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brothers, polluted with innocent blood, and Reuben, his "first-born, his might, and the beginning of his strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power," stained with incest-Judah, his fourth son, who had begun to build up a family of his own, but it was by a Canaanitish woman, whose progeny involved him in complicated guilt, and covered him with shame-Joseph and Benjamin, fair as the opening blossoms of the vernal rose, and precious as the purple fluid which visited his sad heart-But alas! the highly valued stock which had shot forth these two lovely branches, is prematurely cut down and withered. His beloved Rachel is no more; and he is deprived of even the poor consolation of reflecting, that her sacred dust slept in the same tomb with that of his venerable ancestors. But to have the privilege of pouring his sorrows into the bosom of a father, was the alleviation if not the cure of them. And he, who by meditation, and faith, and prayer, had overcome the world, and lived so long in heaven, was well qualified for administering the vivifying cordial to the fainting soul, to apply the sovereign balm to the aching heart of a son, who had been a still greater sufferer than himself.
which glow and shine upon the page of inspiration! with what delight and success should we then speak, and with what pleasure and profit should ye then lend a listening ear!
The story of Jacob, as it proceeds, teaches many useful lessons for the conduct of life; and opens many sources of religious instruction. Who would not rather be honest, unsuspecting, believing Jacob, than dark, designing, selfish Laban? And yet, who does not see the necessity of blending the wisdom of the serpent, with the harmlessness of the dove? We mourn to think on the prevalence of those fiery and ungovernable passions which separate, and scatter, and alienate those whom God and nature designed to live together, and to love one another; and which robs human life of many instances of felicity which might have been in it. Why should Isaac and Jacob have lived twenty years asunder, to their mutual discomfort and distress? The vile spirit of this evil world arose; the spirit of pride, emulation, ambition, avarice, fear, revenge, drove Jacob into a miserable exile; and left his father a forlorn, forsaken, anxious blind old man. Happy that poverty, which permits the parent and his child to cherish each other, till the cold hand of death chill the heart. Happy the obscurity which excludes envy; and forces not a man to be an enemy to his own brother!
But the calamities of neither the father nor the son are as yet come to a period; and they have still to interchange sorrows for a loss more bitter and oppressive than any which they have yet endured. For, in little more than six years from their re-union; We have seen in the patriarch, a man like while Isaac, now one hundred and seventy ourselves, "bruised and put to grief;” the years old, was patiently looking for his dis-image of "one greater man," "a man of sormission from this scene of trouble, and preparing to enter the harbour of eternal resthe is driven back upon the tempestuous ocean, and doomed to toil and grieve ten years more of a weary life, deploring an affliction which admitted of no consolation, and which at length brought his white head with sorrow to the grave. At this period it was, that Joseph, beautiful and young, Joseph, the delight of God and man, Joseph, the memorial of Rachel, the pride of Jacob, the prop of Isaac's old age, disappeared, and was heard of no more, till many years after his venerable grandsire slept in the dust.
rows and acquainted with grief," whose
Jacob, sinking himself into the dust, under the pressure of a burthen which nature was unable to sustain, is at length called to perform the last sad office of filial affection, and to lay his hand upon the already extinguish-money, and overthrew the tables: and said ed orbs of his honoured father; willing, and longing, I am persuaded, to have descended with him into the grave. But not the least eventful part of his history is yet to come. It will henceforward be blended with that of Joseph, which now solicits our attention. O could we but bring to the study and display of it, a small portion of that native simplicity, that divine eloquence, that celestial energy,
* Gen. xxxviii. 2. 18. 24, 25, 26.
unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence, make not my Father's house an house of merchandise." Jacob presented to his father a numerous and thriving offspring; but many of them children perverse and corrupted, their father's shame and sorrow. But when our spiritual Head shall present his redeemed to "his Father and our Father, to his God and our God," saying, "Here am I,
and the children thou hast given me," the | he may show mercy;" our "Redeemer parental eye shall discern in them "neither liveth," "he is risen again, he is even at the spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing." Our right hand of God, he also maketh intercesFather in Heaven ever lives, "exalted that sion for us."
