Abraham: Father of Many Nations
The Book of Genesis, chapters 11 to 50 in Continuous Narrative
• Most people would refer to chapters 11 to 50 recorded in Genesis, as the stories of Abraham and Joseph.
• It is “core material” in the span of what is often referred to as “Salvation History”. Our account follows the Biblical presentation with the addition of annotations where a clarification may be helpful from a range of sources published over the past Century. The details are presented in a Bibliography at the end of the ten sections. The account attempts to offer a continuous narrative, ensuring the inclusion of any information necessary for adequate understanding, without the reader having to piece it together from various books or other relevant passages of the Hebrew Scriptures.
• With the approval of the publishers, we offer an excerpt from the Jerusalem Bible:
Chapter One A Pilgrim Household
Chapter Two The Father of the Faithful
Chapter Three A Worldly Choice
Chapter Four “As the Stars of Heaven”
Chapter Five The Day of the Lord
Chapter Six A child of Promise
Chapter Seven A Lesson about God’s Heart
Chapter Eight Courtship and Marriage in the Olden Times
Chapter Nine The Cheat who became a Prince
Chapter Ten The Story of Joseph and his Brothers
Chapter One A Pilgrim Household
For seven long generations after the Flood, the sons of Shem, Noah’s first-born, dwelt in the valleys of the eastern mountains, looking down towards the great plains of the Tigris and Euphrates. In the third generation, the name of the head of the clan was Heber, and by his name were known all those of his descendants who came into the land of Canaan, so that they are called Hebrews to this day. But some say that they got this name, which means “dweller on the other side,” because in ancient days they dwelt beyond the great river Euphrates. And in the days of Heber began that wandering of the tribes which was to continue until the earth was populated. Heber saw these dawnings of division and separation among the people, and in sadness of heart he named his first-born son Peleg, which means “Division,” for he knew that never again would the generations to follow be a united people.
Three generations more came and passed, and then Terah, who ruled over the house of Heber, was preoccupied with the restless spirit of wandering; and he journeyed down from his eastern mountain valleys and came to the western bank of the river Euphrates, to the town of Ur. At the present, Ur is a spot of desolation in the midst of desolations, with nothing to mark where it stood except the remains of its mighty temple tower, rising above the desert wastes more than an hundred miles from the sea. But in those days Ur was a great city, full of trade and wealth; for the blue waters of the Persian Gulf sparkled along its shores, and the ships of merchants from far-off lands visited the port frequently.
Not far from its walls—a ten miles or so to the eastward—rose another prosperous town named Eridu, which was held in reverence by all in that land. For in their ignorance they believed that a wondrous being, sent by the gods, came out of the eastern sea, and, landing on the shore at Eridu, brought to mankind the gifts of learning and art, and then returned to the depths from where he came. But the men of Ur held their town to be the greatest of all towns, and it was in the pride of their heart that they gave it its name; for Ur signifies “The City,” suggesting, who should say that there was no other city in the world to be named in comparison with it. And the city was given over to the worship of the moon-god, Sin, and to him was built a mighty temple, and great tower-that everyone might see from afar, the home of the lizard and the kite.
There, near this ancient city, or perhaps even in it, Terah found a home, and there three sons were born to him—Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran died, while comparatively young and his young son Lot was brought up in the home of his uncle Abram; for Abram and his wife Sarai bore much sorrow of heart because no son had been born to them; and they welcomed Lot, and made him one of their own. So for many years Terah and his sons dwelt in the city of the moon-god, and, since they knew no better, they bowed down before the moon walking in brightness among the stars of night, according to the custom of the land.
But in his old age the wandering spirit came once more upon Terah, and he could no longer remain in Ur. Therefore he took with him his sons, and all their households, and Lot also, the son of the deceased Haran; and they made their journey westwards, intending to go to the land of Canaan. And when they came to Haran, they pitched their tents, and dwelled there for a season. The infirmities of age had broken Terah’s strength, though they could not quench his spirit. So there, after a while, the aged wanderer lay down and died, having never laid eyes on the prosperous land for which he had set out.
Then the two brothers, Abram and Nahor, with Lot, their nephew, continued to dwell still in Haran for a time. But, before long, they were to part from one another; for ahead of Abram there lay a great and strange destiny, with many wanderings and many trials.
Chapter Two The Father of the Faithful
God, in His wisdom and love, chose one family to whom He might teach the truth about Himself, and a particular way of life, so that this knowledge might at last be spread abroad throughout the world; and He had seen that Abram was the appropriate person for the beginning of this great purpose. So while the sons of Terah dwelt in Harran, Abram heard the voice of God. “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” the Lord said to him, And God promised that from this childless couple a great nation would grow, and that through them all the families of the earth should be blessed. It was a strange and wonderful command and promise, which Abram never questioned, but obeyed at once. And because of this, his faith in God’s promise, God was well pleased with him, and ever since he has been called, the Father of the Faithful.
So Abram told his wife Sarai—”My Queen”—and his nephew Lot, what God had spoken, and they agreed to go with him. All was made ready for the journey, and at last the black tents were struck, and the caravan set out on its march. Across the wide Arabian Desert they travelled, till at last they saw the great mountains of Anti-Lebanon and Hermon lifting their snowy peaks across the western sky, and between the travellers and the hills lay the ancient city of Damascus, white and beautiful amidst its pergolas of vines. There they turned southwards, past the green hills of Galilee, with the blue waters of the lake lying harp-shaped among them, and at last they reached a resting-place at Sichem.
It is likely that Abram’s heart sank within him as he looked out from his camp; for, very suitable though the land might be, it was already populated. The Canaanites were there, fierce and cruel, who, in the hardness of their hearts, sacrificed their own flesh and blood, even adolescent girls and little children, to their false gods. Therefore God spoke once again to cheer His servant, promising him that to his children should be given this land where he dwelt; and in his gratitude Abram built an altar and offered sacrifice to the Lord who had comforted him. As his flocks needed fresh pasture, he journeyed southwards, till at last he came to some high land in the centre of the country. Great things were to happen there in time to come, so that the name of the place should be called “Bethel, House of God”; but when Abram pitched his camp there, it was still named Luz. There, also, the wanderer raised his altar and prayed to God who was his guide and guard.
In time, a famine came upon the land, and to save his flocks from death Abram needed to journey far south into the mysterious land of Egypt, where the great river Nile keeps all things fruitful, even though the skies send little rain. And there Abram’s trust in God failed him for a moment, and he fell into grievous error. For when he drew near to Egypt, and thought of the mighty power of its kings and princes, and remembered how beautiful his wife Sarai was, he feared that some great man should slay him, that he might take Sarai to himself. Therefore he said to his wife, “Say that you are my sister, not my wife, that so I may escape this danger.” And Sarai did as her husband bade her.
Now when they had come into the land, all who looked upon Sarai marvelled at her beauty, and her fame spread far and wide, till some of the princes of the court told even Pharaoh himself, the King and Lord of the Two Lands, about this beautiful woman who had come to Egypt. So Pharaoh sent for her, and placed her in his royal harem, meaning to make her his wife; and he gave great gifts to Abram, because of her. Yet, though Abram had spoken falsely, and brought trouble on himself and his wife, God still guarded them. A great sickness came upon Pharaoh and all his household, and the King was afraid, and believed that this trouble was sent because of the woman whom he had taken from Abram. Sending for Abram and questioning him, he learned the truth, and, rebuking God’s servant sternly for his falseness, he ordered him to take his wife and depart.
So Abram departed from Egypt, safe indeed, both he and his wife, and rich in Pharaoh’s gifts, but sorely shamed because of the falsehood they had told, for indeed the heathen King had in fact, shown himself a truer man than he whom God had chosen.
Chapter Three A Worldly Choice
On his return from his unlucky journey to Egypt, Abram made his camp once more beside the old altar which he had built near Bethel. God had blessed him in all he undertook, and he was very rich, with great flocks and herds grazing all round his tents; while his nephew Lot had also become a prosperous flock-master. Yet their prosperity proved to be a mixed blessing, since in the end it severed two good friends. For the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle were forever squabbling, each desiring to have the best pasture for their own master’s herd, till there was neither peace nor comfort in the camp.
At last Abram took his nephew out with himself alone, to where the hillside rolls away down towards the Jordan Valley. As they looked over the wide stretch of magnificent and fertile land, he said to Lot: “Why should there be a quarrel between us, when we are so closely related? Far better that we should part than to be forever quarrelling. Look at it: you have the whole land to choose from. If you will take the left hand, I will go to the right, or if you depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Lot was not like Abram. He saw in his uncle’s generous kindness only the chance of grasping at the best. His greedy eyes fixed on the rich green of the deep Jordan Valley, where grass, and corn, and fruit-trees are fed by the moisture of the river, thus growing luxuriantly in the steaming heat. All that his eyes fell upon, was soon to change, for the Lord destroyed the cities that lay in the valley, Sodom and Gomorrah, with a fearful destruction that blasted the whole countryside around; but in those days the land lay before him smiling and tempting, as rich as the land of Egypt. So, in his haste to be rich, Lot chose the Jordan Valley for his dwelling, and, parting from the man who had been a father to him for so long, he drove his flocks down the hillside, and made his camp not far from the city of Sodom, careless about the fact that the men of Sodom were thoroughly selfish, unprincipled and immoral.
Thus Abram was left alone; but when Lot had departed God visited His servant once again, and blessed his generous heart with a new promise. “Look around you,” He said, “north, south, east, and west. All the land that you see, I will give to you and to your children after you forever. Your children shall be numberless, in the days to come. Take free possession of the length and breadth of the land; for I have given it to you.” Thus Abram was rewarded for the goodness of his heart in the matter regarding Lot; and he and his household moved southwards once more till they came to Mamre near the ancient city of Hebron. There they camped, and there, as was Abram’s custom, he built his altar before the entrance to his tent.
It was not long before Lot found, to his sorrow, that the richness of a land was its danger. For in earlier days, Chedorlaomer, the mighty King of Elam, away beyond the Euphrates, had coveted the Jordan Valley, and had conquered it, with his vassal kings. For twelve years the sub-kings of the little cities in the valley paid him tribute, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. Chedorlaomer, with his allies, in particular, Hammurabi, the wise King of Babylon, came sweeping down from the north upon the rebels with a mighty power. Down the eastern side of the Jordan they drove with fire and sword. Not even the Rephaim, the big men who dwelt in the city of the two-horned goddess, Astarte, could withstand them; nor could their great kindred, the Zuzim and the Emim, far less the cave-dwelling Horites, who burrowed in the flanks of Mount Seir.
