HIS LIFE AND TIMES
BIRTH AND BRINGING UP.
For twenty years after their marriage, Isaac and Rebekah were denied the blessing of children. Greatly must the faith of the whole patriarchal family have been tried by this long and persistent sterility. In Isaac was Abraham’s seed to be called ; in Isaac were all the nations of the earth to be blessed. Yet it seemed as if Issac was to have no offspring. The disappointment must have been grievous to all, but especially it must have pressed upon Rebekah. To be without offspring is, in the East, a woman’s greatest affliction and reproach. It subjects her to scorn and contumely; it causes her adversaries to rejoice; too often it deprives her of the regard and affection of her husband. She is supposed to have provoked in some way or other the anger of God, who has therefore “shut up her womb”, as a mark of His displeasure. The husband can generally, if he pleases, console himself by taking another wife, or, if he be rich enough, several ; but this, of course, only increases the first wife’s affliction, who feels herself degraded, supplanted, cast aside. It comports well with the general amiability of Isaac’s character, that he declined to have recourse to a remedy, which, however usual it may have been, would, as he must have been aware, have increased Rebekah’s sadness and sorrow. He was too loving a husband to adopt such a course. No—he bethought him of another and a better way. God, he knew, had opened his mother Sarah’s womb after a sterility of much longer duration, and when she was actually past the then established age of childbearing. Rebekah was still in the vigour of womanhood—probably not more than thirty-three or thirty-four years old. He might intercede with God for her without asking for a miracle, and might without undue presumption hope that his intercession might prevail. The marriage was not one brought about by the mere workings of human passion, nor “enterprised unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly,” but one where parental guidance and the leadings of God’s Providence had been followed.’ Isaac therefore “went boldly to the throne of grace,” and confidently “intreated the Lord for his wife”; and the result was that “the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived ”.
As if to afford the parents a compensation for their long childlessness, it pleased God that, when Rebekah’s hour of conception came, “here should be twins in her womb”. And the twins seemed to her after a while to struggle together within her. The Divine purpose in causing Rebekah to have this sensation was, apparently, in part to typify the antagonism in which the twin brothers were to stand, the one towards the other, during a great portion of their lives, in part to lead on by natural steps to the delivery of a prophecy, whereby the will of God with respect to the two children should be declared, and the absolute right of God to dispense to His creatures blessings and favours at His own mere will should be vindicated. The potter has power over the clay to make one vessel to honour and another todishonour: not that this is done irrespective of desert, for “whom God foreknew He also did predestinate”, and Jacob was “loved,” Esau “hated”, while still in Rebekah’s womb, because of their foreseen qualities. The apparent struggle between the twins, while yet unborn, led Rebekah to “inquire of the Lord” concerning the phenomeno; and her inquiry elicited the well-known oracle— “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels ; and the one nation shall be stronger than the other nation ; and the elder shall serve the younger.” It was the will and the decree of God, that, in this particular case, primogeniture should not enjoy its natural rights, but that, on the contrary, all the privileges usually attached to it should devolve on the younger of the two children—the one which should quit the womb last. Under these circumstances the birth took place. “ When Rebekah’s days to be delivered were fulfilled,” and “there were twins in her womb, the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment ; and they called his name Esau,” which meant “hairy” or “the hairy one” : “and after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel, and his name was called Jacob”, i.e., “ he who takes by the heel.”
It is not to be supposed that any moral meaning attached originally to either name. The two words connoted simply the most striking and salient of the physical facts which were observed by those who were present at the birth of the children. The one name, Esau, had no second meaning; it simply marked the fact that the firstborn of the two children was covered with hair, almost like a wild animal, even at his birth; but the other name, Jacob, had other possible senses. It might mean, not only “he who takes by the heel,” but also “ he who takes by the heel to trip up,” and hence “he who outwits or supplants.” There came a day when Esau’s antagonism to his brother induced him to place on the word the worst possible sense , and this signification became, in course of time, the accepted one. But at the time of his birth, it is probable that not even Rebekah understood that her younger was to “supplant” her elder son, though she may have conjectured that “the blessing of Abraham” was, in some way or other, to be transferred to him.
Jacob’s early life was the usual life of a Bedouin boy, the son of a great sheikh, who was half agriculturist half nomad. He would be much with the cattle. As his father roamed over the Negeb from one place to another, according to the season of the year, or according to the reports which he received of the condition of the pasturage in this or that district, Jacob and Esau would accompany him, and would become familiar with all the ordinary routine of the pastoral life, with the feeding and the folding, the careful watching by night, the less anxious tending during the day, the exposure to heat and cold, the encounters with ravenous beasts, the occasional brush with marauders from a hostile tribe. At the same time they would learn the prevalent methods of such agriculture as existed at the day, the light scratching of the soil with a primitive plough, the hoeing and weeding, the irrigation with the hand or with the foot, the labours appropriate to seed-time and harvest, the arts of sowing, and reaping, and winnowing, and storing the grain. The various circumstances of the life gave room for the display of idiosyncrasies. Esau was excited by the contact with the wild beasts of the field, and after a while gave himself up almost entirely to the delights of the chase. Jacob was comparatively a stay at-home, remained with the tents, and carried on the business of the family. He thus became, naturally enough, his mother’s favourite, while Esau ingratiated himself with his father. The brothers, however, grew up together in apparent amity, or at any rate without open breach. Their opposite leanings kept them mostly apart. While Esau indulged the strain of wildness that was in his blood by scouring the plain after the gazelle, or lying in wait among the rocks for the ibex, or perhaps stalking the bustard, Jacob was looking after the cattle, leading them out to pasture in the morning, or seeing them home in safety to the fold at night, or preventing them from straying by his crook or by his voice, or engaged at the shearing, or the watering, or otherwise employed in doing shepherd’s work. The long hours of the summer days, during which he would sit with the flock in the shadow of a rock, or in the cool recess of a cave, would give him ample time for meditation, at once on the wonders of the past, and on the mysteries of the future. Rebekah had doubtless often feasted his ears with the words of the precious oracle given to her before his birth, which she had perhaps not made known generally; had inspired him with the hope of becoming the progenitor of a great nation, and repeated to him the words, “The elder shall serve the younger.” His grandfather, too, if we may trust the legend, had singled him out for special notice, and had spoken of him to Rebekah as the child of promise—“the medium of blessing to the whole race of Shem, and the ancestor of a people to be severed from all other nations”—one whom she would do well “to watch carefully, and to keep as the apple of her eye, promoting his well-being by every means in her power.” If these things came to Jacob’s ears, either directly from Abraham, or indirectly through his mother, they would tend to raise in him ambitious thoughts and aspirations, and to make him discontented with the position and prospects of a younger son. He would come to view himself as the favourite of Heaven, and would cast about in his mind for some mode whereby he might remedy the accident of his birth, and take the station which he would regard as rightfully his own.
How far his mother shared these thoughts and aspirations may be questioned; but, on the whole, considering how great and commanding was her influence over him at a later date, it would seem to be most probable that during all his childhood and his youth she had worked upon his mind, partly representing to him, his merits as greater than those of Esau, partly dwelling upon the supernatural communication which she had herself received, and on the strength of it urging him not to be wanting to himself, but to bend all his efforts towards obtaining the position which the prophecy indicated to be rightly his. “The elder shall serve the younger.” If in the heavenly counsels it was decreed that such should be the ultimate result, could it be wrong to work towards it; and seek to hasten it? Probably, neither Rebekah nor Jacob thought it wrong. It requires a somewhat advanced morality to lay it down that the end does not justify the means—that in no case is it lawful for us to do evil that good may come. Rebekah and Jacob, with their Oriental training, could scarcely have been expected to rise so high. The natural conscience may have made a feeble protest. But convention and usage put a bandage on the spiritual eye, which prevented it from discerning the right.
PURCHASE OF ESAU’S BIRTH RIGHT.
It is impossible to judge aright the transaction by which Esau lost, and Jacob became possessed of the “birth right” in the family of Abraham, without first inquiring and determining what the advantages and privileges were which were regarded as properly belonging to the eldest son in patriarchal times. These rights have been laid down as three1:—1. The right of rule in the family, and still more in the tribe ; 2. The right to a double portion of the inheritance ; and 3. The right of exercising the office of priest in the family and high-priest in the tribe whereto the individual possessed of the birth right belonged. That the right of rule passed to the firstborn is certain. Hence Reuben’s pre-eminence among his brethren until the birth right was for sufficient reason taken from him. Hence the hereditary succession which we find established in all ancient kingdoms. Hence the pretensions of Absalom and Adonijah, even when the succession had been formally devolved upon Solomon. The right rests upon natural grounds, in the first place, because the eldest son, having ordinarily the advantage of at least a year over any other is during boyhood the strongest and takes the rule, while the others, being weaker, are subservient; and, secondly, because, as the firstborn, he naturally holds the first place in his parent’s affections, and so is more considered by them than his brothers. When the family passes into the tribe, the eldest son of the original sheikh or chief naturally succeeds him, being already accustomed to command, and not likely to yield the first place to another without a struggle. The right of the eldest son to a double portion of the inheritance, that is, to twice as much as each of the younger sons, is more conventional, but seems to have been well-established in the family of Abraham, and perhaps extended to the Semitic race generally. With regard to the third right—that of the priesthood—there is more uncertainty. It has been said, that “the theory that the eldest son was the priest of the family rests upon no Scriptural statement,” and remarked further, that “the Rabbis appear divided on the question.” But the balance of Rabbinical opinion is certainly in favour of the priesthood of the firstborn in pre-Mosaic times ; and the priestly acts recorded in the early Scriptures are assigned to eldest sons or to those who have the right of the eldest son. The priesthood of eldest sons seems also to be implied in the “redemption of the firstborn,” instituted on the transfer of the sacerdotal office from this class of persons to the entire tribe of Levi.
Such, then, were the privileges attaching to the birth right according to prevalent Oriental ideas in patriarchal times. But, in the family of Abraham, the birth right meant more than this. It was a spiritual heritage. It carried the privilege of being the depositary and communicator of the Divine secrets. It constituted a link in the line of descent by which the Messiah was to be born into the world. The right of wielding power with God and men, the right of catching up and handing on—as in the old Greek race—the torch of Messianic hope; the right of heirship to the promises of the covenant made with Abraham; the right of standing among the spiritual aristocracy of mankind; the right of being a pilgrim of eternity, owning no foot of earth, because all heaven was held in fee—this, and more than this, was summed up in the possession of the Abrahamic birthright.
It is clear that, if rights such as these attached to the position of the eldest son in the family of Abraham, that position ought to have been highly valued, and set store by. To part with it voluntarily ought to have been an almost impossible idea. On the other hand, to covet it would be natural, since whatever is good is naturally desired by man. Ordinarily, however, the idea of a transfer would be out of the question, and would not arise. We can only account for the idea having arisen in the mind of Jacob, and having been entertained as a practicable one as soon as it was presented to the mind of Esau, by the fact of the prophecy given to Rebekah—“Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger”. Rebekah must have dwelt in thought upon this prophecy, must have cherished it, have seen in it a transfer by Divine authority to her younger son of the right by nature belonging to the elder one, and have brought up Jacob in the belief that the “birth right” was to be one day made his somehow or other, and that he was in a certain sense entitled to it. Many a time and oft may the ambitious youth, thus prompted by the parent with whom he was always first, have schemed and planned how the end might be effected ; but it is scarcely likely that, amid the infinite variety of possible circumstances, he ever anticipated the conjuncture of which he actually took advantage.
“Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came from the field, and he was faint.” The red lentil is the common food of large classes in the East. At present it is especially affected by the poor in Egypt; but it is used also by the Arabs of the Tih, and has been found “very palatable,” even by Europeans. The pottage, or porridge, made from it is of a bright red colour, and has a savoury smell, which is described as “very tempting to a hungry man.” Jacob had just made a mess of this kind, probably for his own eating, when his brother Esau came into the tent from his hunting, tired, hungry, and faint. Probably he had been unsuccessful in his search for game; perhaps he had been vainly seeking it from early dawn ; possibly he had been up all night. It could be no ordinary fatigue that had wearied out the almost indefatigable hunter, and brought him to the verge of deliquium. Seeing the tempting dish in his brother’s hand, he felt an irresistible craving for it, and exclaimed—“Feed me, I pray thee, with that red mess of thine; for I am faint”. Then there flashed upon Jacob the thought that this was his opportunity. “Sell me this day thy birth right;” was his reply. The hungry man was startled—was a little loath to comply with the demand made on him; but his immediate need made him reckless. Exaggerating his necessity, he says—“Behold, I am at the point to die”—and if I die, “what profit shall this birthright be to me?” What is the good of it ? Will it bring me to life again ? Certainly not. Then I may as well part with it. And his assent is signified. But Jacob will have more than his bare assent. “Swear to me, this day,” he says. “Confirm thy promise with a solemn oath. So shall there be no misunderstanding between us, and no contradiction or retractation on thy part.” And Esau swears, and the bargain is completed. So Esau “sold his birthright unto Jacob”. “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils ; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way : thus Esau despised his birth right”.
How far, it maybe asked, was the transaction a justifiable one on the part of either brother? And if not justifiable, what excuses may be made for either, or for both? Primarily it may be said, and certainly will be said in a commercial age, and among those who have been called “a nation of shopkeepers,” a man has a right to sell anything that belongs to him, and what one man has a right to sell, any other man has a right to buy. The price must be determined by the laws of supply and demand; and as no blame attaches to the seller for trying to sell as dear as he can, so, by parity of reasoning, none attaches to the buyer for buying as cheap as he can. On purely commercial grounds, therefore, there is nothing to blame in the transaction. Esau may have been foolish, and Jacob may have been sharp, “smart,” a hard bargainer; but the modern man of business will see no moral fault in either. It is otherwise, however, if we transfer the cause from the tribunal of a Chamber of Commerce to one in which sentence is passed by Sentiment, Conscience, Moral Reason. There, Esau must be condemned, not only for egregious folly in bartering what was worth all the treasures of the Indies for “a mess of pottage,” but for a weak yielding to carnal appetite in a matter where the highest interests were at stake, for reckless haste in deciding on the impulse of the moment what needed the most careful consideration, and for spiritual deadness in having no just conception of the value of that which he was surrendering, no feeling that there are things which ought to be dearer to a man than life itself, of which he ought to allow nothing to deprive him. Esau was hungry, famished; but he was certainly not “at the point to die,” or his unrestrained indulgence in a full meal would have killed him. He felt fait ; but he would not have died—probably he would not even have fainted away—if he had controlled his appetite, and gone elsewhere for food; to his father’s servants, who would have been able to bring him food of some kind; to the fold, where he might have drunk his fill of goat’s milk ; to the nearest tent of any retainer of his father. But he gave no thought to any of these alternatives. The savoury dish, close to him; in his sight, with its tempting look and smell, carried him away, took his whole attention, shut out every other consideration. He must have inherited some of his father’s sensuousness, some of his undue desire for savoury food, to have found the mess of pottage so great a temptation. And he must have “despised his birthright”, deemed it a slight matter, regarded it with little interest, if he did not even view it as a myth, a dream, an unreality. Hence the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews calls him “a profane person”—that is, a man without spirituality, whose thoughts were given to, and bounded by, the things of this life, who set no store by spiritual blessings, had perhaps no appreciation of them. If there be any excuse at all for Esau, it is to be found in his rough, coarse, materialistic temperament, partly a defect of nature, partly (it is probable) the result of his hunter’s training, which had developed the physical, rather than the spiritual, side of his nature.
But, if Esau is to be blamed—severely blamed—for his share in the transaction, Jacob is still more to be blamed. It was unbrotherly, it was ungenerous, it was cruel, to take advantage of his brother’s need, and of his impetuosity of character, to extort from him that, of which he well knew the value, if his brother did not. It was undutiful towards Isaac to hurry forward, and, so far as was possible, conclude, a matter of such vital importance to the family as the transfer of the birth right without his knowledge. Further, if we suppose, as most of those who have treated of the character of Jacob suppose, that Jacob justified to himself his conduct by the revelation which God had made of His will to Rebekah—“the elder shall serve the younger”—and considered that he was helping forward the purposes of God by acting as he did, then we must lay to his charge the sins of presumption and unfaithfulness—presumption, if he thought that God needed his help in order to accomplish what He had determined and revealed; unfaithfulness, if he doubted that God both could and would perform His promises. “Jacob,” as a recent writer on the subject observes, “was not only a traitor to his brother, but he was faithless towards his God. Had it not been distinctly whispered in his mother’s ear, that the elder of the brothers should serve the younger? Had not the realization of his loftiest ambition been pledged by One whose faithfulness had been the theme of repeated talks with Abraham, who had survived during the first eighteen years of his young life? He might have been well assured that what the God of Abraham had promised He was able also to perform; and would perform without the aid of his own miserable schemes. But how hard is it for us to quietly wait for God! We are too apt to outrun Him; to forestall the quiet unfolding of His purposes; and to snatch at promised blessings before they are ripe.”
Many excuses have been made for Jacob; but most of them are untenable. It has been said that “the unsophisticated reason of man always refuses to ratify the rights of mere primogeniture as established by custom or law among many nations”; and implied that Jacob’s action was a protest against the law of primogeniture as unjust and unnatural. But it is hard to see how an intense desire to transfer the privilege to himself can have been compatible with the wish to extinguish it. Again, it has been rather sophistically argued, that, as Esau and Jacob were twins, the law of primogeniture did not apply in their case, and that Esau had therefore “no valid claims of precedence” over his brother. But this is to ignore the fact, that in every case of twins one is born before the other, if it be but a minute before, and therefore is the firstborn, however soon the other twin follows him. Wherever privileges attach to primogeniture, this fact is taken into account, and estates, and titles, and even sovereignty itself, descend to the elder twin. Further, it is urged, that Jacob had in fact “the best right” to the succession, since he highly valued it, while Esau despised it, and that he had “largely augmented the family estate, while Esau had rather squandered than added to it.” But we do not make a thing that belongs to another ours by valuing it more than the owner does; otherwise a very considerable amount of property would have to change hands; and even careful stewardship of a man’s estate does not entitle us to it at his death, if he leaves it to another. Thus most of the apologies made for Jacob fail to clear him of blame. And the only excuses which can be regarded as, in any degree, valid, are those touched on at the end of the last chapter—the imperfect development of the moral perception in Jacob’s time, and the influence probably exercised over him by his mother. Jacob may have thought himself justified in taking advantage of his brother’s need, and compelling his assent to an iniquitous bargain, because he was thereby working out the purposes of God; and although we see in his conduct at once presumption and want of faith, it may not have occurred to him that he was taxable with either. He “snatched at promised blessings before they were ripe,” as Jeroboam did, as Jehu did, as Hazael did; but he may not have known that it was wrong to do so. There are Christian casuists even now who hold that “the end justifies the means.” In Jacob’s day such a sentiment may have been the general one.
The influence of Rebekah over her younger son—the natural result of her extreme affection for him—may also have tended to blind Jacob to the true character of his action. Not that we can suppose her to have suggested the particular means to which he had recourse. They presented themselves suddenly, unexpectedly—flashing in a moment of time across the astute mind of the younger brother. But the overfond mother may have been—probably had been—for years preparing the way for the action, by stimulating and fostering her younger son’s ambition, by impressing it upon him that the birth right was really his, since God so willed it, by counselling him not to be wanting to himself, but to win by subtlety what chance had denied him. Revelation is here silent; but our knowledge of the nature of woman assures us, that the devotion of Rebekah to what she regarded as her favourite son’s best interests, would cause her to work unweariedly in this direction, to impregnate his mind with her views, and to make light of any objections, that he may have felt, to taking unfair advantage of his brother. Rebekah herself had no scruple about taking unfair advantage, even of her nearest and dearest; and, in her anxiety to promote the advancement of her son, would, we may be sure, do her best to imbue him with her own unscrupulousness. Her morality was distinctly lower than that of her time ; and we cannot be surprised if it affected unfavourably the son, who was so much with her, and on whom she doted. So far. then, we may allow that there was some excuse for Jacob’s unbrotherly act ; and, though we must still blame him, we may view his conduct as less culpable than it appears at first sight.
DECEPTION OF HIS FATHER.
The purchase of the birth right by Jacob does not seem to have led to any outward change in the relations, one to another, of the several members of Isaac’s household. Jacob, we may be sure, imparted the news to his mother; but it is not clear that Isaac was made acquainted with it. To all outward appearance, things remained as they had been. Esau was still recognized as the heir, and passed his days according to his old habitudes. He continued to be his father’s darling, and made him “savoury meat, such as he loved”—he went out daily to the field, with his quiver and his arrows and his bow, and never wearied of his hunting. Jacob continued a stay-at-home, and more and more endeared himself to his mother. The writer of Genesis gives us few notes of time; and it is impossible to say what exact interval separated the purchase of the birth right from the next great event in Jacob’s life, his deception of his father and crafty acquirement of the firstborn’s blessing. We only know, that, when this latter event occurred, Jacob was more than forty years old; and we may perhaps assume, that, at the purchase of the birth right, he was about twenty. If so, there would have been a space of about twenty years between the two events, the greater part of which time Jacob must have passed in Gerar, with his father and mother, first in the city of the name, where Isaac and Rebekah “dwelt” for a considerable space, and then in the stretch of country between that city and Beersheba, or still further south, in the tract between Beersheba and Rehoboth. This was a period of distress and difficulty. The drought which had caused Isaac to betake himself to Gerar, still more or less continued : and water was only to be obtained by digging fresh wells in the most promising places. Isaac’s flocks and herds had increased, and needed a wider space than formerly for their pasturage. The Philistines of the district, consequently, felt themselves aggrieved, and there was constant contention between “the herdsmen of Gerar” and “Isaac’s herdsmen”. What part Jacob took in the strife is uncertain; but his inclination would probably have been towards peace, and it may have been partly through his influence that open war was avoided by the yielding up of well after well to Philistine pressure. When all Gerar was evacuated, and Isaac’s flocks and herds withdrawn to the immediate vicinity of Beersheba and Rehoboth, the Gerar herdsmen were satisfied, after which a formal treaty sealed the peace between the contending parties .