HISTORY OF JACOB AND JOSEPH.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.-GENESIS xxxvii. 3, 4.
THE history of mankind exhibits an unceasing contention between the folly and wickedness of man, and the wisdom and goodness of God. Men are continually striving to outdo, to mortify, and to hurt one another; but a gracious Providence, by opposing spirit to spirit, interest to interest, force to force, preserves the balance, and supports the fabric. His sovereign power and matchless skill, produce exquisite harmony from the confused, the contending, discordant tones of human passions. He controls and subdues a diversity, which threatened disorder, separation, and destruction, into a variety which pleases, which unites, which cements and preserves mankind. And a more consolatory, a more composing, a more satisfying view of the divine Providence we cannot indulge ourselves in, than this merciful superintendence which it condescends to take of the affairs of men, and of every thing that affects their virtue or their happiness. The disorders which prevail in the natural world, under the subduing hand of heaven, range themselves into order and peace. The convulsions which shake and disturb the moral world, directed, checked, and counterbalanced by a power much mightier than themselves, subside into tranquillity, through the very agitation and violence they had acquired. Surely, O Lord, the wrath of man shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain." When the tumult is over, and the noise ceases, religion rears up her head, and says, in the words of Joseph to his brethren, "but as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive."* We are now come to a passage of the sacred history of uncommon beauty and importance. Whether we consider the simplicity and grace of the narration, the affecting circumstances of the story, the interesting and instructive views of the human heart which it unfolds, the many plain and useful
* Gen. 1. 20.
lessons which it teaches; or the mighty consequences, both near and remote, which resulted to the family of Jacob, to the Egyptian monarchy, and to the human race, from incidents, at first insignificant and seemingly contemptible, but gradually swelling into magnitude, embracing circle after circle, extending from period to period, till at length all time and space are occupied by them.
Isaac was now as good as dead; calmly looking forward to his latter end; alive only to sentiments of piety and of pain. And Jacob was, through much difficulty and distress, at last settled in the land wherein his father was a stranger; increased in wealth, rich in children, rich in piety, but advanced in years, and loaded with affliction. Jacob's family, the salt of the earth, was itself in a very putrid and corrupted state; and the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel were themselves very bad men. The unhappy father endeavours to soothe the anguish arising from the ill behaviour of his grownup sons, by the pleasing prospects which the more amiable qualities of his younger children opened to him.
The sacred historian introduces to us the favourite character of Joseph with wonderful art and skill. From the very first moment we become interested in him. He is the long expected son of beauteous Kachel
his mother was dead-he had now attained his seventeenth year-and he was the darling object of his father's affection. Jacob's affection, however, has not blinded him so far, as to bring up even his favourite in idleness. Little does that man consult either the credit or the comfort of his son, who breeds him to no useful employment: for indolence is the nurse of vice, the parent of shame, the source of misery. Unfortunately for him, however, Joseph is associated in employment with persons whose conversation was not likely to improve his morals, and whose dispositions toward him did not promise much to promote his happiness; "the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the
sons of Zilpah, his father's wives;" who, alas! seem to have inherited much more of the spirit of the bondwoman who was their mother, than the freeman who was their father. What were the particulars of their ill conduct we are not told: but Joseph observed it, was grieved and offended, and reported it to his father.
