BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME II
JEWISH HEROES AND PROPHETS.
BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,
AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE," ETC., ETC.
Abraham the spiritual father of nations General forgetfulness of God when Abraham arose Civilization in his age Ancestors of Abram His settlement in Haran His moral courage The call of Abram His migrations The Canaanites Abram in Egypt Separation between Abram and Lot Melchizedek Abram covenants with God The mission of the Hebrews The faith of Abram Its peculiarities Trials of faith God's covenant with Abram The sacrifice of Isaac Paternal rights among Oriental nations Universality of sacrifice Had Abram a right to sacrifice Isaac? Supreme test of his faith His obedience to God His righteousness Supremacy of religious faith Abraham's defects The most favored of mortals The boons he bestowed
ISRAEL IN EGYPT.
Early days of Joseph Envy of his brethren Sale of Joseph Its providential results Fortunes of Joseph in Egypt The imprisonment of Joseph Favor with the king Joseph prime minister The Shepherd kings The service of Joseph to the king Famine in Egypt Power of Pharaoh Power of the priests Character of the priests Knowledge of the priests Teachings of the priests Egyptian gods Antiquity of sacrifices Civilization of Egypt Initiation of Joseph in Egyptian knowledge Austerity to his brethren Grief of Jacob Severity of the famine in Canaan Jacob allows the departure of Benjamin Joseph's partiality to Benjamin His continued austerity to his brethren Joseph at length reveals himself The kindness of Pharaoh Israel in Egypt Prosperity of the Israelites Old age of Jacob His blessing to Joseph's sons Jacob's predictions Death of Jacob Death of Joseph Character of Joseph Condition of the Israelites in Egypt Rameses the Great Acquisitions of the Israelites in Egypt Influence of Egyptian civilization on the Israelites
Exalted mission of Moses His appearance at a great crisis His early advantages and education His premature ambition His retirement to the wilderness Description of the land of Midian Studies and meditations of Moses The Book of Genesis Call of Moses and return to Egypt Appearance before Pharaoh Miraculous deliverance of the Israelites Their sojourn in the wilderness The labors of Moses His Moral Code Universality of the obligations General acceptance of the Ten Commandments The foundation of the ritualistic laws Utility of ritualism in certain states of society Immortality seemingly ignored The possible reason of Moses Its relation to the religion of Egypt The Civil Code of Moses Reasons for the isolation of the Israelites The wisdom of the Civil Code Source of the wisdom of Moses The divine legation of Moses Logical consequences of its denial General character of Moses His last days His influence
ISRAEL UNDER JUDGES.
Condition of the Israelites on the death of Joshua The Judges Birth and youth of Samuel The Jewish Theocracy Eli and his sons Samuel called to be judge His efforts to rekindle religious life The school of the prophets The people want a king Views of Samuel as to a change of government He tells the people the consequences Persistency of the Israelites Condition of the nation Saul privately anointed king Clothed with regal power Mistakes and wars of Saul Spares Agag Rebuked by Samuel Samuel withdraws into retirement Seeks a successor to Saul Jehovah indicates the selection of David Saul becomes proud and jealous His wars with the Philistines Great victory at Michmash Death of Samuel Universal mourning His character as Prophet His moral greatness His transcendent influence
David as an historical study Early days of David His accomplishments His connection with Saul His love for Jonathan Death of Saul David becomes king Death of Abner David generally recognized as king Makes Jerusalem his capital Alliance with Hiram Transfer of the Sacred Ark Folly of David's Wife Organization of the kingdom Joab Commander-in-chief of the army The court of David His polygamy War with Moab War with the Ammonites Conquest of the Edomites Bathsheba David's shame and repentance Edward Irving on David's fall Its causes Census of the people Why this was a folly Wickedness of David's children Amnon Alienation of David's subjects The famine in Judah Revolt of Sheba Adonijah seeks to steal the sceptre Troubles and trials of David Preparation for building the Temple David's wealth His premature old age Absalom's rebellion and death David's final labors His character as a man and a monarch Why he was a man after God's own heart David's services His Psalms Their mighty influence
GLORY OF THE MONARCHY.
Early years of Solomon His first acts as monarch The prosperity of his kingdom Glory of Solomon His mistakes His marriage with an Egyptian princess His harem Building of the Temple Its magnificence The treasures accumulated in it Its dedication The sacrifices in its honor Extraordinary celebration of the Festivals The royal palace in Jerusalem The royal palace on Mount Lebanon Excessive taxation of the people Forced labor Change of habits and pursuits Solomon's effeminacy and luxury His unpopularity His latter days of shame His death Character Influence of his reign His writings Their great value The Canticles The Proverbs Praises of wisdom and knowledge Ecclesiastes contrasted with Proverbs Cynicism of Ecclesiastes Hidden meaning of the book The writing of Solomon rich in moral wisdom His wisdom confirmed by experience Lessons to be learned by the career of Solomon
DIVISION OF THE KINGDOM.
Evil days fall on Israel Division of the kingdom under Rehoboam Jeroboam of Israel sets up golden calves Other innovations Egypt attacks Jerusalem City saved only by immense contribution Interest centres in the northern kingdom Ruled by bad kings Given to idolatry under Ahab Influence of Jezebel The priests of Baal The apostasy of Israel The prophet Elijah His extraordinary appearance Appears before Ahab Announces calamities Flight of Elijah The drought The woman of Zarephath Shields and feeds Elijah He restores her son to life Miseries of the drought Elijah confronts Ahab Assembly of the people at Mount Carmel Presentation of choice between Jehovah and Baal Elijah mocks the priests of Baal Triumphs, and slays them Elijah promises rain The tempest Ahab seeks Jezebel She threatens Elijah in her wrath Second flight of Elijah His weakness and fear The still small voice Selection of Elisha to be prophet He becomes the companion of Elijah Character and appearance of Elisha War between Ahab and Benhadad Naboth and his vineyard Chagrin and melancholy of Ahab Wickedness and cunning of Jezebel Murder of Naboth Dreadful rebuke of Elijah Despair of Ahab Athaliah and Jehoshaphat Death of Ahab Regency of Jezebel Ahaziah and Elijah Fall of Ramoth-Gilead Reaction to idolatry Jehu Death of Jezebel Death of Ahaziah The massacres and reforms of Jehu Extermination of idolatry Last days of Elijah His translation
Superiority of Judah to Israel A succession of virtuous princes Syrian wars The prophet Joel Outward prosperity of the kingdom of Judah Internal decay Assyrian conquests Tiglath-pilneser Fall of Damascus Fall of Samaria Demoralization of Jerusalem Birth of Isaiah His exalted character Invasion of Judah by the Assyrians Hezekiah submits to Sennacherib Rebels anew Renewed invasion of Judah Signal deliverance The warnings and preaching of Isaiah His terrible denunciations of sin Retribution the spirit of his preaching Holding out hope by repentance Absence of art in his writings National wickedness ending in calamities God's moral government Isaiah's predictions fulfilled Woes denounced on Judah Fall of Babylon foretold Predicted woes of Moab Woes denounced on Egypt Calamities of Tyre General predictions of woe on other nations End and purpose of chastisements Isaiah the Prophet of Hope The promised glories of the Chosen People Messianic promises Exultation of Isaiah His catholicity The promised reign of peace The future glories of the righteous Glad tidings declared to the whole world Messianic triumphs
FALL OF JERUSALEM.
Sadness and greatness of Jeremiah Second as a prophet only to Isaiah Jeremiah the Prophet of Despair Evil days in which he was born National misfortunes predicted Idolatry the crying sin of the times Discovery of the Book of Deuteronomy Renewed study of the Law The reforms of Josiah The greatness of Josiah Inability to stem prevailing wickedness Incompleteness of Josiah's reforms Necho II. extends his conquests Death of Josiah Lamentations on the death of Josiah Rapid decline of the kingdom The voice of Jeremiah drowned Invasion of Assyria by Necho Shallum succeeds Josiah Eliakim succeeds Shallum His follies Judah's relapse into idolatry Neglect of the Sabbath Jeremiah announces approaching calamity His voice unheeded His despondency Fall of Nineveh Defeat and retreat of Necho Greatness of Nebuchadnezzar Appears before Jerusalem Fall of Jerusalem, but destruction delayed Folly and infatuation of the people of Jerusalem Revolt of the city Zedekiah the king temporizes Expostulations of Jeremiah Nebuchadnezzar loses patience Second fall of Jerusalem The captivity Weeping by the river of Babylon
RESTORATION OF THE JEWISH COMMONWEALTH.