The double marriage of Esau with idolatrous wives followed, and then an interval of uncertain duration, in the course of which Isaac found the infirmities of age creeping upon him, and thought it his duty to “set his house in order,” and make all needful preparation for his departure from this sublunary sphere. A part of such needful preparation he held to be the devolution of the blessing of Abraham on the elder of his two sons. It is clear that he was either unaware of Esau’s sale of his birth right to his younger brother, or determined to attach no weight whatever to that nefarious bargain. It had taken place without his knowledge, it had not received his sanction; it could in no way bind him, or restrict his liberty of action. He viewed the blessing as Esau’s right, and apparently had never wavered in his intention of bestowing it upon him. He may never have known of the response given to Rebekah; or he may have forgotten it; or he may have interpreted it of the nations whereof his sons were to be the progenitors, and not of his sons themselves. He therefore summoned Esau to his presence, and announced bis intention of “blessing him before he died”. He would first eat some savoury meat of his son’s killing, and then he would formally pronounce over him, as priestly and prophetic head of his house, a solemn benediction.
The intention would have been carried out, all would have gone as Isaac purposed, had not Rebekah interfered to frustrate her husband’s design. Rebekah’s love of her younger son was not only intense, but overwhelming. It dominated every other motive, and rendered her wholly unscrupulous as to what she did in furtherance of his interests. It made her fertile in conception, prompt in act, and skilful in execution. We need not follow out in detail the particulars of that clever ruse whereby she imposed upon the aged, infirm, and dim-sighted patriarch, and secured to her son the benediction intended for his brother. It is mainly important, in the present place, to consider the action of Jacob under the circumstances, the weakness of character which he revealed when temptation came upon him, and the lengths of ill-doing whereto he was, by a sort of necessity, carried, so soon as he overstepped the limits of right.
It is evident that Jacob had no share in the concoction of the plot. It is evident that he was even a somewhat unwilling instrument in carrying it out. He clearly did not like the part which he was called upon to play. He doubted whether it would succeed. When his mother first suggested it to him, he met her with an objection—“Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man : my father will peradventure feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing”. But his mother’s influence was too strong. If she did not succeed in silencing his conscience altogether, or in quite removing his fears, she was able to brush these obstacles from her path, and to dominate his will, by offering to take on herself all evil consequences, and insisting that it was his duty, not to cavil or argue, but to obey. “Upon me be thy curse, my son : only obey my voice, and go fetch me the kids.” Here Jacob’s weakness shows itself. He was a man of about forty years of age, fully responsible in God’s sight for all that he did. His conscience told him that to do as his mother wished was wrong; but he yields to her as if he had been a boy of ten! He “went, and fetched, and brought the kids to his mother,” and allowed her to dress him in his brother’s clothes, and to cover his smooth hands with the hairy skins of the young goats; and he took from her the savoury meat which she had made, and went in to his father. He was as wax in her hands—not persuaded, but dominated, as weak characters always are by stronger ones. He went in, having consented to the scheme which he had not originated, and pledged himself in a way to do his best to carry it out.
He went in with fear and trepidation, having to personate his brother, and having a nervous dread, lest, either by eye, or ear, or touch, his father should detect him. Dimmed eyes will occasionally see, in a momentary flash, exactly that which they are not wished to see. Would Isaac experience such a lucid moment? If he did not, would his ears be more acute? Jacob would no doubt resolve to make his voice as like that of his brother as he could; but would his imitation be successful, would it impose upon his father? If it did, there was still the third ordeal of touch, which could scarcely be avoided, when food was passed from hand to hand, and the son came close to his father to receive his blessing? His nervous anxiety affected Jacob’s voice, and the first words which he uttered on entering Isaac’s presence—“My father”—raised in the patriarch’s mind a certain amount of suspicion. They did not sound genuine. The address was not that to which he was accustomed—and the question arose to Isaac’s lips—“Who art thou, my son”. Here Jacob was at once immersed in his own snare. If Isaac had been wholly without suspicion or doubt, if he had assumed without question that it was Esau who had come in to him and brought him the savoury meat which he loved, all might have gone smoothly—Jacob might not have been brought into the predicament, that he must either confess his intended deception and lose the fruits of it, or tell a lie. But when the question came, “Who art thou, my son?” there was only this alternative. And so, having consented to deceive, negatively, he is at once led on—dragged on, as it were—into an open positive falsehood—“I am Esau, thy firstborn; I have done as thou badest me : arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me”. Nor is this the worst. Surprised that the savoury meat has been brought to him so soon, Isaac innocently asks, “How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son”—and Jacob impiously answers—“Because the Lord thy God brought it to me,” or “Because the Lord thy God gave me good speed”.
But Isaac’s suspicions were not yet lulled wholly to sleep. The accents that fell on his ear still sounded to him more like the voice of Jacob than the voice of Esau. So he resolved on another test. “Come near,” he said, “I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not”; and Jacob drew near, and Isaac touched his hands, and perhaps his neck, which Rebekah had covered with the skins of the kids, and finding the surface to be hairy, was at length satisfied—not, however, without one more question which drew forth one more falsehood—“Art thou my very son Esau? And he said, I am”. Then, Isaac accepted the savoury meat, and ate and drank, and in the warmth of his affection kissed his son, and smelt the accustomed smell of his raiment, for which Rebekah’s foresight had provided, and, all doubt being thus removed, blessed him with the blessing which made him lord over his brethren, and required all other children of his mother to bow down to him, and applied to him and his decendants after him the exact words of the blessing which God had bestowed at the first on Abraham—“Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee” . Successful, yet fuller probably of shame than of joy, the impostor quitted his father’s presence hastily, lest his brother should come in and see him in his disguise, and denounce him, and induce his father to recall the blessing, or change it into a curse; and, we may suppose, returned to his mother, and made her acquainted with all that had occurred—with his tremors, his success, and what his success had cost him.
Rebekah had gained her heart’s desire, but did not long enjoy her triumph. Ill-gotten triumph is ever a “Dead Sea fruit,” which, however “fair to view, yet turns to ashes on the lips.” Esau, when he understood all that Jacob had done, came to the terrible determination to kill his brother so soon as Isaac should he dead, and not only formed the resolution, but let it he known, so that Rehekah heard of it. Isaac’s death was supposed to be imminent, though in fact he survived his deception for a long term of years; and thus Rebekah was at once thrown into a state of extreme alarm, thinking that her hushand might die any day, and that then a domestic tragedy would follow—Esau would slay her darling. It would he an awful Nemesis. All her trouble, all her scheming, all her contrivance would have been in vain; instead of exalting her favourite to the honour of recognized head of the tribe, it would have led to his being cut off in his prime, and to her own bereavement and desolation. Thus she had to cast about in her thoughts for some remedy. How could she save Jacob from his impending fate? Her ingenuity and finesse were equal to the call upon them. She must induce her husband to send Jacoh away to a distance, and so place him beyond Esau’s reach, at any rate until Esau’s anger had evaporated. But she shrank from making known to him the real circumstances which made Jacob’s absence desirable, partly perhaps lest she should give him pain, partly because he might have reproached her with being the cause of the whole difficulty. Her cleverness readily suggested to her another, quite sufficient, reason which she might give her husband for sending Jacob on his travels. She had only to remind him that it was high time their younger son—now certainly forty, perhaps fifty, years of age or even more—should marry, and the danger, if he remained where he was, of his following his brother’s example and taking a Hittite woman to wife; Isaac would then of himself see the necessity of sending him away, and the danger would be escaped without any inconvenient revelation, or painful raking up of the past. Once more her craft succeeds. “I am weary of my life,” she says to Isaac, “because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?”—and Isaac, falling into her views, calls Jacob, and hids him “arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel his mother’s father, and take him a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban his mother’s brother ”.
The difficulty is thus met, and the worst peril—the peril of death—which seemed imminent, is avoided : but the trickster and his mother do not escape punishment. Jacob has a long and tedious journey set him, and a long and weary service at the end of it, and then quarrel and complaint to meet and a crisis of distress and alarm to pass through, before he once more returns to the promised land, and again sees his father, and is folded in his arms. He never more sees his mother, and she never more sees her son! The inexorable Nemesis requires that she herself shall send away far from her the light of her home, the apple of her eye, the joy of her heart, send him to toil and peril, to the society of cold and grudging relatives, to misconception, misinterpretation, envy, hatred, obloquy. She flatters herself that it will be only for a short space—“a few days”—but the days lengthen into weeks, and the weeks into months, and the months into years, and still either she does not think it safe to recall him, or he is deaf to her summons—at any rate he does not come. Sad and solitary—for Esau leaves her too and she remains the only permanent attendant on her aged and infirm busband—Rebekah, faint with the heartsickness of hope deferred, goes down the hill of life, and dies while her darling son is still in the exile to which she has herself sent him. Never was sin visited with a severer temporal penalty. Excited by maternal love, but a love excessive and ill-regulated, Rebekah by one and the same act tricks her husband, robs her firstborn son, and leads her younger son into sin—the result of the act is a lifelong separation from the child in whom she is wrapped up, and for whom she has transgressed, lifelong anxiety on his account, and, so far as appears, an entire cessation of intercommunication. We must not press unduly the silence of Scripture; but the circumstances of the time, so far as they are known to us, would seem to have been such as to render communication by letter or messenger between places so distant as Haran and Beersheba, if not impossible, at any rate exceedingly difficult, and thus rare and infrequent.
Isaac, on sending away his son to the distant region of Padan-aram, whence it was uncertain whether he would ever receive him back, thought it right to bestow on him once more, knowingly and voluntarily, “the blessing of Abraham”. Apparently, he recognised the overruling hand of God in what had occurred, and, as he held that the blessing once given could not be recalled, deemed it best to submit himself wholly to the Divine decree, and show his acquiescence in it by a reiteration, which was intended as a ratification and confirmation, of his preceding act. “God Almighty bless thee,” he said, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of peoples; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee, that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which God gave unto Abraham”. Thus Jacob went forth from his home in peace, forgiven, reconciled to his father, reconciled also, we may hope, to his heavenly Father, whom he must have grievously offended by his undutifulness, his lies, and his profane use of the Holy Name.
FLIGHT TO HARAN, AND EARLY LIFE THERE.
The route of Jacob from Beersheba to Haran was probably much the same as that which Abraham’s trusted servant—Eliezer, according to the general opinion—had pursued seventy years earlier. It led at first over the tracts known in later times as the highlands of Judaea and Samaria, preserving a general direction of from south to north, at any rate as far as the plain of Esdraelon. It is not to be supposed that Jacob pursued it in a hurried manner, beset by fears, expecting every moment that Esau would be upon him, seeking revenge and eager to take his life. Esau’s intention was to slay his brother, so soon as their father Isaac was dead, and the mourning for him over; he had no thought of slaying him during Isaac’s lifetime. Jacob probably went on his way with caution, and circumspection, as a modem traveller would do, if unattended, or scantly attended. On his way northwards, he arrived after some days at the site afterwards known as Bethel, a site near to which Abraham had already erected an altar, and at which he may have determined to make a halt on that account. The site is now one of great bleakness and barrenness. “Bethel,” says a modern traveller, “is one of the most desolate-looking places I ever saw. Long round hills of bare grey stone, rough spots of thorns and coarse herbage rising in their cracks, and poor specks of ploughing among the stones, where there was any surface to be stirred; a small valley with an old tank, in the dry bottom of which our tents were raised; a wretched village on the crest of one of the broad-backed earth-waves, or rocky bubbles of hills; the cabins rudely built of stone filled in with mud, though there are two or three better houses of two storeys; rough stone fences with some figtrees; spots of lentils and grain in one of the valleys, the side of which was nothing but weather-worn stone; sheets and shelves of rock everywhere, unrelieved by any trees; a few poor vines above the village; a high square low-domed building, rising on the top of the hill on which the village stands; some ancient tombs on the sides of the neighbouring valleys—such is Bethel.” Over this stony district Jacob made his way, and arrived towards evening at “the place” which he was bent on reaching, the spot already hallowed by Abraham’s altar, and perhaps even earlier a holy place to the primitive inhabitants of the land. The sun had set; and, weary with long travel, the solitary wanderer laid him down upon the bare ground, with a smooth stone—one of the many scattered over the surface of the soil—for his pillow, and the star-spangled vault of heaven as a canopy over his head. Abraham’s altar would screen him from the night wind, apt to blow coldly over so exposed a height, and Abraham’s God would look down upon him from above, and protect him from every kind of danger.
Perhaps, ere composing himself to sleep, and ere darkness fell, he gazed round upon the circumjacent landscape. On three sides, northward, eastward, and westward, the view was shut in, at no great distance, by grey rounded hill-tops, which stood like sentinels keeping watch upon the place. But, on the fourth, he would see, stretching towards the south, “the heights and valleys of Benjamin,” gradually receding and reaching in a long succession to Mount Moriah and the hills, which in later times stood round about Jerusalem. There Abraham had built another altar, and laid his son Isaac upon it, and been prepared to sacrifice him; and there would one day be sacrificed the antitype, whereof Isaac was the type—the one oblation that alone was expiatory in itself, and had power to take away and blot out the sins of the whole world. But of these deep mysteries Jacob would probably know nothing ; perhaps he would not even distinguish Mount Moriah from the neighbouring heights, or know that he was looking on the place where his father’s life had so nearly come to a close.
His last look, we may suppose, ere slumber closed his eyes, was towards the glorious star-spangled sky, which he would view as the dwelling-place of God, whence alone could come to him help, protection, guidance, forgiveness, blessing. His last thought would probably be a prayer—perhaps a prayer for pardon; at any rate, a prayer to be guarded, shielded, and protected from all evil during the hours of sleep. He closed his eyes ; and lo! a vision came to him. “He dreamed, and behold a ladder set up upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven : and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold the Lord,” or, according to another reading, “the glory of the Lord, stood above it”. It has been supposed that the circumstances of his surroundings “wove themselves into his dreams.” The huge slabs of limestone lying about him drew near together, and “built themselves up into a gigantic staircase, reaching from the spot where he lay to the starry depths above him”; and then, by the association of contrast, the “most desolate region” where he lay became “peopled” with a multitude of angelic forms, ascending and descending in interminable succession between the earth and the sky. It may be that there is some truth in this view; but, on the whole, we must regard the vision as sent straight by God from heaven to comfort the solitary wanderer, and as, in the main, intended to assure him, that “ there is a way from God to man, and that man might by God’s help mount up by it to heaven, that angels went up from man to God, and came down from God to man, and that there was a continual providence watching over the servants of God.” Whether the vision conveyed, or was intended to convey, any deeper meaning than this to Jacob, we cannot say; whether he could at all have any dim conception, that the true “Ladder,” the true and only “Way” from Earth to Heaven, was that “seed” promised to Abraham and promised to Isaac, and now about to be for the third time promised to himself , in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, and by whom the angels of God should ascend and descend upon mankind so long as the world lasted. Most probably this deep truth, first openly revealed by Christ Himself, was beyond Jacob’s imagining; but to see straight into heaven, to perceive that he was cared for, to behold God’s ministering spirits moving about him and guarding the spot whereon he lay, must have been an inexpressible comfort, an ample compensation for the loss of home and friends, a foretaste of the blessedness of eternity!
And then, beside and beyond the vision of angels, there was revealed to him, above the ladder, in the Heaven of Heavens whereto it conducted, the Glory of the Lord—the Lord Jehovah Himself, the King of Heaven, the Maker of the angels, the God of his fathers; and a voice fell on his ears which said—“I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed; and, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of”. Precious promises, assuring him not only of honour and glory in the distant future, of a numerous posterity, and a wide dominion, and the issue from his loins of that marvellous One in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, but also of present protection, present support and guidance, and of a safe return to the land which he was now quitting as an exile. “Behold, I am with thee”. “God with us” is the thing that we most need; “with us,” not against us; our friend, not our enemy; and close to us, by our side, ready to help and protect us, to guard us, not only from external dangers, but from the inward perils of foolish thoughts, and vain imaginations, and evil desires, and faithless doubts, and coward fears, and all that tends to separate between us and Him, and make us unworthy of his near presence. “I will keep thee.” “Keep thee’’—not let thee go—not leave thee to thine own guidance, but preserve thee, be ever with thee, give thee power and strength, so that thou shalt “mount up with wings as eagles,” and “run and not be weary,” and “walk and not faint.” An ineffable consolation must the thought of these promises have been to the exile through his long and weary wanderings, in the desert solitudes, in the more dangerous haunts of men, amid all the perils that beset him from slippery rocks, from yawning precipices, from carnivorous beasts, from savage predatory tribes, from drought, from hunger, from exhaustion.
But he woke up from his vision, astonished and “afraid”. Human nature cannot come into contact with the things that belong to the other world without a creeping sensation of fear. “How dreadful is this place!” was Jacob’s first feeling. “Woe is me, for I am undone,” was Isaiah’s, when his eyes had seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. “Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die,” was the address of the Israelites to Moses, when they had heard God’s voice at Sinai. We shrink from, and tremble at, the supernatural. “Surely,” said Jacob, “the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”. No craven fear, but a hushed sense of awe and reverence fell upon him. The spot on which he had slept was “holy ground.” God, no doubt, was everywhere—we must not suppose Jacob to have been ignorant of this truth—but he did not manifest Himself to man everywhere; and the places where He did manifest Himself became to a pious soul specially holy through such manifestation. Jacob therefore proceeded to an act of consecration, selecting the stone which was most like a pillar from among the boulders wherewith the ground was strewed—the same which he had used as a pillow during the night—he set it up on end, as a memorial, to mark the site, and at the same time “poured oil upon the top of it”, to hallow and consecrate it. Both ceremonies were probably old-world rites, common to the family of Abraham with many other tribes and even nations, and not yet perverted to superstitious uses, or not so perverted as to be beyond reclaiming to the service of true religion. A finger pointing heavenward is one of the earliest and the simplest forms in religious symbolism; and it seems to be this form which lies equally at the basis of the Egyptian obelisk, the Phoenician stele, the Babylonian ziggurat, the primitive dolmen, and the tower or spire of a Christian cathedral. Men’s hearts need to be directed upwards ; and the earliest religious instinct recognizes the need, and provides for it in one way or another. Sanctifying with oil is also a very early, and a very persistent, religious usage, appearing alike in idolatrous worships, in the Hebrew ritual, in Apostolic practice, and in usages within the Christian Church of today. Jacob set up his pillar in a truly religious spirit, not as an object of worship, but as a memorial of his vision, a memorial dedicated to God, and intended to mark the place on which he had seen his vision as specially holy—a true “house of God” (Beth-el), and a true “ gate of heaven.”
And then, before quitting the spot, Jacob “vowed a vow” unto the Lord, “saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God; and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee”. It has been said that, in thus speaking, Jacob was showing his worse self, and seeking to drive a bargain with his Maker, promising Him fidelity only on certain conditions. But we are scarcely fair to the patriarch, if we construe his words so narrowly. God had promised to do all that Jacob wanted him to do. Jacob does not doubt the promise, but accepts it fully, and in his gratitude seeks to make to God some return. His “if” is equivalent to “since”—“Since God is going to be with me, and to keep me, and give me all I need, and bring me back to my father’s house in peace, since He has promised all this and will assuredly perform it, I for my part pledge myself that He, and He alone, shall be my God, shall have my obedience, my worship, my trust, my adoration, my love; and further I pledge myself to render Him that tenth of all my possessions, which is traditionally fixed as the right and proper proportion.” Jacob does not bargain with his Maker, but, stirred by a sense of the Divine bounty and loving-kindness, offers “the calves of his lips” in response, and binds himself to a lifelong service. It is a moment of self-consecration, and may well be viewed as the turning-point of Jacob’s life—the moment when, constrained by the love of God, he gave himself up to Him, and resolved no longer to “live to Himself,” but to be God’s faithful soldier and servant to his life’s end.
“Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the East’’. The route followed by Jacob between Bethel and Haran is uncertain; but, on the whole, it is perhaps most probable that he proceeded northward over the Palestinian highland, to the sources of the Jordan, and thence along the Coelesyrian valley, still in a northerly direction, to the site of Antioch, whence he deflected his course to the east, and passed, by way of Aleppo, to Haran. This is the easiest and the best-watered route, as well as the most frequented in ancient times. It presents no great stretch of waterless desert, into which an individual would be afraid to plunge, no mountain tract at all difficult to traverse, and no river hard to cross but the Euphrates. Even the Euphrates is fordable in places between the 35th and 37th parallels; and we may suppose Jacob to have crossed either at Birehjik or at Suriyeh, the ancient Thapsacus. A short journey through Mesopotamia would then bring him to Haran, the city of Nahor, whither he was bound .
Arrived in the vicinity of Haran, Jacob, like Eliezer, baited at a well. The well was “in the field,” that is, in the open pasture land. The tract about Haran (now Harran) is sufficiently watered, partly by the river Belik, partly by a number of springs. Wells, however, would still be needed; and indeed natural springst hemselves—“wells of living water”—are in the East often walled round, and covered with a stone, which is not removed very easily. Dr. Thomson says—“Who that has travelled much in this country, (Syria) has not often arrived at a well in the heat of the day which was surrounded with numerous flocks of sheep waiting to be watered? I once saw such a scene in the burning plains of Northern Syria. Half-naked, fierce-looking men were drawing up water in leathern buckets; flock after flock was brought up, watered, and sent away; and, after all the men had ended their work, then several women and girls brought up their flocks and drew water for them. Thus it was with Jethro’s daughters, when Moses stood up and aided them; and thus, no doubt, it would have been with Rachel, if Jacob had not rolled away the stone, and watered her sheep.” Jacob, on arriving about midday, or soon after, “looked, and behold a well in the field, and lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks; and a great stone was upon the well’s mouth. And thither were all the flocks gathered, and they rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well’s mouth in his place”. He spoke to the shepherds who were tending the “three flocks,” and said unto them—“My brethren, whence be ye? and they said, Of Haran are we. And he said unto them, Know ye Laban, the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep” . Then Rachel herself appeared upon the scene. “While he yet spake, Rachel came with her father’s sheep : for she kept them” . “The daughters of the flock-masters,” says a recent traveller in the East, “still go, in many places, to tend and water the flocks. You may see them thus engaged near almost any Arab tents in the plain of Sharon or of Philistia.’’ Rachel was probably of tender age, not more than ten or eleven years old; for “only young girls of that age are allowed to tend the sheep, or go alone.” Yet Jacob’s heart goes out to her, and, having first drawn water for her and watered her flock, he tells her of his near relationship, and kisses her.