Jacob is not wholly irreprehensible in this. It was imprudent to trust a well-inclined young man, at that delicately dangerous season of life, far, or long out of his sight, and in such company. It was wrong to encourage in Joseph a spirit of censoriousness and self-conceit. It was madness to add fuel to those resentments, which his ill-disguised partiality to this son of his old age had already kindled in the breasts of his other children. But his understanding seems quite blinded by love for the boy; and he proceeds from weakness to weakness. As if he had not raised up enemies enough to him, by countenancing in him the odious character of tale-bearer, he goes on to expose him to the hatred of all the family, by dressing up his darling in "a coat of many
What a foundation of mischief was here laid! The brothers must have been much less inflammable than they were well known to be, not to have taken fire at this indiscreet, this ridiculous distinction. And Joseph himself must have possessed a mind much more firm and more enlightened than seventeen generally discovers, not to have felt at least some transient emotions of vanity, insolence, and self-sufficiency, in being thus favoured above the rest. The father was therefore injurious to all, but most to himself. His house is now in flames, and he himself has fired the train. Parents, as ye love your repose, as you value your children, as you would have them dwell together in unity, as ye would not put a dagger into a brother's hand to shed a brother's blood, guard yourselves well against partial affections: or if unhappily you have conceived them, conceal it from every eye, let not the favourite see it, let not his rival suspect it. Let reason, let religion, let that very partiality itself teach you to be wise and just. Parents, as ye prize the understanding, the virtue, the true dignity of your children, let them never be taught to think that dress confers consequence, that finery implies worth, that the body deserves more attention than the mind. Let not even your daughters be led, through your silly vanity, to believe that any part of their excellence consists in the splendour of their appearance. But still inculcate upon them, that a mind stored with virtues, with modesty, meekness, gentleness, patience, humility, is, both to God and man, a sight infinitely more pleasing than the most beautiful person adorned with jewels and lace, if
these or any of these be wanting. Let them know early, and hear frequently, that cleanliness and decency are virtues which they ought to acquire and to practise: but that a curiously ornamented body is, to a discerning eye, nothing but the indication, and the wretched, tawdry covering of a naked soul. I think I see the ill effect of Jacob's fondness on Joseph himself. What could have suggested those dreams of his own superiority, the recital of which was so offensive to his brothers, and which drew from his father himself check and reproof? Nothing but the petulancy of his waking thoughts buoyed up by confidence in paternal preference and favour. It will be said, that they were intimations from above, of his future greatness and eminence. It is readily admitted. But of what stuff does the foreknowledge and power of God frame prognostics and predictions? Sometimes, perhaps often, of the violent propensities and desires of men's minds. And many events seem to have been predicted, not because they are to come to pass, but they come to pass because they have been predicted. The dreams themselves are the natural working of a young mind, inflated by indulgence. The repetition of them, where they were sure to occasion disgust, marks a simplicity, an innocence, a boyish thoughtlessness and indiscretion, which it were cruel severely to censure, but which wisdom can by no means approve. And, the whole taken together, the prognostic with the realization, the cause with the effect, the prophesy with the event, form a wonderful and instructive contrast of the weakness of man, and the power of God; the meanness of the materials, and the magnificence of the fabric; the feebleness of the instrument, and the force of the hand which employed it.
Though Jacob was not altogether pleased with the spirit which these dreams and the rehearsal of them discovered, yet they had a very different effect upon him and upon his sons. They envied and hated him the more; he "observed the saying." Whether from a father's partial fondness, or instructed by that Spirit, who afterwards disclosed futurity to him, down to the gathering of the people to Shiloh, he considered the doubling of the vision, and its coinciding purport, as portending something great and good to his beloved child; and he sits down patiently to wait the issue. And we shall presently find it was hastening towards its conclusion in a course much more rapid, and by means much more extraordinary than any which he could possibly apprehend.
