then, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25. And the first came out red, all over like a hairy cloak, and they called his name Esau. 26. And after that his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was sixty years old when he begat them.—27. And the boys grew: and Esau understood the chase, a man of the field; and Jacob was a

the name of king of Edom, was the chief of the country; he was the general in war; and was, no doubt, selected from the principal families of the Edomites. But the memory of their former iridependence lived among them; they waited for an opportunity to break their fetters; in the times of Joram (B.C. 890), they accomplished their design; they proclaimed their own king; the campaign which the king of Judah undertook against them, was unsuccessful; and they maintained their independence during a long period. They were, indeed, attacked and defeated by king Amaziah (B.C. 838); his successor Uzziah (B.C. 809) gained Elath; but this town was shortly afterwards taken from the Hebrews by the Syrians; the Edomites invaded Judæa, under Ahaz (B.c.741); and enjoyed, no doubt, complete liberty; till, like most of their neighbours, they fell a prey to the marvellous progress of the Chaldean despots. The indelible enmity of the Idumeans against the Hebrews outlived, however, their own subjection, and the destruction of Jerusalem; it raged in unabated violence in the time of the Maccabees, and the period of the Roman invasion; even at that period, they are still described as a turbulent and rude nation, always meditating commotions, rejoicing in convulsions and changes, ever ready to seize arms, and hastening into battles as to feasts. These facts suffice to show the truth of the statement contained in our text, that "the one people was stronger than the other people; and that the elder served the younger”; but they prove also the correctness of the remark, later made with regard to Esau, that “when he had the power, he broke the yoke from his neck" (xxvii. 40); which, no doubt, refers to the

permanent deliverance in the time of Joram.

27-34. The more Esau and Jacob advanced towards manhood, the more striking became the difference of their characters. The foriner liked a life of excitement, adventure, and danger, as a huntsman, in the wilds and on the mountains; the other inclined to a calm, retired existence, as a harmless shepherd, in nomadic tents. But the text, obviously in opposition to the character of Esau, adds, that Jacob was an “ upright man." Though it is thereby not intimated that the bold feats of the chase are in themselves objectionable or immoral; yet the pensive tranquillity favoured by a pastoral life was, in every respect, more congenial to the Hebrew character; it was to this side that its sympathies verged; such pursuits were deemed more favourable for the development of the inner man; and hence, if Jacob embraced them with deliberate choice, they were to the Hebrew historian a certain guarantee of a serious and well-directed mind (see p. 175). However, Isaac was very strongly attached to Esau; he loved him as his firstborn son, on whom the blessing of Abraham would naturally descend, and through whom the great future would be realised. IIe could scarcely imagine that the preference was intended for the younger brother. Although he himself was a second son, he was the only one born by Abraham's lawful wife; no such difference existed in the case of Esau and Jacob; and as the former seemed to be an obedient and dutiful son, there was the less cause to suspect that he was to be deprived of his due rights. But Rebekah entertained a predilection for the younger son, whose gentler disposition gained her sympathy, and to whom the prophecy, more faithfully remembered by her, had assigned the superior dignity. But then an incident happened, almost indifferent in itself, but eminently calculated to disclose the nature and character of the two brothers. It is significant by its very insignificance. Jacob had cooked a dish of lentiles, when Esau, just returned from the field, hungry and exhausted, asked for some of the pottage. Jacob, desirous to profit by Esau's greediness, requested him to cede to himself the birthright, as the eldest son. Esau, careless and unre. flecting, intent merely upon the gratification of the momentary appetite, ennobled by no lofty prospects into the future, living only for himself, and seeking no glory or immortal fame; not perceiving the holy thread which connects time and eternity; feeling himself a fragment, a mystery, a perishable object; Esau exclaimed: “ Behold, I shall soon die, and what profit is this birthright to me ?” Jacob, wishing to secure for ever the advantage which might later be reclaimed by his brother, urged him to confirm the cession by an oath. Esau consented; and by the solemn ratification acknowledged, that it was not merely in an unguarded moment of weakness that he gave up his birthright; but because -- he despised it. Every part of the transaction is important. The picture, though of small compass, is executed with precision, and with touches distinctly and strongly marked. It is clear beyond a doubt, that Esau's character is designedly described not only with disdain and reproof, but even with a certain irony and ridicule; it is, indeed, a humorous and jovial trait, to compare his hairy body to a “fur-cloak”;

righteous man, dwelling in tents. 28. And Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his venison: and Rebekah loved Jacob. 29. And Jacob cooked lentiles: and Esau came from the field, and he was tired: 30. And Esau said to Jacob, Let me devour, I pray thee, of that red, red pottage : for I am tired: therefore his name was called Edom [the Red). 31. And Jacob said, Sell me to-day thy

