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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Jews Until The Conquest Of Canaan

When Joseph was sold by the Midianites to Potiphar, Egypt was
probably ruled by the Shepherd kings, who were called Pharaoh, like all
the other kings, by the Jewish writers. Pitiphar (Pet-Pha, dedicated to
the sun) was probably the second person in the kingdom. Joseph, the Hebrew
slave, found favor in his sight, and was gradually promoted to the
oversight of his great household. Cast into prison, from the intrigues of
Potiphar's wife, whose disgraceful overtures he had virtuously and
honorably rejected, he found favor with the keeper of the prison, who
intrusted him with the sole care of the prisoners, although himself a
prisoner,--a striking proof of his transparent virtue. In process of time
two other high officers of the king, having offended him, were cast into
the same prison. They had strange dreams. Joseph interpreted them,
indicating the speedy return of the one to favor, and of the other to as
sudden an execution. These things came to pass. After two years the king
himself had a singular dream, and none of the professional magicians or
priests of Egypt could interpret it. It then occurred to the chief butler
that Joseph, whom he had forgotten and neglected, could interpret the
royal dream which troubled him. He told the king of his own dream in
prison, and the explanation of it by the Hebrew slave. Whereupon Joseph
was sent for, shaven and washed, and clothed with clean raiment to appear
in the royal palace, and he interpreted the king's dream, which not only
led to his promotion to be governor over Egypt, with the State chariots
for his use, and all the emblems of sovereignty about his person--a viceroy
whose power was limited only by that of the king--but he was also
instrumental in rescuing Egypt from the evils of that terrible famine
which for seven years afflicted Western Asia. He was then thirty years of
age, 1715 B.C., and his elevation had been earned by the noblest
qualities--fidelity to his trusts, patience, and high principle--all of
which had doubtless been recounted to the king.

The course which Joseph pursued toward the Egyptians was apparently
hard. The hoarded grain of seven years' unexampled plenty was at first
sold to the famishing people, and when they had no longer money to buy it,
it was only obtained by the surrender of their cattle, and then by the
alienation of their land, so that the king became possessed of all the
property of the realm, personal as well as real, except that of the
priests. But he surrendered the land back again to the people
subsequently, on condition of the payment of one-fifth of the produce
annually (which remained to the time of Moses)--a large tax, but not so
great as was exacted of the peasantry of France by their feudal and royal
lords. This proceeding undoubtedly strengthened the power of the Shepherd
kings, and prevented insurrections.

The severity of the famine compels the brothers of Joseph to seek
corn in Egypt. Their arrival of course, is known to the governor, who has
unlimited rule. They appear before him, and bowed themselves before him,
as was predicted by Joseph's dreams. But clothed in the vesture of
princes, with a gold chain around his neck, and surrounded by the pomp of
power, they did not know him, while he knows them. He speaks to them,
through an interpreter, harshly and proudly, accuses them of being spies,
obtains all the information he wanted, and learns that his father and
Benjamin are alive. He even imprisons them for three days. He releases
them on the condition that they verify their statement; as a proof of
which, he demands the appearance of Benjamin himself.

They return to Canaan with their sacks filled with corn, and the
money which they had brought to purchase it, secretly restored, leaving
Simeon as surety for the appearance of Benjamin. To this Jacob will not
assent. But starvation drives them again to Egypt, the next year, and
Jacob, reluctantly is compelled to allow Benjamin to go with them. The
unexpected feast which Joseph made for them, sitting himself at another
table--the greater portions given to Benjamin, the deception played upon
them by the secretion of Joseph's silver cup in Benjamin's sack, as if he
were a thief, the distress of all the sons of Jacob, the eloquent
pleadings of Judah, the restrained tears of Joseph, the discovery of
himself to them, the generosity of Pharaoh, the return of Jacob's children
laden not only with corn but presents, the final migration of the whole
family, to the land of Goshen, in the royal chariots, and the consummation
of Joseph's triumphs, and happiness of Jacob--all these facts and incidents
are told by Moses in the most fascinating and affecting narrative ever
penned by man. It is absolutely transcendent, showing not only the highest
dramatic skill, but revealing the Providence of God--that overruling power
which causes good to come from evil, which is the most impressive lesson
of all history, in every age. That single episode is worth more to
civilization than all the glories of ancient Egypt; nor is there anything
in the history of the ancient monarchies so valuable to all generations as
the record by Moses of the early relations between God and his chosen
people. And that is the reason why I propose to give them, in this work,
their proper place, even if it be not after the fashion with historians.
The supposed familiarity with Jewish history ought not to preclude the
narration of these great events, and the substitution for them of the less
important and obscure annals of the Pagans.

