The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph
We postpone the narrative of the settlements and empires which grew
up on the banks of the Euphrates and the Nile, the oldest monarchies,
until we have contemplated the early history of the Jews--descended from
one of the children of Shem. This is not in chronological order, but in
accordance with the inimitable history of Moses. The Jews did not become a
nation until four hundred and thirty years after the call of Abram--and
Abram was of the tenth generation from Noah. When he was born, great
cities existed in Babylon, Canaan, and Egypt, and the descendants of Ham
were the great potentates of earth. The children of Shem were quietly
living in tents, occupied with agriculture and the raising of cattle.
Those of Japhet were exploring all countries with zealous enterprise, and
founding distant settlements--adventurers in quest of genial climates and
Abram was born in Ur, a city of the Chaldeans, in the year 1996 before
Christ--supposed by some to be the Edessa of the Greeks, and by others to
be a great maritime city on the right bank of the Euphrates near its
confluence with the Tigris.
From this city his father Terah removed with his children and kindred to
Haran, and dwelt there. It was in Mesopotamia--a rich district, fruitful in
pasturage. Here Abram remained until he was 75, and had become rich.
While sojourning in this fruitful plain the Lord said unto him, "get
thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's
house, unto a land which I will show thee." "And I will make thee a great
nation, and will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a
blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that
curseth thee. And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
So Abram departed with Lot, his nephew, and Sarai, his wife, with all his
cattle and substance, to the land of Canaan, then occupied by that Hamite
race which had probably proved unfriendly to his family in Chaldea. We do
not know by what route he passed the Syrian desert, but he halted at
Shechem, situated in a fruitful valley, one of the passes of the hills
from Damascus to Canaan. He then built an altar to the Lord, probably
among an idolatrous people. From want of pasturage, or some cause not
explained, he removed from thence into a mountain on the east of Bethel,
between that city and Hai, or Ai, when he again erected an altar, and
called upon the living God. But here he did not long remain, being driven
by a famine to the fertile land of Egypt, then ruled by the Pharaohs,
whose unscrupulous character he feared, and which tempted him to practice
an unworthy deception, yet in accordance with profound worldly sagacity.
It was the dictate of expediency rather than faith. He pretended that
Sarai was his sister, and was well treated on her account by the princes
of Egypt, and not killed, as he feared he would be if she was known to be
his wife. The king, afflicted by great plagues in consequence of his
attentions to this beautiful woman, sent Abram away, after a stern rebuke
for the story he had told, with all his possessions.
The patriarch returned to Canaan, enriched by the princes of Egypt,
and resumed his old encampment near Bethel. But there was not enough
pasturage for his flocks, united with those of Lot. So, with magnanimous
generosity, disinclined to strife or greed, he gave his nephew the choice
of lands, but insisted on a division. "Is not the whole land before thee,"
said he: "Separate thyself, I pray thee: if thou wilt take the left hand,
I will go to the right, and if thou depart to the right hand, then I will
go to the left." The children of Ham and of Japhet would have quarreled,
and one would have got the ascendency over the other. Not so with the just
and generous Shemite--the reproachless model of all oriental virtues, if we
may forget the eclipse of his fair name in Egypt.
Lot chose, as was natural, the lower valley of the Jordan, a fertile
and well-watered plain, but near the wicked cities of the Canaanites,
which lay in the track of the commerce between Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and
the East. The worst vices of antiquity prevailed among them, and Lot
subsequently realized, by a painful experience, the folly of seeking, for
immediate good, such an accursed neighborhood.
Abram was contented with less advantages among the hills, and after a
renewed blessing from the Lord, removed his tents to the plain of Mamre,
near Hebron, one of the oldest cities of the world.
The first battle that we read of in history was fought between the
Chaldean monarch and the kings of the five cities of Canaan, near to the
plain which Lot had selected. The kings were vanquished, and, in the
spoliation which ensued, Lot himself and his cattle were carried away by
The news reached Abram in time for him to pursue the Chaldean king
with his trained servants, three hundred and eighteen in number. In a
midnight attack the Chaldeans were routed, since a panic was created, and
Lot was rescued, with all his goods, from which we infer that Abram was a
powerful chieftain, and was also assisted directly by God, as Joshua
subsequently was in his unequal contest with the Canaanites.