The invading host swept on to the very edge of the southern wilderness; then turning westwards and then northwards the Elamite and his allies marched up the valley of Jordan almost to where the palm-trees of Engedi overlooked the river. There the sheikhs of the five towns of the lower Jordan met the invaders in battle-array; but the hardy northerners of Elam and Babylon dashed in pieces the weak line of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. The whole army of the southern sheikhs was scattered in desperate flight to the mountains, and the victors sacked the defenceless cities of the plain, and marched homewards. Among their plunder they carried with them Lot and his house¬hold, and all that he had.
A fugitive came from the battlefield to the tent of Abram at Mamre, and told him of his nephew’s terrible plight. Swiftly Abram called to his aid the three Amorite sheikhs, Aner, Eshcol, and Marnre, who dwelt beside him; then arming his own bodyguards and shepherds and herdsmen, three hundred and eighteen hardy men, he hastened after the conquerors. Northwards up the Jordan stream he followed on their tracks, until at last he came upon them camping in the skirts of Hermon, and in a fierce night attack, pressed from several points, surprised and scattered them, chasing the fugitives almost to Damascus.
Then Abram turned back again and gathered up the possessions of his enemy forces, relieved that Lot and all his household were saved by his victory from slavery. As he journeyed in the Valley of Shaveh, joyfully homewards, the new sheikh of beaten Sodom, was eager to thank his champion; but Abram took little notice. There came forth also to welcome him an aged and holy figure, Melchizedek, whose name means “King of Righteousness,” priest and king of the Holy City, Salem. Bearing in his hands bread and wine, he came to refresh the victors, and, as Abram bowed before this ancient saint, Melchizedek blessed him, and blessed God who had given him the victory. So Abram, as was right, gave to this true servant of the most high God one-tenth part of all the spoil that he had taken from the Elamite; and the aged priest-king went his way back to his City of Peace. Who he was, or how the true faith of God had been kept alive in his line, is not known. He comes and passes, and we are yet again reminded that God has His witnesses in every age.
Abram’s bearing to the ruler of immoral Sodom was very different. Grateful for the rescue of his friends, the sheikh bade the victor keep all the spoil of the city if it seemed good to him. But Abram would have none of the tainted wealth of Sodom. “I have sworn by God most high,” he said, “that I will touch nothing of yours―not a thread nor a sandal-thong, lest you should say ‘I have made Abram rich.’ What my young men have eaten does not concern me; neither do I deny my Amorite helpers their share; but for myself,―nothing out of Sodom!”
So Abram returned again to the peace of his camp. As for Lot, Sodom, even with its dangers, still drew him; and he went back to dwell on its tainted soil.
Chapter Four “As the Stars of Heaven”
Once again the Lord appeared to Abram after his victory and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, and your reward shall be especially great.” But Abram’s heart was heavy at the thought that he had no offspring to inherit the promises that God made, and he answered bitterly, “O Lord God, what will You give me; for I will leave here childless, and my only heir must be my servant, Ellasar the Damascene?” But God answered him gently, “Not Ellasar, but one of your own flesh and blood shall be your heir.” Then, leading him forth under the midnight sky, where the countless myriads of stars burned in the dark vault, God said: “Look to the heavens and see if you can number the stars. So many shall be your descendants.” And the childless man believed God’s word even in this, and the Lord truly well pleased with his faith.
Therefore He pledged to him the Land of Promise once more, and when Abram sought a sign to assure him, God gave him that also. He directed His servant take a young heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, each of three years old, and with these a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon, which He commanded him to sacrifice, dividing each animal into two parts, laying the parts on this side and that; but the birds he did not divide, but laid the dove on one hand and the pigeon on the other. And when this was done, Abram sat by the sacrifice and drove the vultures from it until nightfall. For this was the ancient manner of a covenant: that He who made the promise should pass between the two parts of the sacrifice; and Abram waited for the passing of the Lord.
The sun sank down in the west, and, as the shadows fell, a deep sleep came upon the weary man, and with it a trouble of spirit, as though horrible darkness surrounded him. But out of the darkness came the voice of God. “Know assuredly,” It said, “that your descendants shall be strangers and slaves in a foreign land. For four hundred years shall their bondage last, and I will judge their oppressors; and afterwards they shall come forth from bondage with great wealth. As for yourself, your end shall be peaceful, and in a good old age shall you be buried. And in the fourth generation, when the wickedness of the people of this land is at its height, your children shall come here again.” Then out of the darkness came a vision. A smoking fire and a flaming torch moved slowly down the path between the two parts of the sacrifice, and Abram knew that God had set His seal to the promise.
Nevertheless, time went by and no child was born to Abram; and Sarai, his wife, grew impatient because the promise was not fulfilled. So she persuaded Abram to wed her bond-servant, an Egyptian named Hagar, in the hope God might therefore send the child of His promise. But this was the beginning of many sorrows to Abram and to Sarai, and not least to poor, innocent Hagar. For Sarai grew jealous of the Egyptian girl after a time and drove her away from Abram’s tents; and though God met her in the wilderness and sent her back again, yet there was never peace in the camp afterwards till she and her son were driven away once more.
In time a son was born to her, a bright, sturdy, quick-tempered, open-hearted boy, whom Abram named Ishmael; but the sight of him was a plague to Sarai’s jealous heart, instead of a joy, as she had hoped. When the boy was thirteen years old, God spoke once more to Abram, and encouraged him to be true and faithful, and renewed to him all the promises that had previously been given.
He commanded Abram to change his name, and call himself no longer Abram, “Lofty Father,” but Abraham, “Father of a Multitude”; while the name of his wife was to be changed henceforth to Sarah, “Princess”—”For,” said the Lord, “I will bless her and give a son to you and her, and she shall be a mother of nations: her descendants shall be kings”.
When Abraham heard that promise, he bowed to the ground, and laughing, partly for wonder and doubt, but partly, too, for joy and hope, he said in his heart, “Shall a son be born to a man a hundred years old, and to a woman who is ninety years old?” And wavering in his mind he asked the Lord to bless the boy who was playing about the tent-door. “Oh, that Ishmael might live in your presence” But the Lord answered him: “Ishmael shall have his own blessing. Twelve princes shall be his sons, and a great nation shall descend from him. But My covenant is with the son who shall be born to you and Sarah at this time next year.
Chapter Five The Day of the Lord
Abraham sat one day in the shelter of the opening of his tent, among the oaks of Mamre. It was in the midday heat, when everyone avoided travel outside except in urgent need; but as he looked out he saw three travellers drawing near. Abraham ran to welcome them, and to one who appeared the chief he said: My Lord, do me the honour not to pass my tent. Let my servants bring water to wash your feet, and rest yourselves under this oak-tree. I will bring a little bread that you may eat and be strengthened, and afterwards you shall go on your way again.” The strangers consented, and Abraham hurried to make preparations. Sarah baked bread, a calf was killed and cooked, and milk and what we call cottage cheese were set beside the bread and meat; and Abraham stood by, and courteously served his guests as they took their meal in the pleasant, refreshing shade of the oak.
Then the chief of the travellers turned to his host, and said, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” Abraham answered, “See over there, she is in the tent.” As he spoke, he realised that this travel-stained wayfarer was no mere human, and that the Lord had “come near” to him again. So God spoke to him, promising once more that Sarah should have a son. And Sarah, behind the tent-door, heard the promise, and laughed in her heart, as her husband had done before, but more from doubt than from hope. But the Lord rebuked her, and reminded Abraham to remember that nothing was too hard for the Almighty.
Now the time approached for the travellers to continue on their journey, and Abraham accompanied them as they went towards Sodom. And as they travelled, the Lord said to Abraham, “Because I have heard an evil report of the immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah, I have come here to see, and, if need be, to judge.” As He spoke, His two companions passed on towards Sodom, and Abraham was left alone in the presence of the Lord. Then Abraham pleaded with the Lord for the wicked city. “Will You destroy righteous and wicked together?” he said. “It may be that there are fifty good men in the city—will You not spare it for their sake? Surely the righteous and the wicked can never be considered equal in Your sight! Shall not the Judge of all the earth act rightly?”
Then said the LORD, “If I find fifty good people in Sodom, I will spare the whole town for their sake.” So Abraham took courage and pleaded again with God, and God promised him that if He found five and forty, forty, thirty, or even twenty good people in the city, He would hold back His hand. Then Abraham made his last plea. “Oh, let not the Lord be angry,” he said, “and I shall speak only this once. It may be that ten good people shall be found in Sodom.” And God answered him, “If I find ten such people there, I will not destroy the city.” So the Lord went on His errand of judgment, and Abraham turned homewards from his merciful bargaining.
Now the two angel messengers who had been sent into Sodom stayed that night in the immoral city, in the house of Lot, Abraham’s nephew; and before the dawn they had seen enough of the vileness of the place to know that it should be destroyed. Therefore, they directed Lot gather all his family and hasten to flee with them before the storm of God’s judgment fell upon the town. So Lot went out to warn his sons-in-law; but when he told them of the coming destruction they would not listen, for they thought he was mocking them. And when the day dawned, the angels commanded him to take at least the friends who were with him in the house, his wife, and his two unmarried daughters, and to escape. Still he wanted to linger over the riches he had gained in that notorious town; but the angels drew him and his household out of the gates by sheer force. “Escape for your life,” they cried, “Do not look behind, nor linger in the plain, but flee to the mountain, in case you become overwhelmed.”
Lot’s heart was still in the rich plain, and the flight to the mountain seemed terrible to him. “Oh, my Lord,” he said to the angel, “since you have shown me so much mercy, grant me this also. Here is a little town close at hand, a very little one. Let me escape to it.” “I grant this request also,” said the angel, “but move quickly to it; for my work waits till you are safe within its walls.” So Lot fled for his life to the little town of Zoar, and passed its gate just as the sun rose over the plain of Jordan. Then God’s judgments were loosed! Over the whole plain the lightning flashed; and, as the fire fell from heaven, the beds of pitch that underlay the soil blazed up fiercely, and the whole land was shrouded in flame and foul smoke and vapour. As she entered the gate of Zoar, Lot’s wife turned for one last look at the evil city where the treasures of her covetous heart lay; and even as she paused, the fumes overcame her, and the salt vapours surrounded her, and she stood there dead and pitiful, a statue of salt.
