29. Nations will serve thee, and peoples prostrate them

selves before thee: Be lord over thy brothers, and let thy mother's sons

prostrate themselves before thee.

and the power of the solar rays increases; yet the evenings are delightfully cool. In June, July, and August, the heat steadily rises; a tropical temperature prevails; and deaths from sun-strokes occur; even the nights are sultry; and many fountains and cisterns dry up. The dew, though continuing to nourish the stronger plants, loses its effect upon the grass, herbs, and flowers; and the fields are so arid, that a single spark would instantaneously spread a conflagration; the richest soil is burnt; the beautiful verdure, which enchants the eye in April, is, three months later, converted into the brown blades of the desert. In September, the nights again become refreshing; and now and then, especially towards the end of the month, rain falls, and the heat diminishes.

A country whose seasons are so regular, and whose climate is, on the whole, so temperate, may well be expected to be distinguished by fertility. That it was so in an eminent degree, is fully confirmed both by Biblical and classical writers. It is, in the Old Testament, called "the choicest of all the countries of the earth” (Ezek.xx.6); a “precious land, a beauteous inheritance among the hosts of nations" (Jer. ii. 19); a “land of brooks of water, of fountains, and deep floods; a land of wheat and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil-olive, and honey, whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass” (Deut. viii. 7-9); it is described as unlike the land of Egypt, “ where the seed is sown and watered with the foot, like a garden of herbs" (see note on Exod. i. 19); as a country of hills and valleys, which drinks water of the rain of heaven; as a land which God loves, and “ upon which the eyes of the Lord are constantly from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” Further, Tacitus observes: "the

soil is fertile; it abounds in all sorts of fruits which our country produces, and besides them in balm and palm-trees.” Josephus extols in glowing language the wealth and beauty of the valley of Jericho; Justinus writes in similar terms; and Ammianus praises the well-cultivated and highly productive fields; while the remark of Strabo, that the vicinity of Jerusalem is stony and parched, is opposed to all other and more authentic testimonies. Nor do all those accounts exaggerate the truth. The plains and valleys are irrigated by numerous rivulets; the mountains, gradually sloping down into hills, are peculiarly adapted for the cultivation of the vine and the olive-tree, and for the breeding of cattle; and though some are naturally arid and rocky, they were rendered highly useful by the industry of the ancient inhabitants; terraces dug from base to summit, and covered with richer soil, received the seeds; and in due season, the vernal and autumnal rains, the beneficent dew, the genial rays of the sun, and the mildness and salubrity of the atmosphere, matured olives, figs, and grapes, and soon also leguminous plants,and most excellent corn.

– Though the desert in several parts encroaches upon the land, many districts of the interior vie with the most blooming tracts of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Palestine is, indeed, like an oasis in a surrounding wilderness; a favoured spot, which might well appear like the special gift granted by a beneficent God to a chosen nation. But the fruitfulness of Palestine was destroyed by warfare and pillage; perhaps no country on earth has been more frequently in. vaded and devastated; it was the scene of numberless wars and occupations; it passed successively into the hands of many neighbouring and distant nations, Asiatic, European, and African. Can we be astonished that districts, once blooming like beautiful gardens, lie neglected like a desert; that a population once flourishing and numerous, has, in many parts, shrunk into communities of paupers or robbers; and that, with the perpetual dread of the rapacious Bedouin over the head of the husbandman, the soil seems waste and desolate? However, neither violence nor negligence have been able totally to annihilate the natural fertility of Palestine; some of the terraces, especially between Nablous (Shechem) and Jerusalem, have remained, and are successfully cultivated by the Arabs who inhabit the neighbouring tracts; a considerable quantity of corn is annually exported from Palestine to Constantinople; and a still greater amount of raisin-honey is sold to Egypt; the cotton produced in the plains of Esdraelon, excels in quality even that of Syria; numberless herds and flocks graze on the luxurious fields of Galilee, and in the rich plains which border the northern part of the Jordan; swarms of wild bees accumulate their honey in the cavities of trees and the fissures of rocks; and the exertions lately commenced from various quarters for redeeming the Holy Land from the curse of indolence under which it has so long suffered, justify the hope of the most cheering success, promising to realize once more the prophetic blessing of Isaac: “ The Lord may give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and abundance of corn and wine."

Cursed be those who curse thee, and blessed those who

bless thee. 30. And when Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31. And he also had made a palatable meal, and brought it to his father, and said to his father, Let my father rise, and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me.