The king of Sodom, in gratitude, went out to meet him on his return
from the successful encounter, and also the king of Salem, Melchizedek,
with bread and wine. This latter was probably of the posterity of Shem,
since he was also a priest of the most high God, He blessed Abram, and
gave him tithes, which Abram accepted.
But Abram would accept nothing from the king of Sodom--not even to a
shoe-latchet--from patriarchal pride, or disinclination to have any
intercourse with idolators. But he did not prevent his young warriors from
eating his bread in their hunger. It was not the Sodomites he wished to
rescue, but Lot, his kinsman and friend.
Abram, now a powerful chieftain and a rich man, well advanced in
years, had no children, in spite of the promise of God that he should be
the father of nations. His apparent heir was his chief servant, or
steward, Elizur, of Damascus. He then reminds the Lord of the promise, and
the Lord renewed the covenant, and Abram rested in faith.
Not so his wife Sarai. Skeptical that from herself should come the
promised seed, she besought Abram to make a concubine or wife of her
Egyptian maid, Hagar. Abram listens to her, and grants her request. Sarai
is then despised by the woman, and lays her complaint before her husband.
Abram delivers the concubine into the hands of the jealous and offended
wife, who dealt hardly with her, so that she fled to the wilderness.
Thirsty and miserable, she was found by an angel, near to a fountain of
water, who encouraged her by the promise that her child should be the
father of a numerous nation, but counseled her to return to Sarai, and
submit herself to her rule. In due time the child was born, and was called
Ishmael--destined to be a wild man, with whom the world should be at
enmity. Abram was now eighty-six years of age.
Fourteen years later the Lord again renewed his covenant that he
should be the father of many nations, who should possess forever the land
of Canaan. His name was changed to Abraham (father of a multitude), and
Sarai's was changed to Sarah. The Lord promised that from Sarah should
come the predicted blessing. The patriarch is still incredulous, and
laughs within himself; but God renews the promise, and henceforth Abraham
believes, and, as a test of his faith, he institutes, by divine direction,
the rite of circumcision to Ishmael and all the servants and slaves of his
family--even those "bought with money of the stranger."
In due time, according to prediction, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who
was circumcised on the eighth day, when Abraham was 100 years old.
Ishmael, now a boy of fifteen, made a mockery of the event, whereupon
Sarah demanded that the son of the bondwoman, her slave, should be
expelled from the house, with his mother. Abraham was grieved also, and,
by divine counsel, they were both sent away, with some bread and a bottle
of water. The water was soon expended in the wilderness of Beersheba, and
Hagar sat down in despair and wept. God heard her lamentations, and she
opened her eyes and saw that she was seated near a well. The child was
preserved, and dwelt in the wilderness of Paran, pursuing the occupation
of an archer, or huntsman, and his mother found for him a wife out of the
land of Egypt. He is the ancestor of the twelve tribes of Bedouin Arabs,
among whom the Hamite blood predominated.
Meanwhile, as Abraham dwelt on the plains of Mamre, the destruction
of Sodom and Gomorrah took place, because not ten righteous persons could
be found therein. But Lot was rescued by angels, and afterward dwelt in a
cave, for fear, his wife being turned into a pillar of salt for daring to
look back on the burning cities. He lived with his two daughters, who
became the guilty mothers of the Moabites and the Ammonites, who settled
on the hills to the east of Jordan and the Dead Sea.