By this time the power of Jacob's family was grown so great, or the terror inspired by the cruel murder of the Shechemites was so far effaced, that his ten eldest sons adventure into the neighbourhood of that city to feed their flocks. The distance from Beer
Well has our blessed
Lord cautioned his disciples against the use of contemptuous expressions one to another. For however slight and insignificant a hard or ridiculous name at first sight may appear, it proceeds from an unkind heart, and partakes of the nature of murder.
ror, had been wonderful; but that only one of ten should rise up to intercede for the unhappy victim, exceeds all belief. We almost lose the remembrance of Reuben's filthiness, in his good-natured attempt to save his brother. If there were something of deceit in the proposal which he made to the rest for this purpose, it was on the side of virtue, and calls at least for pardon, if not for commendation.
sheba, where Jacob dwelt, being considera- | dreamer cometh." ble; their absence being extended to a length of time that created anxiety, and though their apprehensions might, a solicitous father's anxiety not being quite laid to rest, he thinks proper to send Joseph from Hebron, to inquire after their welfare, and to bring him word again. Unhappy father and son! little did It is no uncommon thing for men who have they think the parting of that day was to be quite got over every scruple of conscience, for such a length of duration. Blind that we and all sense of duty, still to retain some reare to futurity! We "cannot tell what a gard to decency; and to respect opinion and day may bring forth." The last meeting, the appearances after the heart is become perlast parting; the last coming in and going fectly callous. Though they can remorseout; the last time of speaking and of hear- lessly resolve on shedding blood, they have ing; the last of every thing must soon over- not confidence enough to avow their violence take us all. Joseph accordingly leaves his and barbarity, but craft and falsehood must father's house, never, never to return to it be called in, to cover their villany from the more, and goes forth in quest of his brethren. eye of the world. "Come, now, therefore, Our tender affections are now strongly ex- and let us slay him; and cast him into some cited for the hapless youth. A lad of seven-pit, and we will say, some evil beast hath teen, who had never till now been from be- devoured him: and we shall see what will neath the protection of paternal care and become of his dreams."* That there should tenderness; whose face "the wind of Hea- have been one of the ten capable of conven" had never hitherto "visited too rough-ceiving and suggesting such a deed of horly;" whose spirit mortification had never galled, whose heart affliction had never yet pierced; thrown at once into the wide world, missing his way in an unknown country, exposed to savage beasts, or more savage men; coming at length to the place of his destination, but disappointed of finding what he looked for there; and finally falling into the hands of butchers, where he expected brothers. If ever there were an object of compassion, it is now before us. I observe his young heart flutter with joy, when, after all his wanderings and anxieties, he descries his brothers, and their tents, and their flocks afar off. I see the tear of tenderness rush to his eyes, while he delivers his father's greeting, and tells the tale of his youthful sorrows and mistakes upon the road. I see his blooming countenance flushed with delight and satisfaction, at the thought of being again among friends, of having once more a protector. Ah cruel, cruel disappointment! They have been plotting his ruin, they have devoted him to death. He comes to them with words of peace, with kind and affectionate inquiries after their health and prosperity. They meet him with looks of aversion, with words of contempt and hatred, with thoughts of blood. The history of Jacob's family exhibits a shocking view of manners and of society at that period. They digest and execute a plan of murder, with as much coolness as we would an improvement in agriculture, or an adventure in trade. It is no wonder the poor Shechemites found no pity at their hands, when they are so lost to the feelings of nature, humanity, and filial duty, as to deliberate and determine, without ceremony or remorse, upon their own brother's death. The trifling incident of the dreams lies rankling in their bosoms. "Behold," say they, "this
Joseph was now at hand. And O how dif ferent his reception from what he fondly expected! "They stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him. And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it." With truth has the wise man said, "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." The demons of envy and revenge have taken possession of their hearts. In vain he weeps, in vain he prays, in vain employs the tender names of father and brother, to win their pity. The coat, the odious coat, the badge of a partial father's fondness, steels their breasts. They strip it off with more of savage joy than ever the doating parent felt of satisfaction in seeing him put it on, or the hapless youth himself in wearing it. The horror of being cast alive into a pit to perish with hunger, is not to be conceived, much less expressed. What must it then have been to a heart like Joseph's, tremblingly alive to the keenest sensations of pain; acquainted, till then, only with gentleness and indulgence, and now dreadfully awakened to perceive the full extent of his misery? Instant death had been mercy to one in such a situation.