Eventful career of Judas Maccabaeus Condition of the Jews after their return from Babylon Condition of Jerusalem Fanatical hatred of idolatry Severe morality of the Jews after the captivity The Pharisees The Sadducees Synagogues, their number and popularity The Jewish Sanhedrim Advance in sacred literature Apocryphal Books Isolation of the Jews Dark age of Jewish history Power of the high priests The Persian Empire Judaea a province of the Persian Empire Jews at Alexandria Judaea the battle-ground of Egyptians and Syrians The Syrian kings Antiochus Epiphanes His persecution of the Jews Helplessness of the Jews Sack of Jerusalem Desecration of the Temple Mattathias His piety and bravery Revolt of Mattathias Slaughter of the Jews Death of Mattathias His gallant sons Judas Maccabaeus His military genius The Syrian generals Wrath of Antiochus Desolation of Jerusalem Judas defeats the Syrian general Judas cleanses and dedicates the Temple Fortifies Jerusalem The Feast of Dedication Renewed hostilities Successes of Judas Death of Antiochus Deliverance of the Jews Rivalry between Lysias and Philip Death of Eleazer Bacchides Embassy to Rome Death of Judas Maccabaeus Judas succeeded by his brother Jonathan Heroism of Jonathan His death by treachery Jonathan succeeded by his brother Simon Simon's military successes His prosperous administration Succeeded by John Hyrcanus The great talents and success of John Hyrcanus The Asmonean princes Pompey takes Jerusalem Accession of Herod the Great He destroys the Asmonean princes His prosperous reign Foundation of Caesarea Latter days of Herod Loathsome death of Herod Birth of Jesus, the Christ
THE SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY.
Birth and early days of Saul His Phariseeism His persecution of the Christians His wonderful conversion His leading idea Saul a preacher at Damascus Saul's visit to Jerusalem Saul in Tarsus Saul and Barnabas at Antioch Description of Antioch Contribution of the churches for Jerusalem Saul and Barnabas at Jerusalem Labors and discouragements Saul and Barnabas at Cyprus Saul smites Elymas the sorcerer Missionary travels of Paul Paul converts Timothy Paul at Lystra and Derbe Return of Paul to Antioch Controversy about circumcision Bigotry of the Jewish converts Paul again visits Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas quarrel Paul chooses Silas for a companion Paul and Silas visit the infant churches Tact of Paul Paul and Luke The missionaries at Philippi Paul and Silas at Thessalonica Paul at Athens Character of the Athenians The success of Paul at Athens Paul goes to Corinth Paul led before Gallio Mistake of Gallio Paul's Epistle to the Thessalonians Paul at Ephesus The Temple of Diana Excessive labors of Paul at Ephesus Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians Popularity of Apollos Second Epistle to the Corinthians Paul again at Corinth Epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans The Pauline theology Paul's last visit to Jerusalem His cold reception His arrest and imprisonment The trial of Paul before Felix Character of Felix Paul kept a prisoner by Felix Paul's defence before Festus Paul appeals to Caesar Paul preaches before Agrippa His voyage to Italy Paul's life at Rome Character of Paul His magnificent services His triumphant death
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Wailing Wall of the Jews After the painting by J.L. Gerome.
Abraham and Hagar After the painting by Adrian van der Werff.
Joseph Sold by His Brethren. After the painting by H.F. Schopin.
Erection of Public Building in the Time of Rameses After the painting by Sir Edward J. Poynter.
Pharaoh Pursues the Israelites Across the Red Sea After the painting by F.A. Bridgman.
Moses From the statue by Michael Angelo, Rome.
David Kills Goliath After the painting by W.L. Dodge.
David From the statue by Michael Angelo, Florence.
Elijah's Sacrifice Consumed by Fire from Heaven After the painting by C.G. Pfannschmidt.
Isaiah From the fresco in the Sistine Chapel, by Michael Angelo.
A Sacrifice to Baal After the painting by Henri Motte.
The Jews Led Into Babylonian Captivity After the painting by E. Bendeman.
St. Paul Preaching at the Foot of the Acropolis After the painting by Gebhart Fuegel.
From a religious point of view, Abraham appears to us, after the lapse of nearly four thousand years, as the most august character in history. He may not have had the genius and learning of Moses, nor his executive ability; but as a religious thinker, inspired to restore faith in the world and the worship of the One God, it would be difficult to find a man more favored or more successful. He is the spiritual father equally of Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans, in their warfare with idolatry. In this sense, he is the spiritual progenitor of all those nations, tribes, and peoples who now acknowledge, or who may hereafter acknowledge, a personal God, supreme and eternal in the universe which He created. Abraham is the religious father of all those who associate with this personal and supreme Deity a providential oversight of this world,—a being whom all are required to worship, and alone to worship, as the only true God whose right it is to reign, and who does reign, and will reign forever and ever over everything that exists, animate or inanimate, visible or invisible, known or unknown, in the mighty universe of whose glory and grandeur we have such overwhelming yet indefinite conceptions.
When Abraham appeared, whether four thousand or five thousand years ago, for chronologists differ in their calculations, it would seem that the nations then existing had forgotten or ignored this great cardinal and fundamental truth, and were more or less given to idolatry, worshipping the heavenly bodies, or the forces of Nature, or animals, or heroes, or graven images, or their own ancestors. There were but few and feeble remains of the primitive revelation,—that is, the faith cherished by the patriarchs before the flood, and which it would be natural to suppose Noah himself had taught to his children.
There was even then, however, a remarkable material civilization, especially in Egypt, Palestine, and Babylon; for some of the pyramids had been built, the use of the metals, of weights and measures, and of textile fabrics was known. There were also cities and fortresses, cornfields and vineyards, agricultural implements and weapons of war, commerce and arts, musical instruments, golden vessels, ornaments for the person, purple dyes, spices, hand-made pottery, stone-engravings, sundials, and glass-work, and even the use of letters, or something similar, possibly transmitted from the antediluvian civilization. Even the art of printing was almost discovered, as we may infer from the stamping of letters on tiles. With all this material progress, however, there had been a steady decline in spiritual religion as well as in morals,—from which fact we infer that men if left to themselves, whatever truth they may receive from ancestors, will, without supernatural influences, constantly decline in those virtues on which the strength of man is built, and without which the proudest triumphs of the intellect avail nothing. The grandest civilization, in its material aspects, may coexist with the utmost debasement of morals,—as seen among the Greeks and Romans, and in the wicked capitals of modern Europe. "There is no God!" or "Let there be no God!" has been the cry in all ages of the world, whenever and wherever an impious pride or a low morality has defied or silenced conscience. Tell me, ye rationalists and agnostics! with your pagan sympathies, what mean ye by laws of development, and by the necessary progress of the human race, except in the triumphs of that kind of knowledge which is entirely disconnected with virtue, and which has proved powerless to prevent the decline and fall of nations? Why did not art, science, philosophy, and literature save the most lauded nations of the ancient world? Why so rapid a degeneracy among people favored not only with a primitive revelation, but by splendid triumphs of reason and knowledge? Why did gross superstition so speedily obscure the intellect, and infamous vices so soon undermine the moral health, if man can elevate himself by his unaided strength? Why did error seemingly prove as vital as truth in all the varied forms of civilization in the ancient world? Why did even tradition fail to keep alive the knowledge of God, at least among the people?
Now, among pagans and idolaters Abram (as he was originally called) lived until he was seventy-five. His father, Terah, was a descendant of Shem, of the eleventh generation, and the original seat of his tribe was among the mountains of Southern Armenia, north of Assyria. From thence Terah migrated to the plains of Mesopotamia, probably with the desire to share the rich pastures of the lowlands, and settled in Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur was one of the most ancient of the Chaldean cities and one of the most splendid, where arts and sciences were cultivated, where astronomers watched the heavens, poets composed hymns, and scribes stamped on clay tablets books which, according to Geikie, have in part come down to our own times. It was in this pagan city that Abram was born, and lived until the "call." His father was a worshipper of the tutelary gods of his tribe, of which he was the head; but his idolatry was not so degrading as that of the Chaldeans, who belonged to a different race from his own, being the descendants of Ham, among whom the arts and sciences had made considerable progress,—as was natural, since what we call civilization arose, it is generally supposed, in the powerful monarchies founded by Assyrian and Egyptian warriors, although it is claimed that both China and India were also great empires at this period. With the growth of cities and the power of kings idolatry increased, and the knowledge of the true God declined. From such influences it was necessary that Abram should be removed if he was to found a nation with a monotheistic belief. So, in obedience to a call from God, he left the city of his birthplace, and went toward the land of Canaan and settled in Haran, where he remained until the death of his father, who it seems had accompanied him in his wanderings, but was probably too infirm to continue the fatiguing journey. Abram, now the head of his tribe and doubtless a powerful chieftain, received another call, and with it the promise that he should be the founder of a great nation, and that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed.
