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

otiphar'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.