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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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From a dread lest the example of foreign nations should draw the Israelites into the worship of idols, they were made a peculiar and separate people, and intercourse and alliance with such nations were strongly interdicted (Leviticus 18:3-4; Leviticus 20:22-23). The tendency to idolatry was in those times so strong, that the safety of the Israelites lay in the most complete isolation that could be realized; and it was to assist this object that a country more than usually separated from others by its natural boundaries was assigned to them. It was shut in by the sea on the west, by deserts on the south and east, and by mountains and forests on the north. Among a people so situated we should not expect to hear much of alliances with other nations.

By far the most remarkable alliance in the political history of the Hebrews is that between Solomon and Hiram king of Tyre, which may primarily be referred to the affection which the latter entertained for David (1 Kings 5:2). He 'sent carpenters and masons' to build David an house (2 Samuel 5:11), and wishing to cultivate the friendly intercourse thus opened with the Hebrew nation, on the death of David he sent an embassy to condole with Solomon on the death of his father, and to congratulate him on his accession (1 Kings 5:1). The plans of the young king rendered the friendship of Hiram a matter of importance, and accordingly 'a league' was formed (1 Kings 5:12) between them and that this league had a reference not merely to the special matter then in view, but was a general league of amity, is evinced by the fact that more than 250 years after, a prophet denounces the Lord's vengeance upon Tyre, because she 'remembered not the brotherly covenant' (Amos 1:9). Under this league large bodies of Jews and Phoenicians were associated, first in preparing the materials for the Temple (1 Kings 5:6-18), and afterwards in navigating the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean (1 Kings 9:26-28). The disastrous consequences of even the seemingly least objectionable alliances may be seen in the long train of evils, both to the kingdom of Israel and of Judah, which ensued from the marriage of Ahab with Jezebel, the king of Tyre's daughter [AHAB; JEZEBEL]. These consequences had been manifested even in the time of Solomon; for he formed matrimonial alliances with most of the neighboring kingdoms, and to the influence of his idolatrous wives are ascribed the abominations which darkened the latter days of the wise king (1 Kings 11:1-8).

The prophets, who were alive to these consequences, often raised their voices against such dangerous connections (1 Kings 11:11; 2 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 19:2; 2 Chronicles 25:7, etc.; Isaiah 7:17), without effect. The Jewish history, after Solomon, affords examples of several treaties with different kings of Syria, and with the kings of Assyria and Babylon (see 1 Kings 15:16-20; 2 Kings 16:5, etc.; 2 Chronicles 18:16, etc.). In later times, the Maccabees appear to have considered themselves unrestrained by any but the ordinary prudential considerations in contracting alliances. The most remarkable alliance of this kind was the treaty made with the Romans by Judas Maccabaeus, which, having been concluded at Rome, was graven upon brass and deposited in the Capitol (1 Maccabees 8:22-28; Josephus, Antiq. xii. 10).

Anterior to the Mosaic institutions, such alliances with foreigners were permitted, or at least tolerated. Abraham was in alliance with some of the Canaanitish princes (Genesis 14:13); he also entered into a regular treaty of alliance, being the first on record, with the Philistine king Abimelech (Genesis 21:22, seq.), which was renewed by their sons (Genesis 26:26-30). Even after the law, it appears, from some of the instances already adduced, that such alliances with distant nations as could not be supposed to have any dangerous effect upon the religion or morals of the people, were not deemed to be interdicted. The treaty with the Gibeonites is a remarkable proof of this. Believing that the ambassadors came from a great distance, Joshua and the elders readily entered into an alliance with them; and are condemned for it only on the ground that the Gibeonites were in fact their near neighbors (Joshua 9:3-27).

From the time of the patriarchs, a covenant of alliance was sealed by the blood of some victim. A heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtle dove, and a young pigeon, were immolated in confirmation of the covenant between the Lord and Abraham (Genesis 15:9). The animal or animals sacrificed were cut in two (except birds, Genesis 15:10), to typify the doom of perjurers. For allusions to this usage see Jeremiah 34:18; Susanna 55, 59; Matthew 24:51; Luke 12:46. The perpetuity of covenants of alliance thus contracted is expressed by calling them 'covenants of salt' (Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5), salt being the symbol of incorruption. The case of the Gibeonites affords an exemplary instance, scarcely equaled in the annals of any nation, of scrupulous adherence to such engagements. The Israelites had been absolutely cheated into the alliance; but, having been confirmed by oaths, it was deemed to be inviolable (Joshua 9:19). The prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:13-16) pours terrible denunciations upon King Zedekiah, for acting contrary to his sworn covenant with the king of Babylon. In this respect the Jews were certainly most favorably distinguished among the ancient nations; and, from numerous intimations in Josephus, it appears that their character for fidelity to their engagements was so generally recognized after the Captivity, as often to procure for them highly favorable consideration from the rulers of Western Asia and of Egypt.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Alliances'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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