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The Haurán-Its stone houses and deserted cities-Recent travels there
-The Lejah-Proof now before us of God's miraculous interference
Israelites—The result—The punishment.........
IN SOUTHERN CANAAN.
W E desire to carry the reader to a period dating back
W about thirty-eight hundred years. This seems to be a long time, but length of time depends on the measurements which we apply to it. A day is sometimes long in the life of an individual, or a year may be short in the same life: a century is but a fragment in the life of a nation: the age of our world, as geologists estimate it, is beyond the power of the imagination to grasp; and yet, compared with eternity, what is it? The mind cannot conceive of its infinite shortness of duration, in such a comparison.
This present book is to treat of acts and purposes in the government of God, before whom all other vastness shrinks into insignificance, and time itself is scarcely an item of calculation; for with him one day is “as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He was, at the period now spoken of, about to bring into decisive operation a series of events designed to reach, with infinite results, to our day, and through eternity.
About thirty-eight hundred years ago, an aged man stood before his tent in an Eastern country, at eventide, and looked abroad over a scene adapted to bring feelings of very great satisfaction to his heart. For he was the chief of a pastoral tribe, and the plain on which he stood was covered with his flocks and herds, now coming home to be watered, after having fed through the day upon the rich adjoining pastures. A calm and very beautiful picture it was—there was such a significance of comfort and enjoyment around; and the mellowness of evening was now on every object, and also in every heart. For, while eventide has its charms everywhere, they are peculiarly great in that Eastern region, and in such open space, where the sun, as it approaches the horizon, lights up all nature with its own greatness of splendor, not dazzling or scorching, but in its mild glory enriching and beautifying every object, and turning the air itself into a glowing, ruby light.
But in this picture, the aged chief himself formed the most striking and interesting object, as he stood there erect, active still, though more than one hundred and twenty years old, and with a face in which authority and dignity were blended with greatest gentleness and kindness. He was looked up to with reverence by all, and he deserved their reverence. In those times men were strong in very advanced age; for the human constitution had not yet been weakened by indulgences continued from generation to generation and by the hereditary vexations of the world; and in addition to this, the nomadic life is adapted to bring into activity the healthier influences on body and mind. People in such employment have a feeling of suffocation in cities, and can breathe freely only in the tent or under the open sky, and their health has the hardy, vigorous cast which such circumstances must produce: they walk erect in the desert with an elastic step, and a sense of openness and freedom which tinctures all their lives. Travellers to the East picture to us the Arab sheikh as a very model of dignity without stiffness, and of polished urbanity without a consciousness of its own action; and even the children of his household soon catch the manners of their seniors in both these respects. The person at whom we are now looking, before the tent in Southern Canaan, was the progenitor of many nations, and, among them, of all the Arab tribes; and we may well picture him as having these admirable character istics of the Arab sheikh.
The country amid which his tent now stood had no great beauty, except that which is dearest to a pastoral people, namely, a large extent for grazing purposes and a sufficiency of water, without danger of intrusive neighbors coming to meddle with their herds. It was a region of gentle undulations, showing only in the far distant north anything that could be called the outlines of mountains; and on the east and west some lower ranges just sufficient to give variety to the landscape; while, toward the south, the eye wandered over an unbroken, level extent of grass-covered land, with scarcely a shrub to break its uniformity. But the spectator knew that, in this last direction, there would soon succeed a dreary, barren waste, extending on for more than a hundred miles. That barrenness kept this tribe of nomads free from neighbors in that direction, as did also similar barrenness, though to a less degree, on the east. Therefore it was a somewhat isolated region, and in very many respects all the more valuable on that account. A broad, shallow depression in the ground (now called Wady' es Seba), coming down from the northward and eastward, and passing off thence westwardly, gave to this region a transit for its waters to the Mediterranean in the season of rains, but in summer it was dry. On its sides, at the spot we are speaking of, wells had been dug, which, from a circumstance to be noticed hereafter, gave to the place the name of Beersheba, the Well of the Oath.
1 The word wady is one so significant and convenient that it will often be employed in this book. It means any depression in the ground sufficient to form a water-course when one is needed, and may mean, as here, a shallow, wide depression, or also a valley, or even glen.