What was that call, coupled with such a magnificent and cheering promise? It was the voice of God commanding Abram to leave country and kindred and go to a country utterly unknown to him, not even indicated to him, but which in due time should be revealed to him. He is not called to repudiate idolatry, but by divine command to go to an unknown country. He must have been already a believer in the One Supreme God, or he would not have felt the command to be imperative. Unless his belief had been monotheistic, we must attribute to him a marvellous genius and striking originality of mind, together with an independence of character still more remarkable; for it requires not only original genius to soar beyond popular superstitions, but also great force of will and lofty intrepidity to break away from them,—as when Buddha renounced Brahmanism, or Socrates ridiculed the Sophists of Attica. Nothing requires more moral courage than the renunciation of a popular and generally received religious belief. It was a hard struggle for Luther to give up the ideas of the Middle Ages in reference to self-expiation. It is exceedingly rare for any one to be emancipated from the tyranny of prevailing dogmas.
So, if Abram was not divinely instructed in a way that implies supernatural illumination, he must have been the most remarkable sage of all antiquity to found a religion never abrogated by succeeding revelations, which has lasted from his time to ours, and is to-day embraced by so large a part of the human race, including Christians, Mohammedans, and Jews. Abram must have been more gifted than the whole school of Ionian philosophers united, from Thales downward, since after three hundred years of speculation and lofty inquiries they only arrived at the truth that the being who controls the universe must be intelligent. Even Socrates, Plato, and Cicero—the most gifted men of classical antiquity—had very indefinite notions of the unity and personality of God, while Abram distinctly recognized this great truth even amid universal idolatry and a degrading polytheism.
Yet the Bible recognizes in Abram moral rather than intellectual greatness. He was distinguished for his faith, and a faith so exalted and pure that it was accounted unto him for righteousness. His faith in God was so profound that it was followed by unhesitating obedience to God's commands. He was ready to go wherever he was sent, instantly, without conditions or remonstrance.
In obedience to the divine voice then, Abram, after the death of his father Terah, passed through the land of Canaan unto Sichem, or Shechem, afterward a city of Samaria. He then went still farther south, and pitched his tent on a mountain having Bethel on the west and Hai on the east, and there he built an altar unto the Lord. After this it would appear that he proceeded still farther to the south, probably near the northern part of Idumaea.
Wherever Abram journeyed he found the Canaanites—descendants of Ham—petty tribes or nations, governed by kings no more powerful than himself. They are supposed in their invasions to have conquered the aboriginal inhabitants, whose remote origin is veiled in impenetrable obscurity, but who retained some principles of the primitive religion. It is even possible that Melchizedek, the unconquered King of Salem, who blessed Abram, belonged to those original people who were of Semitic origin. Nevertheless the Canaanites, or Hametic tribes, were at this time the dominant inhabitants.
Of these tribes or nations the Sidonians, or Phoenicians, were the most powerful. Next to them, according to Ewald, "were three nations living toward the South,—the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites; then two in the most northerly country conquered by Israel,—the Girgashites and the Hivites; then four in Phoenicia; and lastly, the most northern of all, the well known kingdom of Hamath on the Orontes." The Jebusites occupied the country around Jerusalem; the Amorites also dwelt in the mountainous regions, and were warlike and savage, like the ancient Highlanders of Scotland. They entrenched themselves in strong castles. The Hittites, or children of Heth, were on the contrary peaceful, having no fortified cities, but dwelling in the valleys, and living in well-ordered communities. The Hivites dwelt in the middle of the country, and were also peaceful, having reached a considerable civilization, and being in the possession of the most flourishing inland cities. The Philistines entered the land at a period subsequent to the other Canaanites, probably after Abram, coming it is supposed from Crete.
It would appear that Abram was not molested by these various petty Canaanitish nations, that he was hospitably received by them, that he had pleasant relations with them, and even entered into their battles as an ally or protector. Nor did Abram seek to conquer territory. Powerful as he was, he was still a pilgrim and a wanderer, journeying with his servants and flocks wherever the Lord called him; and hence he excited no jealousy and provoked no hostilities. He had not long been settled quietly with his flocks and herds before a famine arose in the land, and he was forced to seek subsistence in Egypt, then governed by the shepherd kings called Hyksos, who had driven the proud native monarch reigning at Memphis to the southern part of the kingdom, in the vicinity of Thebes. Abram was well received at the court of the Pharaohs, until he was detected in a falsehood in regard to his wife, whom he passed as his sister. He was then sent away with all that he had, together with his nephew Lot.
Returning to the land of Canaan, Abram came to the place where he had before pitched his tent, between Bethel and Hai, unto the altar which he had some time before erected, and called upon the name of the Lord. But the land was not rich enough to support the flocks and herds of both Abram and Lot, and there arose a strife between their respective herdsmen; so the patriarch and his nephew separated, Lot choosing for his residence the fertile plain of the Jordan, and Abram remaining in the land of Canaan. It was while sojourning at Bethel that the Lord appeared again unto Abram, and promised to him the whole land as a future possession of his posterity. After that he removed his tent to the plain of Mamre, near or in Hebron, and again erected an altar to his God.
Here Abram remained in true patriarchal dignity without further migrations, abounding in wealth and power, and able to rescue his nephew Lot from the hands of Chedorlaomer the King of Elam, and from the other Oriental monarchs who joined his forces, pursuing them even to Damascus. For this signal act of heroism Abram was blessed by Melchizedek, in the name of their common lord the most high God. Who was this Prince of Salem? Was he an earthly potentate ruling an unconquered city of the aboriginal inhabitants; or was he a mysterious personage, without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning nor end of days, nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, an incarnation of the Deity, to repeat the blessing which the patriarch had already received?
The history of Abram until his supreme trial seems principally to have been repeated covenants with God, and the promises held out of the future greatness of his descendants. The greatness of the Israelitish nation, however, was not to be in political ascendancy, nor in great attainments in the arts and sciences, nor in cities and fortresses and chariots and horses, nor in that outward splendor which would attract the gaze of the world, and thus provoke conquests and political combinations and grand alliances and colonial settlements, by which the capital on Zion's hill would become another Rome, or Tyre, or Carthage, or Athens, or Alexandria,—but quite another kind of greatness. It was to be moral and spiritual rather than material or intellectual, the centre of a new religious life, from which theistic doctrines were to go forth and spread for the healing of the nations,—all to culminate, when the proper time should come, in the mission of Jesus Christ, and in his teachings as narrated and propagated by his disciples.
This was the grand destiny of the Hebrew race; and for the fulfilment of this end they were located in a favored country, separated from other nations by mountains, deserts, and seas, and yet capable by cultivation of sustaining a great population, while they were governed by a polity tending to keep them a distinct, isolated, and peculiar people. To the descendants of Ham and Japhet were given cities, political power, material civilization; but in the tents of Shem religion was to dwell. "From first to last," says Geikie, "the intellect of the Hebrew dwelt supremely on the matters of his faith. The triumphs of the pencil or the chisel he left with contemptuous indifference to Egypt, or Assyria, or Greece. Nor had the Jew any such interest in religious philosophy as has marked other people. The Aryan nations, both East and West, might throw themselves with ardor into those high questions of metaphysics, but he contented himself with the utterances of revelation. The world may have inherited no advances in political science from the Hebrew, no great epic, no school of architecture, no high lessons in philosophy, no wide extension of human thought or knowledge in any secular direction; but he has given it his religion. To other races we owe the splendid inheritance of modern civilization and secular culture, but the religious education of mankind has been the gift of the Jew alone."
