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JACOB TENDING THE FLOCKS OF LABAN.
(GENESIS XXIX. AND XXX.) The aged patriarch, Isaac, who had long been afflicted with blindness, finding that he drew near the end of his pilgrimage on earth, called for Esau, his eldest son, and desired him to procure for him some of his favourite venison, and dress it, that he might eat; promising, afterwards to give him his blessing. Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, heard this request; and her love being fixed upon Jacob, her youngest son, she resolved to counteract the design of Isaac, by causing her loved-one to personate Esau. In this she was successful. She hastily dressed Isaac's favourite meat, put the skins of the kids upon Jacob's hands, and clothed him with the garments of Esau; in which disguise Jacob so effectually imposed upon his father, that, after he had partaken of the meat, he kissed him, and, in the spirit of prophecy, gave him his solemn blessing.
Now, Jacob had before obtained the birthright of Esau, and, as might be expected, therefore, this transaction widened this breach in their brotherly affection still more.
They stood aloof; the scars remaining,
Esau, indeed, harboured revenge in his breast, and determined, when his father was dead, to put Jacob to death. His design was made known to Rebekah; and she persuaded Isaac to send Jacob to her brother Laban, at Padan-Aram, hoping that his absence, and time, would allay the fury of his brother Esau. Accordingly Jacob was sent away; and when he arrived at Padan-Aram he became shepherd to his uncle, serving him fourteen years for his two daughters, Leah and Rachel, and, afterwards, for the ringstraked, spotted, and speckled offspring of his numerous flocks of sheep and goats.
In such circumstånces Jacob is represented in the drawing. The plain in the distance may be supposed to exhibit one of the fertile and pleasant tracts by which the desolate region of Mesopotamia Proper is skirted in the north and north-eastern part, where it was that Jacob fed the flocks of Laban for so many years.
contains numerous rich pastures and pleasant hills, although the want of water prevents large portions of soil, naturally fertile, from being productive. The air is very pure throughout the whole country of Mesopotamia, but the sandy deserts, by which the southern portion is surrounded, render the climate remarkably warm in the summer season.
The familiarity of shepherds with their flocks in oriental countries was very remarkable. We read of their going before, leading, calling their sheep, and of their flocks following, and distinguishing their voices. Jacob was, indeed, one of the most celebrated shepherds of the patriarchal age, for he not only tended his flock, but improved the variety. The object of the drawing is to exhibit him in the discharge of his duties, and the result of his ameliorating labours, which may be traced in the appearance of the sheep
Salvator Rosa has painted this subject; but his Jacob is a bandit of the Abbruzzi, and the sheep those of the Campagna of Romea mode of representation contrary to both reason and Scripture. He has also represented the flock on the margin of a rich stream of water, which is equally opposed to the truth. As Scripture represents, so the flocks feeding on the plains of Mesopotamia are watered, in the absence of streams, from a well; whence it arose that a good well was considered by the inhabitants an invaluable blessing. On the possession of wells, indeed, depended the existence of men and beasts in many parts of the East.
The costume in which Jacob appears in the drawing is that of the primitive Bedouin. As the manners and habits of the orientals continue unchanged, it is probable that Jacob wore such a dress while tending his flocks.
Two distinct races of sheep are, in the present day, found inhabiting Syria and Palestine, the Bedouin and the Syrian. The latter species is the more numerous, and, therefore, introduced into the drawing, with the improved varieties of ringstraked, spotted, speckled, etc. As the Syrian variety, indeed, is found in great perfection in countries with which the Hebrews were conversant, it is highly probable that it composed the flocks of the patriarchs. The tail of one of these animals is very broad and large, hence the variety has been an object of wonder to every traveller from the time of Herodotus. Dr. Russell, in his “ Natural History of Aleppo,” says, that the carcass of a sheep of this variety, exclusive
.JACOB TENDING THE FLOCKS OF LABAN.
of the head, feet, skin, etc., weighs from sixty to eighty pounds, of which the tail alone usually weighs fifteen pounds. To preserve these appendages from injury, the Arabs frequently affix a piece of board to the under part, and sometimes it is found necessary to attach wheels. The fat of the tail is employed as a substitute for butter and oil, and when eaten with boiled rice it is very palatable. Under the Mosaic law, the Levites were constantly directed to place the hind part, or tail, whole on the fire of the altar. The reason for this is obvious. It was the most delicate part of the animal, and, therefore, the most proper to be presented in sacrifice to Jehovah, under a dispensation of types and shadows.
In contemplating the calm and benevolent attitude of Jacob, the shepherd, the mind recurs to the many beautiful figures found in Scripture which are drawn from the pastoral character. The Hebrew nation was truly pastoral; and it is from this circumstance that they are frequently mentioned as a flock of sheep, under the care of their great Shepherd, Jehovah, The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Jews in this character, when describing their return from captivity under his Almighty protection.
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock
See also Psalm lxxiv. 1; lxxviii. 52 ; lxxix. 13 ; xcv. 7;
Jer. xxiii. 1; 1. 6, etc.
As the gracious relation of Jehovah and the Israelites was thus represented, so is Jesus Christ and the spiritual Israel represented, both in the Old and New Testaments. Thus Isaiah, alluding to the oriental custom of the shepherds carrying the lambs in their arms,