At the dawn of day Abraham arose, and, with anxious heart, hastened to the spot where he had pleaded with the Lord the night before. He looked from the hillside across the plain where Sodom and Gomorrah had stood, but they had vanished. Only a great cloud of black smoke arose from all the land like the smoke of a furnace.
Chapter Six A Child of Promise
Now came the time when God’s promise to His servant was fulfilled. A son was born to Abraham and Sarah, and remembering how they had both laughed at the very idea of such a thing, and laughing now again with joy because what seemed impossible had come true, they named the boy Isaac, which means “Laughter.” So there was joy and mirth in the lonely tent as the baby grew. Yet across the brightness there came a shadow; for Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother, could scarcely be expected to love the child whose coming shut him out of all hope of being his father’s heir. Sarah, too, was watchful and jealous; and, when Isaac was perhaps two or three years old, the quarrel that had long been brewing burst out. Abraham made a feast, as was the custom, in honour of the weaning of the little child; and in the midst of the rejoicing, Sarah came with a bitter complaint to her husband.
Ishmael, she said, had been jeering at the little Isaac and his belongings, and her heart was hot with anger. “Cast out this slave and her son,” she cried, forgetting that it was she herself who had given Hagar in marriage to Abraham, “for the son of a slave shall not share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
Abraham’s heart was heavy, for he loved his son Ishmael; but God had him do as Sarah wished. “Isaac shall be your heir,” He said, “but do not grieve for Ishmael, since he too shall be father of a nation, because he is your son.” So, with the dawn of the next day, Abraham gave Hagar bread and a water-skin for her journey, and sent her away with her son; and in misery the two turned their backs upon the black tents, and wandered southwards. Before long they lost themselves, for in the south country of Palestine the desert rolls close up to the fertile land at Beer-sheba. From sand-hill to sand-hill they roamed, till the water in the skin had been used, and there was no sign of a spring. Then Ishmael’s strength began to fail, and Hagar’s heart was near to breaking! She laid her boy down in the scanty shade of an acacia bush, and then she left him and crept away until he was out of her sight, for she could not bear to see him die. So she sat with bowed head and wept, and waited for death.
But God was watching over her and her child in their need. There came an angel voice to her: “Fear not, Hagar, God has heard the cry of Ishmael. Rise up, arouse your son and lead him on, for in the years to come a great nation shall spring from him.” Now when Hagar obeyed, she was guided to a spring of cool, clear water, and there she filled her water-skin, and came back with it to Ishmael; and the boy drank, and his strength returned.
So the two made their home in the wild south country. God watched over them, and Ishmael grew and became a skillful archer. When he was old enough to think of marriage, his mother’s heart turned to her own homeland; and she and her son crossed the desert to Egypt, and there the young hunter found a wife.
Chapter Seven A Lesson about God’s Heart
Now the time came when God wished to teach Abraham a lesson about the heart of the Father in heaven. For, in the land where he dwelt with his household, it was considered the noblest actions one could make to Heaven, was to offer the life of a first-born son. Perhaps Abraham had questioned with himself whether he was serving God faithfully so long as he withheld Isaac from being sacrificed. So God’s voice whispered in his heart the very suggestion of this dreadful offering. “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and journey into the land of Moriah, and there offer him for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains that I will point out to you.
Abraham did not question the command. With a heavy heart he made his preparations, and taking his son with him, and two of his household servants, and the wood for the sacrifice, he set out to perform what was commanded, saying nothing to anyone. For two days the little company journeyed, and on the third day Abraham saw a green hill lifting its head against the sky far away, and knew that this was the place where he must slay his son. He ordered the servants stay at the foot of the hill, and he himself, with Isaac, climbed the long slope, with such indescribable thoughts in his heart. Isaac carried on his young shoulders the wood on which he was to die, while his father bore the fire-pan and the sacrificial knife. So they climbed for a while in silence; and then Isaac said, “My father,” and Abraham answered, “Yes, my son?” “Here is the fire and the wood,” said the young man, “but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” “My son, God Himself will provide a lamb for the burnt-offering.” And after that there fell silence between them again.
At length they came to the top of the hill, and there Abraham made all things ready. The altar was built of the rough stones that were scattered around, the wood was laid upon it in order, and then Abraham bound his son and laid him upon the altar. The moment had come when he must quench all the hopes of his heart in the blood of his dearest, and he lifted the knife high up ready to strike. At that very moment came the call of an angel out of heaven. “Do not lay not your hand upon the young man, nor harm him. Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from what was commanded.” The knife dropped, and Abraham looked around. There at his back was a ram, tangled in a bush by his horns. The Lord had provided the burnt-offering; and, with a much relieved heart, he took the animal and sacrificed it on the altar where his son had lain.
Once more the angel spoke to him adding promise to promise of blessing because of his faithfulness. So the father and his son, given back from the dead, went down the hillside with joy singing in their hearts; and when they had joined the servants they journeyed home in peace to Beer-Sheba. The lesson was learned; never again would Abraham dream that God could be pleased by the misery of His own children.
Chapter Eight Courtship and Marriage
The years passed by, and Abraham and his wife grew to old age in quietness and peace. Then, while they were dwelling near the ancient city of Hebron, came the time for them to part. There, Sarah died, after her long pilgrimage, being a hundred and twenty-seven years old. In the silent tent, where his life’s friend lay still and white, Abraham mourned for her, and for the days that would never return; then he rose up and went to meet the Hittites who dwelt in that vicinity. “I am a stranger among you,” he said, “and have no land of my own. Would you therefore grant me a burying-place here that I may lay my dead in it.” And the sons of Heth answered him: “Hear this, my lord; you are a great chief among us; bury your dead in the tomb of ours that you like best. Anyone of us will freely give you his burying-place.”
Abraham bowed low in gratitude for their kindness. “Since this is your decision,” he said, “Please speak to Ephron, son of Zohar, and ask him to give me the cave of Machpelah, which is in the end of his field; and I will pay him its full value, that it may be a burying-place for me and my family forever.” “No, my lord,” said Ephron, “listen to me. Freely I give you the field and the cave before these witnesses; go ahead and bury your dead.” Once again Abraham bowed. “Since you are willing to give it, let me give you the money for it.” And Ephron answered, as an Eastern answers in a bargain, “In that case, my lord, doubtless the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver—a trifle between such men as you and me. Bury therefore your dead.” So Abraham understood, and the scales were brought before the witnesses, and he weighed out the four hundred shekels of silver to Ephron.
Thus the first possession of Abraham in the Land of Promise was a tomb, where he buried Sarah, his wife.
Now when Sarah had passed away Abraham felt old age descending upon him, he felt anxious for his son, should Isaac wed a young woman from the non-religious people around. Therefore he called to him his trustworthy steward, Ellasar the Damascene, and had him make an oath that he would take his journey into Harran, and bring back a wife of the line of Terah for the young man. “God who has promised me this land,” he said, “will send His angel before you, and you shall bring a wife for Isaac from our own kindred.” So Ellasar pledged himself to do his master’s will, and with ten camels and many costly gifts he set out on his long journey.
It was evening when the little caravan drew near to the city where the descendants of Nahor dwelt in the Land of the Rivers; and the young women of the place were coming forth, as was their custom, to draw water from the well by the gate. Ellasar made his camels kneel down by the well, and in his heart he made a prayer to God to further the plan he had in mind. “O Lord God of my master Abraham,” he said, “send me now good fortune. I am standing here by the well, and the young women are coming forth to draw water. I shall say to one of them, ‘Please let down your water vessel and give me some to drink.’ If she answers, ‘Drink; and I will water your camels also,’ then may this be the wife appointed for Isaac; and it shall be the sign of Your goodness to my master.”
While the prayer was still on his lips, there came forth a young lady, very pretty to look upon, and her name was Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, Abraham’s nephew. Her water carrier was upon her shoulder, and going down the steps to the well, she filled it, and came up again. As she was turning towards her home, Ellasar ran to her and said, “May I ask you for a little water to drink from your water vessel.” Courteously she answered him, “Drink, my lord,” and letting down the heavy container upon her hand she gave him the water he requested. “Now,” she said, when his thirst was quenched, “I will draw water for the camels also, till they have had enough.” So she emptied her water holder into the trough beside the well, and ran down the steps and drew more water, till the camels were satisfied.
Ellasar stood by, marvelling at the grace and kindness of the girl, and hoping that God had given him the sign he sought. So when her task was completed he took a costly earring and two heavy golden bracelets to give to her, and as he gave them, he said, “Tell me, whose daughter are you? And is there room in your father’s house for me to lodge in?” “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor,” she said, “and we have plenty of room both for you and for your camels.” Then Ellasar knew that his quest was ended, and there before the girl he bowed his head and gave thanks to God, that in His goodness He had led him to the house of all houses that Abraham’s heart would have desired.
So Rebekah ran home and told her family what had happened to her, and showed them her new treasures. Laban, her brother, was a crafty and worldly man, and when he saw the valuable gold on his sister’s arms, he knew that such gifts must come from some great chief; and in haste he ran to Ellasar where he stood beside his camels by the well. “Come in, one blessed of the Lord,” he cried loudly as he approached.. “Why do you stand outside? All is ready for you and for your camels.” So Ellasar went with Laban, and Abraham’s nephew unharnessed the camels and spread fodder before them, and brought water to wash the feet of Ellasar and his companions.
But when food was set before him Ellasar said, “If I may, I will not eat until I have told my errand.” So he told them that he was Abraham’s servant, and how rich and great his master had become, how he had but one son, Isaac, and how deeply concerned he was should the young man marry a non-believer. All the story of his journey, and his prayer by the well, and its answer, he told them. Then he said, “Now, if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may know the way that I must take.” “This is God’s sending,” answered Laban and his father Bethuel; “we have no right to decide. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as God has willed.”
When Ellasar heard their answer, he was much relieved, and gave thanks to God. Opening his camel-packs, he gave costly robes and jewellery of gold and silver to Rebekah and to her friends; and in great contentedness he and his men sat down and ate and drank. They stayed one night with Laban, and next morning they made ready to return. Laban and his mother begged that Rebekah might stay with them a few days before she left them forever, but Ellasar would not hear of delay. “Please do not hinder me” he said. “God has blessed me. Let me go, so that I can return to my master.” “We will leave the matter to Rebekah herself,” they said. So they called her, and said, “Will you go with this man?” And she answered, “Yes I will go.”
So with blessings and good wishes they sent Rebekah away on her long journey, with her nurse Deborah, and with the faithful Ellasar and his men.