For this end Abram was called to the land of Canaan. From this point of view alone we see the blessing and the promise which were given to him. In this light chiefly he became a great benefactor. He gave a religion to the world; at least he established its fundamental principle,—the worship of the only true God. "If we were asked," says Max Mueller, "how it was that Abraham possessed not only the primitive conception of the Divinity, as he has revealed himself to all mankind, but passed, through the denial of all other gods, to the knowledge of the One God, we are content to answer that it was by a special divine revelation." 
[Footnote 1: Chips from a German Workshop, vol. i. p. 372.]
If the greatness of the Jewish race was spiritual rather than temporal, so the real greatness of Abraham was in his faith. Faith is a sentiment or a principle not easily defined. But be it intuition, or induction, or deduction,—supported by reason, or without reason,—whatever it is, we know what it means.
The faith of Abraham, which Saint Paul so urgently commends, the same in substance as his own faith in Jesus Christ, stands out in history as so bright and perfect that it is represented as the foundation of religion itself, without which it is impossible to please God, and with which one is assured of divine favor, with its attendant blessings. If I were to analyze it, I should say that it is a perfect trust in God, allied with obedience to his commands.
With this sentiment as the supreme rule of life, Abraham is always prepared to go wherever the way is indicated. He has no doubts, no questionings, no scepticism. He simply adores the Lord Almighty, as the object of his supreme worship, and is ready to obey His commands, whether he can comprehend the reason of them or not. He needs no arguments to confirm his trust or stimulate his obedience. And this is faith,—an ultimate principle that no reasonings can shake or strengthen. This faith, so sublime and elevated, needs no confirmation, and is not made more intelligent by any definitions. If the Cogito, ergo sum, is an elemental and ultimate principle of philosophy, so the faith of Abraham is the fundamental basis of all religion, which is weakened rather than strengthened by attempts to define it. All definitions of an ultimate principle are vain, since everybody understands what is meant by it.
No truly immortal man, no great benefactor, can go through life without trials and temptations, either to test his faith or to establish his integrity. Even Jesus Christ himself was subjected for forty days to the snares of the Devil. Abram was no exception to this moral discipline. He had two great trials to pass through before he could earn the title of "father of the faithful,"—first, in reference to the promise that he should have legitimate children; and secondly, in reference to the sacrifice of Isaac.
As to the first, it seemed impossible that Abram should have issue through his wife Sarah, she being ninety years of age, and he ninety-nine or one hundred. The very idea of so strange a thing caused Sarah to laugh incredulously, and it is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis that Abram also fell on his face and laughed, saying in his heart, "Shall a son be born unto him that is one hundred years old?" Evidently he at first received the promise with some incredulity. He could leave Ur of the Chaldees by divine command,—this was an act of obedience; but he did not fully believe in what seemed to be against natural law, which would be a sort of faith without evidence, blind, against reason. He requires some sign from God. "Whereby," said he, "shall I know that I shall inherit it,"—that is Canaan,—"and that my seed shall be in number as the stars of heaven?" Then followed the renewal of the covenant; and, according to the frequent custom of the times, when covenants were made between individual men, Abram took a new name: "And God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name be any more Abram [Father of Elevation] but thy name shall be Abraham [Father of a Multitude], for a father of many nations have I made thee." We observe that the covenant was repeatedly renewed; in connection with which was the rite of circumcision, which Abraham and his posterity, and even his servants, were required scrupulously to observe, and which it would appear he unreluctantly did observe as an important condition of the covenant. Why this rite was so imperatively commanded we do not know, neither can we understand why it was so indissolubly connected with the covenant between God and Abraham. We only know that it was piously kept, not only by Abraham himself, but by his descendants from generation to generation, and became one of the distinctive marks and peculiarities of the Jewish nation,—the sign of the promise that in Abraham all the families of the earth should be blessed,—a promise fulfilled even in the patriarchal monotheism of Arabia, the distant tribes of which, under Mohammed, accepted the One Supreme God.
A still more serious test of the faith of Abraham was the sacrifice of Isaac, on whose life all his hopes naturally rested. We are told that God "tempted," or tested, the obedient faith of Abraham, by suggesting to him that it was his duty to sacrifice that only son as a burnt-offering, to prove how utterly he trusted the Lord's promise; for if Isaac were cut off, where was another legitimate heir to be found? Abraham was then one hundred and twenty years old, and his wife was one hundred and ten. Moreover, on principles of reason why should such a sacrifice be demanded? It was not only apparently against reason, but against nature, against every sacred instinct, against humanity, even an act of cruelty,—yea, more, a crime, since it was homicide, without any seeming necessity. Besides, everybody has a right to his own life, unless he has forfeited it by crime against society. Isaac was a gentle, harmless, interesting youth of twenty, and what right, by any human standard, had Abraham to take his life? It is true that by patriarchal customs and laws Isaac belonged to Abraham as much as if he were a slave or an animal. He had the Oriental right to do with his son as he pleased. The head of a family had not only absolute control over wife and children, but the power of life and death. And this absolute power was not exercised alone by Semitic races, but also by the Aryan in their original settlements, in Greece and Italy, as well as in Northern India. All the early institutions of society recognized this paternal right. Hence the moral sense of Abraham was not apparently shocked at the command of God, since his son was his absolute property. Even Isaac made no resistance, since he knew that Abraham had a right to his life.
Moreover, we should remember that sacrifices to all objects of worship formed the basis of all the religious rites of the ancient world, in all periods of its history. Human sacrifices were offered in India at the very period when Abraham was a wanderer in Palestine; and though human nature ultimately revolted from this cruelty, the sacrifice of substitute-animals continued from generation to generation as oblations to the gods, and is still continued by Brahminical priests. In China, in Egypt, in Assyria, in Greece, no religious rites were perfected without sacrifices. Even in the Mosaic ritual, sacrifices by the priests formed no inconsiderable part of worship. Not until the time of Isaiah was it said that God took no delight in burnt offerings,—that the real sacrifices which He requires are a broken and a contrite heart. Nor were the Jews finally emancipated from sacrificial rites until Christ himself made his own body an offering for the sins of the world, and in God's providence the Romans destroyed their temple and scattered their nation. In antiquity there was no objective worship of the Deity without sacrificial rites, and when these were omitted or despised there was atheism,—as in the case of Buddha, who taught morals rather than religion. Perhaps the oldest and most prevalent religious idea of antiquity was the necessity of propitiatory sacrifice,—generally of animals, though in remotest ages the offering of the fruits of the earth.
[Footnote 2: Dr. Trumbull has made a learned and ingenious argument in his "Blood Covenant" to show that sacrifices were not to propitiate the deity, but to bring about a closer Spiritual union between the soul and God; that the blood covenant was a covenant of friendship and love among all primitive peoples.]
The inquiry might here arise, whether in our times anything would justify a man in committing a homicide on an innocent person. Would he not be called a fanatic? If so, we may infer that morality—the proper conduct of men as regards one another in social relations—is better understood among us than it was among the patriarchs four thousand years ago; and hence, that as nations advance in civilization they have a more enlightened sense of duty, and practically a higher morality. Men in patriarchal times may have committed what we regard as crimes, while their ordinary lives were more virtuous than ours. And if so, should we not be lenient to immoralities and crimes committed in darker ages, if the ordinary current of men's lives was lofty and religious? On this principle we should be slow to denounce Christian people who formerly held slaves without remorse, when this sin did not shock the age in which they lived, and was not discrepant with prevailing ideas as to right and wrong. It is clear that in patriarchal times men had, according to universally accepted ideas, the power of life and death over their families, which it would be absurd and wicked to claim in our day, with our increased light as to moral distinctions. Hence, on the command of God to slay his son, Abraham had no scruples on the ground of morality; that is, he did not feel that it was wrong to take his son's life if God commanded him to do so, any more than it would be wrong, if required, to slay a slave or an animal, since both were alike his property. Had he entertained more enlightened views as to the sacredness of life, he might have felt differently. With his views, God's command did not clash with his conscience.
