to enquire concerning it, of Huldah, the prophetess;19 which is another mark of the supremacy in religion. Lastly, we read that David made Hashabiah and his brethren, Hebronites, officers of Israel among them westward, "in all business of the Lord, and in the service of the king."20 Likewise, that he made other Hebronites "rulers over the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh" (these were the rest of Israel that dwelt beyond Jordan) "for every matter pertaining to God, and affairs of the king."21 Is not this full power, both temporal and spiritual, as they call it that would divide it? To conclude: from the first institution of God's kingdom, to the Captivity, the supremacy of religion was in the same hand with that of the civil sovereignty; and the priest's office, after the election of Saul, was not magisterial, but ministerial.

Notwithstanding the government both in policy and religion were joined, first in the high priests, and afterwards in the kings, so far forth as concerned the right; yet it appeareth by the same holy history that the people understood it not; but there being amongst them a great part, and probably the greatest part, that no longer than they saw great miracles, or, which is equivalent to a miracle, great abilities, or great felicity in the enterprises of their governors, gave sufficient credit either to the fame of Moses or to the colloquies between God and the priests, they took occasion, as oft as their governors displeased them, by blaming sometimes the policy, sometimes the religion, to change the government or revolt from their obedience at their pleasure; and from thence proceeded from time to time the civil troubles, divisions, and calamities of the nation. As for example, after the death of Eleazar and Joshua, the next generation, which had not seen the wonders of God, but were left to their own weak reason, not knowing themselves obliged by the covenant of a sacerdotal kingdom, regarded no more the commandment of the priest, nor any law of Moses, but did every man that which was right in his own eyes; and obeyed in civil affairs such men as from time to time they thought able to deliver them from the neighbour nations that oppressed them; and consulted not with God, as they ought to do, but with such men, or women, as they guessed to be prophets by their predictions of things to come; and though they had an idol in their chapel, yet if they had a Levite for their chaplain, they made account they worshipped the God of Israel.

And afterwards when they demanded a king, after the manner of the nations, yet it was not with a design to depart from the worship of God their King; but despairing of the justice of the sons of Samuel, they would have a king to judge them in civil actions; but not that they would allow their king to change the religion which they thought was recommended to them by Moses. So that they always kept in store a pretext, either of justice or religion, to discharge themselves of their obedience whensoever they had hope to prevail. Samuel was displeased with the people, for that they desired a king (for God was their King already, and Samuel had but an authority under Him); yet did Samuel, when Saul observed not his counsel in destroying Agag as God had commanded, anoint another king, namely, David, to take the succession from his heirs. Rehoboam was no idolater; but when the people thought him an oppressor, that civil pretence carried from him ten tribes to Jeroboam an idolater. And generally through the whole history of the kings, as well of Judah as of Israel, there were prophets that always controlled the kings for transgressing the religion, and sometimes also for errors of state; as Jehoshaphat was reproved by the prophet Jehu for aiding the King of Israel against the Syrians;22 and Hezekiah, by Isaiah, for showing his treasures to the ambassadors of Babylon. By all which it appeareth that though the power both of state and religion were in the kings, yet none of them were uncontrolled in the use of it but such as were gracious for their own natural abilities or felicities. So that from the practice of those times, there can no argument be drawn that the right of supremacy in religion was not in the kings, unless we place it in the prophets, and conclude that because Hezekiah, praying to the Lord before the cherubim, was not answered from thence, nor then, but afterwards by the prophet Isaiah, therefore Isaiah was supreme head of the Church; or because Josiah consulted Huldah the prophetess, concerning the Book of the Law, that therefore neither he, nor the high priest, but Huldah the prophetess had the supreme authority in matter of religion, which I think is not the opinion of any doctor.

During the Captivity the Jews had no Commonwealth at all; and after their return, though they renewed their covenant with God, yet there was no promise made of obedience, neither to Esdras nor to any other: and presently after they became subjects to the to the Greeks, from whose customs and demonology, and from the doctrine of the Cabalists, their religion became much corrupted: in such sort as nothing can be gathered from their confusion, both in state and religion, concerning the supremacy in either. And therefore so far forth as concerneth the Old Testament, we may conclude that whosoever had the sovereignty of the Commonwealth amongst the Jews, the same had also the supreme authority in matter of God's external worship, and represented God's person; that is, the person of God the Father; though He were not called by the name of Father till such time as He sent into the world His Son Jesus Christ to redeem mankind from their sins, and bring them into his everlasting kingdom to be saved for evermore. Of which we are to speak in the chapter following.

1 Genesis, 18. 18, 19

2 John, 5. 31

3 Exodus, 20. 18, 19

4 Exodus, 24. 1, 2

5 Ibid., 24. 9

6 Numbers, 12

7 Ibid., 16. 3

8 Exodus, 19. 12

9 Ibid., 19. 21

10 Numbers, 11. 16

11 Ibid., 11. 25

12 Numbers, 27. 21

13 Judges, 2. 10

14 I Samuel, 8. 5

15 Ibid., 8. 7

16 Ibid., 8. 20

17 I Kings, 2. 27

18 Ibid., 8

19 II Kings, 22

20 I Chronicles, 26. 30

21 Ibid., 26. 32

22 II Chronicles, 19. 2


Last updated Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 13:15