Now when they returned, Isaac was dwelling in the south country of Palestine. It was his custom each evening to walk in the quiet countryside and meditate and pray. This night, as he looked northwards, a caravan was coming down the hill-track. Rebekah, seated on her camel, saw the solitary man, and dismounted, as was the custom, till he should pass. “What man is this,” she said to Ellasar, “who is coming across the fields to meet us?” “It is my master,” answered the old servant; and when she realised it was her destined husband, she veiled her face, since a young woman must not be seen openly by her bridegroom till the wedding-day.
So Ellasar came to Isaac, and told him all the fortunes of the journey, and how he had brought him a bride of his own kindred; and Isaac led Rebekah to the empty tent of his mother Sarah, and in due course they were wedded; and Isaac’s heart, still mourning the loss of his mother, was comforted with a new love.
Chapter Nine The Cheat Who became a Prince
For so long it seemed as though Abraham would never see God’s promise being fulfilled to Isaac, as it had been to him. Twenty years came and went before a child was born to them. But the old man’s heart was overjoyed, for twin sons were born to Isaac and Rebekah. They were named Esau and Jacob, and Abraham watched the boys grow to robust youth for fifteen years. Although the same age, they were very different in nature. Esau was rough, bold, open, shaggy, and strong; a fierce hunter and child of the wide hills and the free air, swift to anger and swift to love. Jacob was his opposite, quiet, sleek and secret, readier to think and plan than to talk, with a heart not quick and fiery like his brother’s, but slow to love and slower to forget. Abraham saw them grow from infancy till they were almost men—Esau ever out among the hills with his bow, keen to spy and strike his hunted game; Jacob quietly helpful about the camp. Then at length, in a good old age, God’s last call came to His servant, and the great and venerable Patriarch passed on his pilgrimage to his eternal rest.
Now just as the two boys were different from each other, so different were the feelings of their parents towards them. Isaac, gentle, quiet, and dreamy, loved the boisterous, rough, outspoken Esau; Rebekah, strong and determined, loved the quiet Jacob—each heart to its opposite. And out of this division of the household there sprang great sorrow and contention, as the Scriptures outline.
One day Esau came back from his moorland hunting, hungry and weary, and as he passed to his tent, Jacob was preparing a dish of savoury lentils over the camp fire, and the scent of the food filled the hunter’s heart with desire. “Give me some of that red stuff,” he cried, “I’m about to faint from starvation.” Jacob looked up from his task with a sudden gleam in his eyes. “For a price!” he said. “Sell me your birthright for the food.” For Esau was just by a little, the older of the two, and would inherit before his brother. “What good shall a birthright do to a dead man?” cried Esau, since the pain, or the craving, or the passion of the moment always seemed all important to him; but Jacob could think long thoughts and look ahead. So in his cunning, turning a passing whim of his brother’s into a binding covenant, he made Esau ‘swear’ to barter his birthright for a meal of lentils; and the careless hunter ate and drank, and swung into his own tent, and forgot what he had done, and how he had sold God’s promise to him for a meal.
Following that Isaac went to dwell in the south country, moving from place to place, and growing in wealth. He had his own vexations, just the same as other people, for from time to time the Philistines drove him from the wells that he had dug. But Isaac, a man of peace, did not take issue with them; and at last they grew tired of troubling one who harmed nobody. So they left him in quiet possession of his well at Shebah, and indeed in some reserved manner became his friends, seeing that the Lord was with this gentle soul. In time old age fell upon him, and with it a more disabling blindness. And the blindness gave to Jacob and his mother the chance that they desired to oust Esau from the place of the, first-born. One day, the old man called his favourite son to him. “I am old,” he said, “and death may call me any hour. Take your bow and your quiver, and go out into the wetlands and find me some venison, and make me a savoury dish, which I love, that I may bless you before I die.” Rebekah heard, and in her jealous heart she swore that Isaac’s blessing should not go to her elder son, but to her own favourite.
Therefore she called Jacob to her. “Go to the flock,” she said, and take two young goats, and I will make a savoury dish with them, which your father loves. You shall carry it in to your father so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob realised, “Esau is not like me,” he said, “he is coarse. What if my father should put out his hand and touch me, and know that he is being deceived? Then I might bring his curse upon myself instead of his blessing.” “On my head be the curse, my son; just do as I have said.”
So the crafty pair agreed. Jacob brought the two animals, and his mother cooked the dish. Then she took clothes of her elder son that lay in the tent, and dressed the younger in them; on his hands and on his neck she fastened rough pieces of goatskin; and she gave him the savoury meat and bread to carry to his father. Quaking in his devious heart, the deceiver came into the tent of his blind father “My father,” he said; and the old man answered, “Who are you, my son?” “I am Esau, your first-born. I have done as you told me: so come and eat my venison, and give me your blessing.” “How is it,” said Isaac, “that you have found the animal so quickly?” And, adding shame to shame, the liar answered, “Because the Lord your God brought it to me.”
Vaguely Isaac was aware of something wrong. “Come nearer,” he said, “so that I may touch you, and be sure you really are my son Esau, and not someone else.” Jacob came close to his father, and the old man’s shaking hands touched the rough goatskin. He was still perplexed. “The voice is like Jacob’s voice,” he said, “but the hands are Esau’s hands.” Hesitating, he asked the truth once more; and Jacob, growing more confident before his father’s helplessness, gave him a glib lie in reply. Then Isaac ate and drank, and asked his son to kiss him before he gave the blessing. And, as Jacob stooped to give the false kiss, the old man smelled the fresh scent of the hunter’s clothes. “Ah” he cried, and his words of blessing shaped themselves into an impromptu song:
the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field that the LORD
“May God give to you of the dew of the heavens And of the fertility
of the earth abundance of grain and wine.
“Let peoples serve you, and nations pay you homage; Be master of your
brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be
those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.”
NAB Genesis 27: 27(b) to 29.
Jacob had hardly gone out from his father’s tent with his ill-gotten blessing, when Esau strode in with a dish of venison from the hill. “Up you get, my father,” he said, “and eat some of my venison, and bless me.” A great fear descended upon Isaac, and trembling in every limb, he cried, “Who am I?” “I am your first-born son Esau?” “Where, then,” he faltered, “where is the one who brought a meal for me, which I have eaten of it, and have blessed him? Yes, with a blessing that remains.” Now when Esau heard that, he knew what had taken place. With a bitter cry of sorrow, he said, “Bless me, even me, also, O my father!” And the old man answered him, “Your brother has come and with deceit carried off your blessing.” In hot anger spoke Esau: “He is well named: ‘Supplanter,’ by name and by nature. Twice has he cheated me—once of my birthright, and now of my blessing. So now, my father, have you no blessing for me?” said Isaac, “Understand,” said Isaac, I have made him your lord, to order his brothers as servants; corn and wine have I bestowed on him. O my son, what is left to give thee?” But Esau would not be denied. “Have you but one blessing, my father?” he cried. “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” And the strong hunter wept. Then, at the cry of his son’s misery, a vision of the future came to the darkened eyes of the old man. “Behold,” he said,
far from the fertile earth shall be your dwelling; far from the dew of
the heavens above!
“By your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve;
But when you become restive, you shall throw off his yoke from
your neck.” NAB Genesis 27: 39(b) to 40.
Not surprisingly Esau hated Jacob for the trick that had been put upon him. Small wonder! “It will not be long before my father dies,” he said; “when he is gone I shall slay my brother.” Esau was, as usual, loud and unrestrained in his speech. It was not long before his threats reached Rebekah’s ears. She deemed it better to lose the company of her favourite for a season than to lose him forever; so she sent for Jacob. “My son,” she said, “Your brother has vowed to avenge his wrong by your death. But you know Esau, as I know him. Fierce anger, quickly spent! Listen to me. Flee for a while to Haran, to my brother Laban, and dwell with him. In time Esau will cool down, and then you may return. Why should I lose both my sons in one day?” So Jacob agreed to depart for Haran.
But Rebekah had to find another story for her husband, and she found it in her own devious fashion, with a blow in the process at Esau. For Esau had wedded two Hittite wives, to the sorrow of his father and mother. So Rebekah put the blame on him and his marriage. “I am weary of my life,” she said to her husband, “because of these Hittite women. If Jacob should marry another to them, it would be the end of me.” So, prompted by his crafty wife, Isaac laid his charge upon his younger son. “Do not wed a Canaanite woman. Go to your mother’s family in the river-land, and find a wife there in the household of Laban, your uncle. And may God bless you and make of your children a great nation to inherit this land, as He promised to Abraham.” So Rebekah had her way, and saved her favourite from his brother’s righteous anger; but her success on this occasion was of small advantage to her, for she never looked upon Jacob’s face again.
Now Jacob went forth from the camp at Beer-sheba, journeying towards the Land of the Rivers. Northwards he passed along the long mountain ridge of Palestine, till he was weary and the darkness fell; then he gathered stones and made a wind-shelter and a place for his head, and lay down to sleep under the open sky. He slept and he dreamed and now before his eyes there stretched up heavenwards a great, brilliant stairway, rising stage after stage from the earth, until its summit seemed to touch the sky—such a stairway as was built around temple-towers in that land of his fathers where he was heading. Upon the glittering steps mighty angels of God came and went, and from the far-off height of it came a voice that Jacob knew to be the voice of God.
“I am the God of Abraham and of Isaac,” said the Lord, “to you and to your children I give this land. Your children shall be numberless, even as the dust. West and east, north and south shall they spread; and through you and through them shall My blessing come upon all people. Now be assured, I am with you. Wherever you go I will guard you, till you come again to this land; neither will I leave you until My promise is fulfilled to you.”
The voice fell silent, and the vision faded. Jacob woke from his sleep, wondering and awe-stricken. “Surely,” he said to himself, “The LORD is in this place, and I did not know. This is an awesome place—the very House of God and Gate of Heaven.” Then as the dawn came over the hilltop, he heaped the stones that he had gathered, and upon the top stone of the pile he poured oil to dedicate the spot to God. And he called the place Bethel, “House of God”. But before that time it was called Luz, “Almond-tree Town”, though no almond-trees are grown there now. As the day grew brighter, Jacob stood by the heap of stones and made a vow. “If God will be with me,” he said, “and will keep me wherever I go, and will give me food and clothing, so that I may come back once more to my father’s house in peace, then shall the LORD be my God, and this pile of stones shall be God’s House, and of all that God gives me, to Him will I give one tenth.” How God’s promise and Jacob’s vow were kept, are about to unfold.