Still, the sacrifice of Isaac was a terrible shock to Abraham's paternal affection. The anguish of his soul was none the less, whether he had the right of life and death or not. He was required to part with the dearest thing he had on earth, in whom was bound up his earthly happiness. What had he to live for, but Isaac? He doubtless loved this child of his old age with exceeding tenderness, devotion, and intensity; and what was perhaps still more weighty, in that day of polygamous households, than mere paternal affection, with Isaac were identified all the hopes and promises which had been held out to Abraham by God himself of becoming the father of a mighty and favored race. His affection as a father was strained to its utmost tension, but yet more was his faith in being the progenitor of offspring that should inherit the land of Canaan. Nevertheless, at God's command he was willing to make the sacrifice, "accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead." Was there ever such a supreme act of obedience in the history of our race? Has there ever been from his time to ours such a transcendent manifestation of faith? By reason Abraham saw the foundation of his hopes utterly swept away; and yet his faith towers above reason, and he feels that the divine promises in some way will be fulfilled. Did any man of genius ever conceive such an illustration of blended piety and obedience? Has dramatic poetry ever created such a display of conflicting emotions? Is it possible for a human being to transcend so mighty a sacrifice, and all by the power of faith? Let those philosophers and theologians who aspire to define faith, and vainly try to reconcile it with reason, learn modesty and wisdom from the lesson of Abraham, who is its great exponent, and be content with the definition of Paul, himself, that it is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;" that reason was in Abraham's case subordinate to a loftier and grander principle,—even a firm conviction, which nothing could shake, of the accomplishment of an end against all probabilities and mortal calculations, resting solely on a divine promise.
Another remarkable thing about that memorable sacrifice is, that Abraham does not expostulate or hesitate, but calmly and resolutely prepares for the slaughter of the innocent and unresisting victim, suppressing all the while his feelings as a father in obedience and love to the Sovereign of heaven and earth, whose will is his supreme law.
"And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son," who was compelled as it were to bear his own cross. And he took the fire in his hand and a knife, and Isaac said, "Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" yet suffered himself to be bound by his father on the altar. And Abraham then stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son. At this supreme moment of his trial, he heard the angel of the Lord calling upon him out of heaven and saying, "Abraham! Abraham! lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.... And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering instead of his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand upon the seashore, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice."
There are no more recorded promises to Abraham, no more trials of his faith. His righteousness was established, and he was justified before God. His subsequent life was that of peace, prosperity, and exaltation. He lives to the end in transcendent repose with his family and vast possessions. His only remaining solicitude is for a suitable wife for Isaac, concerning whom there is nothing remarkable in gifts or fortunes, but who maintains the faith of his father, and lives like him in patriarchal dignity and opulence.
The great interest we feel in Abraham is as "the father of the faithful," as a model of that exalted sentiment which is best defined and interpreted by his own trials and experiences; and hence I shall not dwell on the well known incidents of his life outside the varied calls and promises by which he became the most favored man in human annals. It was his faith which made him immortal, and with which his name is forever associated. It is his religious faith looming up, after four thousand years, for our admiration and veneration which is the true subject of our meditation. This, I think, is distinct from our ordinary conception of faith, such as a belief in the operation of natural laws, in the return of the seasons, in the rewards of virtue, in the assurance of prosperity with due regard to the conditions of success. Faith in a friend, in a nation's future, in the triumphs of a good cause, in our own energies and resources is, I grant, necessarily connected with reason, with wide observation and experience, with induction, with laws of nature and of mind. But religious faith is supreme trust in an unseen God and supreme obedience to his commands, without any other exercise of reason than the intuitive conviction that what he orders is right because he orders it, whether we can fathom his wisdom or not. "Canst thou by searching find out Him?"
Yet notwithstanding the exalted faith of Abraham, by which all religious faith is tested, an eternal pattern and example for our reverence and imitation, the grand old man deceived both Pharaoh and Abimelech, and if he did not tell positive lies, he uttered only half truths, for Sarah was a half sister; and thus he put expediency and policy above moral rectitude,—to be palliated indeed in his case by the desire to preserve his wife from pollution. Yet this is the only blot on his otherwise reproachless character, marked by so many noble traits that he may be regarded as almost perfect. His righteousness was as memorable as his faith, living in the fear of God. How noble was his disinterestedness in giving to Lot the choice of lands for his family and his flocks and his cattle! How brave was he in rescuing his kinsman from the hands of conquering kings! How lofty in refusing any remuneration for his services! How fervent were his intercessions with the Almighty for the preservation of the cities of the plain! How hospitable his mode of life, as when he entertained angels unawares! How kind he was to Hagar when she had incurred the jealousy of Sarah! How serene and dignified and generous he was, the model of courtesy and kindness!
With Abraham we associate the supremest happiness which an old man can attain unto and enjoy. He was prosperous, rich, powerful, and favored in every way; but the chief source of his happiness was the superb consciousness that he was to be the progenitor of a mighty and numerous progeny, through whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. How far his faith was connected with temporal prosperity we cannot tell. Prosperity seems to have been the blessing of the Old Testament, as adversity was the blessing of the New. But he was certain of this,—that his descendants would possess ultimately the land of Canaan, and would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. He was certain that in some mysterious way there would come from his race something that would be a blessing to mankind. Was it revealed to his exultant soul what this blessing should be? Did this old patriarch cast a prophetic eye beyond the ages, and see that the promise made to him was spiritual rather than material, pertaining to the final triumph of truth and righteousness?—that the unity of God, which he taught to Isaac and perhaps to Ishmael, was to be upheld by his race alone among prevailing idolatries, until the Saviour should come to reveal a new dispensation and finally draw all men unto him? Did Abraham fully realize what a magnificent nation the Israelites should become,—not merely the rulers of western Asia under David and Solomon, but that even after their final dispersion they should furnish ministers to kings, scholars to universities, and dictators to legislative halls,—an unconquerable race, powerful even after the vicissitudes and humiliations of four thousand years? Did he realize fully that from his descendants should arise the religious teachers of mankind,—not only the prophets and sages of the Old Testament, but the apostles and martyrs of the New,—planting in every land the seeds of the everlasting gospel, which should finally uproot all Brahminical self-expiations, all Buddhistic reveries, all the speculations of Greek philosophers, all the countless forms of idolatry, polytheism, pantheism, and pharisaism on this earth, until every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?
Yet such were the boons granted to Abraham, as the reward of faith and obedience to the One true God,—the vital principle without which religion dies into superstition, with which his descendants were inspired not only to nationality and civil coherence, but to the highest and noblest teachings the world has received from any people, and by which his name is forever linked with the spiritual progress and happiness of mankind.
ISRAEL IN EGYPT.
No one in his senses would dream of adding anything to the story of Joseph, as narrated in Genesis, whether it came from the pen of Moses or from some subsequent writer. It is a masterpiece of historical composition, unequalled in any literature sacred or profane, in ancient or modern times, for its simplicity, its pathos, its dramatic power, and its sustained interest. Nor shall I attempt to paraphrase or re-tell it, save by way of annotation and illustration of subjects connected with it, having reference to the subsequent development of the Jewish nation and character.
Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, was born at Haran in Mesopotamia, probably during the XVIII. Century B.C., when his father Jacob was in the service of Laban the Syrian. There was nothing remarkable in his career until he was sold as a slave by his unnatural and jealous brothers. He was the favorite son of the patriarch Jacob, by his beloved Rachel, being the youngest, except Benjamin, of a large family of twelve sons,—a beautiful and promising youth, with qualities which peculiarly called out the paternal affections. In the inordinate love and partiality of Jacob for this youth he gave to him, by way of distinction, a decorated tunic, such as was worn only by the sons of princes. The half-brothers of Joseph were filled with envy in view of this unwise step on the part of their common father,—a proceeding difficult to be reconciled with his politic and crafty nature; and their envy ripened into hostility when Joseph, with the frankness of youth, narrated his dreams, which signified his future pre-eminence and the humiliation of his brothers. Nor were his dreams altogether pleasing to his father, who rebuked him with this indignant outburst of feeling: "Shall I and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee on the earth?" But while the father pondered, the brothers were consumed with hatred, for envy is one of the most powerful passions that move the human soul, and is malignant in its developments. Strange to say, it is most common in large families and among those who pass for friends. We do not envy prosperous enemies with the virulence we feel for prosperous relatives, who theoretically are our equals. Nor does envy cease until inequality has become so great as to make rivalry preposterous: a subject does not envy his king, or his generally acknowledged superior. Envy may even give place to respect and deference when the object of it has achieved fame and conceded power. Relatives who begin with jealousy sometimes end as worshippers, but not until extraordinary merit, vast wealth, or overtopping influence are universally conceded. Conceive of Napoleon's brothers envying the great Emperor, or Webster's the great statesman, or Grant's the great general, although the passion may have lurked in the bosoms of political rivals and military chieftains.