Joseph remained the favored viceroy of Egypt until he died, having
the supreme satisfaction of seeing the prosperity of his father's house,
and their rapid increase in the land of Goshen, on the eastern frontier of
the Delta of the Nile,--a land favorable for herds and flocks. The capital
of this district was On--afterward Heliopolis, the sacred City of the Sun,
a place with which Joseph was especially connected by his marriage with
the daughter of the high priest of On. Separated from the Egyptians by
their position as shepherds, the children of Jacob retained their
patriarchal constitution. In 215 years, they became exceedingly numerous,
but were doomed, on the change of dynasty which placed Ramesis on the
throne, to oppressive labors. Joseph died at the age of 110--eighty years
after he had become governor of Egypt. In his latter years the change in
the Egyptian dynasty took place. The oppression of his people lasted
eighty years; and this was consummated by the cruel edict which doomed to
death the infants of Israel; made, probably, in fear and jealousy from the
rapid increase of the Israelites. The great crimes of our world, it would
seem, are instigated by these passions, rather than hatred and malignity,
like the massacre of St. Bartholomew and the atrocities of the French

But a deliverer was raised up by God in the person of Moses, the
greatest man in human annals, when we consider his marvelous intellectual
gifts, his great work of legislation, his heroic qualities, his moral
excellence, and his executive talents. His genius is more powerfully
stamped upon civilization than that of any other one man--not merely on the
Jews, but even Christian nations. He was born B.C. 1571, sixty-four years
after the death of Joseph. Hidden in his birth, to escape the sanguinary
decree of Pharaoh he was adopted by the daughter of the king, and taught
by the priests in all the learning of the Egyptians. He was also a great
warrior, and gained great victories over the Ethiopians. But seeing the
afflictions of his brethren, he preferred to share their lot than enjoy
all the advantages of his elevated rank in the palace of the king--an act
of self-renunciation unparalleled in history. Seeing an Egyptian smite a
Hebrew, he slew him in a burst of indignation, and was compelled to fly.
He fled to Jethro, an Arab chieftain, among the Midianites. He was now
forty years of age, in the prime of his life, and in the full maturity of
his powers. The next forty years were devoted to a life of contemplation,
the best preparation for his future duties. In the most secret places of
the wilderness of Sinai, at Horeb, he communed with God, who appeared in
the burning bush, and revealed the magnificent mission which he was
destined to fulfill. He was called to deliver his brethren from bondage;
but forty years of quiet contemplation, while tending the flocks of
Jethro, whose daughter he married, had made him timid and modest. God
renewed the covenant made to Abraham and Jacob, and Moses returned to
Egypt to fulfill his mission. He joined himself with Aaron, his brother,
and the two went and gathered together all the elders of the children of
Israel, and after securing their confidence by signs and wonders, revealed
their mission.

They then went to Pharaoh, a new king, and entreated of him
permission to allow the people of Israel to go into the wilderness and
hold a feast in obedience to the command of God. But Pharaoh said, who is
the Lord that I should obey his voice. I know not the Lord--your God. The
result was, the anger of the king and the increased burdens of the
Israelites, which tended to make them indifferent to the voice of Moses,
from the excess of their anguish.