“ It was,” as has been said, “ love at first sight.” The human heart, and especially the heart of the Oriental man, is so constituted, that, not infrequently, it gives itself away in a moment of time. One meeting of the eyes, one touch of the hands, and a feeling arises, deep, true, and, in many an instance, undying. So it appears to have been in Jacob’s case. Jacob’s love for Rachel is one of the most beautiful points of his character. It bursts into life full-grown; it never wavers, never lessens; it outlives her, and become an affection, an undue affection, for her children.
Laban received his nephew with every outward appearance of satisfaction—“he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house” . It is the ordinary practice of Orientals to kiss effusively on meeting a friend or neighbour.’ Laban was no doubt sincerely glad of Jacob’s coming, saw in it a prospect of establishing satisfactorily one at least of his daughters, and may even have had an eye to further advantages. But to thoughts of this kind he gave no utterance. The role which he elected to play was that of the affectionate kinsman and the hospitable sheikh. “Surely,” he said to Jacob, “thou art my bone and my flesh,” and on the strength of the near relationship he gave him free entertainment for a whole month. But the time came, when the duties of hospitality seemed to have been fully discharged, and it was felt, perhaps on both sides, that the relations of the uncle and nephew ought to be placed upon a business footing. Laban, as was fitting, took the initiative. “Because thou art my brother,” he said, “shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? Tell me, what shall thy wages be”. And Jacob answered—“I will serve thee seven years for Rachel, thy youngest daughter” . It is alwaysnecessary in the East to buy a wife. As Jacob had no worldly goods to dispose of, having crossed the Jordan with nothing but his staff and the clothes that he wore, he could only effect the purchase by mortgaging his labour. This he proposed to do for a term of seven years, at the end of which Rachel would be marriageable; and Laban, always covetous and grasping, readily accepted the terms and concluded the bargain.
So Jacob once more resumed his shepherd’s occupation, but no longer as the proprietor, tending his own sheep, and at liberty to work as much or as little as he pleased. Now he was but a servant and a hireling, at the beck and call of a master, aad that master, albeit his uncle, evidently a hard man, who would exact full labour for the promised wage. Nevertheless Jacob felt it a happy time—perhaps the happiest time in all his long life—for he was an inmate of Laban’s house, and every day was in the company of his beloved, and saw her charms ripen as she passed from childhood to womanhood, and felt that each day his term of waiting was drawing nearer to its close : so the seven years passed as though they had been but a few days, for the love he had for her”. And now at last the term of seven years was ended, and the labourer was entitled to his wage. So “Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for the days are fulfilled”; and Laban could not dispute the claim, but, professing the utmost willingness to comply with it, “gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast”—the customary marriage festival, to which friends and neighbours commonly flock, and which is celebrated with songs, and dances, and music, and rough jollity often for seven days continuously. The delivery of the bride takes place “in the evening” of the first day, after dark—the maiden, closely veiled, is conducted by her father and her female attendants from her own home to that of her husband, and left there. So it was on this occasion—“it came to pass in the evening that he (Laban) took Leah bis daughter, and brought her to him. The cheat was possible, because of the darkness, only lit up by a few torches, and of the close shrouding in an ample veil, which concealed not only the face but the figure. Jacob did not discover the trick that had been played him till the next morning—“in the morning, behold, it was Leah” —and the deceiver of bis father found himself deceived by his uncle, overtaken by a just Nemesis, albeit one not deserved at Laban’s hands. Naturally, he was indignant. The modern poet suggests, that every husband is in the same way disillusioned when the marriageveil is lifted; but at any rate the shock does not come suddenly, as it did to Jacob, when in his bride he recognized the plain, “sore-eyed” , unloved Leah, in the place of the beautiful, delicate, long and tenderly beloved Rachel. But the wily Syrian had his excuses ready, and together with them an offer which he felt sure would pacify his angry son-in-law—it was not the custom of the country, he said, to allow a younger daughter to marry before her elder sister; but she might follow her sister to the same domicile, and he was willing to make Jacob doubly his son-in-law in a week’s time, when Leah’s wedding festival was over The excuse probably overstated the case. Orientals wish to marry off their daughters in the order of their birth, but there is no absolutely rigid custom on the point—had there been one Jacob would have known of it. The wrong committed would, however, in Jacob’s eyes, be fairly well atoned for by the compensation offered—he might not want Leah, but he could put up with her, if Rachel were given to him as well. And he did not even grudge another seven-years’ service under his grasping relative, or, at any rate he was ready to consent to it, in order that the desire of his eyes and of his heart should be his. The agreement was therefore made, and carried out. At the end of a week, Laban gave Jacob “Rachel his daughter to wife also”, and Jacob continued to serve him as a shepherd for seven additional yedrs, without any further wage than his own sustenance, and that of his family .
Polygamy is a natural source of domestic unhappiness. As originally instituted, marriage was the lifelong union of one man with one woman. But man, having corrupted his way before God, began very early to kick against this wholesome restriction. In some places polygamy, in others polyandry, prevailed. But still the natural, and only legitimate, order of things maintained itself, and almost everywhere among nations that possessed even a rudimentary civilization, we find monogamy the rule, polygamy either non-existent, or the exception. In the family of Abraham the monogamist principle was, clearly, in the ascendant; and while exceptional circumstances were regarded as justifying polygamy within narrow limits, the primeval marriage law was, for the most part, upheld and observed. Abraham conformed to it, excepting that, at his wife’s suggestion and persuasion, he gave Hagar the position of a secondary or concubine wife, for a term of years. Isaac yielded it an unqualified obedience. Jacob would probably have done the same, had he not found himself most exceptionally circumstanced. Saddled by fraud with an uncongenial wife, a wife whom he “hated ”, he was then offered, as a compensation, the woman whom he loved, and whom he thought he had married. We can scarcely blame his acceptance of the offer very severely. Mutual consent is of the very essence of the marriage contract, and his first marriage had not really had his consent. Still, as the outward forms had been complied with, jt was reckoned a legal marriage ; and probably a man of a deeply religious spirit would have resisted the temptation to which Jacob succumbed, and declined Laban’s offer. But Jacob was certainly not as yet a man of deeply religious spirit. He had experienced one burst of passionate religious feeling, when he woke up from his vision; but religion had not become his main motive or permeated his whole being. Under the circumstances of the time, we can feel no surprise that he accepted his. uncle’s suggestion, and took to wife both sisters, marriage with a wife’s sister not having been yet prohibited.
But the result was such as to show how inexpedient is polygamy, and how especially to be avoided are double marriages with near relatives. Jacob’s two wives were placed in a position of antagonism from the first. Rachel was “loved”; Leah was “hated”. Rachel, the younger, was in all respects preferred over Leah, the elder sister. The partiality was so pronounced, that God’s compassion was called forth by it, and he “opened Leah’s womb,” while He closed the womb of Rachel. Leah bore to Jacob, in quick succession, four sons, whose names indicate at once her husband’s indifference and her own hope of overcoming it. Full of exultation at the birth of her firstborn, she called him Reuben, “See, a son,” for she said—“Surely, the Lord hath looked upon my affliction ; now therefore will my husband love me”. But the love which she counted on was still withheld, and her prayers went up for a second son, and were heard; and she called her second son Simeon, i.e. “Hearing”; for she said, “Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, He hath therefore given me this son also”. A third son followed, and she called him Levi, “Conjoined,” saying, “Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons” ; but the hoped-for union of hearts was as far off as ever. Still the unloved wife did not despair. She bore a fourth son, and called him Judah, i.e. “Praised,” because she praised God for him. But her husband’s heart, to all appearance, remained untouched, and Leah was no dearer than when first forced upon him.
Nor was Rachel much happier. That her sister should be so prolific, while she continued barren, filled her soul with envy and bitterness. “Give me children,” was her cry to Jacob— “Give me children, or I die”.The unreasonable reproach, for as such he would feel it, angered Jacob, and he replied with acrimony, “Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” Thus the domestic peace of even the happier of the two wives was troubled.
It would have been well if Rachel had carried her care to God, and prayed Him, as earnestly as Hannah did in later times, to remove the curse of barrenness from her; but, instead of so doing, she fell back upon a mere human device—the ordinary resource of the barren woman in her age—and gave her handmaid, Bilhah, to Jacob, that she might “have children by her’’. Thus, still more polygamy was introduced into the household, and with it still more occasion for quarrel, envy, and disagreement. Bilhah, shortly, bore Jacob two sons, and Rachel was pleased, and called one of them Dan, i.e. “Judge,” because God had fudged her, and the other Naphtali, i.e. “My wrestling,” because, she said, ‘‘With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed”. But this partial triumph of her sister’s gave offence to Leah, who, by way of reprisals, “took Zilpah her maid, and gave her to Jacob to wife”; and Zilpah became the mother of two sons by Jacob, who were called respectively Gad and Asher. Thus, the complexity of the household was still further increased, and what gave happiness to one wife aroused enmity and jealousy in the others.
Leah’s triumph—so far as offspring was concerned—seemed complete, when, after “hiring Jacob with Reuben’s mandrakes”, she became the mother of two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and felt confident that thenceforth her husband would “dwell with her, because she had borne him six sons”. The birth of a daughter, Dinah, was not necessary to add the final touch to her triumph, but it may have been felt by Rachel as a further blow, and may have helped to humble her in the dust before her Maker.
Rachel, at last, turned to God and prayed to Him, as Hannah afterwards prayed; and God “remembered her, and hearkened to her, and opened her womb”. It must have been towards the end of Jacob’s second seven-years’ term of service, that this change took place, and Rachel “conceived, and bare a son,” and was able to say, “God hath taken away my reproach”. It is difficult for us to realize the greatness of her joy and delight. Barrenness is so looked down upon in the East, the barren woman is so despised and flouted, that when one who has been long regarded, and has long regarded herself, as sterile, becomes a mother, the reaction is excessive, and the change of feeling extraordinary. We see something of Rachel’s extravagant mood in the name that she gave to her son—Joseph, i.e. “He shall add,” and her confident assertion, in justification of it, “The Lord shall add to me another son” . She may have had this conviction divinely impressed upon her, in which case her words were a prophecy; but she may have been merely giving vent to her own sanguine expectations, in which case they were a boast. She is to be excused, if, under the exciting circumstances, she was not altogether mistress of herself, and having suffered under depression so long, was now unduly exalted.
To Jacob the birth of his eleventh son, borne to him by the only wife of his choice, seemed to set the seal to all that he had done in Mesopotamia, and to bring his life there to its natural term. “When Rachel therefore had borne Joseph,” Jacob went to Laban, and said to him, “Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee”. It does not appear that he had received any message of recall from his mother, or any notification that his brother’s anger was appeased ; but he may have thought that his fourteen years of exile would probably have softened Esau’s heart, or he may have resolved to run all risks rather than continue on with Laban, serving him only for his sustenance. Laban, at any rate, seems to have thought that his nephew did not so much really wish to leave him as to alter the terms of his service ; and, feeling how valuable that service had been, recognizing the fact that he had been blessed by God for Jacob’s sake, and that thence had come the increase in his wealth, and his general success and prosperity, he declared himself ready to hire his nephew’s services for the future at any price that he liked to put upon them—“Appoint me,” he said, “thy wages and I will give it”. Upon this Jacob made a suggestion, which, in the natural course of things, would have given him only a small return for his toils, but which he hoped to increase by artifice and arrangement into an ample payment. He would have from Laban no hire in the shape of money, nor any fixed proportion of the annual increase of the flocks under his charge, but would be content to receive as his share only such lambs and kids as should be marked at birth with spots or speckles or ringstrakes. As the sheep of Syria and Mesopotamia are usually white, while the goats also are commonly of a uniform colour, either black or brown,1 Laban readily consented, expecting that Jacob would thus become possessed of only a small per centage of his flock, while far the greater number would continue his own. This was the more probable, as Jacob proposed to separate Laban’s existing flock into two portions, one to consist of all the animals that were speckled, spotted, or ringstraked, the other of those'which had no such marks on them, but were entirely white, or black, or brown, and to tend only these latter.
The division was accordingly made; and Laban committed to the care of his own sons the speckled, spotted, and ringstraked portion of the flock, to Jacob the portion in which each animal was of one uniform colour : and further, that there might be no accidental admixture of the two, he “set three days’journey between himself and Jacob”, thus pasturing the two flocks in districts remote from each other. Jacob then had recourse to his famous artifice. He “took him rods of green poplar, and of the almond and plane tree, and peeled white strakes in them and made the white appear which was in the rods. And he set the rods which he had peeled over against the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink; and they conceived when they came to drink, and the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth ringstraked, speckled, and spotted”. It is scarcely necessary to say, that so simple an artifice was quite insufficient in itself, for the production of the result desired; and that, if success attended it, the effect must be attributed, not to Jacob’s contrivance, but to the Divine Will, which was bent on enriching him, and compensating him at Laban’s expense for the hard measure which he had received at Laban’s hands. Jacob may at first have regarded his success as due entirely to his own cunning; but, if so, he was undeceived when, on a certain occasion, he “ lifted up his eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled, and the angel of the Lord spake unto him, saying, “Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled; for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee”. Jacob’s artifice was really puerile, and would by itself probably have had no effect at all. It was, in fact, as Leah and Rachel afterwards observed , God that took their father’s riches from him, and gave them to his injured son-in-law. Jacob’s small artifice cannot be commended, but it scarcely deserves the severe condemnation that has been heaped upon it. It does not show that “Jacob acted as a cheat and a rogue.”
The conditions of Jacob’s service having been thus altered, he practically entered on an entirely new life. Instead of being a hired shepherd, he became a sheep-master. Together with his wives and children, he lived apart from Laban, in his own home, and only occasionally—perhaps only once a year—had communication with his uncle and his uncle’s sons. His life as a head of a family now began. He had to be the ruler of a separate and independent household—to provide for its wants, to direct his wives, to bring up his children. The pastoral life is necessarily a wild life; and the guardianship of twelve children would tax the strength and judgment of any father severely. Jacob, incessantly occupied with the care of Laban’s flock and his own, would find it difficult to exercise a very strict superintendence over his belongings. His sons must have been left very much to themselves, and naturally grew up rude, self-willed, and inclined to violence. If his wives lived in tolerable amity, now that they had, all of them, children, yet the household can scarcely have been a very happy one. The seeds of mischief are sown when once the original marriage law is departed from, and in the fruitful soil of a polygamous household, they are sure, sooner or later, to spring up, and produce difficulty and disturbance.
So long, however, as the children continued young, these evils were in abeyance. Jacob’s troubles during this period were rather with his father-in-law than with his family. Laban soon became dissatisfied with the agreement that he had made with his son-in-law, and insisted on altering the terms of it. Of course, Jacob might have held him to his bargain, but this would have led in all probability to an open breach, and perhaps to actual violence. Jacob therefore “suffered himself to be defrauded.” He allowed Laban to “change his wages” repeatedly, and consented at one time to have the speckled cattle only as his portion, and at another the ringstraked only. But, whatever arrangement was made, the result was always the same—the great majority of each year’s lambs and kids had the marks which made them Jacob’s, while only a minority, and those the weaker ones, had the marks which made them Laban’s. Laban’s cattle thus continually decreased in number, while Jacob’s increased. After six years, or (according to some) twenty-six years, of this continual loss on the one side and gain upon the other, the patience of Laban’s sons became exhausted. It was intolerable to them that the interloper from beyond the Euphrates should have grown into a man of vast wealth at their father’s expense, while their father had become impoverished. They were, of course, interested in the matter, as their father’s heirs ; and they were naturally jealous of being eclipsed by a comparative stranger. Laban took the same view as his sons ; and the result was, if not an open quarrel, at any rate, great coldness and estrangement. “Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him, as before”. He recognized that he was no longer looked upon with favour by his father-in-law, and knew that his brothers-in-law spoke of him in a tone of indignation, as having wrongfully deprived their father of the greater part of his wealth. Perhaps his conscience smote him to some extent, though he made no acknowledgm it of having been in the wrong. But he must have felt dissatisfied with his position, and desirous of making some change or other in it. It was under these circumstances, that he once more heard the voice of God speaking directly to him, and distinctly pointing out the course which he was to take.
RETURN FROM HARAN TO PALESTINE.
Jacob had been at least twenty years in Mesopotamia, either at Haran itself or in the neighbourhood, when the war.iing came that he was to leave the country and return to his praper home. “The Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee”. The purpose of God, first revealed to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, still held good. Not Mesopotamia, but Palestine, was to be the country of the favoured race, the place where God would plant His name, and set up His tabernacle, and have His peculiar people worship Him. And Jacob therefore was recalled. His memory, no less than the memory of Abraham, and the memory of Isaac, was to overshadow the “Holy Land,” and to hallow in the eyes of future generations a large number of its most important sites. Mahanaim in Gilead was to enshrine the recollection of his second vision of angels, and Penuel to be inseparably associated with his “seeing God face to face”. Succoth in the valley of the Jordan was to hand down to future ages the tradition of his wealth in cattle; Shechem to show his well : Allon-bachuth, “the Oak of Weeping,” to be a memorial of his kindness to a dependent; and Bethlehem-Ephratha to show for centuries the monument which he erected to his best-loved wife. Jacob in no way hesitated as to obeying the call that he had received. “I will be with thee” was enough for his own guidance; and, without ascertaining what were the feelings of his brother, Esau, towards him, he was ready to set forth. But he felt that he was bound to consult his wives. Would Rachel and Leah (for in that order he thought of them) be equally willing to leave country, and kindred, and all associations, and the comfortable home which he had made for them, and to become wanderers, to plunge into new scenes, to go among strange peoples, to affront perils, to risk the chance of a cold welcome when they should reach their husband’s kindred—and all for love of him, and consideration of the difficulties of his position? He misdoubted what their inclination would be, and therefore put his case to them with some art and some eloquence. “Your father,” he said, “is displeased with me—his countenance is not toward me as before. And yet ye know that I have served him to the utmost of my ability—“ with all my power.” He indeed has never been faithful and honest towards me—he has “deceived me, and changed my wages ten times.” Sometimes he has said, “The speckled shall be thy wages ; and then all the cattle bare speckled” sometimes, “ The ringstraked shall be thy hire ; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.” I have always acquiesced. It is not I, but God, who “has taken away the cattle of your father, and has given them to me.” Long ago it was revealed to me in a vision how it would be. Now, lately, I have had another vision, and the command has been given me—“Arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred”. Jacob’s wives, convinced by his speech, and already somewhat alienated from their father by his conduct towards them, by the terms on which he had given them in marriage, and his general want of consideration for their interests, consented to the change of abode which Jacob had proposed, and expressed their perfect willingness to accompany him.
It happened that Laban was at the time engaged in shearing his sheep, which were pastured at a distance of three days’ journey from those tended by Jacob. This gave an opportunity for a clandestine departure. Jacob suddenly “rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels, and carried away all his cattle, and all the goods which he had gotten and stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled”. Rachel too, with the craft inherited from her father, took the opportunity of his absence to “steal his gods,” or (in other words) seized and carried off the images (teraphim) which he reverenced and perhaps regarded as the tutelary genii of his mansion. These teraphim were either busts, or whole length figures in the human form, apparently of no great size, resembling probably the statuettes of gods which were so much affected by the ancient Egyptians. They were certainly objects of superstitious regard, but perhaps rather viewed as amulets, than as positive objects of worship. Rachel’s theft of them shows that she participated to some extent in the superstitious credulity of her father and her father’s house, which was tainted with the idolatrous beliefs and practices prevalent in Ur of the Chaldees.
Jacob fled “with all that he had”—not only his wives and children, but his “menservants,” and his “maidservants,” his household goods, his cattle, his camels, and his asses. His setting forth must have been like that of an Oriental caravan. Four wives and twelve children mounted upon camels, a flock of sheep and goats to be counted by hundreds or by thousands, a considerable number of horned cattle, bulls and kin, numerous asses, and “milch camels with their colts” , much furniture, several tents, and a long train of attendants, male and female, would imply a considerable company. The Euphrates, we are told, was passed, and the third day had arrived, before Laban received any intelligence of his son-in-law’s flight. It may have been some days later before he discovered that his teraphim had been carried off. Then he determined on pursuit Taking with him “his brethren”, i.e. a number of his tribesmen, sufficient to overawe the company which had gone forth with Jacob , whom it must have taken some time to collect, he “pursued after” Jacob, and, moving at great speed, overtook him in the more northern part of the land of Gilead, the modern Hauran (Auranitis), after a journey which is reckoned at “seven days” . The route taken both by the pursuers and the pursued was, apparently, the direct one, which crossed the Euphrates at Thapsacus, and thence struck south-westward, by way of Palmyra and Kury-etein, to the neighbourhood of Damascus.1 It was perhaps better watered in ancient times than it is at present ; but small caravans still traverse it without much difficulty. We do not know how long Jacob was occupied in accomplishing the distance; but Laban’s light expedition, mounted on swift dromedaries, may easily have performed the journey in the time stated.
In the night, before Laban overtook the fugitives, he had a vision, in which God appeared to him, and said, “Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad”. He understood this warning, not as prohibiting a conference, but as precluding the employment on his part of threats or force. The interview which took place was thus less stormy than might have been expected. Laban limited himself to two complaints. How could Jacob justify his clandestine departure, which had made it impossible for Laban even to take leave of his daughters, much less to give them the parting festival which was their due ; and, what excuse could he give for having carried off his—Laban’s—gods ? To the former of these questions Jacob had a ready reply— he had been afraid of losing his wives, if he bad announced his departure—he had thought that Laban would probably take them away from him by force. But to the second question he had no answer, except a denial. So far as he knew, nothing that was Laban’s had been carried off. Let search be made, and, if anything were found, let the thief, whoever he was, be put to death—assuredly he would give him no protection .