But one thing certainly extinguishes envy; and that is death. Hence the envy of Joseph's brothers, after they had sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants, was succeeded by remorse and shame. Their murmurings passed into lies. They could not tell their broken-hearted father of their crime; they never told him. Jacob was led to suppose that his favorite son was devoured by wild beasts; they added deceit and cowardice to a depraved heartlessness, and nearly brought down the gray hairs of their father to the grave. No subsequent humiliation or punishment could be too severe for such wickedness. Although they were destined to become the heads of powerful tribes, even of the chosen people of God, these men have incurred the condemnation of all ages. But Judah and Reuben do not come in for unlimited censure, since these sons of Leah sought to save their brother from a violent death; and subsequently in Egypt Judah looms up as a magnanimous character, whom we admire almost as much as we do Joseph himself. What can be more eloquent than his defence of Benjamin, and his appeal to what seemed to him to be an Egyptian potentate!
The sale of Joseph as a slave is one of the most signal instances of the providence of God working by natural laws recorded in all history,—more marked even than the elevation of Esther and Mordecai. In it we see permission of evil and its counteraction,—its conversion into good; victory over evil, over conspiracy, treachery, and murderous intent. And so marked is this lesson of a superintending Providence over all human action, that a wise and good man can see wars and revolutions and revolting crimes with almost philosophical complacency, knowing that out of destruction proceeds creation; that the wrath of man is always overruled; that the love of God is the brightest and clearest and most consoling thing in the universe. We cannot interpret history without the recognition of this fundamental truth. We cannot be unmoved amid the prevalence of evil without this feeling, that God is more powerful than all the combined forces of his enemies both on earth and in hell; and that no matter what the evil is, it will surely be made to praise Him who sitteth in the heavens. This is a sublime revelation of the omnipotence and benevolence of a personal God, of his constant oversight of the world which he has made.
The protection and elevation of Joseph, seemingly a natural event in view of his genius and character, is in some respects a type of that great sacrifice by which a sinful world has been redeemed. Little did the Jews suspect when they crucified Jesus that he would arise from his tomb and overturn the idolatries of nations, and found a religion which should go on from conquering to conquer. Little did the gifted Burke see in the atrocities of the French Revolution the overturning of a system of injustices which for centuries had cried to Heaven for vengeance. Still less did the proud and conservative citizens of New England recognize in the cruelties of Southern slaveholders a crime which would provoke one of the bloodiest wars of modern times, and lead to the constitutional and political equality of the whites and blacks. Evil appeared to triumph, but ended in the humiliation of millions and the enfranchisement of humanity, when the cause of the right seemed utterly hopeless. So let every one write upon all walls and houses and chambers, upon his conscience and his intellect, "The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, and will bring good out of the severest tribulation!" And this great truth applies not to nations alone, but to the humblest individual, as he bows down in grief or wrath or penitence to unlooked-for chastisement,—like Job upon his heap of ashes, or the broken-hearted mother when afflicted with disease or poverty, or the misconduct or death of children. There is no wisdom, no sound philosophy, no religion, and no happiness until this truth is recognized in all the changes and relations of life.
The history of Joseph in Egypt in all his varied fortunes is, as I have said, a most memorable illustration of this cardinal and fundamental truth. A favorite of fortune, he is sold as a slave for less than twenty dollars of our money, and is brought to a foreign country,—a land oppressed by kings and priests, yet in which is a high civilization, in spite of social and political degradation. He is resold to a high official of the Egyptian court, probably on account of his beauty and intelligence. He rises in the service of this official,—captain of the royal guard, or, as the critics tell us, superintendent of the police and prisons,—for he has extraordinary abilities and great integrity, character as well as natural genius, until he is unjustly accused of a meditated crime by a wicked woman. It is evident that Potiphar, his master, only half believes in Joseph's guilt, in spite of the protestations of his artful and profligate wife, since instead of summarily executing him, as Ahasuerus did Haman, he simply sends him to a mild and temporary imprisonment in the prison adjacent to his palace. Here Joseph wins the favor of his jailers and of his brother prisoners, as Paul did nearly two thousand years later, and shows remarkable gifts, even to the interpretation of dreams,—a wonderful faculty to superstitious people like the Egyptians, and in which he exceeds even their magicians and priests. The fame of his rare gifts, the most prized in Egypt, reaches at last the ears of Pharaoh, who is troubled by a singular dream which no one of his learned men can interpret. The Hebrew slave interprets it, and is magnificently rewarded, becoming the prime minister of an absolute monarch. The King gives him his signet ring, emblem of power, and a collar or chain of gold, the emblem of the highest rank; clothes him in a vestment of fine linen, makes him ride in his second chariot, and appoints him ruler over the land, second only to the King in power and rank. And, further, he gives to him in marriage the daughter of the High Priest of On, by which he becomes connected with the priesthood.
Joseph deserves all the honor and influence he receives, for he saves the kingdom from a great calamity. He predicts seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, and points out the remedy. According to tradition, the monarch whom he served was Apepi, the last Shepherd King, during whose reign slaves were very numerous. The King himself had a vast number, as well as the nobles. Foreign slaves were preferred to native ones, and wars were carried on for the chief purpose of capturing and selling captives.
The sacred narrative says but little of the government of Egypt by a Hebrew slave, or of his abilities as a ruler,—virtually supreme in the land, since Pharaoh delegates to him his own authority, persuaded both of his fidelity and his abilities. It is difficult to understand how Joseph arose at a single bound to such dignity and power, under a proud and despotic king, and in the face of all the prejudices of the Egyptian priesthood and nobility, except through the custom of all Oriental despots to gratify the whim of the moment,—like the one who made his horse prime minister. But nothing short of transcendent talents and transcendent services can account for his retention of office and his marked success. Joseph was then thirty years of age, having served Potiphar ten years, and spent two or three years in prison.
This all took place, as some now suppose, shortly after 1700 B.C., under the dynasty of the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings, who had conquered the kingdom about three hundred years before. Their capital was Memphis, near the pyramids, which had been erected several centuries earlier by the older and native dynasties. Rawlinson supposes that Tanis on the delta was the seat of their court. Conquered by the Hyksos, the old kings retreated to their other capital, Thebes, and were probably made tributary to the conquerors. It was by the earlier and later dynasties that the magnificent temples and palaces were built, whose ruins have so long been the wonder of travellers. The Shepherd Kings were warlike, and led their armies from Scythia,—that land of roving and emigrant warriors,—or, as Ewald thinks, from the land of Canaan: Aramaean chieftains, who sought the spoil of the richest monarchy in the world. Hence there was more affinity between these people and the Hebrews than between them and the ancient Egyptians, who were the descendants of Ham. Abraham, when he visited Egypt, found it ruled by these Scythian or Aramaean warriors, which accounts for the kind and generous treatment he received. It is not probable that a monarch of the ancient dynasties would have been so courteous to Abraham, or would have elevated Joseph to such an exalted rank, for they were jealous of strangers, and hated a pastoral people. It was only under the rule of the Hyksos that the Hebrews could have been tolerated and encouraged; for as soon as the Shepherd Kings were expelled by the Pharaohs who reigned at Thebes, as the Moors were expelled from Spain by the old Castilian princes, it fared ill with the descendants of Jacob, and they were bitterly and cruelly oppressed until the exodus under Moses. Prosperity probably led the Hyksos conquerors to that fatal degeneracy which is unfavorable to war, while adversity strengthened the souls of the descendants of the ancient kings, and enabled them to subdue and drive away their invaders and conquerors. And yet the Hyksos could not have ruled Egypt had they not adapted themselves to the habits, religion, and prejudices of the people they subdued. The Pharaoh who reigned at the time of Joseph belonged like his predecessors to the sacerdotal caste, and worshipped the gods of the Egyptians. But he was not jealous of the Hebrews, and fully appreciated the genius of Joseph.
The wisdom of Joseph as ruler of the land destined to a seven years' famine was marked by foresight as well as promptness in action. He personally visited the various provinces, advising the people to husband their harvests. But as all people are thoughtless and improvident, he himself gathered up and stored all the grain which could be spared, and in such vast quantities that he ceased to measure it. At last the predicted famine came, as the Nile had not risen to its usual height; but the royal granaries were full, since all the surplus wheat—about a fifth of the annual produce—had been stored away; not purchased by Joseph, but exacted as a tax. Nor was this exaction unreasonable in view of the emergency. Under the Bourbon kings of France more than one half of the produce of the land was taken by the Government and the feudal proprietors without compensation, and that not in provision for coming national trouble, but for the fattening of the royal purse. Joseph exacted only a fifth as a sort of special tax, less than the present Italian government exacts from all landowners.
