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MHEIR first stopping-place might well have put them
I in love with their new home; for it must always have. been a delightful spot, and it is at this day considered the garden of Palestine. In fertility it was equal, and in variety of aspect it was far superior, to the place of their former residence by the Euphrates. A plain about twelve miles long stretches here from north to south. On the west of it rise two mountains about eight hundred feet high, separated by a valley one thousand feet in width; and proceeding up this valley a short distance we come to fountains, of which there is a succession still further westwardly, giving unrivalled fertility to all this region. Fruit and other trees clothe the hill-sides, and the whole garden-like place is musical with the songs of birds, which congregate here in unusual numbers. Here was in those days, Sichem (Shechem)—now Nablous—and here by one of the large trees of the country, the terebinth of Moreh, Abram pitched his tent for a temporary sojourn. We leave them in this encampment while we take a brief survey of the people among whom they had come to make their dwelling.
Of the three great families coming immediately from Noah, the Japhetic appears to have taken its course to the northward, whence it spread in various directions, giving to a large part of Asia, to Europe, and finally to America, the
1 The word translated plain in our version means terebinth, the Pistacia Terebinthus of Linnæus, the Butm tree of the present natives. Robinson says of it: “It spreads its branches far and wide like a noble oak. It is not an evergreen, but its small feathered, lancet-shaped leaves fall in autumn and are renewed in the spring."
origin of their various populations. The Shemitic continued to occupy the original place of settlement along the Euphrates, whence they spread so as to occupy all the fertile region of Mesopotamia. The descendants of Ham emigrated to the westward, occupying the southern part of Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Canaan; and in the immense enlargement of Japhet, as well as in the history of the other two great classes of families, we have a striking fulfilment of the prophecy of their progenitor. (Gen. ix. 25–27).
Abram, therefore, when he entered Canaan found himself among the descendants of Ham ; but they seem to have been sparsely scattered, and to have been chiefly a pastoral people, though not always dwellers in tents. While occupying settled habitations, they sent out their flocks to graze as pasturage could best be found; and only two spots are mentioned where cities could be seen. One of these was at Kirjath-arba (the city of Arba, also Hebron'), and the other was the group of five cities, (probably small ones) at the spot where is now the southern end of the Dead Sea. Arba, after whom the former was named, had been a distinguished man among the giant race? belonging to that region as well as to the country east of the Jordan through which Abram had first passed. We have a record of the tribe of Amorites at this time, occupying the high grounds in and about Hebron, a warlike race, who afterward carried their arms across the Jordan and became possessors of a large region east of that river. We have also a notice at this time of the Perizzites, or, according to the meaning of their name, dwellers in plains; but the people generally went under the designation of Hittites, called so from Heth, a grandson of Noah by Canaan. The language spoken through this country had a resemblance to that of Mesopotamia, and the new party of immigrants had little difficulty in making themselves understood among the people of the land. We are struck at once, however, and throughout the history of Abram, with the manner in which he kept himself and his tribe distinct from all these dwellers in Canaan. He was courteous and sufficiently affable, and although always preserving a clear separation from them, was popular as well as respected; but he never seemed to forget that his family was in a distinct position among them and was to be kept clearly marked as such.
1 See Gen. xxiii. 2.
2 Josh. xiv. 15.
We see him now at Sichem (Shechem), feeling that a strange, supernatural power was surrounding him and was pointing to a most wonderful future, which, if his curiosity tempted him to peer into it, took many changing and always indistinct shapes. Here again “the Lord appeared unto Abram and said to him, ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land.'” He bowed his whole soul in deep reverence; and at this place he erected an altar to 78717 717", "Jehovah beheld.”
Removing from Shechem, he travelled twenty-five miles further to the south, and pitched his tent on an elevated spot, famous afterward as Bethel. He had now, as before, one of the finest tracts of pasturage in the whole land, remarkable still for two good fountains, and commanding an extensive view of the country. Here also he built an altar, and “called upon the name of the Lord.” But the beauty of the place and its fountains and convenience for pasturage did not long detain him there. There seems to have been in him, what indeed we might expect at this time, a desire to examine the land which God had promised to his descendants; and leaving Bethel, he travelled on further toward the south, by the spot so famous long afterward as the site of the great capital, Jerusalem ; along over the plains, and by the hills afterward and now distinguished as the site of Bethlehem; and then still farther southwardly, looking as he went at hill and dale, and revolving in his mind the promises made and the strange mysteries of that future for which, it had been told him, he was designed.
1 A long inscription on a sarcophagus disinterred near Sidon in 1854 has such a close resemblance to the Hebrew as to cause little difficulty in reading it. The letters used on it will be noticed in another part of this work.
He walked as a man would walk in a dream, and yet knowing that the dream was an actual fact and that all about him were tangible realities. But still in the dream. He was a man of too much reasoning power not to reason ; and of too much practical sense not to look for actualities and to take hold of them as such. He was not given to visionary ideas and fancies; for his life shows him to have been a man of strong sense and of good common perceptions and judicious treatment of facts. And yet he was led in a way beyond his power to reason about it; and the future was all to be that which his reason could not fathom or in it find a certain standing-place for any observations or even surmisings. But he was not troubled with doubts. God had spoken ; he believed; he was content in that belief.
The country as it came under his eye was fair to look upon, and the inhabitants were peaceably disposed. There was room sufficient for his flocks yet few in number, as well as for theirs; and thus he moved onward in that independent life belonging to a pastoral people, pitching his tents as choice led him over an extent of country free to all.
But gradually a change came over all the country; and the newly-arrived family, keenly attentive to every event, were by and by filled with dismay on finding not only that the beauty and attractiveness of the region were gone, but that they were themselves involved in one of the direst calamities that can anywhere befall a people. Palestine is peculiarly dependent on rains for the very existence of its inhabitants. Its large river, the Jordan, runs in a channel sunk more than a thousand feet below the general level of the country, and can afford no help for irrigation. Other streams are few and very scant in their supply; rains are uncertain, and sometimes utterly fail; and when the latter is the case, vegetation is soon burnt up, springs and wells are dry, the soil is turned to powder, all living things begin to perish; the horrors of famine are on the land. So it was now. Abram and his family saw, with sickening feelings, the progress of a long, uninterrupted drought, the sky like brass, the sun fiery and scorching all things, vegetation dead. And soon also their own lives were in danger from the increasing famine, against which there had been no former experiences to guard them, and no time indeed for preparation. They were compelled to fly,—to fly from the “promised land” almost as soon as they had reached it; and to gain which they had travelled so far, and had given up so many comforts in their former home.
Egypt was then, as it still is, a granary for all nations far and near; and Abram, taking his family, started for at least a temporary refuge in that country, his little company carrying such feelings with them as we can very well imagine. His wife seems to have been fretful and impatient at other times when there was nothing peculiarly trying to temper; and here the circumstances would be a severe test of temper in any one. Many questions, doubtless, she had put to him in the long journey, respecting his future purposes or the reasons for present conduct, which he had found it difficult, if not impossible, to answer; for the manifestations from God had not been to the family, but to him; and all at Haran, as we know, had not believed in them. To puzzling questions he could only give, in reply, his own firmness of belief. But such reply would often savor to others more of simplicity and weakness than of strength of mind; and, at all times, would not be apt to give full satisfaction to the questioners. Still less satisfactory would his answers be under such circumstances as the present. Was his own belief indeed entirely unshaken now, as faint through insufficiency of food, and weary and thirsty, they dragged