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themselves over that long waste of utterly barren country (about one hundred miles) lying between Palestine and Egypt? This region, part of the Arabian desert, was at all times perfectly dry, except during the winter rains, and it would now be peculiarly gloomy and wearisome. God might seem to some of the travellers to have quite deserted them.
TGYPT was reached at last, and they breathed again; U
for they were amid plenty, and they were drinking the waters of the Nile, that stream from which no one even of the most favored countries ever drinks without wishing that he could drink of it through all his life. What makes its waters so delicious no one has informed us, but the fact that they are unequalled to the taste is acknowledged by every person who has ever quaffed them. The travellers now not only drank with delight, but they found a double joy in the resemblance of the country to their own native land, where the Euphrates courses along between its level, flower-decked shores. They compared with both of these the land from which they had just fled, the parched, sunburnt Canaan, where all life was perishing. Did Abram's faith, through all this, still preserve its earlier firmness and strength ?
Whatever might now be his thoughts respecting his former calls to leave his early home for Canaan, he had here before him present, tangible realities for which he felt that he must be prepared. The difficulties in preparing for them were increased by the utter strangeness of all things around him, the country, the people, the wonderful architectural structures, the despotic government, the religion; all so new and much of it overwhelming to any mind. He passed along by obelisks and temples; there, before him were the Pyramids, those structures which have ever since filled the world with astonishment; he passed close by them after crossing the Nile, and by the tombs of nobles, great costly structures clustered at the Pyramids and covered with imposing sculptured forms ; passed along the crowded roads filled with people of strange habits; and now, just before him was Memphis, that city so immense that to look at it might well utterly confound the dweller on the wide northern and eastern plains, the man to whom the confinement even in a single house would seem to be suffocating.
But he was forced to stop at Memphis by a terrible disaster which suddenly befell his company. His wife was taken from him, and carried to the royal palace! The beauty of Jewish women has been proverbial, from the oldest times down to our day; and Sarai, from whom they are descended, seems to have been, in looks, worthy to be the mother of such a race. “The Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes also of Pharaoh saw her and commended her before Pharaoh ; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house."
We come now to an event that must be felt to be a dark blot on the life of Abram himself. He had, from the time of leaving Ur, foreseen that wherever they might go, Sarai's great beauty would attract attention, and might, in those lawless countries, cause danger to himself; and he had induced her to unite with him in a purpose of joint deception in case of difficulties. He was to declare her to be his sister, and she was to call him her brother; both of which were terms indeed true as regarded that relationship, but false as regarded the purpose designed, which was to conceal their relation as man and wife.
It is most painful to know that he, whom we would fain
have considered a great and thoroughly good man, and whom we would wish to make a hero, was false to honor and truththat he was guilty of lying; for such was indeed the act which we are now considering. The act was false and base; and was doubly mean, because it was a meanness toward a woman, and that woman his wife.
The Arabs to this day are peculiarly given to lying. Travellers say that, when a bargain is made with them, they are strict in fulfilling it, and that property confided to them is safe even to the minutest item, however it may be exposed; but in bargaining they set truth utterly at defiance ; and in their general intercourse, have little hesitation in violating it, even when nothing is gained to them by the act. Probably the nomadic life, having in it none of the pressure of close communities, where truth is felt to be most essential to the existence of society, may be productive of such a license to the tongue. Even stealing, in some communities, has been considered not only allowable, but praiseworthy, it not detected; but honesty and truth always have their foundations in righteousness itself, and are not dependent on any usages of society.
We yield up Abram, therefore, from any unqualified approbation, and recognize in him not a hero in history, but a weak and sinning man, even mean and base in this sin. God had taken him, not because he was perfect, but because he had a great purpose to accomplish through him. There was no perfect man to be taken. There has been in all time, only One Perfect Being on the earth, Teacher and Saviour and God himself. We leave this blot on Abram as we find it in the Scriptures; and feel its prominence to be the more striking in consequence of his other traits, which must commend themselves to us,-his simplicity of character, his gentleness, his singleness of adherence to God, his implicit yielding of his own will to God's will. With all manliness in intellect he was simple as a child. In this instance he
was a coward; yet in another case, yet to be seen, he was brave and bold, where he might easily have shrunk from danger and have pleaded the overwhelming multiplicity of the foes he so courageously pursued and fought.
If it should be asked here, how he who was so marked of heaven and called of God could have fallen into such a sin as that which we are now contemplating, we will remember that men, even if favored as Abram was, had in those times very few means of studying duty or of gaining intelligence, or of strengthening their logical perceptions of right. Of books there were very few in existence, and these were confined in circulation. Among nomads probably there were none at all. Oral traditions of events and genealogies of families could convey very few principles for men's action, and few clear teachings of what was right. As respected what was right in principle or practice men had to feel their way slowly; and even long afterward, in enlightened Greece and Rome, people often groped blindly and failed to receive the truth. In Sparta, as just noticed, stealing was commendable, if the theft was concealed; only discovery brought condemnation and shame to the perpetrator.
In the case of Abram, the divine protection was now interposed to save him and his wife from the consequences of their sin. When a woman was received as she had been, in the house of an Eastern prince, it was customary to make her undergo certain purifications before her adoption as wife; and previous to the completion of them in this instance, the monarch found his household visited with “plagues” of some kind or other, made sufficient to reveal to him the truth. Abram had in the mean time been enriched, for her sake, with very many gifts such as in pastoral life would be most valued, including camels, and also with men-servants and maid-servants. He was now sent for by the monarch, and upbraided with his base conduct; and then, husband and wife were dismissed, the gifts being still allowed to remain
in their possession. Thus ended an event discreditable to both of them, and especially so to him.
We must here take notice of a very singular episode in the history of Egypt itself; for the subject comes before us in the questions, who was this Pharaoh, and why was the treatment to Abram, a shepherd, so different from that given to the descendants and followers of his grandson Jacob, also shepherds, who had to be put in a separate corner of the kingdom, because, as they were informed, “every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians ?” This contempt for shepherds is also shown in numerous places on the monuments of Egypt, where people in that employment are represented as lame or deformed, dirty, unshaven and even of a ludicrous appearance, and often clad with the matting similar in quality to the covering thrown over the backs of the oxen they are tending. Some of these sculptures are on the tombs at the bases of the Pyramids, and may have been seen by Abram himself as he passed by, for those tombs belong to periods antecedent to his time. The honor with which be, a shepherd, was received and treated may have been owning to Sarai, but seems scarcely to be accounted for in that manner; and so especially the nature of the presents given,-royal gifts presented to him, consisting chiefly of sheep and oxen. When Joseph's brethren came into Egypt, Joseph was the highest authority in the land next to the king, yet he was compelled by the Egyptian scorn for shepherds to give them a region where they would not feel this hatred and contempt.
There seems to have been a difference between the people of Egypt in these two periods of time; and it is in perfect accordance with what we know of two very different epochs in that country ;—one, a rulership by shepherd kings, and another, the government by native Egyptian kings.
1 See Wilkinson's “Ancient Egyptians."