Very soon the famine pressed upon the Egyptian people, for they had no corn in reserve; the reserve was in the hands of the government. But this reserve Joseph did not deal out gratuitously, as the Roman government, under the emperors, dealt out food to the citizens. He made the people pay for their bread, and took their money and deposited it in the royal treasury. When after two years their money was all spent, it was necessary to resort to barter, and cattle were given in exchange for corn, by which means the King became possessed of all the personal property of his subjects. As famine pressed, the people next surrendered their land to avoid starvation,—all but the priests. Pharaoh thus became absolute proprietor of the whole country; of money, cattle, and land,—an unprecedented surrender, which would have produced a wide-spread disaffection and revolt, had it not been that Joseph, after the famine was past and the earth yielded its accustomed harvest, exacted only one-fifth of the produce of the land for the support of the government, which could not be regarded as oppressive. As the King thus became absolute proprietor of Egypt by consent of the people, whom he had saved from starvation through the wisdom and energy of his prime minister, it is probable that later a new division of land took place, it being distributed among the people generally in small farms, for which they paid as rent a fifth of their produce. The gratitude of the people was marked: "Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the eyes of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's slaves." Since the time of Christ there have been two similar famines recorded,—one in the eleventh century, lasting, like Joseph's, seven years; and the other in the twelfth century, of which the most distressing details are given, even to the extreme desperation of cannibalism. The same cause originated both,—the failure of the Nile overflow. Out of the sacred river came up for Egypt its fat kine and its lean,—its blessings and its curses.
The price exacted by Joseph for the people's salvation made the King more absolute than before, since all were thus made dependent on the government.
This absolute rule of the kings, however, was somewhat modified by ancient customs, and by the vast influence of the priesthood, to which the King himself belonged. The priests of Egypt, under all the dynasties, formed the most powerful caste ever seen among the nations of the earth, if we except the Brahmanical caste of India. At the head of it was the King himself, who was chief of the religion and of the state. He regulated the sacrifices of the temples, and had the peculiar right of offering them to the gods upon grand occasions. He superintended the feasts and festivals in honor of the deities. The priests enjoyed privileges which extended to their whole family. They were exempt from taxes, and possessed one-third of the landed property, which was entailed upon them, and of which they could not be deprived. Among them there were great distinctions of rank, but the high-priests held the most honorable station; they were devoted to the service of the presiding deities of the cities in which they lived,—such as the worship of Ammon at Thebes, of Phtha at Memphis, and of Ra at On, or Heliopolis. One of the principal grades of the priesthood was that of prophets, who were particularly versed in all matters pertaining to religion. They presided over the temple and the sacred rites, and directed the management of the priestly revenues; they bore a distinguished part in solemn processions, carrying the holy vase.
The priests not only regulated all spiritual matters and superintended the worship of the gods, but they were esteemed for their superior knowledge. They acquired an ascendency over the people by their supposed understanding of the sacred mysteries, only those priests being initiated in the higher secrets of religion who had proved themselves virtuous and discerning. "The honor of ascending from the less to the greater mysteries was as highly esteemed as it was difficult to obtain. The aspirant was required to go through the most severe ordeal, and show the greatest moral resignation." Those who aspired to know the profoundest secrets, imposed upon themselves duties more severe than those required by any other class. It was seldom that the priests were objects of scandal; they were reserved and discreet, practising the strictest purification of body and mind. Their life was so full of minute details that they rarely appeared in public. They thus obtained the sincere respect of the people, and ruled by the power of learning and sanctity as well as by privilege. They are most censured for concealing and withholding knowledge from the people.
How deep and profound was the knowledge of the Egyptian priests it is difficult to settle, since it was so carefully guarded. Pythagoras made great efforts and sacrifices to be initiated in their higher mysteries; but these, it is thought, were withheld, since he was a foreigner. What he did learn, however, formed a foundation of what is most valuable in Grecian philosophy. Herodotus declares that he knew the mysteries, but should not divulge them. Moses was skilled in all the knowledge of the sacred schools of Egypt, and perhaps incorporated in his jurisprudence some of its most valued truths. Possibly Plato obtained from the Egyptian priests his idea of the immortality of the soul, since this was one of their doctrines. It is even thought by Wilkinson that they believed in the unity, the eternal existence, and invisible power of God, but there is no definite knowledge on that point. Ammon, the concealed god, seems to have corresponded with the Zeus of the Greeks, as Sovereign Lord of Heaven. The priests certainly taught a state of future rewards and punishments, for the great doctrine of metempsychosis is based upon it,—the transmission of the soul after death into the bodies of various animals as an expiation for sin. But however lofty were the esoteric doctrines which the more learned of the initiated believed, they were carefully concealed from the people, who were deemed too ignorant to understand them; and hence the immense difference between the priests and people, and the universal prevalence of degrading superstitions and the vile polytheism which everywhere existed,—even the worship of the powers of Nature in those animals which were held sacred. Among all the ancient nations, however complicated were their theogonies, and however degraded the forms of worship assumed,—of men, or animals, or plants,—it was heat or light (the sun as the visible promoter of blessings) which was regarded as the animus mundi, to be worshipped as the highest manifestation of divine power and goodness. The sun, among all the ancient polytheists, was worshipped under various names, and was one of the supremest deities. The priestly city of On, a sort of university town, was consecrated to the worship of Ra, the sun. Baal was the sun-god among the polytheistic Canaanites, as Bel was among the Assyrians.
The Egyptian Pantheon, except perhaps that of Rome, was the most extensive among the ancient nations, and the most degraded, although that people were the most religious as well as superstitious of ancient pagans. The worship of the Deity, in some form, was as devout as it was universal, however degrading were the rites; and no expense was spared in sacrifices to propitiate the favor of the peculiar deity who presided over each of the various cities, for almost every city had a different deity. Notwithstanding the degrading fetichism—the lowest kind of Nature-worship, including the worship of animals—which formed the basis of the Egyptian religion, there were traces in it of pure monotheism, as in that of Babylonia and of ancient India. The distinguishing peculiarity of the Egyptian religion was the adoration of sacred animals as emblems of the gods, the chief of which were the bull, the cat, and the beetle.
The gods of the Egyptian Pantheon were almost innumerable, since they represented every form and power of Nature, and all the passions which move the human soul; but the most remarkable of the popular deities was Osiris, who was regarded as the personification of good. Isis, the consort of Osiris, who with him presided at the judgment of the dead, was scarcely less venerated. Set, or Typhon, the brother of Osiris, was the personification of evil. Between Osiris and Set, therefore, was perpetual antagonism. This belief, divested of names and titles and technicalities and fables, seems to have resembled, in this respect, the religion of the Persians,—the eternal conflict between good and evil. The esoteric doctrines of the priests initiated into the higher mysteries probably were the primeval truths, too abstract for the ignorant and sensual people to comprehend, and which were represented to them in visible forms that appealed to their senses, and which they worshipped with degrading rites.
The oldest of all the rites of the ancient pagans was in the form of sacrifice, to propitiate the deity. Abraham and Jacob offered sacrifices, but without degrading ceremonies, and both abhorred the representation of the deity in the form of animals; but there was scarcely an animal or reptile in Egypt that the people did not hold sacred, in fear or reverence. Moral evil was represented by the serpent, showing that something was retained, though in a distorted form, of the primitive revelation. The most celebrated forms of animal worship were the bulls at Memphis, sacred to Osiris, or, as some think, to the sun; the cat to Phtha, and the beetle to Re. The origin of these superstitions cannot be traced; they are shrouded in impenetrable mystery. All that we know is that they existed from the remotest period of which we have cognizance, long before the pyramids were built.