he returns from the chase breathless, secs a dish of lentiles, and in his voracity demands “ to devour of that red, red thing"; the predominance of his animal nature is pourtrayed with a conscious emphasis; insensible to all higher aspirations, he deems it scarcely worth his while to think about the birthright; and when he has satisfied his wild appetite, he is, in conclusion, introduced with an obvious accumulation of verbs certain to produce a jocular effect: “and so he ate, and drank, and rose, and went away, and despised the birthright.” It would be idle to contend, that all this merely describes the simplicity, straightforwardness, or naïveté of Esau's mind; qualities as amiable and heartwinning, as Esau's grossness and rusticity are odious and repulsive. These latter traits, clearly intended in the text, fully agree with the national character of the Edomites: a people mostly living in rocky, mountainous tracts; obtaining a scanty subsistence from the gain of their bow; at every moment exposed to risk their lives for nothing more than a meal to satisfy their hunger; during long periods insociable and uncivilized; dreaded but not respected; betraying in their very appearance the savage recklessness of their character; wild, indomitable, and dangerous like the Bedouins, without their generous qualities; despising the ties of relationship, and disregarding the bonds of nature; such a people could not, as regards their origin, be described with more masterly skill than is done in our text.

But, on the other hand, Jacob's character is represented with no less propriety and accuracy. We cannot but acknowledge, that the insidious cunning with which he acquired the birthright, is a fea

birthright. 32. And Esau said, Behold, I am going to die: and what profit is the birthright to me? 33. And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore to him: and he sold his birthright to Jacob. 34. And Jacob gave to Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he ate, and drank, and rose, and went away: thus Esau despised the birthright. ture which the Hebrew writer intended to with barley. Lentiles and rice, boiled in condemn and to denounce; it was the equal quantities, form still one of the faconsciousness of guilt and injustice which vourite dishes in many parts of the East. induced Jacob to require an oath from When cooked, they are of a yellowish Esau; and a remembrance of this frau- brown colour, approaching to red; some dulent act urged the latter, when in a more species, growing on a red soil, have this sober disposition, to explain his name as colour naturally: and hence Esau, in his meaning deceiver and defrauder (xxvii. haste, calls the dish simply the red one. 36). This latter circumstance removes The fact, that lentiles were among the every doubt; the manner in which Jacob cheapest and most common articles of here acted, was branded by the author as vegetable food, enhances the force and immoral and despicable. But though the point of our narrative. The privileges means were base, the feeling which actu- which the birthright legally confers; the ated him, was as praiseworthy and pious, double portion of the father's property; as his aim was pure and sublime. There the higher authority in the family; the lived in Jacob a longing to become the greater social influence; all these advanpropagator of that truth, which Isaac had tages, in this instance enhanced by spirireceived from his father; and to spread tual blessings as their most precious acthose blessings which were promised companiment, could have no value for one through him to all the nations in the ful. who regarded his existence merely as the ness of time. This desire was either en- transitory play of an hour; and who was gendered or enhanced by the oracle which indifferent to the esteem of others, because his mother had received before his birth. he had not risen to understand the dignity So far, he was the worthy descendant of of mankind. If we were to expect a Abraham. But his mind lacked the grand historical allusion in this fact also, the resignation of the latter; he possessed not probable supposition offers itself, that inthat abundance of faith which teaches to deed the Edomites, who were masters of wait and to be resigned; he intended to the wide tracts from the Red Sea along work by human prudence into the hands of the whole mountain of Seir, up to the very Providence, forgetting, that, though born frontiers of Palestine, might, with a little the second son, he might, by the mercy of exertion, have extended their dominion God, be elected to be the first. His over the land of Canaan; that, with a lithoughts were still impetuous and worldly; mited degree of ambition and self-control, and a long and severe school of sorrows they might have become a respected and was required to educate and to purify him. mighty nation; but that their thoughtless

Lentiles were and are extensively and and ferocious habits kept them in the carefully grown in Egypt, Palestine, and dreary solitudes, far from the chief scenes Syria; those of Egypt were, at a later of history and civilisation. It is known, period, particularly famous; and the man- that the Mohammedans long kept the ner of cooking them is even immortalised memory of this transaction alive by dison monuments. They are not only used tributing daily to poor people and to stranas a pottage, but in times of scarcity, and gers leutiles prepared in a kitchen near more generally by the poor, they are the grave at Hebron, where they believed baked into bread, either alone or mixed the cession of the birthright took place. CHAPTER XXVI.

SUMMARY.-A famine induced Isaac to journey to Gerar, with the view to proceed to

Egypt; but on the command of God, who repeated to him all the blessings before. granted to Abraham, he stayed in the Philistine town. Here he repeated the device with regard to Rebekah, which his father had twice practised with regard to Sarah, and which this time also was attended with a result equally favourable. He cultivated the soil, and obtained most plentiful harvests. Jealousy prompted the Philistines to stop the wells dug by Abraham; but Isaac re-opened them, and dig new ones, till he at last triumphed over the animosity of his enemies, and even the king, Abimelech, in due form renewed the political treaty before concluded with Abraham.-Esau, forty years old, took two wives from the Hittites, to the deep distress of his parents.