After long wanderings he came to the ancient land of his fathers. It was high noon, and in the centre of the burning plain was a well, with three flocks of sheep gathered around it; and a great stone lay upon the mouth of the well. Jacob, himself a skillful shepherd, asked the shepherds why they waited; and they told him that it was the custom only to open the well when all the flocks around were gathered, that so the water might be kept cool and fresh. When he questioned them if by chance they might know his uncle Laban whom he wanted to find, and they answered, “We know him, and he is well; and look, while we are speaking, here comes Rachel, his daughter, with her father’s sheep.)
Then Jacob’s heart leaped for joy. He sprang forward and rolled away the stone from the well-mouth, and drew water for the sheep, and with tears of joy he kissed Rachel and told her who he was. The young shepherdess ran straight home and told her father, and Laban came swiftly. He welcomed his nephew, and brought him to his house, and Jacob dwelt with him for a month.
And when the month came to an end, Laban, who was shrewd enough to know when he had found a good helper (and hard worker), wanted to bind Jacob to his service. “Though we are related,” he said, “Why should you serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters—Rachel, the younger, beautiful and gracious, and Leah, who was older, and whose eyes were weak. Ever since the day when he had seen the pretty shepherdess coming with her flock, Jacob had loved Rachel. “Seven years will I serve you,” he said, “if you will give me Rachel for my wife.” “So be it,” said Laban, “better that I should give her to my own kin than to a stranger; stay with me.” So for seven years Jacob served, his only wage the hope of wedding Rachel, and the years seemed but days, because he loved her so much.
At length the seven years were over, and Jacob claimed his bride. Laban acted as though he agreed, and prepared the wedding-feast. When all were gathered and rejoicing, he gave to his nephew a veiled bride. But the morning light showed Jacob that he had been tricked, for the wife that he had wedded was not Rachel, but her elder sister Leah. He who once deprived his brother of a blessing had now himself, deprived of his intended bride. In hot anger he sought Laban. “What does this mean?” he cried. “Was it not for Rachel that I served? Why have you tricked me in this way?” Smoothly the cunning Laban answered him: “It is not the custom of our land for the younger to be wedded before the first-born. Let the wedding-feast run out its week. Then we shall have another wedding, and Rachel shall be yours also; and thereafter you shall serve me another seven years.”
Since he had little choice, Jacob agreed. The feast ran its course, and when the week was over, he wedded Rachel, and then for seven years more he served for his wife, as he had served seven years for the promise of her. And Jacob learned that craftiness will always meet with craftiness; for he and his uncle, a well-matched pair, strove through all these years to see who should get the better of the other. Ten times Laban changed his nephew’s wages; but the more he strove to overreach Jacob, the more the bargain seemed to turn to the profit of the younger man, till Laban’s sons were furious with envy, and complained, “Jacob has robbed us of all our father’s wealth.”
There had never been great love between the two; but now it was less than ever, and Jacob saw it. So he called Leah and Rachel out to the open pasture, where he might speak without being overheard. There he told them of all the envy and the falseness with which their father had treated him, and also how God had spoken to him, bidding him return to Canaan with his wives and children. Leah and Rachel needed little persuasion. “What is our father to us, or what does he care for us?” they said. “He sold us, and gained the price of us himself; and now he treats us as strangers. Thank God you have gained something from him for us and our children. You should do what is in your heart, as God has told you.”
Now it so happened that about this time Laban went to another camp for the sheep-shearing. So Jacob gathered his household, his wives, their servants, and the eleven sons and one daughter who had been born to him and them, and all the wealth and the herds that he had gained. His wives and his children he put upon camels, and, driving his flocks before him, he journeyed away from the Land of the Rivers towards his home. Just before they fled from Haran, Rachel stole from her father’s house the idol-images in which he trusted, and carried them with her. It may be she dreaded their power in Laban’s hands, or it may be she wished to annoy him by their loss.
It was three days before Laban heard of the flight. Then, gathering his clan, he went after the lumbering caravan in hot pursuit across the desert; and, after a seven days’ chase, he overtook the fugitives in the skirts of Mount Gilead, on the east side of Jordan. He would have happily punished Jacob, for his heart was hot with anger, but God spoke to him in a dream during the night, and forbade him. Nevertheless, when they met he spoke fiercely. “Why have you carried off my daughters like slaves taken in a raid? Why all this secret stealing away? Why did you not tell me, that I might send you away with feasting and music, and kiss my daughters and my grandchildren before we parted? I could easily harm you now, but God has held back my hand. But let me ask just one thing: even though your longing for home was so strong, why did you steal my stone carving from me?”
Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the supposedly magical carving. “If one of mine has taken your carving,” he cried, “he shall die. Search for your property, and take it home.” So Laban searched, in Jacob’s tent, and Leah’s, and the servants’ tents; but could find nothing. Last, he went into the tent of Rachel, but his daughter had hidden the item in the camel-saddle and sat upon it. So Laban was baffled, and his search was vain. Now it was Jacob’s turn to be angry. “What have I done against you?” he said bitterly. “You have pursued me as though I were a thief. You have searched my goods. Put what you have found of yours between us and your clan, that they may judge between us. For I have been with you twenty years. My care of your flock you know. For what was torn by the wild beast or stolen by the robbers, I repaid you. For your flock’s sake I was burned with the sun and chilled with the frost, and passed exhausting days and sleepless nights. You know perfectly well that had not the fear of the God of my fathers, (who is with me) held you back, you would have sent me home penniless!”
For a moment even Laban was shamed. “What use for us to quarrel,” he said, “since we are all of one blood? Let us make an agreement, and part.” Then they piled up a heap of stones there in Gilead, and the two companies ate and drank upon it. And they named it Mizpah, “Watch-tower”: “For,” said the older cheat to the younger, who had outfoxed him in the end, “May God watch between us two when we are absent one from the other; and may God judge between us if we harm one another.” And, as it had transpired, it seemed clear that both of them needed a watcher and a Judge!
Next morning Laban kissed his daughters and their children, and blessed them; and the two parties took their different ways, never to meet again.
As the vision of God had come to Jacob when he went out from the Land of Promise, so visions of God were to greet him as he returned. For, as they camped one night in Gilead, he was aware that his camp was not the only one. All around his tents were companies of bright angels, such as he had seen on the golden stairway in his vision at Bethel. Then said he, “Let this place be called ‘Mahanaim’ — ‘Two Hosts’, since God has sent His host to keep watch over mine.” Despite this his heart was heavy at the thought of that grave injustice that he had done to his brother, and he dreaded the hour when he would meet with Esau.
Therefore he sent messengers with greetings to his brother the wild hunter, where he dwelt in Mount Seir of the Southland; but when they returned they brought no message from him except the report, “Look, your brother is coming to meet you, and with him are four hundred men.” At that word Jacob was deeply distressed, for he judged the heart of Esau by his own heart, stubborn and unforgetting. So he divided his company, with his flocks and herds and camel-train, into two bands; that so, if Esau should destroy the one, the other might escape. Then falling on his knees, he prayed to the LORD. “O God of my fathers,” he said, “who commanded me to return to this land, I am not worthy of all the mercy which you have shown me; for, when I passed this river Jordan before, I was a helpless wanderer, with nothing in my possession except my wanderer’s staff, and now I have become divided into two bands. Save me, I pray, from the vengeance of my brother Esau, for I fear him, should he slay me and my dear ones. Lord, did You not promise to be gracious to me, and to make my household as numerous as the sands of the sea-shore?”
That night he camped where he had prayed, and from his flocks and herds he chose a noble present of goats and sheep, camels and asses. These he divided into three droves, and ordered his herdsmen drive them onwards with a space between each herd. When they met Esau they were to tell him that this was a gift from his brother; that so his anger might be appeased before the two should meet face to face. So he did his utmost to make his peace with Esau, and when all was ordered, he sent his household across the river ford of Jabbok; but he himself remained alone on the hillside to watch and pray.
Now, as he watched, he was suddenly aware of someone at his side. Immediately he became engaged in a struggle with the stranger, and there in the darkness the two wrestled and strove with one another till the night was almost past. Then as the first glimmer of dawn appeared, his adversary touched Jacob’s thigh with his hand. The hip joint was dislodged by the touch, and Jacob felt it give way beneath him. Yet still, crippled as he was, he still clung to the strange wrestler. “Let me go,” said his adversary, “for the day is breaking.” But Jacob sobbed, “I will not let You go, unless You bless me,” for now he knew with Whom he had contended. Then said the stranger in changed manner of speaking, “What is your name”?” “Jacob, meaning ‘Supplanter’, ” he said. “You shall be called no longer ‘Supplanter,’ but ‘Israel,’ ‘Prince of God,’ for you have striven with God and with men and have overcome.”
“Tell me please, Your name,” said Jacob. “Why do you need to ask?” came the answer; and Jacob ceased asking. Then the great Unknown raised His hand and blessed the weary man and vanished. Then said Jacob, “This place shall be called Peniel, ‘Face of God,’ for I have seen God face to face, and yet I still live.” His midnight wrestle left its mark upon him. Down the hillside he came to his company in the morning light; and they who watched his coming saw him limping like a cripple. A cripple he remained to his dying day; ― a token of remembrance.
Now came the moment, long foreseen and dreaded, when the two brethren who had parted in bitter anger must meet again. Far in the distance Esau and his troop appeared, coming swiftly along the hill-path; and the sunlight gleamed upon four hundred spears behind the chief. Jacob ranged his household to meet his brother, keeping at the rear all those who were dearest to him, Rachel, and her son Joseph. Then he himself went forward, and seven times he made salaam (an ancient peace greeting), and bowed himself before his brother. But from Esau’s open, careless heart the anger had long since departed. No thought of vengeance remained in him; all he saw was the brother he had not met for twenty years. The fierce sheikh sprang from his camel and flung his thick strong arms round Jacob’s neck, and the two brothers kissed each other and wept for joy.
When their greeting was over, Esau looked around. “And these —” he said, as he saw the women and the children, “who are they?” “They are the children whom God has given your servant.” And all drew near and bowed before Esau. “But what,” he said, “was the meaning of those droves of animals that I have met?” “They were for you, my brother, that I might find favour in your sight.” No dear brother,” said the generous hunter, “I have enough of my own; keep what you have for yourself.” But Jacob would not be denied. “Let your acceptance of my gift be the pledge of your forgiveness to me; for the sight of your face has been as God’s mercy to me, since you are gracious. Keep the gift; for the LORD has prospered me, and I have plenty.” And Esau graciously yielded to his younger brother’s insistence.