So the search began. First Jacob’s tent was entered and ransacked; then Leah’s ; then the tents of the two secondary wives, Zilpah and Bilhah; finally, the tent of Rachel, the favoured wife, who was considered to be entitled to more respect than the others. Here Rachel was found, seated upon the ground, and excused herself from rising by pleading the state of her health. In fact, she had secreted the images under her garments, and thus, as delicacy prevented her disturbance, no discovery was made. Jacob, who knew nothing of Rachel’s proceedings, was naturally indignant that such a charge had been brought, and took the opportunity to reproach his father-in-law with the many wrongs that he had suffered at his hands. Laban was forced to be apologetic. He drops his charge of theft—cheated by his daughter, as he had formerly cheated his son-in-law—he declares that he has no intention of reclaiming his daughters or interfering with Jacob’s possession of them—he only wants friendship, and a promise that his children shall not be “afflicted” or superseded in Jacob’s affections by younger wives —he is ready to “make a covenant” on this understanding. So a covenant is made, and a “ heap of witness ” erected; and it is agreed that there shall be peace henceforth between the father-in-law and the son-in-law—neither shall pass that “heap” to injure the other—and then, for the solemn ratification of the covenant of peace, as is still customary, they “ate bread” together ; and Laban’s party “tarried all night in the mount” , and “early in the morning, Laban woke up, and kissed his sons (i.e. grandsons) and his daughters, and blessed them ; and departed, and returned unto his place” .
So this danger was escaped. Humanly speaking, Laban seems to have had Jacob and his possessions completely in his power; he was justly offended; stricter search would have shown that he had been robbed; his sons and tribesmen would gladly have seen Jacob stripped of what they considered his ill-gotten gains; he himself had not in his heart any friendly feeling towards his son-in-law; but the hand of God restrained him. God had bidden Jacob “go forth,” and had promised to be with him in the way. He was “with him” in this crisis. It can have been nothing but the appearance of God to Laban on the night before he overtook the fugitives that saved Jacob from severe chastisement. “Take thou heed,” rang in Laban’s ears; and he had so much belief in the God of Jacob, and His power, that he did not dare to neglect the warning. Thus the two bands parted without hostile collision ; and Jacob was able to pursue his way from Mount Gilead southward without further hindrance.
His first rest was at the place to which he gave the name of Mahanaim. Mahanaim, if marked now by the ruined site known as Birket Mahneh is charmingly situated. Around it and about it are “miles of forest, with abundance of open glades”—a country which Robin Hood would have delighted in. Not far off is the broad plain, which lies between Gilead and Bozrah—fertile in the highest degree, and even now often covered with luxuriant crops. The site itself is “a sort of gently-sloping amphitheatre,” grass-grown, and descending gradually to a natural Birket, or pool. Here, it is probable, not far from the edge of the pool, Jacob, tired with his journey, laid himself down to sleep. In the night he once more saw a vision of angels. Two hosts seemed to compass him in, occupying the amphitheatre on the right hand and upon the left. He knew them for that celestial company which he had already beheld at Bethel on his way to Haran, and recognized that they had come to meet him and welcome him on his return. “ This,” said he, “is God’s host”; and he called the name of the place Mahanaim, i.e. “ the two hosts” or “the two camps,” probably because he saw them on both sides of him. The sight was most comforting, for it gave him ocular demonstration that he was under God’s special protection, and therefore need not fear what flesh could do unto him. One danger was just surmounted; but another danger, and a greater one, impended—the danger from which he had originally fled—the anger and probable hostility of his brother. He had heard that Esau was in Mount Seir, either settled there, or on an expedition; and had sent messengers to him, deprecating his anger and announcing his own approach. The return of these messengers he was now awaiting with considerable anxiety; and a fresh assurance of God’s protecting care must have been felt by him as most precious and cheering.
Presently, the messengers arrived. They had seen Esan, and delivered Jacob’s message to him, but had not been entrusted with any definite reply. All that they were able to report to Jacob was, that his brother had immediately set himself in motion, and was coming to meet him with a body of four hundred followers. At this intelligence Jacob, we are told, “was greatly afraid and distressed”; the large number of the followers seemed to him to imply a hostile approach, and he felt that it would be madness to attempt resistance to so strong a band. In his distress he had recourse at once to prayer and to planning. No blame justly attaches to him for this. “Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera,” is a sound maxim ; and, as in the sickness of parent or child, we besiege the throne of grace with our supplications, and yet call in the physician’s aid likewise, so when we are in external peril it is the best course at once to make our prayer to God, and to take precautions. Jacob’s prayer deserves our attentive consideration : it is “ one of singular beauty and piety.” O God of my father Abraham,” he said, and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country and to thy kindred, and L will do thee good : I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shewed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two companies. Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau : for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, the mother with the children. And Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude”. His precautions were twofold. In the first place, he divided his followers and his flocks and herds into two separate bodies, placing a certain distance between them, so that they could only be attacked one at a time, calculating that while one was attacked in this way the other might retreat and make its escape. Secondly, he selected from the animals in his possession a goodly number—two hundred she-goats, twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams, thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, ten bulls, twenty she-asses and ten foals— 580 in all, and sent them in a long procession of drove after drove on the line of route by which Esau was expected to come, under the charge of servants, who were instructed to present themselves at intervals, one after another, before the Great Sheikh, and, when interrogated, to explain that they were Jacob’s servants, commissioned by him to convey a series of gifts to “his lord Esau”. In this way Jacob hoped to pacify his injured brother, if he were still angry with him, and coming with intent to revenge himself.
Evening had arrived, and the actual meeting of the brethren could not take place till the next day. Jacob had now reached the banks of the Jabbok, a fine clear copious stream, which, descending from the mountains of Gilead, makes its way in a deep ravine, with many a cascade, to the Jordan. Around him and about him the scenery was delightful. Southward lay “a natural park,” with grassy glades spotted with “trees and shrubs grouped in graceful variety;” northwards were the darker forests of Ajlun, composed of pine, holm oak, and arbutus; below, the bright stream flashed in its rocky bed, now bursting into sight, now hidden by dense masses of oleander. The cattle, camels, and asses, sent to propitiate Esau, had already passed the stream by its only fordway in this part of its course ; as night approached Jacob made his own “ two bands ” cross also. He himself, however, remained on the north bank, with no companion, absolutely “alone.” It seems as if, under the pressure of his awful anxiety, he “could not bear the noise of the camp, the prattlings of the children, or even the presence of the only woman he ever really loved.” He needed solitude, perfect quiet, a time for undisturbed meditation, reflection, prayer. So, in the stillness of the night, on the banks of the Jabbok, he lay, and thought, and prayed, when suddenly he was aware of a strange presence—“there wrestled a man with him” .
All through the livelong night the struggle continued, neither wrestler prevailing over the other. As the day broke beyond the eastern mountains, Jacob’s antagonist exerted a superhuman power, and by a touch of his hand put Jacob’s thigh out of joint, at the same time saying, “ Let me go, for the day breaketh.” But Jacob, though disabled, would not yield. “I will not let thee go,” he said, “except thou bless me.” Plainly, he had recognized the fact, that his antagonist was a heavenly visitor, potent alike for good and evil, one who could bless as surely as he had injured, and a blessing he will, if possible, have. The boon craved is granted to his persistence. “Thy name,” says the mysterious one, “shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel : for as a prince hast thou power with God, and with men, and hast prevailed”. The changed name indicated a changed character. No more should he be Jacob, “ the Supplanter ”—the dark crafty character of his youth, purged in the furnace of affliction, should pass away; henceforth he should he Israel, “ the Prince of God ”—mighty with Him, prevailing, powerful—his original mean and sordid temper changed into the princeliness and royalty of character which in the remainder of his life he exhibited.
But who was it, with whom Jacob had wrestled? In the text he is called “a man”—by Hoshea “the angel”—but by Jacob himself he is recognized as God. “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel” (“the face of God”); “ for,” he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”. And so the ancient commentators generally,’ who recognize this as “one of the many manifestations of the Logos, or Son of God, anticipatory of His incarnation.” If such manifestations are allowed to have been possible, the present would seem to have been no unfitting occasion for one. “The time,” as Bishop Harold Browne observes, “was an important epoch in Jacob’s history. It was a turning-point in his life. There had been much most faulty in his character, which had led him to much trouble, and subjected him to a long penitential and reformatory discipline. He was now returning after an .exile of twenty, or more probably forty, years, to the land of his birth, which had been promised to him for his inheritance. It was a great crisis. Should he fall under the power of Esau, and so suffer to the utmost for his former sins? Or should he obtain mercy, and be received back to his father’s house as the heir of the promises? This eventful night, this passage of the Jabbok, was to decide; and the mysterious conflict, in which by Divine mercy and strength he is permitted to prevail, is vouchsafed to him as an indication that his repentance, matured by long schooling and discipline, and manifested in fervent and humble prayer, is accepted with God, and blessed by the Son of God, whose ancestor in the flesh he is once more formally constituted.”
The light grew brighter in the eastern sky, and Jacob, having crossed the Jabbok, ascended the ridge, to which the name of Penuel afterwards attached, as the first rays of the sun fell upon it. This ridge is probably that which culminates in the high summit of Jebel Osh’a, north of Es-Salt, whence there is one of the finest views east of Jordan. “Here may be seen the whole western watershed from Jericho to Tabor ; and far below are the sandstones of the lower spurs which run out into the Jordan valley, being an almost precipitous slope. Seen in the shifting lights on an April day, this wide view of mountain and valley, which opens as the traveller reaches the edge of the cliff, is wonderfully picturesque and suggestive. The distant ranges, faint and blue in the afternoon shade, the strange peaks of the marl at Sartaba and near Jericho, the dark line of Jordan, the green corn of its valley, the warm hues of the sandstone, the wild broom and cytisus, the thyme and rock-roses, the thorny bell’an and bushes of arbutus and laurestinus, which form the background on this breezy height, combine to produce a picture in some respects not unlike the highlands of Scotland, and remarkably un-suggestive of the burning East. On the south the Dead Sea is hidden by a projecting ridge; but the plateau of Neby Musa, the plains of Jericho, Olivet, Neby Samwil, and Baal Hazor, are all distinguishable : over the valleys of Phasaelis and Fafah are seen the Samaritan ridges, Ebal, Gerizim, Neby Belan, Sheikh Beiyazid, the Sartaba, Jebel Hazkin, with the isolated tops near Tammfin and Tubas. From the Ras el Akr’a the Gilboa chain commences, and Tabor, Neby Duhy, and the site of Beth-shean are all prominent objects. The Damieh ford is distinguishable on the road from Stilt to Shechem. The grey barren ridges of Ajlun, whence Gilead obtains its name of ‘rocky land,’ run out on the north, concealing Hermon, and here on the sky-line stands the Crusading castle of Er-Rubud, one of the strongest of their chain of strongholds.”
Such, in general outline, was the scene on which Jacob’s eye must have rested, if from the heights of Jebel Osh’a he cast a glance towards the right over the land which was to be his inheritance. He may, however, have been more intent on scanning the district immediately in front of him towards the south, where, through the glades and plains about Es-Salt, sprinkled with trees and shrubs, the four hundred spearmen of Esau might be seen approaching, with Esau himself in the midst of them. Still Esau’s intention was obscure. He was not bringing with him the present of cattle, camels, and asses, which Jacob had sent on in advance to propitiate him—he had not as yet accepted it; and as he had not done so, it remained uncertain whether he were friend or foe. Each moment brought him nearer. Jacob, still timid, rearranged the company that was with him, placing his secondary wives with their children in front, next to them Leah with her children, last of all his most dearly beloved Rachel and Joseph. Then, he himself went on before them all, and, as his brother approached, “bowed himself to the ground seven times” —an act of extrme humility. Esau, at the sight, forgot his wrongs, if he had hitherto cherished a remembrance of them, and running forward to meet Jacob, “ embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him : and they wept”. The past was forgotten, or at any rate forgiven. The brothers were at one again.
Jacob’s wives and their children were now presented by him to his brother, and “bowed themselves” before him in Oriental fashion; and Esau, after making some difficulty, accepted his brother’s present—an acceptance which implied complete reconciliation. He then offered to escort his brother to his own country of Seir, or else to leave with him a number of his spearmen as protectors ; but Jacob declined both offers as unnecessary, and indeed as inconvenient, since it would hurry his cattle and his children too much if they had to move as fast as Esau’s soldiers . With characteristic reticence, he did not tell his brother whither he was bent on going, but spoke as if he was about to visit him in Seir shortly . The two then parted on the most friendly terms ; and “ Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir”.
LIFE AT SUCCOTH AND SHECHEM.
Esau having departed, and Jacob being free to go where he pleased, he appears to have desisted from the southern course, which he had so long followed, and to have struck westward into the Jordan valley, which would supply abundant pasturage for his flocks and herds. It seems strange that he did not at once proceed to join his father, Isaac, at Hebron; but perhaps he thought that his flocks and herds were too numerous to be welcomed in a region where the herbage is at all times scanty. He had reached “the land of his fathers”—the “country,” whereto he had been commanded to come , and was minded, apparently, to settle himself in the more productive region of central Palestine, rather than in the comparatively arid and infertile south. The Jordan valley might well attract him ; it is warm, sheltered, with a soil “of almost incredible richness, watered every mile by some little perennial brook,” with palm-trees growinghere and there singly or in clumps, and covered through the whole year with a luxuriant vegetation. Jacob, descending from the highlands of Gilead, reached the Ghor—as the Jordan valley is called—somewhat to the north of the mouth of the Zerka (Jabbok), and settled for a time on the eastern bank of the stream, in the flat plain between the river-course and the mountains. Here he “built him a house”, showing his intention to remain; and here also he constructed with the reeds and osiers of the locality a set of booths or sheds for his cattle, which gave the name of “ Succoth ” to the place.
Life in Succoth must have been dull and unexciting. Jacob’s possession of the tract appears to have been undisputed. The Palestinian region generally was sparsely peopled, and the Ghor has at no time supported a large population. It is a dreamy sleepy region, with a climate that is enervating and relaxing. Jacob, after his weary servitude in Haran, his rapid and fatiguing journey, and the excitement of his interviews with Laban and Esau, may have felt that he needed an interval of repose and rest—a brief space of lotus-eating. But ere long he roused himself. The Ghor was not a suitable residence either for his cattle or for his people. The vegetation was too rich and rank for the one, the air too oppressive and unhealthy for the other. Though he had built himself a house at Succoth, it was not long before he quitted the place, and leaving the Jordan valley behind him, mounted up to the breezy highlands of the western Palestinian region, which were blessed with a pure yet soft air, and with excellent pasturage.
His line of route was, almost certainly, up the little stream, which flows in a south-easterly direction from the plain of Shechem, between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, down to the Jordan. The ascent along the valley would be easy, and the flocks and herds might spread over the hillsides, and obtain sufficient herbage for their sustenance. This valley conducted him to a place called Shalem, now Salim, situated on the plain at the eastern foot of Mount Ebal, at the distance of about a mile from the more important city of Shechem. Shechem was beautifully situated. “There is no wilderness here,” says a modern traveller, “there are no wild thickets, yet there is always verdure, always shade—not of the oak, the terebinth, and the caroub-tree—but of the olive grove, so soft in colour, so picturesque in form, that, for its sake, we can willingly dispense with all other wood. There is a singularity about the vale of Shechem, and that is the peculiar colouring which objects assume in it. All know that, wherever there is water the air becomes charged with watery particles, and that distant objects beheld through that medium seem to be enveloped in a pale blue or grey mist, such as contributes not a little to give a charm to the landscape. But it is precisely those atmospheric tints that we miss so much in Palestine. ... It is otherwise in the vale of Shechem, at least in the morning and the evening. Here the exhalations remain hovering among the branches and leaves of the olive trees, and hence that lovely bluish haze. The valley is far from broad, not exceeding in some places a few hundred feet. This you find generally enclosed on all sides ; here likewise the vapours are condensed. And so you advance under the shade of the foliage, along the living waters, charmed by the melody of a host of singing birds—for they too know where to find their best quarters—while the perspective fades away and is lost in the damp, vapoury atmosphere.” “The whole valley,” says another, “is filled with gardens of vegetables, and orchards of all kinds of fruits, watered by fountains, which burst forth in various parts, and flow westward in refreshing streams. It came upon us suddenly like a scene of fairy enchantment. We saw nothing to compare with it in all Palestine. Here beneath the shadow of an immense mulberry tree, by the side of a purling rill, we pitched our tent for the remainder of the day, and the night. We rose early, awakened by the songs of nightingales and other birds, of which the gardens around us were full.” “It was impossible,” says a third, “to leave a place so charming as the vale of Shechem without a final stroll down the plain. A fresh glorious spring morning invited it. Nature was in all her beauty. Fine walnut trees rose over thick groves of almond, pomegranate, orange, olive, pear, and plum trees, from whose branches came the music of birds. Thousands of cyclamens, red anemones, and dwarf tulips looked up from amidst the grass. The blessings of Joseph indeed prevailed ‘unto the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills’. Wherever the rich streams could be led, fertility was luxuriant; but high up on the far-off shelves and cliffs of the mountains, scorched and split as they are by the sun, the Israelite long ago learned to look to the heavens, knowing that, to obtain a harvest in that lofty region, the clouds must give their rain and dew.”
The city of Shechem, and the rich country about it, were, at the time of Jacob’s visit, in the possession of the Canaanite tribe known as the Hivites. Hamor was the “prince of the country,” and claimed all the land as his own. It was necessary, therefore, that Jacob, if he desired to settle in the vicinity, should purchase of this chieftain a portion of the territory with rights of pasturage. This, accordingly, he did. In the place where he had pitched before the city, apparently on its eastern side, where it fronted towards the Jordan valley, he bought “a parcel of a field” or rather “the parcel of ground”, where he had on his first arrival encamped, paying for it a hundred kesitas—bars probably or ingots of silver. It is uncertain whether he here built himself a house, as he had done at Succoth, or continued to dwell in tents ; but perhaps the latter is more probable. His sheep and goats fed freely on the flanks of Ebal and Gerizim ; his camels and horned cattle remained about the tents, on the plain between Shalem and Shechem ; his herdsmen watered their charges out of the rippling brooks, which starting from the Shechem plain flow over beds of shining white stones in two directions, eastward to the Jordan, and westward to the Mediterranean. For some time he had no quarrel with the Hivites. To guard against the chance of such disputes as had arisen between his father and Abimelech of Gerar in the Philistine region during a time of drought, he dug himself a capacious well deep into the limestone rock, which still exists, though choked with many feet of rubbish, near Nablous, the ancient Shechem, at the present day. It was carried first through loose soil, to a depth of twenty feet, and in this part carefully built in with neatly dressed and squared stones, the masonry resembling, it is said,that of the wells of Beersheba, after which the bore was made through the solid limestone rock. The entire depth was, in the year 1881, sixtyseven feet, but in 1866 it was seventy-five feet, and may originally have been a hundred, or a hundred and fifty, for stones are continually dropped into it by visitors. The width of the bore is nine feet, and as much as twelve feet of water have been found in it recently, but at present it is frequently dry in the summer-time. The work, however, if it be really Jacob’s, is very remarkable. “To sink such a shaft,” (nine, or even) “seven and a half feet broad, through perhaps a hundred and fifty feet of earth and rock, was an undertaking involving no little skill, as well as a large outlay ; and its existence is a proof both of the enterprise and of the wealth of the patriarch.”
His children were, in the meanwhile, growing up. The elder sons may have attained to manhood in Haran, if the sojourn there was so long as some imagine. At Shechem the younger sons, excepting Joseph, reached the age of virility; and even Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter, and the youngest of all his children but Joseph, approached to womanhood. Womanhood arrives early in the East, and we need not suppose Dinah to have been more than about fourteen years old. Hovering, it may be, between girlhood and womanhood, a prey to all the curiosity and vague desires which beset young maidens at such a time, weary perhaps of her solitary life as the only girl in the family, she took advantage of the liberty allowed her sex in the family of Abraham, to leave her father’s abode and go out “ to see the daughters of the land” . It was an innocent act. Even if it be true, as Josephus reports, that the Shechemites held a festival that day, and that Dinah was attracted by the gay doings—the music, and the dancing, and the feasting—that were sure to be taking place at such a time, we cannot regard her as much to blame in going out to see and hear. Her desire was to converse with “the daughters of the land’’— the young girls whom she would behold from her tent door, with their pitchers on their shoulders, going to or returning from the fountains, of which there were so many near the town. Such a desire would be very natural. It would have been better, no doubt, had she gone with her mother, or one of the other wives ; but she may not have anticipated any rudeness, much less any such evil as befell her. “Shechem, the son of Hamor, prince of the country, took her,” we are told, “and lay with her, and defiled her”. Whether the case was one of seduction or of violence, we are not informed ; but, under the circumstances of the time, it is not unlikely to have been the latter. But, whether this were so or not, at any rate the young prince repented of the wrong that he had done to the maiden, and did his best to repair it. He found that he “loved the damsel”, and “longed” for her to be his wife. He therefore went to his father, told him how matters stood, and begged him to negotiate a marriage between himself and the girl whom he had injured. The Hivite chief accepted the embassy, and after consultation between all the parties concerned—Hamor, Shechem, Jacob, his sons, and the people of the city—it was agreed that the marriage should take place, on the condition of the two tribes being fused into one, and the Shechemites adopting the Hebrew rite of circumcision. The Shechemites, suspecting nothing, agreed to the terms imposed on them, and the rite was performed; after which, on the third day, when the pain and fever resulting from the operation would be at their height, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s own brothers, executed the bloody vengeance, for which it would seem that they had schemed. Taking their swords, and entering the peaceful city by one of the open gates, they went from house to house, and “slew all the males” . A body of their retainers probably accompanied them ; but the deed appears to have been done without the knowledge of Jacob or of the remaining brothers, who were less affected by Dinah’s dishonour, or less revengeful, than Simeon and Levi. Taking their sister with them, but leaving the booty that there was in the town untouched, these two, who regarded themselves simply as judicial avengers of crime, “went out” . Then the other sons of Jacob “came upon the slain, and spoiled the city,” carrying off from it sheep and oxen and asses, and “all that was in the field,” together with “all that was in the city”—the wealth stored in the houses, and the wives of the adult males, and their “little ones”. Both Shechem, and Hamor his father perished in the massacre.