32. And Isaac his father said to him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau. 33. And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who, then, is he who took venison, and brought it me? and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him:—he shall certainly be blessed.--34. When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceedingly bitter cry, and said to his father, Bless me also, Oh my father. 35. And he said, Thy brother came with cunning, and took away thy blessing. 36. And he said, Is he not justly named Jacob [Deceiver]? for he hath now deceived me twice: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me? 37. And Isaac answered and said to Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I supported him: and what then shall I do to thee, my son ? 38. And Esau said to his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me also, Oh

He further promised to Jacob the dominion over subjugated nations; he alluded to the conquest of the surrounding provinces, and the extirpation of the tribes

of Canaan; of all those who, by their crimes, were destined either to serve or to perish, and who, by descent and faith, were strangers to the Israelites. However, not those alone, but even his own " brothers," " the sons of his mother," should acknowledge the sovereignty of Jacob's progeny; and more particularly the Edomites, the nearest and latest kinsmen of the Hebrews, the children of an ancestor who was born of the same father and of the same mother with Jacob, and to whom, by right of nature, the authority of the firstborn belonged (ver. 37). But the Hebrews were destined to be more than the mere conquerors and inhabitants of Palestine; their worldly prosperity w

was but the pledge of higher and more precious treasures; it was the guarantee that they should be the guardians of truth and peace of mind; that all the nations of the earth were to follow the standard they would unfurl, and that all generations were to respect them as their guides and instructors: that “those who curse them are cursed, and those who bless them are blessed." The Israelites were selected as the prophets among the nations, to be the intermediate link between God and mankind. Thus understood, the prediction of Israel's dominion presents an admirable climax, from the foreign nations to kindred tribes, and from the external power to the aniversal sovereignty of the intellect.

30–33. A most intense, if not painful, interest is excited in the reader's mind; he is in an anxious suspense, trembling lest Esau should return and surprise Jacob in his ludicrous disguise and his reck

less fraud; his sympathy is divided, and in a perplexing conflict. The Biblical author was distinctly conscious of this critical situation; he relates, with great stress, that “ Jacob was yet scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father,” when Esau came back. A scene of violence was thus avoided; and this was regarded as an interposition of Providence, as a sign that God desired the prerogatives of Jacob. When, therefore, Esau, hastening to prepare the venison, brought it to his father, and demanded the benediction, Isaac was indeed overwhelmed with consternation and grief; he felt, indeed, excruciating anguish that his younger son should have debased himself by falsehood, and craft, and shameless blasphemy (ver. 35); but he could not but acknowledge, in his success, the finger of God, who evidently had determined the elevation of Jacob; he could not but be forcibly reminded of the prophecy received by Rebekah, and now at last be convinced of its truth; and he exclaimed, though with a certain sorrowful feeling, yet with firmness and assurance: “he shall certainly be blessed.” However deeply the father might continue to despise the abject means by which the benediction was obtained, he was now certain that Jacob was destined to be the propagator of the faith of Abraham.

31-38. In this embarrassing dilemma, both the nature of the patriarchal blessing and the character of Esau are most distinctly developed. The blessing is irrevocable; once pronounced, it works its effect with the infallibility of fate. This power is, indeed, attributed to the words

of all parents spoken on their children; “the blessing of the father builds houses to the sons, the curse of the mother destroys them” (Sir. iii. 9); for the parents are to the children the representatives of God: but it is the case in an eminently higher degree with the patriarchs; they are, in their blessing, the instruments of God, who guides and inspires them; their words are Divine prophecies. These notions, undoubtedly standing in admirable harmony with the whole Biblical system, are certainly far superior to the analogous ideas of the classical nations. If Phæbus cannot revoke the fatal promise made to his ambitious son, Phæton; or if Theseus cannot arrest the curse which his blind wrath had hurled against his innocent son, Hippolytus: it is because the gods, themselves instruments, have no power over fate; nor is man the author of his own thoughts and words, but some demon is charged to infatuate, in order to ruin him.-Though Isaac exclaimed with a bitter pang: “Thy brother came with cunning," he was neither able nor desirous to annul the blessing; he seemed to have exhausted his whole store of prophetic benediction; he had scarcely a second to bestow: points more than sufficient to prove, that the blessing was not regarded as the voluntary act of the patriarch, but as the gift and emanation of God, which, like all that proceeds from Him, is perfect and unerring. But how did Esau act in this conflict? It appears, that even he, in the first impression of his mind, acknowledged the invisible hand of Providence; for when he heard, that his brother had obtained the blessing,

