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

fruitful fields.

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.