When the circumstances were reported to Jacob, he was greatly alarmed. It does not appear that he was shocked by the wickedness of what had been done—the combination of treachery, cruelty, and covetousness which had been exhibited —though in his old age he could denounce it; but he was terrified by the thought of what the immediate consequences were likely to be. The Hivite tribe, with which he had come into contact, was closely allied to the Perizzites and the other races included generally under the name of Canaanites. What if these kindred peoples should regard the injury done to the Hivites as done to them, and should resent it, take it up as a blood feud, and prosecute it to the bitter end? He would at once be involved in hostilities with an enemy of vastly superior strength, who might gather themselves together against his small tribe, and utterly destroy it. His sons had made it necessary for him to remove at once from the vicinity. They had “caused him to stink among the inhabitants of the land.” He must begone as soon as possible; but whither was he to go Canaanitish tribes were predominant throughout the entire Palestinian region. Unless he were at once protected, and directed, by God’s providence he was lost. So he waited, and no doubt prayed, for Divine guidance. In a little time it came. “God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there ”.
Bethel, or more properly at this time Luz, was where Abraham had sojourned for a while after he left Sichem (or Shechem), and where Jacob himself had had his first vision of angels. Abraham had erected an altar there (ibid. xii. 8), and thus made the place in some sort a “House of God”, and Jacob on his former visit had consecrated and set up a pillar there , so that of all the sites in central Palestine it would seem to have been at this period the most sacred by its traditions and associations. It was distant only about eighteen miles from Shechem, and could thus be easily reached, while it was in a stronger and more mountainous district, and was thus more readily defensible. Jacob did not hesitate to accept the Divine guidance, and transfer his abode to the spot hallowed to him by such solemn recollections. First of all, however, he felt that he must purge his own household. Never could he conduct to the holy shrine of Bethel— “God’s house and the gate of heaven”—those pollutions which he knew to be continued within the limits of his own domicile, and which existed also—probably to a greater degree—among the servants and retainers, who formed the bulk of his following. Rachel’s theft of her father’s teraphim had shown how widespread the corruption was, since it had tainted the very highest classes; while among the lower classes it seems to have shown itself in an attachment to talismans and amulets, worn about the person, most commonly as appendages to earrings. Having therefore received the Divine command to proceed to Bethel, Jacob called his household and followers together, and solemnly addressed them witK the words—“Put away the strange gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments ; and let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and 1 will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went” . All obeyed : “they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and the rings which were in their ears”; and Jacob took them and buried them under the oak, or oak grove, that was by Shechem—the oak, or oak grove, noticed in the history of Abraham. Thus were the pollutions put away, and hidden out of sight; Shechem was quitted; and the tribe resumed its wanderings. No one pursued or attacked them—“the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about”—and the whole band, withits camels, and its flocks and herds, its asses, and its Sichemite captives, was allowed to pursue its way unmolested from Sichem to Luz, and there to form a new settlement. No immediate punishment followed the cruel treatment of the Sichemite people. It was regarded as the special crime of Simeon and Levi, and was ultimately visited on their posterity.
VIII. BETHEL, BETHLEHEM, AND HEBRON.
Jacob no sooner reached Bethel than, as he had done previously at Shechem, he set up an altar there. It is not recorded that he built himself any house. Probably Bethel did not seem to him to satisfy the requirements of a permanent settlement. The neighbourhood is barren, bleak, and stony. If the bare hill-tops and the narrow valleys might furnish sufficient sustenance for a moderate number of sheep and goats and camels, there would assuredly have been but little pasture suited either for horned cattle or for asses. True, Abraham had sojourned there for a while after he came out of Egypt, together with Lot his nephew ; but the strife between their herdsmen soon showed the incapacity of the district to produce sufficient food for the flocks and herds of the two ; and even after Lot had withdrawn into the Jordan valley, it was not long before Abraham was forced to move on, and wander southward, in search of “fresh fields and pastures new.’’ Jacob, we may presume, experienced similar difficulties. He had with him, not only the numerous cattle, with which God had blessed him in Haran, but the sheep and oxen and asses of the Shechemites whereof his followers had become possessed—probably a much larger number.
Yet it must have been with regret that he resolved to shift his quarters. There was no spot as yet in the entire “Holy Land” so intensely holy as Bethel. Abraham had been the first to hallow it. Then God Himself had conferred on it the most solemn consecration by the vision of the ladder and the angels ascending and descending upon it, which he had there shown to Jacob. This consecration had been followed by Jacob’s erection of a sacred pillar upon the spot, as a memorial of what he had there seen and heard, and by his imposition of the name “Bethel” upon the site which he held to be at once “the bouse of God” and “the gate of heaven”. Finally, now on his return from Haran, God had appeared to him at Bethel for the second time, and had renewed all the promises previously made, and confirmed to him his name of Israel, which meant that he should “prevail with God,” and formally “blessed him”. Jacob, in commemoration of this second appearance, had erected another pillar, and consecrated it by “pouring a drink offering thereon, and pouring oil thereon” . But, notwithstanding all these sacred associations, he felt impelled to move, and is not blamed for moving. He and his “journeyed from Bethel” southward, not many months after their arrival, partly compelled by circumstances, partly perhaps drawn in a southern direction by the desire to see once more the patriarchal head of the tribe, Jacob’s aged father, Isaac, who, blind and infirm as he was, yet survived, and had his abode at Hebron.
One circumstance only imparts an element of human interest into this sojourn of Jacob with his followers at Bethel. It was here, and now, that Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, who had in some way that is not explained become attached to Jacob’s household, gave up the ghost. She must have been well advanced in life. Jacob, in whose earliest recollections she must have had a part, appears to have been sensibly affected by her loss. He gave her honourable burial under an oak tree near Bethel, and mourned her with so deep a grief, that the tree which marked her grave became known in after times as Allon-bachuth, “the oak of weeping.” Such attachment to a humble dependent is a touching trait in the character of the patriarch, and well deserves the record which has been accorded to it by the sacred historian.
Jacob “journeyed from Bethel,” and after travelling a distance of about fifteen miles through the hilly region afterwards assigned in part to Benjamin, in part to Judah, had approached near to Ephrath or Bethlehem—Bethlehem-Ephratah; as it is sometimes called—when he met with another and a greater misfortune. His fondly cherished wife—the light of his eyes and the darling of his heart—the tender, delicate Rachel—was suddenly seized with the pains of childbirth, and for the second time became a mother. In sorrow and extreme suffering she brought forth her second-born, and “called his name, Benoni”—Son of my sorrow, for she felt that her end was approaching. Nothing availed the midwife’s care, or her cheering words—Rachel’s life ebbed rapidly away, and the child was scarcely born into the world ere the mother had departed. It was with a grief too deep for tears that the bereaved husband consigned the body of his bestloved consort to the bosom of the earth in the place where she had died—“on the way to Ephrath” ), a little to the north of the village. On the place where he had buried her, Jacob set up a memorial pillar—not certainly in any superstitious spirit, as has been supposed by some, but as a monument, to mark the site, to prevent its being disturbed or intruded on, and to preserve the memory of the departed. The pillar was still standing four hundred and sixty years later, when Moses wrote; and though it has now long since gone to decay and perished, yet the “Tomb of Rachel” still remains a sacred site, and is “one of the few spots [in Palestine] respecting which Christian, Jew, and Mohammedan agree.” “The present building consists of four square walls, each twenty-three feet long, and about twenty feet high, with a flat roof, from which a dome, with the plaster over it in sad disrepair, rises for about ten feet more. The masonry is rough : the stones set in rows with no attempt at finish, or even exact regularity. Originally there was a large arch in each of the walls ... but these arches have at some time been filled up.... Joined to the back is another building, consisting of four stone walls roughly built, and about thirteen feet high, the space enclosed being thirteen feet deep and twenty-three broad—that is, as broad as the domed building : with a flat roof. Behind this again the walls are continued, at the same height, for twenty-three feet more each way, forming a covered court, used for prayer by the Mohammedans. Under the dome stands an empty tomb of modern appearance.” No part of the existing building is thought to date further back than the twelfth century after Christ.
It is somewhat strange that Jacob did not allow his youngest son to bear the name assigned him by his mother with her dying breath, but changed Benoni—“Son of sorrow”—into Benjamin—“Son of the right hand”—equivalent to “Son of strength”. Perhaps he thought Benoni an ill-omened name, which would bring its possessor ill-luck; or perhaps he did not like to be continually reminded of the chief grief of his life.
From Bethelem, after he had buried Rachel and erected her memorial, Jacob “journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar”. “The tower of Edar” is a somewhat doubtful site, but, on the whole, may perhaps best be placed a little to the east of Bethlehem, in the “ narrow plain, bare and treeless, with white stony slopes, and a few crumbling ruins,” which conducts to the “ terrible wilderness that stretches above the Dead Sea on the west, and creeps up almost to the vines and olive-groves of Bethlehem.” Here are found such names as the “Shepherds’ Plain,” the “Ruin of the Sheepfold,” and the “Church of the Flocks,” with which Migdol Edar— “the Tower of the Flock”—may very reasonably be compared. “The Ruin of the Sheepfold,” says a recent writer, “consists of walls, cisterns, vaults, and tombs—probably early Christian ruins.” These are situated “about four miles and a half from Bethlehem ... close to the so-called ‘Shepherds’ Plain.’ There is no spot in the country about so well fitted for an encampment.”
At Migdol Edar, if it has been rightly located, Jacob would be not more than fourteen miles from the Dead Sea. It would have been the nearest approach that he had made to it. We may, without much stretch of fancy, imagine him, in search of better pasture for his flocks, exploring the country in this direction, and becoming acquainted with the frightful land of Jeshimon, where “the white soft chalk is worn by the wintet rain into long, knife-edged ridges, separated by narrow ravines with stony beds”; and where there is presented to the eye, “ throughout nearly the whole year, a long succession of glaring ridges, with fantastic knolls and peaks, and sharp rugged spurs, absolutely treeless and waterless.” “Everything in this desert is of one colour—a tawny yellow. The rocks, the partridges, the camels, the foxes, the ibexes, are all of this shade ; and only the dark Bedouin and their black tents are distinguishable in the general glare.”
It was while Jacob, his household, and his retainers were encamped about “the tower of Edar,” that a crime was committed among them of a deeper dye than any that had as yet stained the family of Abraham. Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob, his natural successor in the headship of the tribe, was guilty of the heinous sin of incestuous intercourse with one of his father’s secondary wives, Bilhah, the handmaid given in marriage to Jacob by Rachel. Jacob’s grief and anger must have been great; but a veil is thrown over them in the narrative, where no more is said than that “Israel heard of it.” Later on, we find that it cost Reuben his birthright. Judah’s pre-eminence is to be ascribed, in part to Simeon and Levi’s cruelty, in part to this unnatural sin of Reuben, which, though it called forth no immediate rebuke or sentence, rankled in the patriarch’s mind, and was remembered by him upon his deathbed.
After a short sojourn in the region “beyond the tower of Edar,” Jacob, having perhaps exhausted the scanty pasturage of the district, found it necessary to move on. This is the law of their existence to all pastoral tribes, and guides the movements of the Arab hordes in Syria and Mesopotamia as absolutely at the present day, as it did those of Jacob and his followers three thousand five hundred years previously. He still proceeded southward. Isaac was living in advanced old age at Hebron. Jacob had long been naturally drawn thither by his filial affection, and, being now so near, determined to rejoin his father. It maybe hoped that he was privileged for several years to be the support and comfort of his father’s declining strength, and to relieve him from the cares of government and direction, which must for some time have severely taxed his enfeebled powers. Not only was Rebekah dead, but Esau had, many years earlier, withdrawn himself into the wild regions of Seir, which gave him ample scope for the hunting whereto he was so much addicted, and afforded a wide space for the settlement of his sons and grandsons .Isaac had been left alone, without the solace of either wife, or child, or grandchild, with no one to care for him but hired attendants, or slaves born in his house. It was a sad condition ;for one who was old and infirm, drawing near to the grave, with his sight impaired, and his other bodily powers, in all probability, more or less weakened. When “Jacob came unto Isaa his father to Mamre, to Kirjath-jearim (the same is Hebron) where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned”, an extraordinary change must have taken place in his father’s surroundings. For the care of hirelings, or slaves, was substituted the care of his loving son, and of his three daughters-in-law, who would vie with each other in the performance of those gentle offices that are woman’s special province. The prattle of Jacob’s grandchildren would sound in his ears, and awake early reminiscences. He would see with joy the numerous progeny wherewith God had blessed his son, and would recognize the fact that the prophecies of a seed that should be countless, were already on the way to their accomplishment. He would note with satisfaction Jacob’s wealth, and manifest prosperity, and would feel that the time was come when he might “depart in peace,” since he would leave behind him so worthy a successor.
As the time for his father’s departure drew manifestly nigh, Jacob, it is probable, summoned Esau from the'adjacent country of Seir, to witness his last moments. There is no express statement to this effect; but it seems natural that Jacob should have so acted, and considering the shortness of the interval between a death and a burial necessitated by the conditions of the East, Esau’s presence at the funeral, which is distinctly declared, may be regarded as implying his arrival at Hebron before Isaac died. The two brothers we may well believe to have fallen on each other’s necks over their father’s death-couch, and buried in that embrace any remnant, that may still have existed, of the old animosity. Conjointly they prepared their father’s funeral: conjointly they carried it out. Isaac was deposited within the cave of Machpelah, “ being old and full of days,” by the side of Rebekah his wife, who had been previously interred there, and in close vicinity to the graves of Abraham and Sarah. An account of his resting place has been already given.1 Jacob and Esau, after the completion of the funeral rites, parted once more, Esau returning into Seir, his adopted country. So far as appears, they never met again.
The death of Isaac established Jacob as acknowledged head of the tribe, which, partly by right of occupation, partly by treaty, was recognized as settled, and as having certain very important rights, in central and southern Palestine. Jacob himself, after his father’s death, appears to have taken up his residence at Hebron. It was the most commanding position in southern Palestine—it was the place of his father’s and mother’s sepulture—it was one of the spots on which he had a sure hold, a site there having been purchased by Abraham for four hundred shekels of silver from the children of Heth. And it was about the most eligible spot for a pastoral settlement of all in the South country. Its great reservoirs, probably already excavated, supplied abundant water; the hillsides of its valleys were noted for their vines; olives clothed many of the slopes; and there was a fair amount of soil suitable for the growth of barley and lentils. The short herbage of the hills furnishes the best possible pasture for sheep, and the shrubs and bushes which abound afford the food which is most coveted by the goat. A sort of wild thyme flourishes everywhere, and “fills the air with its sweetness.” Though to a European eye the aspect of the entire district is bleak and bare, yet to Oriental shepherds it would present itself as a far more eligible residence than either Jordan’s lush green vale, or Sharon’s fertile stretches. Jacob seems to have remained at Hebron, until he “went down into Egypt”, living a peaceful life, contented with his position.
Meanwhile, his sons were scattered somewhat widely over the Palestinian region. Their flocks and herds were so numerous that they filled the land. All “the South” was regarded as theirs, from Bethlehem as far as Beersheba. They held possession of Shechem, and fed their father’s flock on its rich plain Northward, beyond this, they claimed a right of pasturage in Dothan, which is not far from the valley of Esdraelon; and westward they extended their wanderings into the Philistine lowland, and are found at Achzib and Timnath. They lived on friendly terms with the other inhabitants of the land, and were to some extent corrupted by the contact. Speaking generally, we may say that they formed a united family, sympathized with one another, and probably held their position among the many Canaanitish tribes by the firmness of their union.
Unfortunately, however, there was one exception. “Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age”; and this injudicious favouritism was the cause of dissension and strife entering into the family. The elder brothers naturally felt aggrieved and jealous at their father’s partiality; and their jealousy became hatred when, by the gift of a special dress, which distinguished him above all the rest, the idea was spread abroad that his father designed to confer on Joseph the right of primogeniture and to leave the headship of the clan to him. Kings and chiefs in the East are generally regarded as entitled to select their successor from among their sons; and nothing is more common than the designation for the office of the firstborn son of a favourite wife to the injury, or at any rate to the disparagement, of his elder brethren. So David selected Solomon to succeed him, the eldest surviving son of his favourite Bathsheba, in preference to Adonijali and others, who were older; and so Darius Hystaspis selected Xerxes, the firstborn of his beloved Atossa, in preference to Artabazanes, Ariabignes, and others, born long before Xerxes. But such preferences naturally arouse resentment, and are often the cause of serious troubles. David’s selection of Solomon to be his successor produced the revolt of Adonijah. Jacob’s favouritism made all his elder brothers “hate” Joseph, and so exasperated them against him that they “could not even speak to him peaceably ”
Under these circumstances it behoved the favoured one to be careful and circumspect in his conduct, to avoid arrogance, and give his brothers no handle against him. But Joseph, with the imprudence and the unsuspiciousness of extreme youth—he was but seventeen years of age—acted in the exactly opposite spirit. Having been sent by his father to tend the sheep for a while in company with four of his brethren, namely, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher, he “brought unto his father their evil report”, or, in other words, gave his father a bad account of them. This was to be a spy and a tell-tale, and naturally provoked their anger, and made them his enemies, whereas otherwise he might have had them for friends, since, as sens of the concubines, they would have had small hope of the succession. Further, he rashly communicated to his brethren the visions with which he now began to be favoured—secret and mysterious intimations vouchsafed him from heaven, which he had far better have kept to himself, or, at any rate, have made known to no one but his father. First, he dreamt that he and his brethren were together, binding sheaves in a cornfield, and while his sheaf “ arose and stood upright,” their sheaves “came round about it and made obeisance to it”. Then, after a short interval, he had an even grander and prouder dream—he stood in the midst, and the sun, and the moon, and eleven stars came round about him, and made obeisance to him. The dreams were talked over in the family, when the brethren were all gathered to their father’s residence at Hebron, and even Jacob “rebuked ” his favourite for speaking of such things, though at the same 1 Herod, vii. a. time he did not, like Joseph’s brethren, think scorn of them, but “kept the saying in mind ” .
The ten brethren went forth again from Hebron, and resumed their pastoral labours in central Palestine, leaving “the dreamer,” as they called him, with their father. Presently, however, Jacob became anxious to hear of their welfare, and once more sent his favourite and most trusted son to bring him tidings—“Go, I pray thee,” he said, “see whether it be well with thy brethren and with the flocks, and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem”. Failing, however, to find his brethren there, and learning that they had removed to Dothan, or Dothain, seventeen miles further to the north, Joseph at once set off in pursuit. Dothain, so called from its two wells,1 one of which is still known as Bir-el-Hufireh, “the Well of the Pit,” was situated on the direct route between Shechem and the Esdraelon plain, in an “ upland enclosed basin,” containing “ the best pasturage in the country.” The soil is dark ; the herbage green and luxuriant. Fig trees grow beside long cactus hedges; the hills around are “covered with groves of flourishing olive trees,” while the untilled parts of the valleys are “dotted with broom and hawthorn.” Towards the west shows plainly “the dark brown plain of Arrabeh, across which runs the main Egyptian road—the road by which the armies of Thothmes and Necho came up from the sea-coast,” when they made their great expeditions. Elsewhere the oblong plain is surrounded by “low verdant hills,” among which Tel Dothan, the site of the ancient town, is conspicuous.
Before Joseph arrived at Dothan, he was seen by his brethren. “Here,” says a recent writer, “is a touch of local truth ; for, after climbing the high hill north of Samaria, which would be Jacob’s route, he would then descend the steep northern slope of the ridge, and at Dothan would be easily seen ‘ afar off’. His figure would tell against the sky-line.”
And as he approached, they “conspired against him”. Nine of the brethren seem to have been together; but Reuben was absent. The result of their deliberations was, that it would be best to “slay him,” and then “cast him into some pit,” and report that an “evil beast had devoured him”. But Reuben obtained a knowledge of their design, and opposed it. “Let us not kill him,” he said. “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him.” Reuben, as the eldest, felt called upon to be the protector of his young brother, and intended, if he were left at the bottom of one of the dry pits, or wells, in which the district probably abounded, to return after his brethren had retired, and draw him up, and deliver him to his father. But, having obtained his brethren’s consent to this modification of their original design, he seems to have withdrawn, perhaps feeling that the flock was his especial charge, and believing that he had sufficiently provided for the safety of his youngest brother.
During his absence, suddenly and unexpectedly, a new disturbing element made its appearance upon the scene. The nine brethren, who had originally decreed Joseph’s death, had stript him of his much-envied “coat,” had lowered him into a dry well or “pit,” where they intended him to remain until they had come to a final determination as to his fate, and had sat down to their midday meal, when, “lifting up their eyes, they looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels, bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt” . The great highway from Gilead to Egypt still passes by Dothan. “The caravans come up the Ghor Beisan, pass by Zerin, enter the hill country of Samaria by the wady of Dothaim, and thence go on to Ramleh, Gaza, and Egypt.” Canon Tristram fell in with a “long caravan of mules and asses” on the spot, laden with merchandise, and on their way to Egypt from Damascus. The sudden sight of the Ishmeelite caravan, accompanied, as it was, by “Midianites, merchantmen” , put a new thought into the minds of the nine brethren, stirred their commercial instincts, and showed them a way to be rid of their brother without imbruing their hands in his blood. The thought took word by the mouth of Judah, who, addressing the rest, said to them, “ What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him ; for he is our brother, our flesh” . The proposal was accepted by the others. Joseph was drawn up out of the pit, and sold to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver ; and the caravan then proceeded on its path, and pursued its way to Egypt. A recent traveller remarks that the “modern lshmaelites would not now hesitate to make just such a purchase, and actually do so in certain parts of the country.”