Indeed he would have gladly journeyed in company with his brother, sending his spearmen ahead to guard the way; but Jacob pleaded that his slow flocks could not keep pace with the swift riders of these wild lands. Nor would he even accept a guard from his brother. “What need?” he said. “All shall be well, now that we have met in peace.” So Esau and his troop passed on southwards to their mountain home, and Jacob and his slow-travelling herds crossed the Jordan and journeyed westwards till they came to Shechem, in the north country of Palestine, and there they settled for a period.
Thus Jacob came back from his wanderings, he and the children whom God had given him. He had eleven sons: Reuben, Simeon, and Levi; Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon; Dan, Naphtali, and Gad and Asher, and his best-loved, Joseph, the son of Rachel; and besides these he had one pretty daughter, Dinah, whose life was to be one of sorrow and shame. And when he grew pros-perous, and God considered that he was forgetting the covenant he had made with Heaven, there came a command to him bidding him go from Shechem to Bethel, where he had first met with God as he fled from Esau’s anger. So Jacob gathered all the evil things that were in his house, the carved stone images that Rachel had stolen from Laban, the charms in which Leah trusted, and many other pagan tokens, and he buried them all under a great oak at Shechem.
At Bethel, he built an altar to the LORD, and there he lost one whose presence had always been a memory of the past. His mother, Rebekah, had died while he was in exile; but Deborah, her old nurse, who had come with her from Harran, came back to dwell with Rebekah’s son. Now, in old age, she too passed away, and Jacob called the oak that marked her grave “The Oak of Weeping,” for his heart was in deep sorrowing.
From Bethel they journeyed on once more, and on the way there fell upon Jacob the bitterest sorrow of his life. For as they drew near to Ephrath, their journey was stalled; and in their camp Rachel bore her husband a second son. But birth brought death along with it. As she lay dying, she asked to see her little one. “Call him ‘Ben-oni, Son of my sorrow’,” she said, and her spirit passed away. Yet, despite his grief, Jacob could not call his son by so ill-omened a name. “Let him be called ‘Benjamin,’ ‘Son of the Right Hand!” he said, as though this little one should be to his father the strength and comfort that the dead Rachel had been. So Rachel was buried there near to Ephrath, and her husband raised a pillar by her grave. At a later time the name of Ephrath was changed to Bethlehem; and there, in due course was born a child greater than Benjamin, the Man not of Jacob’s but of God’s Right Hand.
Now the time came for Jacob’s company to journey southwards, back to Mamre, where Abraham had camped in days long past. For Isaac, his father, still dwelt there, blind, bereaved, lingering on in extreme age. But the call had come for him at last, and Jacob journeyed to see his father once again before he died. Then, too, came Esau from his eastern stronghold, and the two brothers met for the last time by the death-bed of the gentle old man to whom they had caused such sorrow by their strife. So at last, with that peace around him which he had ever loved, Isaac died; and his sons bore him to the cave of Machpelah, and laid him beside his father Abraham, and his mother Sarah, and Rebekah, his wife.
The last link with the old order was now broken. Esau passed homewards to his own wild lifestyle in the eastern hill country. For Jacob there were coming changes, seemingly greater and stranger, than any that his checkered life had yet seen.
Chapter Ten The Story of Joseph and His Brothers
Among all the twelve sons of Jacob, there were two whom the old man loved beyond the others, because they were the sons of his late wife, Rachel. Benjamin, the youngest, at whose birth Rachel had died, was still only a child; but Joseph, his elder brother, was a bright young man of seventeen, and Jacob could not help showing that Rachel’s first-born was more to him than any of his other sons. Indeed he showed his preference in an imprudent way, and one that cost them both dearly in the end, for he clothed Joseph in a long, sleeved tunic of rich materials. Now, in the East in those days this was the kind of dress worn by those whose lot it was to do no work, but to have others toil for them; and when his elder brothers saw Joseph going about clad like a young prince, while they wore the short, sleeveless tunics of men who have to work hard for their living, they hated him in their hearts, for he appeared to them as though he were destined to be their lord and master.
Neither did Joseph make it any easier for them to love him, for his mind was so full of his coming greatness that he dreamed about it, and told his dreams to his brothers and to his father. “Listen to this,” he said on one occasion, “in my dream last night, we were binding sheaves in the harvest-field, and my sheaf rose and stood upright, and your sheaves stood roundabout and bowed before my sheaf.” And his brothers saw plainly what the dream meant, and they said in scorn, “So you are to be our master?” and they despised him even more in their hearts. Then in his boyish pride, he told another dream. “Take note,” he said, “I dreamed once more, and look the sun, and the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down before me.” Now this was yet plainer than the first dream, for the sun ought to be seen as his father, Jacob, and the moon as his step-mother, Leah, and the eleven stars, his eleven brothers. So even Jacob had to reprove Joseph for his pride; yet in his heart he believed all the same that his son’s dream would come true.
Now as the season drew on, Jacob’s flocks had to change pasturage, and the ten elder brothers went with them, north from Hebron to Shechem, almost fifty miles away. After a time Jacob wished to hear how his sons and their flocks were faring; so he sent Joseph as his messenger, and the boy, proud, no doubt, of his first free journey, trudged the long miles along the mountain ridge to Shechem, only to find that his brothers had gone about fifteen miles farther north to Dothan. So he went on, another day’s trek, and found them at last near Dothan.
Now when they saw the slim young figure coming down the hillside towards them, and recognised the long robe, the hated sign of favour, which he wore, all their evil thoughts rose up anew in their hearts, and they said, “Look, here comes this Lord of Dreams. Let us kill him and bury him in a pit; and we can say to his father, ‘A wild beast devoured him,’ and that will be an end of him and his dreams.” Nevertheless, his brothers were not all so cruel-hearted. Reuben, the eldest, would not agree to kill him; yet neither was he bold enough to resist their evil intent altogether. “Let us throw him, “he said, “into this dry cistern here beside us, so that we may not have to shed his blood.” He meant to return and rescue Joseph when the others had gone on, but in this, as we shall read, he was foiled. So they stripped Joseph of the fine robe that had cost him so dear, for they had another use in mind for it; and these hard men lowered him into the deep dry hole, and they sat down beside it and ate their mid-day meal. But Reuben could not eat with his brother’s cries in his ears, so he made an excuse to go and attend to something, with the intent to return after the others had gone.
But, before they were ready to move forward with the flocks, they saw in the distance a band of travellers. As they drew near they proved to be Ishmaelites, merchants from Gilead on the eastern side of Jordan, journeying down the trade road to Egypt with sweet-smelling gums and spices. And when Judah saw them another evil thought sprang up in his mind. “Why,” said he, “should we slay our brother and make nothing by it, when we can sell him to these strangers and make money by him?” So they all agreed, and the merchants were ready enough to buy a strong, well-built young man, as a slave. Joseph was drawn up out of the well and sold for twenty pieces of silver; and the caravan moved off down the long road to Egypt, mile after mile of the very same road that Joseph had trodden a few days before, until at last they turned westwards to the desert track that leads by the sea-coast, and the poor boy got his last look at the hills of home. Indeed, it seemed as though an end had come to his dreams; but God had other plans.
Meanwhile, when Reuben came back and found that his brother was gone, and that his good intentions had been foiled, he was in despair, for he did not know how to face his aged father; but his more hardened brothers formed a cruel plan. They slaughtered one of their flock. Then they took that unlucky robe of Joseph’s and dipped it in the blood, and when they came home, they showed their father the blood-stained garment, and asked him glibly if this were his son’s coat or not. Poor Jacob knew it only too well, and believed just what his hardhearted sons wished him to believe. “It is my son’s coat,” he said. “A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” Then in the custom of mourning he tore his own robes, and clad himself in coarse, dark cloth, and lamented bitterly. When his sons, somewhat hypocritically appeared to comfort him, Jacob always replied with the same answer, “I will go down into the grave mourning for my son.”
But while Jacob wept, and his sons gloated over the success of their plot, Joseph had passed the desert and entered the wonderful land where all his dreams were to come true. The merchants’ caravan came to the great city of Avaris, where the Egyptian king, the Pharaoh, held his court, and there in the slave-market Joseph was sold to a great lord of Egypt named Potiphar, captain of the royal body-guard.
It so happened that when Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the King of Egypt and all the chief men of the state and the army were not native Egyptians by blood, but were in fact, from the same family of nations to which the Hebrews belonged. Their race had conquered Egypt long before, and they ruled over the land for many years, though now their rule was drawing near its close. It is likely, therefore, that Joseph all the more readily found favour in his master’s sight, because he came of the same stock as himself. But, besides that, the young slave had a way of winning people’s hearts. He was handsome, and clever, and willing; and before long Potiphar made him, young as he was, steward of his household, and he did his work so well that everything prospered with him.
But it transpired that his master’s wife, in the wickedness of her heart, tried to seduce Joseph; and when he refused to listen to her, she slandered him to her husband, and accused him of the very act of disloyalty which he had refused to commit. So once again Joseph’s good fortune seemed to have deserted him, for his master believed the accusation and threw him into prison. Yet even there God took care of him, and his own strength of character helped him keep up his spirit; for the chief gaoler soon found that no one was so useful to him as this young Hebrew prisoner, and before long Joseph was managing the prison, as he had managed Potiphar’s house.
After a time two new prisoners were brought into the prison, and these were prisoners of state. They were the chief butler and baker of the royal court—no common servants, but great barons of the realm, who held two of the most important offices of state; for in their hands every day lay the life of the Pharaoh, since they tasted all food and wine that was set before His Majesty, lest their master should be poisoned by evil men. In some manner or other they had displeased their king, and in his anger he had cast them into prison.
It is well documented what importance was attached to dreams in those days. They were believed to be sent by God, that from them the future might be discerned, and so people were very studious to know what each dream might mean. So one morning, when Joseph came in, as was practice, to attend to the two new prisoners, he saw that both looked sad and anxious; and when he asked the reason of their sadness, they answered that they had each dreamed a dream, and each was puzzled as to the meaning of his dream. “Truly,” said Joseph, “only God can tell the meaning of dreams; yet tell me what you have dreamed.”
Then the chief butler spoke. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a vine with three branches, and, just as I looked on it, budded and blossomed, and the grapes set, and grew, and ripened. And His Majesty’s cup was in my hand, and I squeezed the grapes into it, and gave the cup of grape juice into His Majesty’s hand.” And Joseph answered: “This is the meaning of your dream: the three branches are three days; and in three days Pharaoh will restore you to your place and your honours, and you shall wait on him and give him the wine cup as you were accustomed to do before. But when that happens, remember me, my lord, and speak for me to the King, that I may be released from this prison. For indeed, I was stolen away from Palestine, and, though I am here in prison, I have done no wrong.”