Before the birth of Isaac, Abraham removed to the South, and dwelt
in Gerah, a city of the Philistines, and probably for the same reason that
he had before sought the land of Egypt. But here the same difficulty
occurred as in Egypt. The king, Abimelech, sent and took Sarah, supposing
she was merely Abraham's sister; and Abraham equivocated and deceived in
this instance to save his own life. But the king, warned by God in a
dream, restored unto Abraham his wife, and gave him sheep, oxen, men
servants and women servants, and one thousand pieces of silver, for he
knew he was a prophet. In return Abraham prayed for him, and removed from
him and his house all impediments for the growth of his family. The king,
seeing how Abraham was prospered, made a covenant with him, so that the
patriarch lived long among the Philistines, worshiping "the everlasting
Then followed the great trial of his faith, when requested to
sacrifice Isaac. And when he was obedient to the call, and did not
withhold his son, his only son, from the sacrificial knife, having faith
that his seed should still possess the land of Canaan, he was again
blessed, and in the most emphatic language. After this he dwelt in
At the age of 120 Sarah died at Hebron, and Abraham purchased of
Ephron the Hittite, the cave of Machpelah, with a field near Mamre, for
four hundred shekels of silver, in which he buried his wife.
Shortly after, he sought a wife for Isaac. But he would not accept
any of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom he dwelt, but sent his
eldest and most trusted servant to Mesopotamia, with ten loaded camels, to
secure one of his own people. Rebekah, the grand-daughter of Nahor, the
brother of Abraham, was the favored damsel whom the Lord provided. Her
father and brother accepted the proposal of Abraham's servant, and loaded
with presents, jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and raiment, the
Mesopotamian lady departed from her country and her father's house, with
the benediction of the whole family. "Be thou the mother of thousands of
millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them."
Thus was "Isaac comforted after his mother's death."
Abraham married again, and had five sons by Keturah; but, in his
life-time, he gave all he had unto Isaac, except some gifts to his other
children, whom he sent away, that they might not dispute the inheritance
with Isaac. He died at a good old age, 175 years, and was buried by his
sons, Isaac and Ishmael, in the cave of Machpelah, which had been
purchased of the sons of Heth. Isaac thus became the head of the house,
with princely possessions, living near a well.
But a famine arose, as in the days of his father, and he went to
Gerar, and not to Egypt. He, however, was afraid to call Rebekah his wife,
for the same reason that Abraham called Sarah his sister. But the king
happening from his window to see Isaac "sporting with Rebekah," knew he
had been deceived, yet abstained from taking her, and even loaded Isaac
with new favors, so that he became very great and rich--so much so that the
Philistines envied him, and maliciously filled up the wells which Abraham
had dug. Here again he was befriended by Abimelech, who saw that the Lord
was with him, and a solemn covenant of peace was made between them, and
new wells were dug.
Isaac, it seems, led a quiet and peaceful life--averse to all strife
with the Canaanites, and gradually grew very rich. He gave no evidence of
remarkable strength of mind, and was easily deceived. His greatest
affliction was the marriage of his eldest and favorite son Esau with a
Hittite woman, and it was probably this mistake and folly which confirmed
the superior fortunes of Jacob.
Esau was a hunter. On returning one day from hunting he was faint
from hunger, and cast a greedy eye on some pottage that Jacob had
prepared. But Jacob would not give his hungry brother the food until he
had promised, by a solemn oath, to surrender his birthright to him. The
clever man of enterprise, impulsive and passionate, thought more, for the
moment, of the pangs of hunger than of his future prospects, and the
quiet, plain, and cunning man of tents availed himself of his brother's
But the birthright was not secure to Jacob without his father's
blessing. So he, with his mother's contrivance, for he was her favorite,
deceived his father, and appeared to be Esau. Isaac, old and dim and
credulous, supposing that Jacob, clothed in Esau's vestments as a hunter,
and his hands covered with skins, was his eldest son, blessed him. The old
man still had doubts, but Jacob falsely declared that he was Esau, and
obtained what he wanted. When Esau returned from the hunt he saw what
Jacob had done, and his grief was bitter and profound. He cried out in his
agony, "Bless me even me, also, O my father." And Isaac said: "Thy brother
came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing." And Esau said, "Is
he not rightly named Jacob--that is, a supplanter--for he hath supplanted me
these two times: he took away my birthright, and behold now he hath taken
away my blessing." "And he lifted up his voice and wept." Isaac, then
moved, declared that his dwelling should be the fatness of the earth, even
though he should serve his brother,--that he should live by the sword, and
finally break the yoke from off his neck. This was all Esau could wring
from his father. He hated Jacob with ill-concealed resentment, as was to
be expected, and threatened to kill him on his father's death. Rebekah
advised Jacob to flee to his uncle, giving as an excuse to Isaac, that he
sought a wife in Mesopotamia. This pleased Isaac, who regarded a marriage
with a Canaanite as the greatest calamity. So he again gave him his
blessing, and advised him to select one of the daughters of Laban for his
wife. And Jacob departed from his father's house, and escaped the wrath of
Esau. But Esau, seeing that his Hittite wife was offensive to his father,
married also one of the daughters of Ishmael, his cousin.