After the sale had been effected, and the caravan had gone upon its way, and perhaps disappeared from sight, Reuben, wholly ignorant of the transaction between the nine brethren and the merchants, returned to the pit wherein Joseph had been hidden, expecting to find him still there, and intending to release him and take him back to his father. But he found the pit empty. Alarmed and grieved, he “rent his clothes,” not doubting but that his brothers had, during his own absence, returned to their original design, and put Joseph to death. It seems that they, ashamed probably of what they had done, determined to leave him under this impression, and not enlighten him as to the real facts of the case. So they made no reply to his exclamations. It was necessary, however, that, on their return to Hebron, they should make some answer or other to the inquiries which their father would be sure to address to them respecting his best-loved child—“Had they seen him? Where was he? What had they done with bim?” and the like. Alas! they determined on a cruel deception. “They took Joseph’s coat’’—the coat of many colours—“and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood ; and brought it to their father, and said, This have we found ; know now whether it be thy son’s coat or not” . One conclusion only was possible. “Jacob knew the coat, and said, It is my son’s coat : an evil beast hath devoured him ; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces”
The grief of Jacob was excessive, and can scarcely be realized except by those who have experienced a blow of the same kind. Young manhood suddenly cut off just as it is in full vigour, and in the first burst of youthful hope, is one of the saddest things in life ; and when it is a father who believes such a fate to have befallen a favourite son, words can scarcely express the extremity of his anguish. More especially must this be the case where there is no firm belief in a happy hereafter. Jacob not only “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins”—customary indications of sorrow, like our own black garments—but also “mourned for his son many days, and refused to be comforted”. In vain did his sons and his daughters gather around him, and do all that was in their power to console him and assuage his suffering. If we think of our own griefs, and remember how utterly futile and foolish seemed to us all the consolations and condolements addressed to us, when we were struck down, by our dearest friends and relatives, we shall readily understand his feelings. The comfort offered to him was no comfort. None of the topics of consolation suggested caught hold of him, or in the slightest degree lessened his sorrow. This is the universal experience. If we have truly loved, we shall feel as he did, when he said, “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning”. It is time alone, the great softener, that brings alleviation of our grief.
Bereaved of Joseph, Jacob clung the more to Benjamin, the only remaining son of his most tenderly beloved wife. Benjamin was growing from a boy into a man. He was probably about ten years old when Joseph was sold into Egypt, and twenty-three when Joseph became governor of Egypt under Pharaoh. Without ever ceasing to grieve for the loss of Rachel’s elder child, Jacob allowed the vacant place in his heart to be filled, or, at any rate, partly filled, by the younger. His nature was essentially affectionate. Disappointed in his elder sons, he threw all the tendrils of his loving heart round the younger ones, and, deprived of Joseph, he concentrated the whole of his affection upon Benjamin. We shall see, as we advance, the depth of his tenderness. It is sufficient in the present place to note that the jealous brethren gained but little by their plots
X FAMINE IN CANAAN.
The liability of Canaan to famine has already been spoken of.1 Abraham experienced it soon after his first arrival in the country, and to escape it transferred his abode to Egypt. Isaac suffered from it, when “there was a famine in the land beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham” , and he took refuge with Abimelech, king of Gerar. Now Jacob experienced the visitation. It arises commonly from prolonged drought though sometimes it may be produced by a plague of locusts, which spread rapidly over the whole country, and, where the land is as rich and fertile as “the garden of Eden,” convert it into “a desolate wilderness”. We are not told the origin of the famine in Jacob’s time ; but, as it was “in all lands”, we may presume its cause to have been a general failure of rain throughout the East. Even Egypt suffered, the usual land of plenty; but there God’s providence had so arranged matters that the time of dearth was preceded by a time of unexampled abundance, and advantage was taken of this happy circumstance to lay up in store a vast amount of corn of every description. In the adjacent countries no such preparation had been made, and, as time went on, their inhabitants were reduced to the greatest straits.
It would seem that, in Palestine, a dull apathy came over the sufferers, who, regarding death as inevitable, sat with folded hands, doing nothing, making no effort, but simply “ looking one upon another”. Such, at any rate, was the behaviour of the sons of Jacob, until their father, who, though so old, surpassed them all in energy, aroused them from their lethargy of despair. “Why do ye look one upon another?” he said. “Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt : get you down thither, and buy for us corn from thence; that we may live, and not die”. The sons of Jacob were not able to gainsay the wisdom of their father’s advice, and went, excepting Benjamin. The loving father could not spare his youngest and best beloved, could not bring himself to expose him to all the manifold dangers of the way, or to the contact with foreigners and the chances of being ill-received by the Egyptian authorities, who were not generally very cordial to strangers. It is unlikely that he had any special knowledge of the political circumstances of Egypt at the time, or of the feelings with which the great Vizier of the reigning monarch was likely to regard suppliants from Palestine. His conceptions on the subject of Egypt, which neither he nor his father had visited, would be vague. He would know it mainly as a land of plenty, where, if anywhere, corn was likely to be found ; besides this he had, perhaps, some special information of the actual abundance, derived from merchants, Philistine or other, who had recently visited the country, and had their wants relieved.
The ten brethren “went down to buy corn in Egypt.” They followed probably the well-known route along the low coast region, which led by way of Gaza, Gerar, and Rhinocolura, to Pelusium and Tanis. To reach this, they would have to quit the upland country, and either strike across the hills nearly due west to Gaza, or else descend the Wady el Hesy as far as Deir Sineid, and then begin their southward journey parallel with the coast-line. The country about Deir Sineid is fairly productive; and that in the vicinity of Gaza, which lies about seven miles off to the south-west, still more so. The city is at the present day “embowered in great olive-woods, which stretch north-eastward a distance of full four miles,” and “girdle Gaza on nearly all sides in a wide sweep.”a Water is supplied abundantly by numerous wells; date-bearing palms are frequent; and there are prolific orchards of figs and pomegranates. The plain between Gaza and the Judaean mountains is rich in the extreme, and the entire district has a pleasing and fertile character. A recent traveller thus describes the view from a short distance to the south-east. “ On the south-east lay the track to Beersheba, over the open field; and on the east the mountains of Judaea bounded the view; low tawny hills, with cactus hedges over their tops, lying close below El Muntar, and beyond them vast stretches of rolling pasture, ploughed land, wheat, and barley, to the foot of the mountain range. On the west spread out a vast wood of olive and fig-frees, broken here and there by green fields, and by low rough hills, reaching to the sand-dunes, which were being slowly blown over the cultivated land. Beyond these the great sea spread out to the horizon, its deep blue contrasting in rich effect with the yellow sand-hills at its edge. North-west lay Gaza, on its long, low hill, embowered in a sea of green, two minarets rising from the town itself, and three from its suburb, Sejiyeh, the quarter of the weavers, a place bearing a very bad name. The sand-hills rose close to the town on the west. Cactus hedges streamed in all directions, over height and hollow; and palms in numbers waved high in the air among the gardens, but not in groves, as in Egypt. On the north-east a track over the wide common showed the way to Hebron.”
It can scarcely be supposed that, when Jacob’s sons arrived, they were greeted by so fair a prospect. “The famine was over all the face of the earth”—certainly over all those regions which lay near to Palestine and Egypt, over Philistia, Gerar, Edom, probably over Phoenicia and Syria. The travellers’ eyes must have fallen upon leafless orchards, withered shrubs, scorched pastures, dry arid plains. The city itself, being a stronghold of the Philistine league, would scarcely attract them; and they probably passed it hastily, and pressed on to Gerar, where, if the covenant of Isaac still held good, they might expect a friendly reception. Gerar, however, is likely to have been even more parched, and dry, and famine-stricken than Gaza, since it lies nearer the desert, and its natural advantages are fewer. Umm-el-Jerar is at best an unattractive situation, with a soil that is poor and chalky, and “sprinkled rather than covered with grass.” Under a prolonged drought its aspect would be forbidding, and the weary travellers would have small temptation to arrest their march. Rather must we suppose them to have plodded onward, with as few stoppages as possible, along the well-trodden route, with the fiery sun above them and the scorching sand below, through the treeless, shadeless desert, which begins when the Wady Ghuzzeh is passed.
The breadth of the absolutely waterless desert was reckoned by Herodotus as a journey of three days? But, as the distance between the Wady Ghuzzeh and Pelusium does not fall much short of a hundred and twenty miles, we must understand him as referring to the passage of a lightly equipped traveller, mounted on a good dromedary, rather than to that of a body of footmen accompanied by asses. Such a body would scarcely accomplish the journey under six days, at the least. For six days, then, the ten sons of Jacob toiled along the weary desert route, with the blazing sun scorching them by day and the keen desert air chilling them by night, meeting probably few wayfarers, but passing the bleached bones of many an ass and camel, which had succumbed to the difficulties of the journey. Vultures hovered in the air, fresh from stripping the last of the fallen animals, and perhaps followed the little caravan for miles in the hope of descending upon a new victim. There were no streams, there were, no trees, there was no verdure. Across the asses’ backs must have been slung skins of water, filled at the last well upon the route that still held out, and carefully watched and husbanded, lest they should be emptied before Egypt was reached. As the sixth morning’s sun arose, every eye would be strained to see if on the horizon’s utmost verge there were any appearance of a watery haze, or of a wavy outline which might indicate the tops of palms, or of a green streak, which would be almost equally welcome, whether it spoke of corn, or grass, or mere coarse marsh-grown vegetation.
At last Sin, the Greek Pelusium, would be reached, probably along a causeway, with a marsh on either side. All northern Egypt is marshy, the Nile stagnating over the low ground, and the sea occasionally breaking through the narrow spit of sand which alone is interposed between the great marsh tract and the Mediterranean. Pelusium was situated on a branch of the Nile, in a green swampy district, where great reeds and bulrushes abounded, and which was the haunt of eels and watersnakes. It was the frontier town towards the north-east, and foreigners had to be inspected and catechised before they could enter it. Companies of any considerable size were always stopped at the frontier; a careful description of them was drawn up by the local officials, and transmitted to the Court, where the ministers of the sovereign perused it, and gave such directions to the local officials as they thought expedient. But, under the circumstances of the time, it may be doubted whether ten poor shepherds, come to buy corn, would have attracted very much attention. Every day probably brought hundreds of strangers on the same errand. The officials at Pelusium would inform such persons how they were to proceed. In the present instance, it seems that they bade the new arrivals to make their way to the capital, where alone the business of the sale of corn to needy foreigners was being conducted.
What then was the Egyptian capital at this period? Originally it was Memphis, situated a little above the apex of the Delta. Next, it became Thebes, three hundred miles further up the river. Then, for a time, it was Zoan, or Tanis, on the Tanitic branch of the Nile, not very far from Pelusium. Later on, it was once more Thebes; still later, once more Memphis. Chronological considerations, and other historical evidence, make it in the highest degree probable, if not absolutely certain, that the capital, at the period of which we are now speaking, was Tanis. Tanis, or Zoan (now San), lay at the distance of about forty miles from Pelusium, in a direction a very little to the north of west. It was probably united to Pelusium by a causeway, which was carried across the great marsh, now Lake Menzaleh, almost along the line of the thirty-first parallel. A wall of crude brick enclosed the town, which was of considerable size, and lay on the eastern bank of the river. Temples in the ordinary Egyptian style, with lofty pyramidal towers, and spacious courts, and corridors, especially one which had been erected by the reigning monarch to Set or Sutekh, adorned it. “Troops of priests paraded the courts and halls, here offering incense, there sacrifice, or marching in solemn procession, singing hymns to the music of flutes and pipes, of cymbals and harps and drums. The streets were astir with busy crowds, bent on traffic or on pleasure. Brown Egyptians, red Arabs from the Yemen, stalwart blacks from the Soudan, pale blueeyed Libyans from the north African coast, ... jostled each other in the broader thoroughfares, whence they had to remove into the side lanes, or to take refuge in comers, when the great noble, borne in his palanquin by his domestic slaves, or the young dandy, driving his pair-horse chariot, claimed a passage that it would have been rash to refuse. Outside the town was the river, navigable from the sea, and covered with ships and boats. Here glided arks containing images of the gods ; there hurried on the galley of a grandee, with its sail set, and impelled besides by forty or fifty rowers; heavy merchantmen floated down the stream, or were towed up from the shore; light skiffs of the papyrus plant—“vessels of bulrushes”—darted in and out of the shipping in all directions. From the rivet on either side branched out canals, which contained fish of. various kinds, and conveyed the Nile water far and wide over the soil that is now so parched and arid. The land about the town—“the field of Zoan”—everywhere bore grain, or fruit, or vegetables.”
It was upon such a scene as this that the ten sons of Joseph gazed, as—their long and weary travel ended—they passed the gates, and entered the streets of the Egyptian capital. Stately officials, no doubt, received them at the gates, and conducted them to the presence of the minister, to whom the sale of the corn was entrusted, and on whose will it depended whether each batch of foreign applicants was received with favour and allowed to make the purchase which it desired, or not. The individual before whom they were brought was their brother Joseph, who, by the blessing of God, had risen from the condition of a slave to this lofty rank and important office. Twenty years of residence in a foreign land had no doubt greatly changed his appearance, and his adoption of the Egyptian costume, and manner of wearing the hair and the beard, must have had a further effect in making him unlike his former self; so that we hear without surprise that not one among his brethren recognized him. But he knew them at a glance. They would be dressed as he had always seen them, and being older than he, would have been less altered in face and appearance ; not to mention that he would naturally scrutinize all Palestinian arrivals, while they, having no conception that they could find an acquaintance in an Egyptian official, would not think of scrutinizing him. The ten brethren made the usual Oriental prostration before a superior—“they bowed themselves down before him with their faces to the earth”; and Joseph “remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them” in times long past; but their thoughts were engaged with the present, and no suspicion came over them that they were fulfilling the prophecy which they had flouted .
Joseph had now to determine how he should behave to his brethren. Should he make himself known to them? Should he welcome them with a burst of fraternal affection? Should he bid them dwell in the land? This would have been his course of action, probably, had he yielded to impulse ; but several considerations kept him back. What had become o Benjamin? Why was he not with them? Had they made away with him also—killed him, or sold him as a slave? These doubts must be resolved before he could feel cordial towards them, or even forgive them fully for the conduct they had pursued towards himself. He therefore “ made himself strange to them” and “spake roughly”—declaring his belief that they had come to Egypt on no such innocent errand as they pretended, but “ as spies”—the tools and instruments of some of Egypt’s Asiatic enemies, who had sent them to “see the nakedness of the land” , or, in other words, to observe and report on the weak points in Egypt’s military defences, and the mode in which she conld be attacked with the best prospect of success. It was in vain that they protested against the injustice of attributing to them such motives and sought to impress the great man favourably by going into details with respect to their family and their family history. “Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan ; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not”. Joseph persisted in his pretence of mistrust, and declared with an oath 1 that in no other way could they convince him of their truthfulness and honesty than by producing their younger brother before him. At first he threatened to keep nine out of the ten in prison, while he sent one of their number back to Palestine, to fetch the youngest-born, and he even went so far as to commit them all to an Egyptian gaol for three days; but ultimately he offered them better terms—“This do,” he said, “and live; for I fear God : if ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison : go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses: but bring your youngest brother unto me ; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die”. To this, reluctantly, they consented ; and Simeon was “ bound before their eyes,” and retained in custody, while the remaining nine received as much corn as their sacks would hold, and started off on their return to Hebron.
The return journey was effected, probably, along the same line of route as that which had been pursued on the way out, and was accomplished without misadventure. Pelusium, Gerar, Gaza, were once more passed, and Hebron was reached in safety. There confession of the circumstances under which Simeon had been left behind, had to be made to Jacob, and the condition on which alone his release could be obtained had to be imparted. The aged patriarch was well-nigh overwhelmed with sorrow, and the bitter cry went forth from him—“We have ye bereaved of my children; Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” . Subsequently he expressed himself thus, when he had reflected on the communication made to him :—“My son shall not go down with you ; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone; if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave ”.
But the inexorable march of events, arranged and determined on long before in the Divine counsels, laughed the feeble determinations of the human will to scorn. Time went on, and ere long the family and dependents of Jacob “had eaten np the corn which had been brought out of Egypt”, and yet “the famine was still sore in the land”. Jacob, without other resources, had once more to command his sons— “ Go again, buy us a little food”. In the first burst of his grief at the detention of Simeon and the prospective loss of Benjamin, Reuben, the firstborn, had taken the word, and had endeavoured to overcome his father’s scruples by undertaking, if Benjamin were sent, that he would assuredly bring him back, and offering to leave with Jacob “his two sons”— the two elder probably of his four sons—as hostages, to be slain if Benjamin were not restored. But this offer appears to have fallen dead, and to have in no wise moved the anxious and doting father. Reuben had apparently offended him too deeply to be listened to. Now, when the crisis had arrived, and the choice lay between sending to Egypt once more and submitting to actual starvation, it was Judah who came forward to reason with his father, and to show him that there was but one course which could be followed. To Jacob’s orders—“Go again, buy us a little food”—he resolutely replied—“The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you. If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food : but if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down ; for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you”. Jacob, in the irrational spirit of old age, which betakes itself to recrimination when it can find no answer to an argument, replied—“Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?”—a thrust which was easily parried by the response —“The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? Have ye another brother? And we told him according to the tenor of these words. Could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?” Jacob could make no reply to this, and Judah continued — Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him ; of my hand shalt thou require him : if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever : for, except we had lingered, surely we had now returned a second time.” Jacob then, at last, gave way. He felt that there was no other course open to him. He must yield, or they would all perish together. And his opposition had effected one thing—it had secured Benjamin a special protector, pledged to watch over him, in Judah, one of the elder sons, and now, when Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had through their sons forfeited the birthright, in some sort the head of the family. Jacob could better bear to part with his darling under these circumstances. So he consented. “Take your brother,” he said, “and arise, go again unto the man : and God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. And if I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved”.
Meantime, the little knot of travellers was making its way along the flow familiar line of route, which connected Hebron with Tanis, at its best speed, not without its own anxieties. How would Simeon have been treated? Would they find him well, or worn with suffering? And how would the Great man receive them? A matter connected with their last visit, and inexplicable to them, had disturbed their serenity on their return with their sacks of corn from Egypt—each of them had found the money which he had paid for his corn returned to him and deposited in his sack. Would this be made a charge against them when they reached Tanis? Any such charge they had prepared themselves to meet by bringing with them on the present occasion “double money”; but they could not tell whether they would be held blameless in the matter, or dealt with severely as cheats, or even robbers. It was with some tremors and misgivings that they found themselves once more in the Governor’s presence. Their fears were increased, when, instead of transacting business with them in the public place as before, Joseph had them brought to his own house by one of his servants, and there lodged, and cared for. “ Because of tbe money that was returned in our sacks at the first time,” they said, “are we brought in ; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses”. But this state of alarm soon passed. First, Simeon was restored to them. Then the Great man came at noon, and spoke kindly to them, and accepted a small present which Jacob had sent him, and asked after their father’s health, and reassured them through his servant as to the returned money, and feasted them in his house, and sent them messes from his own table, and made them drink and be merry.
He did not, however, even yet reveal himself. He had prepared a more dramatic denouement—one which should further test his brethren, and should especially show how they were disposed towards his young brother, his full brother, his own and his father’s favourite, Benjamin. He would see whether they had transferred to Benjamin the envy and jealousy which they had felt towards himself, and would gladly rid themselves of him, or whether their dispositions were changed.
So the brethren were feasted, and their sacks filled with corn, and the “corn money” again replaced in them, and “as soon as the morning was light, they were sent away, they and their asses”. But by Joseph’s order, his own silver drinking-cup was secreted in Benjamin’s sack, “in the sack’s mouth” , as if it had been hastily thrust in at the last moment. Then a hue and cry was raised. Joseph’s servants hurried after the small travelling-company, and speedily overtook them, and taxed them with the theft. On their indignant denial, and proposal that, if the cup were found with any of them, he should be put to death, while the rest should be the Governor’s bondmen, Joseph’s steward said it would be enough if the one with whom the cup was found became a bondman ; the others should be held blameless. On search being made, the cup was of course found where it had been placed, and the brethren, overwhelmed with shame and grief, were marched back to the city, and conducted again to Joseph’s house. Brought before him, they made no defence— guilty in the sight of God they confessed they were—of the particular crime charged on them, they had no means of clearing themselves—they would, all of them, be the Governor’s bondslaves henceforward. Then Joseph brought forward his crucial test. “ God forbid,” he said, “ that I should do so : the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant ; but as for you, get you up in peace unto your father”.
The ten elder sons of Jacob might, upon this, have left Benjamin behind with the Egyptian ruler, and have returned home safe and free, rid of both the brothers who had been their father’s favourites. But this they refused to do. Judah took the word, and pleaded earnestly for the restoration of Benjamin to his father as necessary for his father’s life; offering at the same time to take his place as an Egyptian bondman, if the liberty of some one out of the eleven must be regarded as forfeited on account of the cup. At this act of self-sacrifice Joseph’s reserve broke down. “Then Joseph could not refrain himself . . . and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren”. A perfect reconciliation followed. Joseph excused his brethren, bade them not be angry with themselves, declared that the whole matter was God’s doing, not theirs, kissed all his brethren and wept upon them, and sent them all back in a body, to fetch their wives and “little ones,” and their father, and come down to Egypt to sojourn there. The Pharaoh gave his express sanction to the immigration, and assigned the brethren a number of “wagons,” or rather carts, for the conveyance of their belongings, together with ample “provision for the way”. Joseph gave to each “ changes of raiment, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of raiment; and to his father he sent after this manner : ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way”. When all was ready, he dismissed his brethren with the warning phrase—the only token which he showed of doubt or distrust—“ See that ye fall not out by the way ” .
XI. LIFE IN EGYPT.
The return journey of the eleven brethren was made with speed and safety. They were eager to relieve their father’s anxiety, as well as to bring him the food necessary for himself and his retainers. It is probable that they found him still at Hebron. After the first greetings were over, they told him their marvellous news—Joseph was alive—he was Governor over all the land of Egypt—he wished his father, his brethren, and the whole tribe, to come to him there. At first Jacob was incredulous. Was not the news too good to be true? “His heart stood still, and its machinery almost threatened to break down,” under the pressure of conflicting feelings—joy, doubt, astonishment. To convince him, his sons not only “told him all the words of Joseph,” but “showed him the wagons of Pharaoh which Joseph had sent”. The visible and tangible evidence had an effect on him beyond the power of mere words, and assured him that all which he had been told was no more than the truth. So “his spirit revived” within him ; and Israel said, in a burst of gratitude and faith, “It is enough : Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die”.