In spite, however, of the despotism of the kings, the privileges of the priests, and the degrading superstitions of the people, which introduced the most revolting form of religious worship ever seen on earth, there was in Egypt a high civilization in comparison with that of other nations, dating back to a mythical period. More than two thousand years before the Christian era, and six hundred before letters were introduced into Greece, one thousand years before the Trojan War, twelve hundred years before Buddha, and fifteen hundred years before Rome was founded, great architectural works existed in Egypt, the remains of which still astonish travellers for their vastness and grandeur. In the time of Joseph, before the eighteenth dynasty, there was in Egypt an estimated population of seven millions, with twenty thousand cities. The civilization of that country four thousand years ago was as high as that of the Chinese of the present day; and their literary and scientific accomplishments, their proficiency in the industrial and fine arts, remain to-day the wonder of history. But one thing is very remarkable,—that while there seems to have been no great progress for two thousand years, there was not any marked decline, thus indicating virtuous habits of life among the great body of the people from generation to generation. They were preserved from degeneracy by their simple habits and peaceful pursuits. Though the armies of the King numbered four hundred thousand men, there were comparatively few wars, and these mostly of a defensive character.
Such was the Egypt which Joseph governed with signal ability for more than half a century, nearly four thousand years ago,—the mother of inventions, the pioneer in literature and science, the home of learned men, the teacher of nations, communicating a knowledge which was never lost, making the first great stride in the civilization of the world. No one knows whether this civilization was indigenous, or derived from unknown races, or the remains of a primitive revelation, since it cannot be traced beyond Egypt itself, whose early inhabitants were more Asiatic than African, and apparently allied with Phoenicians and Assyrians,
But the civilization of Egypt is too extensive a subject to be entered upon in this connection. I hope to treat it more at length in subsequent volumes. I can only say now that in some things the Egyptians were never surpassed. Their architecture, as seen in the pyramids and the ruins of temples, was marvellous; while their industrial arts would not be disdained even in the 19th century.
Over this fertile, favored, and civilized nation Joseph reigned,—with delegated power indeed, but with power that was absolute,—when his starving brothers came to Egypt to buy corn, for the famine extended probably over western Asia. He is to be viewed, not as a prophet, or preacher, or reformer, or even a warrior like Moses, but as a merely executive ruler. As the son-in-law of the high-priest of Hieropolis, and delegated governor of the land, in the highest favor with the King, and himself a priest, it is probable that Joseph was initiated into the esoteric wisdom of the priesthood. He was undoubtedly stern, resolute, and inflexible in his relations with men, as great executive chieftains necessarily must be, whatever their private sympathies and friendships. To all appearance he was a born Egyptian, as he spoke the language of Egypt, had adopted its habits, and was clothed with the insignia of Egyptian power.
So that when the sons of Jacob, who during the years of famine in Canaan had come down to Egypt to buy corn, were ushered into his presence, and bowed down to him, as had been predicted, he was harsh to them, although at once recognizing them. "Whence come ye?" he said roughly to them. They replied, "From the land of Canaan to buy corn," "Nay," continued he, "ye are spies." "Not so, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. We are all one man's sons; we are true men; thy servants are not spies." "Nay," he said, "to see the nakedness of the land are ye come,"—for famine also prevailed in Egypt, and its governor naturally would not wish its weakness to be known, for fear of a hostile invasion. They replied, "Thy servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not." But Joseph still persisted that they were spies, and put them in prison for three days; after which he demanded as the condition of their release that the younger brother should also appear before him. "If ye be true men," said he, "let one of your brothers be bound in the house of your prison, while you carry corn for the famine of your house; but bring your youngest brother unto me, and ye shall not die." There was apparently no alternative but to perish, or to bring Benjamin into Egypt; and the sons of Jacob were compelled to accept the condition.
Then their consciences were moved, and they saw a punishment for their crime in selling Joseph fifteen years before. Even Reuben accused them, and in the very presence of Joseph reminded them of their unnatural cruelty, not supposing that he understood them, since Joseph had spoken through an interpreter. This was too much for the stern governor; he turned aside and wept, but speedily returned and took from them Simeon and bound him before their eyes, and retained him for a surety. Then he caused their sacks to be filled with corn, putting also their money therein, and gave them in addition food for their return journey. But as one of them on that journey opened his sack to give his ass provender, he espied the money; and they were all filled with fear at this unlooked-for incident. They made haste to reach their home and report the strange intelligence to their father, including the demand for the appearance of Benjamin, which filled him with the most violent grief. "Joseph is not," cried he, "and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away!" Reuben here expostulated with frantic eloquence. Jacob, however, persisted: "My son shall not go down with you; if mischief befall him, ye will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to the grave."
Meanwhile the famine pressed, as Joseph knew full well it would, and Jacob's family had eaten all their corn, and it became necessary to get a new supply from Egypt. But Judah refused to go without Benjamin. "The man," said he, "did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you." Then Jacob upbraided Judah for revealing the number and condition of his family; but Judah excused himself on account of the searching cross-examination of the austere governor which no one could resist, and persisted in the absolute necessity of Benjamin's appearance in Egypt, unless they all should yield to starvation. Moreover, he promised to be surety for his brother, that no harm should come to him. Jacob at last saw the necessity of allowing Benjamin to go, and reluctantly gave his consent; but in order to appease the terrible man of Egypt he ordered his sons to take with them a present of spices and balm and almonds, luxuries then in great demand, and a double amount of money in their sacks to repay what they had received. Then in pious resignation he said, "If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved," and hurried away his sons.
In due time they all safely arrived in Egypt, and with Benjamin stood before Joseph, and made obeisance, and then excused themselves to Joseph's steward, because of the money which had been returned in their sacks. The steward encouraged them, and brought Simeon to them, and led them into Joseph's house, where a feast was prepared by his orders. With great difficulty Joseph restrained his feelings at the sight of Benjamin, who was his own full brother, but asked kindly about the father. At last his pent-up affections gave way, and he sought his chamber and wept there in secret. He then sat down to the banquet with his attendants at a separate table,—for the Egyptian would not eat with foreigners,—still unrevealed to his brethren, but showed his partiality to Benjamin by sending him a mess five times greater than to the rest. They marvelled greatly that they were seated at the table according to their seniority, and questioned among themselves how the austere governor could know the ages of strangers.
Not yet did Joseph declare himself. His brothers were not yet sufficiently humbled; a severe trial was still in store for them. As before, he ordered his steward to fill the sacks as full as they could carry, with every man's money in them, for he would not take his father's money; and further ordered that his silver drinking-cup should be put in Benjamin's sack. The brothers had scarcely left the city when they were overtaken by the steward on a charge of theft, and upbraided for stealing the silver cup. Of course they felt their innocence and protested it; but it was of no avail, although they declared that if the cup should be found in any one of their sacks, he in whose sack it might be should die for the offence. The steward took them at their word, proceeded to search the sacks, and lo! what was their surprise and grief to see that the cup was found in Benjamin's sack! They rent their clothes in utter despair, and returned to the city. Joseph received them austerely, and declared that Benjamin should be retained in Egypt as his servant, or slave. Then Judah, forgetting in whose presence he was, cast aside all fear, and made the most eloquent and plaintive speech recorded in the Bible, offering to remain in Benjamin's place as a slave, for how could he face his father, who would surely die of grief at the loss of his favorite child.
Joseph could refrain his feelings no longer. He made every attendant leave his presence, and then declared himself to his brothers, whom God had sent to Egypt to be the means of saving their lives. The brothers, conscience stricken and ashamed, completely humbled and afraid, could not answer his questions. Then Joseph tenderly, in their own language, begged them to come near, and explained to them that it was not they who sent him to Egypt, but God, to work out a great deliverance to their posterity, and to be a father to Pharaoh himself, inasmuch as the famine was to continue five years longer. "Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him that God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, and thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen near unto me, thou and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks and thy herds, and all that thou hast, and there will I nourish thee. And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste, and bring down my father hither." And he fell on Benjamin's neck and wept, and kissed all his brothers. They then talked with him without further reserve.
The news that Joseph's brethren had come to Egypt pleased Pharaoh, so grateful was the King for the preservation of his kingdom. He could not do enough for such a benefactor. "Say to thy brethren, lade your beasts and go, and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land." And the King commanded them to take his wagons to transport their families and goods. Joseph also gave to each one of them changes of raiment, and to Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of raiment, and ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt for their father, and ten she-asses laden with corn. As they departed, he archly said unto them, "See that ye fall not out by the way!"
And when they arrived at Canaan, and told their father all that had happened and all that they had seen, he fainted. The news was too good to be true; he would not believe them. But when he saw the wagons his spirit revived, and he said, "It is enough. Joseph my son is yet alive. I will go and see him before I die." The old man is again young in spirit. He is for going immediately; he could leap,—yea, fly.