Now when the other great lord, the chief baker, heard how well his comrade had done with the interpretation of his dream, he also plucked up heart, and said: “In my dream, I had three baskets on my head, and the uppermost one was filled with all kinds of dainties for the King’s table. And, behold, the birds came and ate them all out of the basket on my head.” Joseph turned his face away, and spoke slowly and reluctantly. For this was what he had to say: “Again the three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh shall cause you to be hanged, and the birds shall eat your flesh from off your bones.”
Just as Joseph had said, so everything occurred. For in three days the King’s birthday came round, and there was a great feast in the palace. Then, as he feasted, the King remembered his two courtiers in the prison. On the chief butler he had compassion, and gave him back his place again, so that he gave the cup into the royal hand as of old. But the chief baker found no mercy; he was hanged, even as Joseph had forewarned him. Nevertheless, in his joy at getting his honours back again, the chief butler forgot all about the young Hebrew who had foretold his good fortune, and Joseph was still left in prison.
For two years more he lay there. Indeed, what between his service in Potiphar’s house and the time of his imprisonment, he had now come to be a man in the prime and strength of life. And then it so happened that one night the King also dreamed a dream. In his dream he stood by the great river Nile, which made Egypt in the beginning, and keeps it ever fruitful. And, as he looked down the bank, seven cattle, sleek and fat, came up out of the stream to graze in a meadow. Then the King looked again, and seven other cattle came up the bank, as the first seven had done; but these were lean and starved. They came beside the others, and even while Pharaoh was looking at them, the seven starved beasts devoured the seven well-fed ones. Yet no one could tell that they were fatter for what they had eaten, so lean and hungry they still appeared. So the King awoke, and the dream passed.
Then Pharaoh slept, and dreamed again. This time he stood in a corn-field, and, before his eyes, seven fine, well-filled ears of corn sprang up from one stalk; and while he watched them, seven thin and blasted ears sprang up beside the well-filled ones, and swallowed them up. And once more the King awoke and the dream passed. But these things troubled his mind. He was sure they meant something which he ought to know; but though he called all his prudent counsellors and his wizards, not one of them could tell him what the two dreams might mean.
Now, when the chief butler saw them all bereft of any light on the meaning of the dreams, the thought of Joseph and the prison flashed across his mind. He came and bowed before the King, and told him how two years before, when he and his comrade, the chief baker, lay in prison, a young Hebrew prisoner had interpreted their dreams to them, and how to each man it had happened according to this Hebrew’s reading of the future.
Then the King sent his guards to bring Joseph to him speedily; and when he had been shaved and dressed in appropriate garments (for the Egyptians were scrupulous above all other peoples about cleanliness), he came and bowed himself before the royal throne. Then said the Pharaoh, “I have dreamed a dream, and none can tell me its meaning; but it is told me that you have the wisdom to interpret dreams.” And Joseph answered humbly, “It is not in me that the wisdom lies; God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace!”
So the King repeated to Joseph his dreams of the cattle and the ears of corn; and when Joseph had heard them, he answered in this fashion: “His Majesty’s dreams both mean the same thing. God has shown to His Majesty beforehand what he is going to do. The seven fat cattle and the seven full ears of corn mean that God is going to give to this land seven years of plentiful harvests. And the seven lean cattle and the seven blasted ears mean that after the years of plenty there shall come seven years of famine. So great shall be the scarcity that all the stores laid by from the seven plentiful years shall be eaten up, and no one shall remember the time of plenty because of the time of famine. As for the reason why the dream came in two forms, it is because God meant His Majesty to be very sure that all this will come about, and speedily. Now, therefore, let His Majesty choose a wise man to order the affairs of the land, and let him have officers under him who shall collect each year, in the time of plenty, one-fifth part of the harvest and lay it up in store, so that when the years of famine come there shall still be corn to eat, and the land shall not perish.”
Now when Pharaoh and his wise men heard this, they marvelled at the wisdom of the young Hebrew, and they approved all that he said. Moreover the King looked round upon his counsellors and said, “Where can we find so fit a man as this young man to whom God has given His own spirit of wisdom?” Then he turned to Joseph and said, “Since God has shown you all this and made you so wise, you and none other shall rule my household and all my people; only I myself, when I speak as king, shall greater than you.” “See,” he said, “I have set you over all the land of Egypt,” and, saying this, he took off his royal signet-ring and put it upon Joseph’s hand, that he might seal all orders with the royal authority. Then he caused him to be dressed in robes of fine, white linen, with a golden collar about his neck. The second chariot of state was given him to ride in, and the footmen who ran before the chariot cried, as he came, “Abrech!”—”Great Lord!”―so that all the people bowed to the ground as he passed.
Then the Pharaoh gave Joseph a new Egyptian name. “Zaphnathpaaneah” he called him, which means “God spake, and he came into life, “for he felt that Joseph was God’s gift to Egypt. Moreover, he found him a wife of the greatest in the land, even Asenath, the daughter of the high priest of the sun-god at the great, sacred city of On, which the Greeks call Heliopolis, the City of the Sun.
So Joseph became Viceroy of Egypt, and all was done in the land according to his commandment. The seven plentiful years came, and the land brought forth great harvests, and of each year’s harvest one-fifth part was laid up in great store-houses nearby each city and town, so that the whole country was filled with stores against the days of famine.
And in these happy years of plenty, there were born two sons to Joseph and Asenath, his wife. The first he named Manasseh, which means “Forgetting,” for he said, “God has made me forget all my misfortunes and my father’s house;” but in his heart he could not forget them all the same. When the second baby was born, he named him ” Ephraim,” “Fruitful”; because God had so enriched his life in Egypt.
So the dreams of Joseph began to come true, after all, for his sheaf of corn was set upright and his star was high in the heavens. And now the time was coming when the rest of the dreams were to be fulfilled also, when his brothers’ sheaves and his brothers’ stars were to bow before his.
Now when seven years had come and gone, there came first one bad harvest, and then another, till all the people of Egypt saw that the famine which Joseph had foreseen was upon them; nor they only, for in all the lands around the people were starving. But now the great store-houses that Joseph’s foresight had created and filled were opened, and the corn was served out to the hungry people, so that, while all other countries were in sore need, there was still sufficiency in Egypt. Away in Palestine, Jacob and his sons were in dire straits, and at last one day the old man said to them: “What is the use of sitting here looking at one another till we die? People say there is corn in Egypt: go down there, and see if you cannot buy enough to keep us alive.”
So the ten elder brothers travelled with their sacks and their money down the same desert track along which Joseph had gone so many years before, and at last they came to Egypt. Because they were foreigners, they were not served with corn at once, as were the native Egyptians, but were brought before the Viceroy, that he might deal with their request. Then they came and bowed to the ground before the great man whom they had last seen as a weeping boy, bound on the pack-saddle of an Ishmaelite camel. But the years had not brought such change to the grown men as to their younger brother, and Joseph knew his brothers at once, and, as they bowed before him, he remembered his boyish dreams and saw them all come true. Nevertheless, there was no malice in his heart towards them, but only kindness; yet he wished to prove them, and to see if they were still the same jealous men whom he had known as a boy.
Therefore, he spoke sharply to them and accused them of being spies; and when they denied it, and said that they were all brothers, and had one brother still left in Canaan, he said: “By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place till I have tested your word. You shall send one of your number to bring your brother from Canaan, and meanwhile the rest of you shall abide here in prison.” For in his heart he longed to see Benjamin once more, and put this plan in place to bring him down to Egypt. So he shut them up in prison for three days; but on the third day he called them all to him, and said: “I will make it easier for you, because I fear God. You shall go home with the corn you need. However one of you shall stay here in prison till you come back again with your youngest brother, and so prove what you said to be true.”
Now, when they saw all this trouble come upon them so suddenly, conscience awoke, and they reproached themselves. “This has come to us,” they said, “because we were so cruel to our brother Joseph, and would not listen to his prayer for mercy.” And Reuben said: “Did I not tell you not to sin against the child? Yet you would not listen; so now his blood is required of you.” All this Joseph heard as he stood by; but they did not know that he understood their speech, for he had spoken to them in Egyptian, and his words had been translated by an interpreter. And when he heard it, Joseph’s heart was full of emotion, and he had to leave their presence to weep in private. He chose his elder brother Simeon to stay in prison, and sent the rest away. Their sacks were filled with corn, and he had secretly given orders that their money should be put back again, along with the corn, into the mouths of the sacks.
So the brothers went on their way; but when they came to their first resting-place, and one of them opened a sack to feed his ass, there was his money at the top of the sack’s opening. Then they were all perplexed and anxious as to what this might mean. However, they went back to Jacob, and told him all that had happened to them, and how Simeon had been left as a pledge for the coming of Benjamin, and how the money of one of them had been put back into his sack. But when they opened the rest of the sacks, it was the same with them all. Then Jacob was greatly afraid. “This has been an unlucky journey,” he said. ” Joseph is long since dead, and now Simeon is as good as dead, and you want to take Benjamin from me.” And even though Reuben offered to leave his own two sons as a pledge for the return of Benjamin, the old man would not listen to him.
Yet still the famine grew worse, and Jacob had to face the matter once more. For when he asked his sons to go into Egypt again for corn, Judah replied that they dare not go without Benjamin. He himself, he said, would answer for Benjamin’s safety; but without him, he would not go. On Jacob’s insistence they carried a special present for the Viceroy and double money with them, in case the return of the money on their last journey should have been a mistake. And in due time they came to Egypt, and were brought before Joseph.
Now when Joseph saw Benjamin, he knew that his brothers had been true to their word, and he longed to be kind to them. However, in the joy of his heart, he decided to have it all come about in his own way, and at his own time, and in such fashion as to take them unaware. So he summoned them all to dine with him in his great house; but when these country-bred strangers were brought into such a house, they were terrified, and thought that the Viceroy meant to make slaves of them. Therefore they spoke to Joseph’s house-steward, and told him all about the money, and how they had brought double money to pay all the debt. Then he, knowing what was in his master’s mind, spoke comfortably to them, and brought Simeon back to them out of the prison; and at last they came to Joseph’s dining-hall, and, bowing low gave him the present they had brought.