Then followed the ten plagues which afflicted the Egyptians, and the
obstinacy of the monarch, resolved to suffer any evil rather than permit
the Israelites to go free. But the last plague was greater than the king
could bear--the destruction of all the first-born in his land--and he
hastily summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, under the impulse of a
mighty fear, and bade them to depart with all their hosts and all their
possessions. The Egyptians seconded the command, anxious to be relieved
from further evils, and the Israelites, after spoiling the Egyptians,
departed in the night--"a night to be much observed" for all generations,
marching by the line of the ancient canal from Rameses, not far from
Heliopolis, toward the southern frontier of Palestine. But Moses,
instructed not to conduct his people at once to a conflict with the
warlike inhabitants of Canaan, for which they were unprepared, having just
issued from slavery, brought them round by a sudden turn to the south and
east, upon an arm or gulf of the Red Sea. To the eyes of the Egyptians,
who repented that they had suffered them to depart, and who now pursued
them with a great army, they were caught in a trap. Their miraculous
deliverance, one of the great events of their history, and the ruin of the
Egyptian hosts, and their three months' march and countermarch in the
wilderness need not be enlarged upon.

The exodus took place 430 years from the call of Abraham, after a
sojourn in Egypt of 215 years, the greater part of which had been passed
in abject slavery and misery. There were 600,000 men, besides women and
children and strangers.

It was during their various wanderings in the wilderness of
Sinai--forty years of discipline--that Moses gave to the Hebrews the rules
they were to observe during all their generations, until a new
dispensation should come. These form that great system of original
jurisprudence that has entered, more or less, into the codes of all
nations, and by which the genius of the lawgiver is especially manifested;
although it is not to be forgotten he framed his laws by divine direction.

Let us examine briefly the nature and character of these laws. They have
been ably expounded by Bishop Warburton, Prof. Wines and others.

The great fundamental principle of the Jewish code was to establish
the doctrine of the unity of God. Idolatry had crept into the religious
system of all the other nations of the world, and a degrading polytheism
was everywhere prevalent. The Israelites had not probably escaped the
contagion of bad example, and the suggestions of evil powers. The most
necessary truth to impress upon the nation was the God of Abraham, and
Isaac, and Jacob. Jehovah was made the supreme head of the Jewish state,
whom the Hebrews were required, first and last, to recognize, and whose
laws they were required to obey. And this right to give laws to the
Hebrews was deduced, not only because he was the supreme creator and
preserver, but because he had also signally and especially laid the
foundation of the state by signs and miracles. He had spoken to the
patriarchs, he had brought them into the land of Egypt, he had delivered
them when oppressed. Hence, they were to have no other gods than this God
of Abraham--this supreme, personal, benevolent God. The violation of this
fundamental law was to be attended with the severest penalties. Hence
Moses institutes the worship of the Supreme Deity. It was indeed
ritualistic, and blended with sacrifices and ceremonies; but the idea--the
spiritual idea of God as the supreme object of all obedience and faith,
was impressed first of all upon the minds of the Israelites, and engraven
on the tables of stone--"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

Having established the idea and the worship of God, Moses then instituted
the various rites of the service, and laid down the principles of civil
government, as the dictation of this Supreme Deity, under whose supreme
guidance they were to be ruled.

But before the details of the laws were given to guide the
Israelites in their civil polity, or to regulate the worship of Jehovah,
Moses, it would seem, first spake the word of God, amid the thunders and
lightnings of Sinai, to the assembled people, and delivered the ten
fundamental commandments which were to bind them and all succeeding
generations. Whether these were those which were afterward written on the
two tables of stone, or not, we do not know. We know only that these great
obligations were declared soon after the Israelites had encamped around
Sinai, and to the whole people orally.

And, with these, God directed Moses more particularly to declare also the
laws relating to man-servants, and to manslaughter, to injury to women, to
stealing, to damage, to the treatment of strangers, to usury, to slander,
to the observance of the Sabbath, to the reverence due to magistrates, and
sundry other things, which seem to be included in the ten commandments.

After this, if we rightly interpret the book of Exodus, Moses went
up into the mountain of Sinai, and there abode forty days and forty
nights, receiving the commandments of God. Then followed the directions
respecting the ark, and the tabernacle, and the mercy-seat, and the
cherubim. And then were ordained the priesthood of Aaron and his
vestments, and the garments for Aaron's sons, and the ceremonies which
pertained to the consecration of priests, and the altar of incense, and
the brazen laver.

