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The characters of Esau and Jacob should therefore be estimated simply according to their intrinsic worth. “ The one was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; the other was a plain (quiet) man, dwelling in tents:" the latter, therefore, was fitted, and the former was not, to be the founder of a race of peaceful, home-dwelling agriculturists. But the cunning hunter is brave and generous, while random and careless. The quiet herdsman is timid, artful, crafty and intriguing. We sympathize with the hungry man selling (perhaps scarcely believing the other to be in earnest) his prospective birthright, rather than with him who could deliberately so defraud him of it. If we pity Jacob serving the exacting Laban for his wives, we soon cease to feel any high moral interest in their contest of cunning, and scarcely congratulate Jacob at last upon having outwitted his unjust father-in-law. But when (in ch. xxxii., xxxiii.) the brothers meet, Jacob with the timid precaution and deprecation of a man conscious of having injured his brother, and Esau with frank and hearty forgiveness, or rather with a seeming unconsciousness of the past,—the one offering profuse gifts, the other saying, “I have enough, my brother, keep that thou hast unto thyself,”— the one still distrusting the reconciliation, which the other manifested in every act without speaking many formal words,-who can refrain from morally loving the wronged but generous Esau, or from tracing in the craven spirit of Jacob the moral retribution of conscious wrong-doing?
Laban's IMAGES, or TERAPHIM, which his daughter Rachel stole on the departure of Jacob and his family (Gen, xxxi. 19), and which he calls “ HIS GODS" when he follows to reclaim the fugitives (Jacob afterwards (xxxv. 2) calls them strange gods, which he bids his household put away), are a point of great theological interest in the history of the foundation of a monotheistic family. Out of the family of Abraham, we have noticed the worship of the One True God by Melchizedek; within that family, we here find something like secret idolatry, or, at the very least, superstition. What else should we expect where human developements grow, though amid certain divine manifestations? It is quite natural, if we will but recognize the natural as the great basis upon which the necessity for the supernatural stands. Certain great divine influences are preternaturally communicated from time to time; and being so communicated, they become a part of the furniture of the human mind, are transmitted by its ordinary operations, are subject to the action of its ordinary faculties, and liable to admixture with its errors and weaknesses of all kinds.
The fortunes of the family of Jacob soon concentrate around JOSEPH as the leading object of interest, alike in personal character and in the events among which he moves. The history of Joseph and his brethren should be told in the words of Scripture alone. It needs no criticism to explain. The heart is its interpreter. The object of this book being to lighten scriptural difficulties and to aid intelligent conviction, we pass on to another part more requiring such appliances.
THE LAST WORDS OF JACOB.
(Gen. xlix.) “The history of his life,” says Dr. Milman (History of the Jews, Vol. I. p. 55), “ terminates with a splendid poetical prophecy, describing the character of his sons, and the possessions they were to occupy in the partition of the promised land. This poem was no doubt treasured up with the most religious care among the traditions of the tribes. One curious point proves its antiquity. The most splendid destiny is awarded to Judah and the sons of Joseph, but Jacob had never forgotten the barbarity of Simeon and Levi. These two families are condemned to the same inferior and degraded lot, as divided and scattered among their brethren: ('I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.') Yet how different their fate! The tribe of Levi attained the highest rank among their brethren; scattered, indeed, they were, but in stations of the first distinction; while the feeble tribe of Simeon soon dwindled into insignificance, and became almost extinct. A later poet, certainly Moses himself, would not have united these two tribes under the same destiny."
This is conclusive in favour of the antiquity of this highly poetical passage. And it also illustrates the comprehensive meaning which the Jews attached to the words prophet and prophecy, as including not only the anticipation of the future, both inspired and uninspired, but also the fervid expression of devout feeling in hymn or ode, in praise or prayer. Of this, more hereafter.
There is another trace of antiquity in the poem, compared with the actual destiny of the tribes, perhaps not less striking than the one which Dr. Milman has pointed out. Levi having no landed inheritance, the number of twelve tribes was made out by the two sons of Joseph having each an allotment. Now if these last words of Jacob were not older than the distribution of the tribes under Moses, it is scarcely conceivable that Ephraim and Manasseh should not have been distinctly and somewhat pointedly recognized as supplying the vacant lot of Levi.* But of this there is scarcely anything that can be construed into an intimation. When blessing Joseph and his sons, in the previous chapter, Jacob says (xlviii. 5), “Thy two sons are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine;" which may be regarded as verified by
* In “the blessing with which Moses, the man of God," long afterwards, “ blessed the children of Israel before his death” (many parts of which strongly remind the reader of the blessings of Jacob upon his sons, and no part more than that which relates to Joseph and his sons), the two tribes are expressly distinguished at the conclusion of the lot of Joseph, in these words :
“Such the ten thousands of Ephraim,
their becoming the heads of tribes, but can scarcely be considered as distinctly pointing to it; since Joseph and Levi afterwards receive their individual designations from the patriarch, yet the blessing upon Joseph, in which he expatiates with poetical and loving delight, contains no hint of the double inheritance, while the patriarch's last words are followed by this express comment—“All these" (including Levi, that is, and Joseph, but not Ephraim and Manasseh "All these are the twelve tribes of Israel; and this is it that their father spake unto them and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.” Certainly this record is older than the days of Moses, if not contemporary with those of the dying Jacob himself. Such traces of antiquity time itself cannot efface, while the venerable record is spared.
EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY.
BETWEEN the death of Joseph, with which the book of Genesis ends, and the mission of Moses, with which that of Exodus virtually begins, there is a gap of several generations at least. How many years passed between the migration of Jacob and his family into Egypt and the deliverance of his descendants thence by the hand of Moses, is a disputed point in Jewish chronology. Their enslavement and oppression are not traced in progress, but stated as the existing facts from which the action of the books now before us proceeds.
These four books narrate the life and actions of the Lawgiver. If he himself wrote the Pentateuch (in its original state), these are contemporary records, while Genesis is a compilation from older documents, and probably still older unwritten poems and traditions. Whoever was the writer, he had, of course, more of contemporary documents to guide him in these four books than in the first. We have now quite left the traditional for the historical period, whatever difficulties or disorders may encumber the history on which we henceforth enter.
We need not here repeat, but merely refer to, what has been already remarked on the general question of the
age and authorship of these books. Accepting the substance of the narrative as originally from the pen of Moses, or written under his direction, and in this way alone able to account for the journal form in which “ the Law" appears (a most inconvenient and perplexing form for any writer but the journalist himself, and for all readers and learners), we see ample cause to believe that it is not by any means in the exact form in which he left it, but sadly dislocated by time and carelessness, presenting some strange gaps, deformed by insertions in very inappropriate places, and encumbered by very careless repetitions. Such as it is, however, the “ Law," as contained in this record, is the foundation of the Jewish history and peculiar national character. We must learn hence what the religion of the Jews really was, while other books will better teach us its developement in practical life.
The book of Exodus narrates the birth and early life of Moses, his call to be the deliverer of his nation, the plagues of Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the supply of manna in the desert, the giving of the Law of the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and the formation of the Sanctuary. These are its principal contents.
This work is not designed to serve the purpose of commentator and critic, but guide rather to sources of knowledge, and indicator of rational religious thought. I do not attempt therefore to give a narrative of the Mosaic history, but earnestly recommend for perusal