1. And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine which was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, to Gerar. 2. And the Lord appeared to him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell thee: 3. Sojourn in this land, and I shall be with thee, and I shall bless thee; for to thee, and to thy seed, I shall give all these countries; and I shall perform the oath which I swore to Abraham thy father; 4. And I shall multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and shall give to thy seed

1-6. The few incidents related of listines, though not properly forming a part Isaac's life, are mostly repetitions from of the promised land, was exempted from that of Abraham. This circumstance, far the curse of extirpation; Abraham had from being attributable to accident or sworn to the king to be ever faithful and neglect, is based on the plan and economy friendly to his progeny (xxi. 22—24); and of the composition. The history of the Bible the monarchs of Philistia seemed indeed to is spiritual, representing the rule of the deserve this regard by their probity and Deity, and embodying either a religious faith. - Isaac went, therefore, to Gerar idea or a moral lesson. Now, as Isaac was, (see p. 187). The king of the Philistines, in the widest sense, the heir of Abraham, in Abraham's time, was Abimelech, and the child of Divine grace, blessed because the general of his army was Phichol (xxi. Abraham was obedient to the Divine com- 22): the same names are mentioned in mands (ver. 5), the recipient and guardian our chapter (vers. 1, 26). But the two of treasures acquired before; his history is events are separated by a period of sixty but the reflex of that of his father; it is to seventy years; for Isaac was then about like the echo of some sublime and solemn ten years old, while, at the time of the faharmony. - A famine compelled Isaac, mine, he was about eighty years (xxv. 26; as it had compelled his father, to wander xxvi. 34). Whether Abimelech and Phifrom the place of his abode (ver. 1; xx. chol are not proper nouns, but the common 10); he left Beer-Lahai-Roi (xxv. 11), appellative titles for the Philistine kings to proceed, like Abraham, to Egypt and chiefs, or whether the same individuals (ver.2). But the time for the immigra- were supposed to have still lived after the tion of Abraham's seed into the land of lapse of so great an interval, must remain the Pharaohs had not yet arrived (xv.13). undecided; but it is apparent, that the inOn the other hand, the territory of the Phi- troduction of the same names is also in

all these countries; and in thy seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed; 5. Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed My observances, My commandments, My statutes, and My doctrines. 6. And Isaac dwelt in Gerar. — 7. And the men of the place asked him concerning his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place kill me on account of Rebekah; because she was beautiful of appearance. 8. And it happened when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, looked out of the window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife. 9. And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, indeed she is thy wife: and how didst thou

She is


sister? And Isaac said to him,

tended to express the parallel course of 7-11. The accident, which occurred the history of the father and the son.- twice in the life of Abraham, happened Nor will it, from this point of view, appear in the less eventful history of Isaac also in any way surprising, that the blessings (xii. 10—20; xx.). Wrongly suspecting of Isaac are almost literally identical with the Philistines, among whom he stayed, of those before given to Abraham; they con- criminal lasciviousness, he pretended that sist of the three great promises of a nu- Rebekah was his sister. But when the merous progeny, their conquest of Canaan, king discovered Isaac's true relation to her, and their blissful influence on the salvation he felt anguish and terror; he saw how of mankind; but God speaks of their re- easily an atrocious sin might have been alisation as of a duty which He is bound committed by any one of his people; and to fulfil; for Abraham had acted accord- he gave the most rigorous commands that ing to the conditions of the covenant; he his guests should be kept sacred and in. had listened to the voice of God; and had violable. Here, again, the Philistine sur"kept His observances, His commandments, passes the Hebrew in moral excellence. His statutes, and His doctrines.” The words The former profoundly abhors a crime of here used with regard to the patriarch's which the latter thinks him or his subobedience, almost exhausting the various jects capable. The patriarch believes that classes of ordinances, are indeed those there is no reverence of God among the later employed when the whole legislation people (xx. 11); and these doubtful suswas completed: but here, no doubt, that picions, together with fear of life (ver. 9), Law is referred to which is written on the appear to him sufficient to justify an unheart of man, and which, though manifold truth and a heedless risk of his domestic and complicated, is obvious to the well- purity. But this time no direct intertrained intellect; or, if even not under- ference of God solved the difficulty and stood, is practised in unconscious virtue. removed the danger; the tender familiarity And, since Abraham is the type of the in which Isaac was seen to indulge with pious Israelite, the terms here introduced Rebekah showed, in a natural manner, do not obscurely intimate, that the Law is their conjugal connection; Divine plagues, only the embodiment and clearer expres- though apprehended by the king, did not sion of the sentiments innate in every un- really happen; the whole episode is carried corrupted mind.

out by purely human agencies;-this may

« ElőzőTovább »