After renewed injunctions to observe the Sabbath, Moses received of
the Lord the two tables of stone, "written with the finger of God." But as
he descended the mountain with these tables, after forty days, and came
near the camp, he perceived the golden calf which Aaron had made of the
Egyptian ear-rings and jewelry,--made to please the murmuring people, so
soon did they forget the true God who brought them out of Egypt. And Moses
in anger, cast down the tables and brake them, and destroyed the calf, and
caused the slaughter of three thousand of the people by the hands of the
children of Levi.

But God forgave the iniquity and renewed the tables, and made a new
covenant with Moses, enjoining upon him the utter destruction of the
Canaanites, and the complete extirpation of idolatry. He again gathered
together the people of Israel, and renewed the injunction to observe the
Sabbath, and then prepared for the building of the tabernacle, as the Lord
directed, and also for the making of the sacred vessels and holy garments,
and the various ritualistic form of worship. He then established the
sacrificial rites, consecrated Aaron and his sons as priests, laid down
the law for them in their sacred functions, and made other divers laws for
the nation, in their social and political relations.

The substance of these civil laws was the political equality of the
people; the distribution of the public domains among the free citizens
which were to remain inalienable and perpetual in the families to which
they were given, thus making absolute poverty or overgrown riches
impossible; the establishment of a year of jubilee, once every fifty
years, when there should be a release of all servitude, and all debts, and
all the social inequalities which half a century produced; a magistracy
chosen by the people, and its responsibility to the people; a speedy and
impartial administration of justice; the absence of a standing army and
the prohibition of cavalry, thus indicating a peaceful policy, and the
preservation of political equality; the establishment of agriculture as
the basis of national prosperity; universal industry, inviolability of
private property, and the sacredness of family relations. These were
fundamental principles. Moses also renewed the Noahmic ideas of the
sacredness of human life. He further instituted rules for the education of
the people, that "sons may be as plants grown up in their youth, and
daughters as corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace."
Such were the elemental ideas of the Hebrew commonwealth, which have
entered, more or less, into all Christian civilizations. I can not enter
upon a minute detail of these primary laws. Each of the tribes formed a
separate state, and had a local administration of justice, but all alike
recognized the theocracy as the supreme and organic law. To the tribe of
Levi were assigned the duties of the priesthood, and the general oversight
of education and the laws. The members of this favored tribe were thus
priests, lawyers, teachers, and popular orators--a literary aristocracy
devoted to the cultivation of the sciences. The chief magistrate of the
united tribes was not prescribed, but Moses remained the highest
magistrate until his death, when the command was given to Joshua. Both
Moses and Joshua convened the states general, presided over their
deliberations, commanded the army, and decided all appeals in civil
questions. The office of chief magistrate was elective, and was held for
life, no salary was attached to it, no revenues were appropriated to it,
no tribute was raised for it. The chief ruler had no outward badges of
authority; he did not wear a diadem; he was not surrounded with a court.
His power was great as commander of the armies and president of the
assemblies, but he did not make laws or impose taxes. He was assisted by a
body of seventy elders--a council or senate, whose decisions, however, were
submitted to the congregation, or general body of citizens, for
confirmation. These senators were elected; the office was not hereditary;
neither was a salary attached to it.

The great congregation--or assembly of the people, in which lay the
supreme power, so far as any human power could be supreme in a
theocracy,--was probably a delegated body chosen by the people in their
tribes. They were representatives of the people, acting for the general
good, without receiving instructions from their constituents. It was
impossible for the elders, or for Moses, to address two million of people.
They spoke to a select assembly. It was this assembly which made or
ratified the laws, and which the executioner carried out into execution.

The oracle of Jehovah formed an essential part of the constitution,
since it was God who ruled the nation. The oracle, in the form of a pillar
of cloud, directed the wanderings of the people in the wilderness. This
appeared amid the thunders of Sinai. This oracle decided all final
questions and difficult points of justice. It could not be interrogated by
private persons, only by the High Priest himself, clad in his pontifical
vestments, and with the sacred insignia of his office, by "urim and
thummim." Within the most sacred recesses of the tabernacle, in the Holy
of Holies, the Deity made known his will to the most sacred personage of
the nation, in order that no rash resolution of the people, or senate, or
judge might be executed. And this response, given in an audible voice, was
final and supreme, and not like the Grecian oracles, venal and mendacious.
This oracle of the Hebrew God "was a wise provision to preserve a
continual sense of the principal design of their constitution--to keep the
Hebrews from idolatry, and to the worship of the only true God as their
immediate protector; and that their security and prosperity rested upon
adhering to his counsels and commands."