Then Joseph asked after the welfare of the old man, their father, and seeing Benjamin, he said, “Is this the younger brother of whom you spoke to me?” And turning to Benjamin, he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” But he could say no more, and had to take himself to another room to weep in secret. When he had mastered his feelings, he came back, and the brothers all dined before him; but he dined at a separate table because, being as they believed, an Egyptian, he could not eat beside a Hebrew without being defiled. Then, as they sat to eat, Joseph, as a special mark of grace, sent food from his own table to them all; but, just the same he could not help but show his greater love to his own full brother, Benjamin, for he sent to him five times as much as to the others. Thus they all feasted and forgot their fears.
Now Joseph had given secret orders to his house-steward that when his brethren were ready to return home, he should, as before, put back their money in their sacks of corn; but in Benjamin’s sack, along with his money, he was to put Joseph’s great drinking cup of silver. So when the dawn came and the new day, they set out on their long march northwards. Then Joseph called his steward. “Rise up,” he said, “and follow them; and when you have overtaken them, say: ‘Why have you returned evil for good by stealing my lord’s cup, with which he consults the oracles of God? You have done evil in doing this.”‘ So the steward and his men pursued and overtook them, and spoke roughly to them, even as Joseph had commanded him. Then the eleven brethren were filled with amazement; yet they denied the theft, and called the steward to witness how they had brought back again the money that was put into their sacks before. Moreover, they pledged themselves that if one of them should be found to have stolen the cup, he should die, and the rest should be Joseph’s bond-slaves. And to this the steward agreed; but when the sacks were unloaded and opened, there at the top of Benjamin’s sack was found the cup.
Then in sorrow and fear they tore their clothes and went back with the steward to Avaris, and fell on the ground before their brother, And Joseph said unto them: “What is this that you have done? Did you not know that such a man as I could know your crime?” Then Judah answered: “We have no defence. This is the finger of God. We are all your slaves.” But Joseph said, “Not so— only the thief shall be my servant, and the rest of you can go in peace to your father.” Then Judah pleaded with him. “O my lord,” he said, “be not angry with me, lest we be consumed; for you are in the King’s place. You know how all this has come about—how you asked if we had another brother, and we told you of this Benjamin and you said that he must come with us or we should not see your face again. Then, when we told our father, he could hardly be persuaded to let Benjamin come with us, in case he should perish as Joseph, his brother, perished; for surely his death would break our father’s heart. O my lord, how can I go back and tell my father that the boy is not with us? It will kill him with sorrow! And I pledged myself to my father to bring his son back to him! Let me stay as a slave with you, my lord, and let the boy go; for I cannot bear to return without him, and see the breaking of my father’s heart!”
Now, when Joseph heard that pleading, which showed so plainly that, at last a better attitude of mind had finally come to his brothers, he could controld himself no longer. “Out from me, every man!” he called to his guards and attendants. Then with loud weeping, so that even the servants in the house could hear his sobs, he said: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But, between astonishment and fear, his brothers could not answer him; so he said yet again, “Come near to me, please.” And when they came near, trembling, he said: “I am Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. But do not be distraught about what you did, for it was God’s will that sent me here before you to preserve life. For we have had two years of famine already, and still there are five more years to come; so it was undoubtedly God who sent me here to save you, and has given me favour in the sight of Pharaoh, and made me ruler of the land. Hasten, therefore, back to Canaan, and tell my father all that you have seen, and all my glory here; and say to him that I wish him to come down to Egypt with all that he has, and I will provide for him, and for you, and for all your households.”
When he had said all this, he fell upon Benjamin’s neck and kissed him, and then he embraced all his brethren; and they all wept together, for such gladness of heart. In truth, so great was their joy that the fame of it came to the ears of the great King himself, even Pharaoh, and he and all his court were filled with joy because of the joy of Joseph. So the King commanded Joseph to give orders to his brethren to return at once to Canaan and to bring back their father, and all their families to Egypt that he himself might provide for their well-being in his land. Wagons were given to them to bring back their households, and provisions also for the journey. Moreover Joseph gave to each of his brothers new clothing; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing. And to his father he sent as a gift ten asses laden with all the dainties that Egypt could produce, and ten she-asses laden with corn and bread and food for the journey.
So at last they were all ready, and passed the desert once more, and came to Jacob with the wonderful news—” Joseph is still alive, and is governor over all the land of Egypt!” But the old man, little wonder, would not believe them. Yet, in the end, when they had given him all Joseph’s loving messages, and he had gone out and seen the long train of Egyptian wagons waiting to carry him and his down to Egypt, the truth began to dawn upon him, and he plucked up heart and said: “It is enough. Joseph, my son, is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” In due time, therefore, Jacob and his sons and all that they had made their journey into Egypt. Joseph was very excited when he heard that they were drawing near. He mounted his chariot and drove in haste to the eastern frontier to meet them, and when the aged father and the son whom he had deemed dead for so long met at last, they fell in one another’s arms and wept for a time without speaking a word. Then Jacob drew back, and looked upon his son, and said only this, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are alive still.”
So Joseph drove on before the slow-moving wagons to tell Pharaoh of the coming of his father and his brethren; and because they were shepherds, he arranged that they should dwell near the eastern border of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, for fear the native Egyptians should trouble them. For the desert chiefs who had conquered Egypt and who now ruled over it were, at the first, shepherd chiefs even as Jacob himself was, and, therefore, the Egyptians of native blood hated the very name of shepherd. But for that same reason, Jacob and his sons were all the more pleasing in the eyes of Pharaoh, since they were of the same stock and calling as his own ancestors.
Then Joseph brought five of his brethren, and gave them audience of his royal master, and it pleased Pharaoh to be gracious to them, and to confirm to them grant of the land of Goshen. Last of all, in the joy of his heart, Joseph brought his aged father before the King. When Jacob came into the royal presence-chamber, the old man lifted his wrinkled hands and blessed the King; and Pharaoh was well pleased, for in those days even royalty reverenced old age, and thought it no shame to be blessed by an old man, however humble he might be. So Pharaoh asked Jacob his age; and the old man answered, “My age is one hundred and thirty years. Few and hard have been those years of my life, and they do not compare with the years that my ancestors lived as wayfarers. Then once more Jacob blessed His Majesty, and went forth from the royal presence.
So Joseph gave to his father and his brothers of the best of the land of Egypt in Goshen, even as the King commanded, and they and all that they had settled down in their new home in peace and quietness, under the shield of their brother’s strong arm. The five remaining years of famine passed slowly and wearily away; and though the people of Egypt were in difficulty before the drought ended, yet Joseph’s foresight prevailed, and at last the good years came back again. For twelve years more Jacob lived with his sons in Goshen, and saw and heard the wonder of Joseph’s power and wisdom.
Then came the time when the old man knew that his days were numbered. A hundred and forty-seven years he had lived; and now he must face a longer journey than any that he had made. He called the son of his pride to him, and Joseph came. “Swear to me,” the old man said, that you will not bury me here in this strange land. Carry me up out of Egypt; and lay me beside my own at Hebron.” And Joseph swore to fulfill his father’s wish. After this he brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, that they might get a blessing from the aged saint. When the boys were led in, the old man gathered his last strength and raised his weary frame in the bed. Quietly he talked for a while of the days and the loves of the past. Then he looked at his grandsons with his dim old eyes (did he remember another day when two sons craved a blessing from their blind father?) and said, “Praise to God, my son; I never thought I would see your face again; but the Lord has also shown me your children.” So he blessed them, Manasseh and Ephraim, but not quite in the way Joseph had expected. Instead of placing his right-hand on the head of Manasseh, the older son, Jacob crossed his arms in a prophetic gesture to give the greater blessing to the younger son, Ephraim.
After them came all his sons, and he blessed too, foretelling to each, with wondrous insight, the future that lay before him. One more charge he laid upon them all — to bury him, as Joseph had sworn already, in the cave at Machpelah, where his kindred lay. And so he died.
A mighty mourning was made in Egypt for this ancient chief — even though he had not been a prince of the land. For seventy days they mourned him as he lay embalmed in his painted coffin. Then Joseph and his brethren craved leave of Pharaoh; and together they took their way with the funeral train across the desert and up through the southland, until they came to Mamre. There in the cave of Machpelah they laid him with his own; and they themselves came back to Egypt.
Now when their father was gone, fear fell on the brethren once more, should Joseph take vengeance upon them for the past. Together they came and bowed themselves before him, pleading for forgiveness in the name of their dead father. It was a new wound to Joseph that they had so little understanding of his heart, and so little trust in his love; but he comforted and reassured them, and assured them they need fear no evil.
Many years longer Joseph dwelt in Egypt in peace and honour, even till he had reached the number of years that the Egyptians counted the years of a perfect life, and was a hundred and ten years old. Before he died, his great-grandchildren had sat upon his knees and played around his feet. In his old age he called his kindred to him, as Jacob had called him. “I am dying,” he said to them, “but remember, God will visit you and bring you out of this land to the land which He promised to our fathers. Swear to me that when that time comes, you, or your children after you, will carry up my bones from here and lay them by the bones of our forebears.”
So Joseph died, a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt—to await the time.
Among other references, the following have been especially helpful in guiding the preparation of our narrative text.
1 Waiting For Christ, by Ronald Cox, C.M., S.T.L., S.S.L.
2 The Whole Story, by Martin J. Healy.
3 Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1966.
All major passages from this translation have the following acknowledgement
attached to them
Excerpt from the JERUSALEM BIBLE,
copyright (c) 1966 by Darton, Longman and Todd, Ltd.
and Doubleday, a division of Random House Inc.
Reprinted by permission.
4 A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Thomas Nelson and Sons, London. 1953.
5 The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, 1968.
6 The Hadock Bible.
7 The Men and Message of the Old Testament, by Peter Ellis, 1963.
8 The Holy Bible, Confraternity Text, Good Will Publishers, North Carolina, 1960.
9 The New American Bible.
All major passages from this translation have the following acknowledgement
attached to them:
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of
Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the
copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American
Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing
from the copyright owner.
10 The Bible Story, by James Baikie.
11 A God Who Speaks, by Jaques Guillet, S.J. Gill and McMillan, Dublin, 1979.
12 Meditation and the Bible, by Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, Inc. New York, 1978.
13 From Moses to Elisha, by L. Elliot-Binns D.D. (Clarendon Press, 1929).
14 Dictionary of the Bible, by John L. McKenzie, S.J., Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1965.
• Base texts for the narrative are:
The Whole Story
The Confraternity Bible
The New American Bible
The Bible Story