Jacob meanwhile pursued his journey. Arriving at a certain place
after sunset, he lay down to sleep, with stones for his pillow, and he
dreamed that a ladder set up on the earth reached the heavens, on which
the angels of God ascended and descended, and above it was the Lord
himself, the God of his father, who renewed all the promises that had been
made to Abraham of the future prosperity of his house. He then continued
his journey till he arrived in Haran, by the side of a well. Thither
Rachel, the daughter of Laban, came to draw water for the sheep she
tended. Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, and
watered her flock, and kissed her, and wept, for he had found in his
cousin his bride. He then told her who he was, and she ran and told her
father that his nephew had come, Isaac's son, and Laban was filled with
joy, and kissed Jacob and brought him to his house, where he dwelt a month
as a guest.
An agreement was then made that Jacob should serve Laban seven
years, and receive in return for his services his youngest daughter
Rachel, whom he loved. But Laban deceived him, and gave him Leah instead,
and Jacob was compelled to serve another seven years before he obtained
her. Thus he had two wives, the one tender-eyed, the other beautiful. But
he loved Rachel and hated Leah.
Jacob continued to serve Laban until he was the father of eleven
sons and a daughter, and then desired to return to his own country. But
Laban, unwilling to lose so profitable a son-in-law, raised obstacles.
Jacob, in the mean time, became rich, although his flocks and herds were
obtained by a sharp bargain, which he turned to his own account. The envy
of Laban's sons was the result. Laban also was alienated, whereupon Jacob
fled, with his wives and children and cattle. Laban pursued, overtook him,
and after an angry altercation, in which Jacob recounted his wrongs during
twenty years of servitude, and Laban claimed every thing as his--daughters,
children and cattle, they made a covenant on a heap of stones not to pass
either across it for the other's harm, and Laban returned to his home and
Jacob went on his way.
But Esau, apprised of the return of his brother, came out of Edom
against him with four hundred men. Jacob was afraid, and sought to
approach Esau with presents. The brothers met, but whether from fraternal
impulse or by the aid of God, they met affectionately, and fell into each
other's arms and wept. Jacob offered his presents, which Esau at first
magnanimously refused to take, but finally accepted: peace was restored,
and Jacob continued his journey till he arrived in Thalcom--a city of
Shechem, in the land of Canaan, where he pitched his tent and erected an
Here he was soon brought into collision with the people of Shechem, whose
prince had inflicted a great wrong. Levi and Simeon avenged it, and the
city was spoiled.
Jacob, perhaps in fear of the other Amorites, retreated to Bethel,
purged his household of all idolatry, and built an altar, and God again
appeared to him, blessed him and changed his name to Israel.
Soon after, Rachel died, on the birth of her son, Benjamin, and
Jacob came to see his father in Mamre, now 180 years of age, and about to
die. Esau and Jacob buried him in the cave of Machpelah.
Esau dwelt in Edom, the progenitor of a long line of dukes or princes. The
seat of his sovereignty was Mount Seir.
Jacob continued to live in Hebron--a patriarchal prince, rich in
cattle, and feared by his neighbors. His favorite son was Joseph, and his
father's partiality excited the envy of the other sons. They conspired to
kill him, but changed their purpose through the influence of Reuben, and
cast him into a pit in the wilderness. While he lay there, a troop of
Ishmaelites appeared, and to them, at the advice of Judah, they sold him
as a slave, but pretended to their father that he was slain by wild
beasts, and produced, in attestation, his lacerated coat of colors. The
Ishmaelites carried Joseph to Egypt, and sold him to Potaphar, captain of
Pharaoh's guard. Before we follow his fortunes, we will turn our attention
to the land whence he was carried.