It was a momentous resolution. To descend into Egypt, with the whole of his belongings, to place himself and his tribe under the protection of Pharaoh, was to give up for himself and them the freedom and independence which had been enjoyed now for above two centuries, and to become a mere dependent on a powerful and absolute monarch, whose will would be law to himself, his children, and his descendants. It was not now as in Abraham’s time. Then the patriarch and his wife, with no children, and only a moderate band of followers, could seek a temporary shelter, and look to returning into Canaan when a few years were past. But now, when the males of Abraham’s stock were seventy in number, and the households probably not less than thirty or forty, and the retainers perhaps some thousands,1 the movement was a veritable migration, a fresh settlement, a removal into a new and strange land for an indefinite period. No doubt there were constraining causes which left little room for choice. The desire to see Joseph was intense, and could not otherwise be gratified, for the Pharaoh was not likely to give his minister leave of absence from the court. The famine was still “sore in the land,” and would continue, according to God’s word to Joseph, for another five years. Starvation stared him in the face, if he elected to remain at Hebron, while in Egypt were ease, plenty, “good things ” in abundance. There was also, but we do not know whether Jacob bethought himself of it, the prophecy given by God to Abraham soon after he entered the Holy Land —“Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance ... In the fourth generation shall they come hither again” . This prophecy, if borne in mind, might have been taken to justify a removal, and to render it an act of faith, rather than one of faithlessness, which it would have been otherwise. Still Jacob, even when he started on his journey, would seem to have been doubtful as to his proper course, or even, as has been said, “ engaged in eager debate as to the path of duty.” Abraham, when in Egypt, had been brought into great danger. Isaac had been forbidden to go thither. Moreover, Egypt was not only a heathen land, but one in which idolatry had been long practised and had assumed gross forms of a revolting character. “Jacob therefore might naturally fear to find in it dangers both worldly and spiritual.” Still, it would seem, though in much doubt, he determined to go—he quitted Hebron, and “ took his journey, with all that he had”, and proceeding southwards to the extreme limits of the Holy Land, to the very verge of the Desert, halted at Beersheba.
There, his doubts were ended. Beersheba was a holy site. Abraham, and again Isaac, had built altars there. Jacob, on arriving, “offered sacrifices unto the God of his father, Isaac,” and no doubt prayed to tbe God of his fathers earnestly for help and guidance. His prayer received a direct and clear answer. “God spake unto Jacob in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And He said, I am God, the God of thy father : fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation : I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will also surely bring thee up again ; and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes”. Where light is earnestly desired and asked for, light is sure to be given. Jacob had doubted, hesitated, debated with himself, feared to go down into Egypt, sacrificed, prayed—now his way is made plain before his face—he is to go down into Egypt, and God will go with him. All doubt is ended, and the “travelling company” sets forth.
It must have been a strange sight, that travelling company! The Great Sheikh, with snow-white hair and beard, wrapped in an ample abba, and seated, or reclining at length, in the best of Pharaoh’s wagons, with his daughters and his daughters-in-law, and their children, in the other wagons, and around them a body-guard of sons and sons-in-law, and grandsons, armed perhaps differently, some with bows and arrows, some perhaps with spears, all with knives, and then a motley crowd of slaves, attendants, and retainers, with their wives and children, mostly on foot, but some mounted on asses, some perhaps on camels, amounting in all to “several thousands,” and bringing with them all their possessions, camels in scores, asses probably in hundreds, horned cattle—cows and bulls—in equal number, sheep and goats in thousands, tents and tent-poles, carpets, hangings, furniture, tools, household utensils—all probably mixed together in greater confusion than is seen even in modern caravans, and doubtless indulging in equal noise, shouting, screaming, gesticulating, huzzahing, occasionally perhaps fighting or quarrelling. The camels and many of the asses would be laden with water-skins, absolutely necessary for crossing the Desert; the wagons would convey, besides Jacob’s daughters, and his daughters-in-law, and their “little ones,” much of the household stuff; the rest would have to be carried on men’s backs, or women’s shoulders, as we see pictured in the sculptures of Assyria.
The route which was taken from Beersheba to Egypt is to some extent uncertain ; but most probably it was “the way of Shur”. This would lead from Beersheba, in a south-westerly direction, by way of Bered and Rehoboth, into the actual desert, which it would traverse from east to west through country that is still unexplored, striking the Egyptian frontier near Daphnd, or Tahpehnes, considerably to the south of Pelusium. Hence the way to Tanis lay through the Delta, over solid ground; and the capital would be approached from the south-east, instead of from the north-east through the marshes. The distance was somewhat greater than by the northern route, or “way of the Philistines”; but the difference was not very considerable; and there may have been circumstances which at the time rendered the southern route more eligible for a large caravan than the northern one.
It is impossible to say how much, or how little, knowledge Jacob possessed, of the Egypt which he was approaching. The Abrahamic traditions would tell of the Old Empire. They would speak of Egypt under native kings, whose main capital was Thebes, but who bore sway both over the Upper and the Lower country, leaving special traces of their activity in the Fayoum, and who had advanced their kingdom to a high pitch of prosperity and glory, partly by their architectural works—their temples and their obelisks, partly by their labours for the extension and improvement of agriculture by means of canals and works of irrigation. There is every reason to believe that Abraham visited Egypt when it was governed by the kings, either of the twelfth, or the thirteenth dynasty, before there had been any important foreign invasion, while the religion, the art, the literature were thoroughly native, wholly, or almost wholly, free from any foreign admixture. But, between the time of the going down of Abraham into Egypt and the migration under Jacob—a space of above two hundred years—great and extraordinary changes had occurred. Egypt had been invaded, overrun, subjugated. A race of which little can be stated positively, except that they were of Asiatic origin, and invaded Egypt from the side of the isthmus of Suez, had overpowered the primitive Egyptians, and not only taken possession of their territory, but outraged their feelings by a general destruction of the temples which they revered so highly. The strength of Egypt had gone down, like corn before the reapers, on the tremendous onslaught of the Asiatic horde ; the civilization of above a thousand years had seemed to be destroyed ; and a dark cloud had settled upon the land, which had so long been a centre of light, of culture, and of refinement.
Who the people were by whom this extraordinary revolution was effected, is one of the most difficult problems of history. It has been usual to call them “the Hyksos”; but that name applies properly, not to the people generally, but only to their kings. The people were called by Manetho, in one place “Phoenicians,” in another “Arabs.” It is perhaps best to regard them, with Lenormant, as “a collection of all the nomad hordes of Arabia and Syria,” the chief directing power being with the Hittites. Manetho’s account of the invasion the only original account which has come down to us—is as follows :—
“ There was once a king of Egypt, whose name was Timaeus. In his reign the gods being offended, for I know not what cause, with our nation, certain men of ignoble race, coming from the eastern regions, had the boldness to invade our country, and, falling upon it unawares, conquered it easily without a battle. After the submission of the princes, they conducted themselves in a most barbarous fashion towards the whole of the inhabitants, slaying some, and reducing to slavery the wives and children of the others. Moreover, they savagely set the cities on fire, and demolished the temples of the gods. At last, they took one of their number called Salatis (Saites?), and made him king over them. Salatis resided at Memphis, where be received tribute both from Upper and from Lower Egypt, while at the same time he placed garrisons in all the most suitable situations. He strongly fortified the frontier, especially on the East, since he feared that the Assyrians, who were then exceedingly powerful, might desire to make themselves masters of his kingdom. Having found, moreover, in the Sethroite nome, to the east of the Bubastite branch of the Nile, a city very favourably situated, and called, on account of an ancient theological tradition, Avaris, he rebuilt it and strengthened it with walls of great thickness, which he guarded with a body of two hundred and forty thousand men. Each summer he visited the place, to see their supplies of corn measured out for his soldiers, and their pay delivered to them, as well as to superintend their military exercises, in order that foreigners might hold them in respect.”
We may gather from it, that the invaders poured into the country in overwhelming force—multitudinous, impetuous, irresistible. “It was as when the northern barbarians swooped down in their countless thousands on the outlying provinces of the Roman Empire, or as when the hordes of Jingis Khan overran Kashgar and Kharesm —the contest was too unequal for anything that could be called a struggle to be made. Egypt collapsed before the invader. There was no battle. The terrified inhabitants fled to their cities, and endeavoured to defend themselves behind walls ; but it was in vain. The walls of the Egyptians were rather banks to keep out the Nile inundation than ramparts to repel an enemy. In a short time the strongholds that resisted were taken, the adult male population put to the sword, the women and children enslaved, the houses burnt, the temples ruthlessly demolished. An iconoclastic spirit possessed the conquerors. The gods and worship of Egypt were hateful to them. Wherever the flood passed, it swept away the existing civilization, deeply impregnated as it was with religion; it covered the ground with the debris of temples and shrines, with the fragments of statues and sphinxes; it crushed existing religious usages, and for a time, as it would seem, substituted nothing in their place. ... Fortunately, however, the whole country was not overrun. So far as appears, the actual occupation of Egypt by the Hyksos was confined to the Delta, the Lower Nile valley, and the district of the Fayoum. Elephantine, Thebes, Abydos, escaped the destroyers, and, though forced to certain formal acts of submission, to an acknowledgment of the Hyksos suzerainty, and to the payment of an annual tribute, retained a qualified independence. The Theban monuments of the eleventh and twelfth dynasties were undisturbed. Even in Lower Egypt there were structures that suffered little or nothing at the conqueror’s hands, being too humble to attract his attention, or too massive to yield to the means of destruction known to him. Thus the Pyramids scarcely suffered, though it is possible that at this time their sanctity was first violated and their contents rifled. The great obelisk of Usurtasen I, which still stands at Heliopolis, was not overthrown. The humbler tombs at Ghizeh, so precious to the antiquary, were for the most part untouched. Amenemhat’s buildings in the Fayoum may have been damaged, but they were not demolished. Though Egyptian civilization received a rude shock from the invasion, it was not altogether swallowed up or destroyed ; and when the deluge had passed it emerged once more, and soon reached, and even surpassed, its ancient glories.”
Even before this consummation was reached, a remarkable reaction set in. When the conquest had been effected, and the whole population had become either quiet and unresisting subjects or submissive tributaries, a perceptible softening took place in the manners and general character of the conquerors. As the Mongols and the Mandchus in China suffered themselves by degrees to be conquered by the superior civilization of the people whom they had overrun and subdued, so the Hyksos yielded little by little to the influences which surrounded them, and insensibly assimilated themselves to their Egyptian subjects. They adopted the Egyptian dress, titles, official language, art, mode of writing, architecture. In Tanis, especially, temples were built, and sculptures set up, under the later “Shepherd Kings,” differing little in their general character from those of purely Egyptian periods. The foreign monarchs erected their effigies at this site, which were sculptured by native artists according to the ordinary rules of Egyptian glyptic art, and which only differ from those of the earlier native Pharaohs in the headdress, the expression of the countenance, and a peculiar arrangement of the beard.
It was into an Egypt of the reaction period, but still one which possessed peculiar features, that Jacob was about to be introduced. Chronological considerations alone would place the ministry of Joseph towards the close of the Hyksds period. Tradition connected him in an especial way with Apepi, the last king of the great Hyksos dynasty which began with Salatis or Saites. Apepi stands out from the Egyptian kings of the period as a monarch of a distinct individuality, and with a marked character. He built a great temple to Set or Sutekh at Tanis, his principal capital, composed of blocks of red granite, and adorned it with obelisks and sphinxes. The obelisks are said to have been fourteen in number, and must have been dispersed about the courts, instead of being placed, in the ordinary way, in pairs before entrances. The sphinxes, which differed from the ordinary Egyptian sphinx in having a mane like a lion, and also wings, seem to have formed an avenue or vista leading up to the temple from the town. They were in diorite, and are still to be seen at San, with the name of Apepi engraved upon them.
But it was in the religious changes which he introduced, that Apepi’s individuality appears most strikingly. The other Hyksos monarchs had, apparently, after their first outburst of fanaticism, adopted the old Egyptian religion in its entirety, encouraged polytheism, and distributed their favours impartially among the various members of the Egyptian Pantheon. Apepi became a monotheist. Singling out from the multitudinous gods of Egypt one special personage—the divinity Set or Sutekh—he made him the sole object of his worship, “refusing to serve any other god in the whole land.” He even became an apostle of monotheism, imposing the worship of a single god on the tributary monarch of Southern Egypt, who held his capital at Thebes. Whether he carried out his religious ideas to the extent of requiring conformity to them on the part of his Egyptian subjects generally is uncertain—perhaps he scarcely ventured so far; but in Tanis and Avaris the unity of God seems to have been proclaimed—in each of these cities the king built a single great temple “of goodly and enduring workmanship,”1 where on festival days sacrifice was offered to Sutekh with those rites which elsewhere in Egypt were regarded as appropriate to the divinity known as Ra-Har-machis. Ra-Harmachis was the Rising Sun ; and we may therefore regard it as most probable that Apepi, like the later Egyptian monotheists who are known as the “Disk-Worshippers,” identified his sole deity with the bright orb of day, the great source of Light and Life to the universe.
Such was the monarch to whom Jacob was now, in his old age, to be introduced, and under whom he was to live out the remaining period of his existence upon earth. The long and weary journey from Palestine had been safely accomplished—the land of Goshen, which Joseph had pointed out as the fittest place for his father’s residence, had been reached—Joseph had met his father Jacob there, and Jacob had “fallen on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while” , and exclaimed—“Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, and thou art still alive” —it remained for Joseph to introduce his father and his brethren to the Pharaoh, and to obtain his express sanction to their location in the land of Goshen, which was “the best of the land”, the part most suitable for flocks and herds, and the place where the Pharaoh pastured a portion of his own cattle. The distance was not far from Goshen to Tanis; and Joseph, having first prepared his master for the reception, took his father and five of his brethren with him , leaving the rest in charge of the cattle and retainers, and conveyed them to the Court for presentation to the Great King.
We may image to ourselves the Pharaoh seated in his royal palace on the appointed day, surrounded by his courtiers. The palace itself was probably “a large square or paralleloram, enclosed within high walls, with gates guarded by pylons, or semi-pyramidal towers, on two or more of the sides, like the gates of temples in miniature. The grounds would be divided out into formal courts and alleys, planted with trees in rows, the trees being of various kinds.” Here the graceful palm uplifted its feathery top, adorned with rich clusters of bright-gleaming dates. There pomegranates blossomed, or vines were carried along upon trellises. Ponds or reservoirs, rectangular in shape, were frequent, and gave the charm of freshness in a climate where, without constant irrigation, vegetation languishes. The palace itself consisted of numerous courts surrounded with colonnaded cloisters, and entered through pylons, with here and there a group of apartments, into which light was but scantily admitted by small windows placed high up in tbe walls. Much taste was shown in the designs of the pillars, and especially of their capitals, which combined animal and vegetable forms after a manner that was at once curious and pleasing. The walls and ceilings were painted in the brightest colours, sometimes with figures of men walking in procession, sometimes with representations of domestic life, occasionally with battle scenes. Hieroglyphical inscriptions accompanied the drawings, and explained their meaning. The number of apartments was not great, life being chiefly passed in the colonnaded courts, and in the grounds, where a sufficiency of immediate shade could be combined with the charm of remoter sunlight, with the plash of water, and with the free play of the atmosphere. Luxurious furniture garnished most of the apartments—armchairs, fauteuils, ottomans, sofas—in exquisitely carved woodwork, and with cushions of brilliant hues and delicately patterned, that invited the visitor to repose. Conspicuous among the apartments must have been the throneroom, where the monarch gave audiences, received ambassadors, perhaps delivered judgments and heard complaints, seated high above his courtiers, on a throne of some precious wood, or of ivory, elaborately carved with figures of men and animals, his feet resting on a footstool of scarcely inferior magnificence.’
So sate Apepi, his guards on either side of him, in their plain white linen tunics, armed with short spears and falchions, and perhaps with shields, bis courtiers dispersed about the hall in groups, with their eyes fixed upon the main entrance, when, at a signal, there advanced from the doorway the Grand Vizier, or “Governor over the land,” Joseph, habited as an Egyptian of the first rank, with double tunic, and perhaps plaited robe, and collar about the neck, and staff, and jewelled bracelets. Accompanying him were five men in the plain garb of shepherds, whom he presented to the monarch as his brethren . The Pharaoh condescended to converse with them. “What,” he said, “is your occupation?” They replied— “Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers” , as Joseph had advised them; and they added, “For to sojourn in the land are we come, for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan : now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen”. And Apepi consented. Turning to his minister, he said—“Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee; the land of Egypt is before thee”; “in the best of the land make thy father and thy brethren to dwell; and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.” So the interview came to an end. The consent of the Pharaoh was given to the location of the family of Jacob, with their dependents, in the land of Goshen, on the extreme north-east border of Egypt, which was at once the best pasture ground, the tract nearest to their own country, whither they always looked to return, and the place where they would be brought into the least close contact with the native Egyptians, to whom “every shepherd was an abomination” .
But the scene was not yet over. Joseph signified to the Pharaoh, that his father was in attendance, and received a gracious permission to introduce him. Leaning on his son’s arm, the white-haired old man advanced up the throne-room from the entrance, simply apparelled, but with all the dignity of a Great Sheikh, whom no outward display of courtly grandeur could disconcert or trouble, and while the courtiers fell back on either side and left an avenue open for him to pass through their midst, approached the Royal presence. It was expected, probably, that he would prostrate himself; but, instead of so doing, the aged patriarch, as he drew near, lifted up his right hand, and formally “blessed” the king, as Melchizedek had blessed Abraham, claiming to be spiritually his superior. There was great respect for old age in Egypt; and Apepi, who might have resented the assumption of superiority, had it been made by a younger man, yielded gracefully to one so far advanced in years, and bent, it may be, to receive the benediction. Then he entered into friendly conversation with him. “How old art thou?” he asked, and Jacob replied—“The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years : few and evil have the days of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage”. Probably other words passed ; but these alone are recorded. Jacob, however, ere he retired, blessed Apepi a second time, and then withdrew, doubtless on his son’s arm, as he had entered, and was conveyed back to the land of Goshen.
For seventeen years the land of Goshen was the quiet restingplace of Jacob’s old age. During this space his life seems to have been absolutely eventless. His sons, grandsons, and dependents were prosperous and happy, grew in wealth, and “multiplied exceedingly”. The same Pharaoh remained upon the throne; Joseph continued to be Prime Minister. If the previous years of Jacob’s life had been, as he complained to Apepi, “few and evil”, at any rate God allowed him, ere he died, a term of unbroken repose. While the famine lasted “Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread, according to their families”. Afterwards, the land of Goshen was ample for their support, and they lived their old pastoral life in peace and security. Thus, Jacob had no cares. A space was allowed him, during which he might detach himself from earth, meditate on heavenly things, repent unfeignedly of the many “ sins and offences of his yolith,” wrestle in prayer, as “ a prince with God,” and prevail. Happy they to whom such a quiet time is granted, free from distracting cares and anxieties, from want, from trouble, from professional toils, from grave responsibilities, and leisure given to prepare for the great change that must come to them, when the body is laid aside, and the soul finds itself “unclothed,” in a wholly new and hitherto quite unimagined sphere ol being.
XII. ILLNESS, DEATH, AND BURIAL.
At the end of the seventeen years, when he was now one hundred and forty seven years old, Jacob fell sick. “Few and evil” as he deemed his days to have been, they yet exceeded the longest term that nowadays is granted to humanity. But they fell short of the term previously customary in his family. The life of man, was, in fact, gradually contracting. Whether from a certain exhaustion of the primitive vigour of the race, or from a deterioration in the surrounding circumstances, the duration of man’s life rapidily diminished during the earlier ages of the world’s history, until by the time of Moses ‘ it can scarcely be said to have much exceeded the limit which we find existing at the present day. And, as to each generation of men death came sooner and sooner, so decay also seems to have set in earlier. Abraham was vigorous, and took another wife, when he was as much as 140; but Isaac’s eyes began to be dim soon after he was a hundred, and he gave no token of vigour or directing energy after he was 120. Jacob’s power to rule his tribe ceased when he was about no ; and, when he went down into Egypt, at the age of 130, his strength had almost wholly departed from him. Later on, his eyes, like Isaac’s, failed him, and “were dim for age, so that he could not see.” The “sickness,” as it is called, which befell him, was not so much any special disease, as a failure of the vital power. Already, before he took to his bed he had sent for Joseph, and, in a way, announced his coming decease, by making arrangements for his burial. “Bury me not,” he had said, “I pray thee, in Egypt, but carry me out thence : I will lie with my fathers; bury me in their burying-place”. The request indicates a sense of approaching dissolution, and at the same time a lively faith in the promises of God to himself and his descendants—a conviction that they would not always remain exiles in Egypt, but would return one day to their own “ promised land,” there to continue a great and powerful people until their destiny was accomplished. It was his desire to cast in his lot with his people. The glories of an Egyptian funeral, of embalming, of a gorgeous mummy-case and a richly ornamented sepulchral chamber, perhaps surmounted by a handsome monument, did not tempt him for a moment to swerve from his design : he would be buried in the dim and bare “cave of Machpelah” at Hebron, with his fathers, with Abraham, and Isaac, and Sarah, and Rebekah, and Leah, in the tomb that Abraham bought of Ephron the Hittite, together with the field wherein it lay, for a possession of a burying-place. Joseph gave his promise to do as his father desired; but a bare promise was not, in Jacob’s eyes, enough. “Swear unto me,” he said ; and Joseph sware unto him”. And then Israel “bowed himself”, and “worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff”.