my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and

his feeling was that of intense and over- weight of the other; he could not compowering grief rather than of anger; "he prehend or feel the invisible, but he was cried with a great and exceedingly bitter keenly susceptible of the visible; his mind cry"; and added simply: “ Bless me also, was not sublime, but his heart was full of Oh my father.” But when Isaac himself pure and strong emotions; he saw in his could not repress his indignation against father only the earthly progenitor, not the Jacob, when he described the means by representative of the Deity – he was, inwhich the latter had secured the privilege deed, the man of nature. As such he is as contemptible cunning: how should the described in the affecting scene of our text; injured man of nature, impetuous and im- he is designedly placed in marked contrapulsive as he was, withhold an acrimonious distinction to his brother Jacob: nature, and pungent rebuke? how should he not, in simplicity, deep and genuine affection on this maturer epoch of his life, be reminded the one side; shrewdness, ambition, and of the artful insidiousness by which he had indefinite, soaring, but unsatisfied intellecbefore been deprived of his birthright? tual craving on the other. This contrast and it is pardonable to his passion, that not only implies the kernel and spirit of in order to give to the charge a greater this narrative, but forms the centre of all stress, and a certain striking truth, he found Biblical notions. Hence Esau's vehement Jacob's unprincipled cunning expressed disappointment will receiveits proper light; and foreboded in his very name (see p.323). he deeply repented, that he had sold his But another interesting feature of Esau's birthright, but only because he believed, character is here revealed. While in Ja- that he was for that reason justly deprived cob's conduct the high and noble aims of the father's blessing due to the eldest which he pursued, were in most discordant son (ver. 36); he heard, without enry or contrast with the ungenerous means which animosity, that Jacob's descendants had he employed, Esau was fluctuating and been declared the future lords of his own contradictory within himself; though the progeny; leaving that prerogative unmurgeneral tone of his mind was indifference muringly to his brother, he exclaimed: to spiritual boons, his sentiments were “Hast thou but one blessing, my father”? spontaneous and profound whenever the and burst forth into another flood of tears. voice of nature spoke; he despised the 39, 40. Long had the fond father re. birthright (xxv. 34), but regarded himself sisted the importunity of Esau, since he always as the firstborn son (ver. 32); he knew that he could predict to his favourite slighted the prophecy of God (xxv. 23), son little that could give satisfaction to but coveted most anxiously the blessing of himself, or prove acceptable to the other. his father ; he attributed to the latter a This reluctance might have taught a wiser greater force than to the former; he hoped and more prudent man to renounce a certo neutralize the effect of the one by the tainty little calculated to brighten his pro

wept. 39. And Isaac his father answered and said to him, Behold, without the fatness of the earth shall be thy


And without the dew of heaven froni above. 40. And by thy sword shalt thou live;

Yet shalt thou serve thy brother :-
But when thou truly desirest it,

Thou shalt break his yoke from thy neck.41. And Esau hated Jacob on account of the blessing

spects. But now Isaac was forced, almost against his will, to reveal the painful truth; he described the abodes assigned to the Edomites as barren and cheerless, neither favoured by the fatness of the earth, nor the dew of heaven; their life, therefore, far from being one of calm enjoyment, would be passed in plunder and warfare; they would owe all to the sword, and nothing to the plough-share; but though always wielding sanguinary weapons, yet their lot would be subjection and servitude; though strong enough for pillage, they would be too rude for victory; they would be the slaves of their kindred tribes; - but their innate prowess, if tempered by prudence, and controlled by discipline, would always be powerful enough to secure or to restore their liberty; if roused by self-respect and energy, they would break the yoke, and be again free in their vast steppes. This is the image of Esau's history, at once forcible, faithful, and concise. The tracts inhabited by the Idumæ. ans, the region of Mount Seir, and the deserted districts in the west and northwest of it, belong, perhaps, to the most desolate, the most sterile parts of the globe. There is frequently for many miles no village, no hut, to mark the trace of a human being; the soil is parched by the burning rays of the sun; solitude and devastation prevail around; those who, by ancestral traditions or indolence, are kept in these regions, seek refuge in caves or subterranean tents; the soil, yielding no more than a scanty verdure, scarcely sufficient for the maintenance of flocks, de

fies the industry of the husbandman; no waving ear, no golden fruit, no smiling flower, relieves the eye of the desponding wanderer; "the fatness of the earth, and the dew of heaven" are alike denied to the land. It is, however, hardly necessary to observe, that some parts of the districts of Idumea, especially those nearer the southern frontiers of Palestine, and some other valleys, were capable of cultivation, and produced corn and wine, though scarcely more than was barely necessary for immediate consumption.— The other points of Isaac's predictions have already been illustrated; we have treated of the unbridled mode of life of the Edomites; of their subjection under the sceptre of the kings of Judah; and their ultimate deliverance in the reign of king Joram (see p. 324); but we may here more distinctly express an idea, before but passingly alluded to. The text intimates, that the freedom of the Idumæans was given in their own hands; that they might be independent whenever they would summon sufficient energy earnestly to wish it; and as the history of Esau is the mirror in which we are to see the destinies of his descendants, we may, in the repentance of the former, find a regret, on the part of the latter, that they had neglected their dignity when it was time to vindicate it; for they might, indeed, after their subjugation, have attempted fruitless revolts and invasions; but centuries elapsed before they could redeem the forfeited rights.

41. When Esau, leaving the presence of Isaac, no longer felt the sanctifying

« ElőzőTovább »