The designation and institution of high priest belonged not to the
council of priests--although he was of the tribe of Levi, but to the
Senate, and received the confirmation of the people through their
deputies. "But the priests belonged to the tribe of Levi, which was set
apart to God--the king of the commonwealth." "They were thus, not merely a
sacerdotal body, appointed to the service of the altar, but also a
temporal magistracy having important civil and political functions,
especially to teach the people the laws." The high priest, as head of the
hierarchy, and supreme interpreter of the laws, had his seat in the
capital of the nation, while the priests of his tribe were scattered among
the other tribes, and were hereditary. The Hebrew priests simply
interpreted the laws; the priests of Egypt made them. Their power was
chiefly judicial. They had no means of usurpation, neither from property,
nor military command. They were simply the expositors of laws which they
did not make, which they could not change, and which they themselves were
bound to obey. The income of a Levite was about five times as great as an
ordinary man, and this, of course, was derived from the tithes. But a
greater part of the soil paid no tithes. The taxes to the leading class,
as the Levites were, can not be called ruinous when compared with what the
Egyptian priesthood received, especially when we remember that all the
expenses connected with sacrifice and worship were taken from the tithes.
The treasures which flowed into the sacerdotal treasury belonged to the
Lord, and of these the priests were trustees rather than possessors.

Such, in general terms, briefly presented, was the Hebrew
constitution framed by Moses, by the direction of God. It was eminently
republican in spirit, and the power of the people through their
representatives, was great and controlling. The rights of property were
most sacredly guarded, and crime was severely and rigidly punished. Every
citizen was eligible to the highest offices. That the people were the
source of all power is proven by their voluntary change of government,
against the advice of Samuel, against the oracle, and against the council
of elders. We look in vain to the ancient constitutions of Greece and Rome
for the wisdom we see in the Mosaic code. Under no ancient government were
men so free or the laws so just. It is not easy to say how much the
Puritans derived from the Hebrew constitution in erecting their new
empire, but in many aspects there is a striking resemblance between the
republican organization of New England and the Jewish commonwealth.

The Mosaic code was framed in the first year after the exodus, while the
Israelites were encamped near Sinai. When the Tabernacle was erected, the
camp was broken up, and the wandering in the desert recommenced. This was
continued for forty years--not as a punishment, but as a discipline, to
enable the Jews to become indoctrinated into the principles of their
constitution, and to gain strength and organization, so as more
successfully to contend with the people they were commanded to expel from
Canaan. In this wilderness they had few enemies, and some friends, and
these were wandering Arab tribes.

We can not point out all the details of the wanderings under the
leadership of Moses, guided by the pillar of fire and the cloud. After
forty years, they reached the broad valley which runs from the eastern
gulf of the Red Sea, along the foot of Mount Seir, to the valley of the
Dead Sea. Diverted from a direct entrance into Canaan by hostile Edomites,
they marched to the hilly country to the east of Jordan, inhabited by the
Amorites. In a conflict with this nation, they gained possession of their
whole territory, from Mount Hermon to the river Anton, which runs into the
Dead Sea. The hills south of this river were inhabited by pastoral
Moabites--descendants of Lot, and beyond them to the Great Desert were the
Ammonites, also descendants of Lot. That nation formed an alliance with
the Midianites, hoping to expel the invaders then encamped on the plains
of Moab. Here Moses delivered his farewell instructions, appointed his
successor, and passed away on Mount Pisgah, from which he could see the
promised land, but which he was not permitted to conquer. That task was
reserved for Joshua, but the complete conquest of the Canaanites did not
take place till the reign of David.

Next: The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Previous: Egypt And The Pharaohs

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