It was afterwards, but probably not long afterwards, that “one told Joseph, Behold thy father is sick”, and Joseph went a second time to visit Jacob, and “took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim” . They found the aged patriarch stretched upon his bed, in a state of great physical weakness, but still able, when made aware of his favourite son’s approach, to rally, and sit up. His thoughts were busy with his past life, and especially with its crises—his flight from Esau, the first manifestation of Himself which God made to him—the ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and the blessed words of promise—the return from Padan-aram, the death of Rachel, and her burial a little way from Ephrath. As the dying so often do, he recalled scene after scene, touching each in a few words, and passing abruptly from this to that, intermingling at the same time with his own recollections, thoughts concerning the future of Joseph’s offspring . At first he seems not to have seen the lads, since his eyes were dim; but, after a time, becoming aware that there were others besides Joseph present, he asked, “Who are these?” and learning that they were the children of whom he had been speaking, “ Bring them,” he said, “I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them”. Joseph accordingly brought them near, and Jacob having embraced them in his arms and kissed them, proceeded to carry out his design of giving to each an appropriate blessing. They had been so placed by Joseph that Manasseh, the elder, was towards his grandsire’s right hand, and Ephraim, the younger, towards his left; but Jacob, seeing this, crossed his hands, “guiding them wittingly,” and placed the right upon Ephraim’s head, the left upon Manasseh’s. It was in vain that Joseph sought to alter the arrangement; Jacob had made it designedly, under the guidance of the prophetic insight, and being simply the interpreter of God’s purposes, could make no change. Ephraim was to be greater than Manasseh, and the manner of the blessing must show it. So, with his hands still as he had at first placed them, the patriarch blessed his grandsons in the words following :—
“The God, before whom my fathers, Ahraham and Isaac, did walk;
The God, which hath fed me all my life long unto this day ;
The Angel; which hath redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads
And let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac ;
And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Finally, turning to Joseph, he said : “In thee ” (i.e. in thy children) “shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh. Behold, I die ; but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the land of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow”. In this last announcement, some see a bequest to Joseph of the parcel of ground near Shechem which his father had bought of Hamor; but the gift is better explained as that of a double share in the Holy Land, when it should be conquered, to the descendants ol Joseph, which was fulfilled in the separate assignments made by Joshua to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
It cannot have been long after this interview that the actual end came. Jacob, feeling that he was dying, summoned his twelve sons around his deathbed, saying, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the latter days”. All came, obedient and disobedient, loved and (on account of their conduct) unloved, the sons of the despised wife Leah, the sons of the two concubines Bilhah and Zilpah, the sons of the true wife of his bosom, Rachel. The twelve hale, strong men, stood around the couch of the dying one. But though his bodily powers were at the lowest point, yet his spirit did not quail or blench. The shadow of death may have been upon his face, yet his eye gleamed with the light of prophecy.1 One by one, he utters their names ; one by one, he touches on their past; one by one, he announces their future :—
Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength,
The excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.
Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel,
Because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed—
Then defiledsl thou it: he went up to my couch ”
Reuben, Leah’s firstborn, had possessed the birth right, had been looked on as the heir of promise, had been in some sort set over his brethren, and regarded by Jacob with pride and trust, as the firstfruits of his manhood. But he had forfeited his position by one heinous sin, and had thereby lost all claim to any pre-eminence. The sentence upon him was, that he “should not excel” ; and it is in vain that we search the records of Hebrew history for one great action done by any Reubenite, or one great man produced by the tribe, be it prophet, or judge, or captain. Except for the fact that it produced Dathan and Abiram—the rebels against Moses whom the earth swallowed up alive—the tribe is wholly undistinguished.
Simeon and Levi are hrethren :
Their swords are instruments of violence.
O my soul, come not thou into their secret ;
Unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united:
For in tbeir anger they slew a man,
And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce,
And their resentment, for it was cruel;
I will divide them in Jacob,
And I will scatter them in Israel ”
Simeon and Levi, Leah’s second and third sons, had forfeited their place in Jacob’s affections by their treachery and cruelty towards the Shechemites. He had at the time remonstrated with them on the imprudence of their action. Now, he condemns its wickedness. It was cruel; it was self-willed; it was disgraceful. He disclaims act or part in it. The punishment decreed against both brethren is the dispersion of their descendants. This was literally fulfilled on the conquest of Canaan, when the Levites had a certain number of cities assigned to them in each of the tribes, while the Simeonites were located at various scattered sites within the territory of Judah. The result, however, was very different in the two cases. With Simeon, it was as if the tribe’had been wiped out from the nation. In its corporate capacity, it receives no further mention during the entire remainder of the history, while even individual Simeonites are rare, and, except in the thoroughly apocryphal book of Judith, wholly undistinguished. Levi’s dispersion, on the contrary, tends rather to the honour of the tribe than to its disgrace. It results from the Levites being selected to be the priests of the nation—their guides and instructors in religion. It keeps them ever in the forefront of the people, rather than in the background, gives them a place in its history, whatever happens to be the scene, and leads to their constantly filling very high— ultimately, even the very highest, situations. Levi’s curse was thus, in process of time, turned into a blessing, the faithfulness of Moses, Aaron, and their fellow-tribesmen at the time of the Exodus being accepted as compensating for, and outweighing, the original offence of the tribe-founder, which brought the curse upon him.
“Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise ;
Thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies:
Thy father’s sons shall bow down before thee.
Judnh is a lion’s whelp :
From the prey, my son, thou art gone up.
He stooped down, he couched as a lion.
And as a lioness ; who shall rouse him up ?
A sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a law-giver from between his feet.
Until Shiloh come:
And unto him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal unto the vine.
And his ass’s colt unto the choice vine,
He hath washed his garments in wine,
And his vesture in the blood of grapes:
His eyes shall be red with wine,
And his teeth white with milk”
Judah, the fourth son of Leah, though he too had sinned, had not so sinned as his elder brothers, and was not regarded as having forfeited the birthright, which naturally descended to him, when they proved themselves unworthy of it. It has been truly said of him, that he “showed more nobleness than any of the elder sons of Jacob.” His father compares him to a lion’s whelp, an old lion, and a lioness, not so much for any personal qualities of his own, as on account of the bravery of the tribe which would spring from him, and of its many warlike exploits, which the prophetic spirit enables hirp. to foresee. After distinctly conferring on him the birthright by the words— “Thy father’s sons shall bow down before thee”—he raises him to kingly dignity by means of the declaration—“A sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come.” Various explanations have been given of the word “Shiloh,” into which it is not necessary to enter. The prophecy is certainly Messianic, and was acknowledged to be such by all Jewish, as well as all Christian, antiquity. Shiloh is to be regarded as one of the many names of the Messiah ; and the special promise to Judah is a promise of independence and sovereignty (in some sense of the term) until Messiah should make his appearance. This part of the prophecy may be considered as fulfilled by the continuance of Judaea as an independent kingdom until Rome established her dominion over it by the appointment, in A.D. 8, of Coponius, the first Procurator. The concluding verses are obscure, since it is uncertain whether they refer to “ Shiloh ” or to “Judah.” In the latter case they may be expounded of the great productiveness of Judaea, especially in the vine, while in the former they must be interpreted spiritually.
Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea,
And he shall be a haven fr ships ;
And his border shall he toward Zidon
The personal character of Zebulun, Leah’s youngest son, was negative : he had distinguished himself by no act worthy of mention, either good or bad. Jacob therefore neither praises him, nor blames him, awards him neither curse, nor special blessing. He deems it enough to indicate, and that vaguely, what should be his geographical position.
“ Issachar is a strong ass, Couching down between the sheep-folds:
And he saw a resting-place that was good,
And the land that it was pleasant ;
And he bowed his shoulders to bear.
And became a servant unto tribute ’’
Issachar, Leah’s fifth son, was personally as undistinguished as Zebulun. The tribe, however, attained to some distinction, since it furnished one judge to the entire nation, viz., Tola, and two kings to the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, viz., Baasha and Elah. It was located by Joshua in the rich plain of Esdraelon, and was “an indolent agricultural people,” very ready to submit itself to oppressors. Hence the image of the “ strong he-ass, crouching down between the sheep-folds” (or “the hedges”) in “a resting-place that was good, and a land that was pleasant,” is very suitable.
“ Dan shall judge his people,
As one of the tribes of Israel:
Dan shall be a serpent in tbe way,
An adder in the path,
That biteth the horse’s heels,
So that his rider felleth backward.
I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord ”
Dan, the eldest-born of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid was by his name “a judge” ; and perhaps no more was here meant by Jacob, than that, despite his comparatively humble origin, he should be counted as head of a tribe, and, so far, be on a par with his brethren. Or perhaps he foresees the “judgeship ”of Samson. Dan alone among the tribes of Israel was located at two extremities of the Holy Land —the extreme north-east, and the extreme south-west. In both places he was “a serpent in the way, an adder in the path” of a foe, too unimportant to be the object of attack, but, when passed by, ready to spring on the enemy’s rear, and so do good service to the nation. “I have waited for thy salvation, O Jehovah! was perhaps his war-cry.
Gad, a troop shall troop upon him,
But he shall troop upon their heels
Gad was, by his name, a troop,” since Leah had thought that he presaged the coming of a troop of children. Jacob harps upon the name, and prophesies, that many a troop shall come against the Gadites in hostile fashion—Ammonites, Moabites, and Arabs from the Syrian desert—making raids into the country, but after a time retreating, while the Gadites shall hang upon their rear as they retire.
Out of Asher his bread shall be fat,
And be shall yield royal dainties
The location of Asher was on the rich coast plain, from the foot of Carmel to the neighbourhood of Zidon (. It was a most fertile territory, producing corn, wine, and oil-all of them royal dainties ”—in profuse abundance.
Naphtali is a hind let loose:
He giveth goodly words
According to Jewish tradition, Naphtali, the younger son of Bilhah, was a swift runner, and the first to bring to Jacob the tidings that Joseph still lived. As on this occasion he gave goodly words,” so, in the Christian dispensation, it was from Naphtali that the messengers went forth who carried the glad tidings of the gospel throughout all known lands.
“Joseph is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough beside a fountain—
His branches overrun the wall.
Sorely have the archers grieved him,
Shot at him, and hated him:
But his bow abode in strength,
And the arms of his hands were made strong
By the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee,
And by the Almighty, who shall bless thee.
With blessings of the heaven above,
Blessings of the deep which lies beneath,
Blessings of the breast, and of the womb.
The blessings of thy father have prevailed
Above the blessings of my own progenitors,
Unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills:
They shall be on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of him
That is prince among his brethren
For Joseph, the first-born of his best-beloved wife, Rachel, seventeen years from his birth his favourite child, and for seventeen years before his own death his support and stay, the aged patriarch has, naturally, nothing but blessing and praise. He is “a fruitful bough”—the progenitor of two tribes instead of one only, like the other sons—one of the two tribes being the great tribe of Ephraim, of all the tribes the most important, next to Judah. “His bow abides in strength.” Vainly do the archers grieve him, shoot at him, and hate (or persecute) him— his arms and hands are made strong by the hand of the Almighty against them : in the civil wars he holds his own against Judah; for centuries he withstands Syria. He is “prince among his brethren”—so much the foremost tribe that eventually his name becomes generic, supplanting that of Israel to a great extent. Blessings rest upon him—blessings of the heaven above, and blessings of the deep beneath, and blessings of the breasts and of the womb—blessings greater far than those earthly ones which Abraham had pronounced on Isaac, and Isaac on Jacob, blessings which would endure as long as the everlasting hills. If the crowning blessing of all—the birth of the Messiah from his stock—could not be Joseph’s, since Israel’s king must come of Israel’s royal tribe, which was Judah, yet from him should arise one of Messiah’s principal types, the only one that bore his name, Joshua—a true “ shepherd ” and a true “stone" or “rock” of support to the house of Israel, he who led them into Canaan, and gave them the “ rest,” which was typical of that eternal rest granted by Christ to them that are His, in heaven.
Benjamin is a wolf that ravineth:
In the morning he shall devour the prey,
And at night he shall divide the spoil
The warlike character of the tribe of Benjamin was to differentiate it from all the others. This warlike character appears most markedly in the great Benjamite contest, when the single tribe, though numbering no more than 27,300 men, resisted in arms the whole of the rest of Israel—a force eighteen times as numerous—and gained two great victories before being defeated and almost destroyed. It is also seen in the bravery of the great captains, Ehud, Saul, and Jonathan; and again, to some extent, in the reckless daring of Rechab and Baanah, who murdered Ishbosheth. The Benjamites added to their bravery a skill in arms beyond what was common : they were dexterous archers, and “ could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones, and shooting arrows out of a bow”.
When Jacob had finished this long address to his sons, which must have greatly exhausted him, and which the prophetic afflatus alone could have enabled him to carry through, he spoke to them upon another point. “He charged them,” we are told, “and said unto them, I am to be gathered to my people : bury me with my fathers in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying-place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife ; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth” . It was the same thought, and earnest wish, which he had previously expressed to Joseph alone, and which he had bound Joseph to carry out by an oath. He must rest with his fathers, in the land which was his and his people’s by promise, in Abraham’s purchased possession, where he could regard himself as under the protection of the God of Abraham, not in alien soil, in a land where foreign kings reigned and foreign gods were worshipped, and his own people were but sojourners. And so strong is his feeling upon this point, that he will not trust it altogether to Joseph, not even to his oath, but must lay it as a “charge” on all his sons, “commanding” them to see his wishes carried out. It is only after this command is given, that he can compose himself to die, “gathering up his feet into the bed,” and calmly “yielding up the ghost.”
Then “Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him”. Joseph also took the entire direction of the funeral. First of all he delivered the body of his father to his own private physicians for embalmment. The custom of embalming was very ancient in Egypt, certainly long anterior to Jacob, and even to Abraham. In the later times of the Egyptian monarchy it was the work of a special class of persons, not physicians, who made it their trade, and gradually brought the art to a high perfection. But, in Joseph’s time, it is not at all improbable that physicians were called in, at any rate in the case of great personages, to direct and superintend the operation. The father of Joseph would be a great personage. We are told that “forty days were fulfilled for him ; for so are fulfilled the days of those who are embalmed”. In the time of Herodotus (B.C. 450) the period was at least seventy days, while in the time of Diodorus (A.D. 30) it was no more than thirty. It is natural to suppose that the period would vary from age to age, as the skill of the embalmers, or the fashion of the time, varied.
The mourning, which probably began before and continued after the embalming, occupied a space of ten weeks or seventy days. The Egyptians took full part in it. After it was over, Joseph requested permission of the Pharaoh, who was still probably Apepi, to take his father’s body, and carry it to Canaan, and bury it in the place where Jacob had wished it to be buried, and where his own oath bound him to deposit it at Hebron in the cave of Machpelah. The Pharaoh consented—“Go up,” he said, “and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear”. Then a grand procession was formed. Not the family of Jacob only, or his retainers, but all the principal Egyptians—“all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt” joined in doing honour to the aged father of their king’s principal minister, and “went up” together with Joseph. It was a magnificent cortege. The leading courtiers, the great grandees of Egypt, all the highest officials, many of them nearly related to the Pharaoh, many priests probably from Heliopolis and elsewhere, attached themselves to the company which Joseph was conducting, and swelled its numbers, mostly mounted in their chariots, drawn by two prancing steeds, held well in hand by the charioteer. The line of route followed is uncertain. If we were bound to accept the view of Jerome, who identifies “the threshing-floor of Atad,” with Beth-hoglah between the Jordan and Jericho, we should have to suppose that a most circuitous road was taken, one which passed to the east of the Dead Sea, crossed the Jordan near its mouth, and thence struck south-westward to Hebron. But for so circuitous a route, which would greatly increase the distance, no reason can be given, while it is quite certain that it would have been wholly impracticable to the Egyptian chariots. We must suppose then that Jerome was mistaken, and that Gosen-Atad lay, where Mr. Harper would place it, on one of the outlying Judsean hills in the vicinity of Beersheba, at a point beyond which the Egyptian chariots could not proceed further northward. In this case, “the way of Shur” was probably that along which the cortege proceeded, and the stoppage at Gosen-Atad was necessitated by the physical conditions, which forbade the Egyptians to proceed further. Joseph, perceiving that here must be the last conjoint mourning of his dead father by the two nations that honoured him, made a halt of seven days at the place, for the completion of the ceremonies. In this exhibition of grief the Egyptians took the principal part, and made themselves so conspicuous, that they especially impressed the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, who, on account of their “ grievous mourning,” gave a new name to the spot, calling it Abel-Mizraim, “the mourning of Egypt”.
The last rites had still to be performed. Leaving the Egyptians at Gosen-Atad, Joseph and his brethren bore their father’s body the rest of the distance that had to be accomplished, and, having reached Hebron, buried it in the ancestral tomb, “in the cave of the field of Machpelah” , where it probably still rests. According to the tradition of the place, Jacob lies side by side with his first wife Leah, in the more northern portion of the double cavern. Above, on the paved platform, are two shrines or chapels, closed with iron gratings, and having vaulted roofs, within which are to be seen the monuments or cenotaphs erected in honour of the dead who repose beneath. Like those of the other patriarchs and their wives, they are of very plain construction and of no great antiquity. The actual tombs in the sepulchral chamber below are practically unexplored, not having been shown to any European visitor. It is quite possible that the embalmed corpse of Jacob is still in its old resting-place.
The character of Jacob was one of that mixed kind which it is peculiarly difficult to estimate. It was a character, as Dean Stanley says, “not all black nor all white, but chequered with the mixed colours which make up so vast a proportion of the double phases of the leaders of the Church and world in all ages”; and which through their very weakness and imperfection are all the more attractive and interesting. Jacob is introduced to us first as “a plain man,” or “a quiet man” , one who made no display, who seemed to have no ambition, who was content to remain with the tents and occupy himself with household tasks—a “home-keeping youth,” who might therefore be supposed to have only a “ homely wit.” He did not seek adventures : the life of the hunter had no attraction for him ; until driven to it, he never wandered into foreign lands ; indeed he scarcely strayed from the domestic hearth. But underneath the mask of calmness and indifference a depth of strong desire and firm resolution was lurking. Jacob was “steady, persevering, moving onward through the years with settled deliberate purpose.” The birth right was always before him. He had a capacity for religious faith and fervour. “He could understand, as Esau never could, the meaning of the birth right, with all its spiritual glow and glory.” He could understand it, and appreciate it, and earnestly, intensely, desire it. There was a deep strain of devout religiousness in his nature. Now it broke out in “angel-haunted dreams”; now it showed itself in profoundly reverent ejaculation—“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not 1 How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Presently, it made itself apparent in the sincerest humility and self-abasement—“O God of my father Abraham, ... I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shewed unto Thy servant.” But it was a religiousness which did not for long years penetrate the whole nature. Jacob during his earlier life was self-seeking, narrow, “ a typical Jew,” bent on advancing his own interest, and unscrupulous as to the means which he employed for the purpose. He entrapped and over-reached his brother, tricked, deceived, and lied to his father, astutely met his uncle Laban with his own weapons, dissembled even when he did not plan to deceive, was full of suspicion and distrust, ever calculating and contriving, inclined to regard discretion as the better half of valour, and when danger approached, to avoid it by flight. But these defects and weaknesses were mostly conquered in course of time. From the day that he was given the name of Israel, or “Prince with God” , he laid aside deceit, subterfuge, falsehood. He might be reticent, but he avoided untruth. He is taxable, during this period, with no distinct sins, except sins of omission. We can scarcely lay it as a charge against him that he specially loved and favoured Joseph. He was a man of a strongly affectionate nature ; but his affections were not widely diffused; rather they were concentrated on a few persons. In his younger days, his mother seems to have drawn to her all the tenderness of which he was capable, to the exclusion of his father and brother. In his middle life, Rachel, the only wife whom he ever desired, and who was not thrust upon him, possessed all his heart, and the permanence and intensity of this affection are most strongly marked in the narrative. “Jacob loved Rachel”. He ‘‘served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love that he bore to her”. He “loved Rachel more than Leah”. In his meeting with Esau, when he misdoubted what reception he might have, it was Rachel especially whom he endeavoured to protect and shield. When Rachel died, all the light went out from his life. Nothing seemed to remain to him but to transfer his love from the mother to the children. Hence the favouritism displayed towards Joseph, and, at a later date, towards Benjamin. Rachel’s two sons were more to him than all his other ten. The thought of Rachel and her burial-place remained with him to the last. In his old age it was Joseph especially to whom his love was given. He had received him back from the dead, as it were, in a figure. With what effusion did he “fall upon his neck” in Goshen, and “weep on his neck a good while!” With what deep joy and perfect content did he exclaim—“Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive”. With what satisfaction did he bestow on this dearest of his children “one portion above his brethren”. In Joseph’s absence, Benjamin had been the cherished one ; but, when Joseph is restored to him, the greater eclipses the lesser love.
In Jacob, “patience has her perfect work.” “By toil and struggle,” by holy meditation and self-chastening thoughts, “Jacob, the Supplanter, is gradually transformed into Israel, the Prince of God; the harsher and baser feelings are softened and purified away : he looks back over his long career with the fulness of 'experience and humility.” At each stage of his existence he rises to a higher level. Tenderer and truer at Haran than at Beersheba, at Hebron than at Haran, in Egypt than at Hebron, there is reserved for the last scene of his life a new and special glory. On the dying saint descends the gift of poetic and prophetic utterance. His last address to his sons is an idyllic poem. How true to nature are the numerous images—the lion’s whelp couched down and ready to leap on the prey—the ass and foal browsing on the tender shoots of the vine—the adder in the path springing at the horse as he speeds by—the wolf that ravins at night prowling about with stealthy tread—the hind let loose running at speed over the plain—and again, the vineyards with their ruddy grapes that stain the garments of the vinedresser—the vines with their luxuriant growth, overrunning the walls—the sea-coast with its havens of ships—the bubbling fountain—the everlasting hills—a poet’s eye had noticed all the various forms of natural beauty that came within its view, and a poet’s tongue describes them in terse graphic phrase. And the poet’s descriptive power is heightened and sublimated by the prophet’s fire. The lesser tribes are touched off, each with its characteristic mark. In the blessings pronounced on Judah and Joseph the prophetic vigour reaches its full height. To Joseph are assigned the greatest of all temporal blessings—fruitfulness, triumph over enemies, warlike strength—blessings of the heaven above, and blessings of the deep beneath, and blessings of the breast and of the womb, such as made Ephraim so great in the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, while the blessing of Judah culminates in the announcement of the “ Shiloh ” who is to come—the Rest-giver—the Prince of Peace, to whom the obedience of the peoples—i.e- of all the nations of the earth—shall be.