As if they had done nothing, they sit down unconcernedly to eat bread. Savage monsters! Could the moderate cravings of their † Gen. xxxvii. 23, 24.
*Gen. xxxvii. 20.
own appetite fail to remind them of the wretched state of their poor brother; fail to suggest the misery of perishing for want, and to awaken compassion in some gentle bosom? Yes; with his piercing shrieks yet sounding in their ears, with his piteous, supplicating looks yet before their eyes, they indulge the commonest, lowest cravings of their own nature, and calmly consign him to a lingering death; the bitterness of which was every instant increased by the slowness of its approach. And now, behold the darling of Jacob on the very brink of despair; when Providence, wiser than they were cunning, and more powerful than they were wicked, interposes for his deliverance.
ants of him whose "hands were against every man, and every man's hands against him," and he is safer with wild Ishmaelites, than with bloody, unnatural brothers. From avarice, if not from pity or affection, they will treat him kindly, that they may dispose of him to advantage. So much better is a merciful, or even a mercenary stranger, than an envious and cruel brother. Reuben, it appears, was not present at this consultation, bargain, and delivery. He probably stole away, when the rest sat down to meat, that by a round-about path he might arrive at the pit where Joseph was hid, and assist him in effecting his escape, while the rest were otherwise employed. But he had made so large a circuit in order to avoid suspicion, that the sale was transacted before he came to the place, and his benevolent intention was thereby frustrated. He is the only one of the brothers who seems to have felt a sin
It was so ordered of Heaven, that a travelling company or caravan of Ishmaelitish merchants passed by, while they were at dinner, in the course of their traffic to Egypt. A thought occurred to Judah, whose heart now began somewhat to relent, that an op-gle spark of pity for the unfortunate youth, portunity offered of ridding themselves of their hated rival, without incurring the guilt of shedding his blood; namely, that of selling him for a slave to the Ishmaelites; who, he knew would carry him along with them into Egypt, sell him over again for profit, and thereby for ever prevent the possibility of his return, to detect their villany, and renew his pretensions to superiority over them.
or of concern for the distress of his aged parent. What then must his anguish have been, when he came to the pit, and found no Joseph there? From his worst fears however he is soon relieved, and, bad as it was, rejoices to hear that Joseph was only sold for a slave.
By common consent it is agreed to conceal, if possible, the whole of this dark scene. They must meet their father again, and to him something must be said for the non-appearance of his amiable, his beloved son. am not more shocked at their first purpose of blood, than at their artful device to cover it, and their awful steadiness and fidelity to each other, in guarding so well the dreadful secret. It proves what deep, what determined, what thorough-paced villains they were. And from such men does the Jewish nation glory to have sprung! They stain the variegated coat, the cause of so much jealousy, with blood, which they intend shall pass with the wretched father for the blood of him that wore it; and they send it to Hebron as accidentally found in the field in that state, to carry its own doleful tidings with it.
No sooner was this proposal made than it was assented to. And they, who a little while before made nothing of taking away their brother's life, with less scruple and ceremony still, take upon them to rob him of his liberty; and, as if he had been a bullock, or a kid from the flock, sell him for twenty pieces of silver, into the hands of strangers. O the wonder-working hand of God! The circumstances which lately seemed to poor Joseph so untoward and unfavourable, were working together for the preservation of his life, and paving the way to glory. Had he not wandered in the field, his arrival had happened too early for the passing by of these merchants to save him. Had he found his brethren in Shechem, as he expected, instead of Dothan, he had been out of the track which his deliverers took. "Who can tell what is good or evil for a man," till the end come, and the mystery of Providence be un-lated wo? All his former griefs admitted folded? These, to the eye of man, are little accidental circumstances. But they are a part of a vast arrangement, made by Him "who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will," to bring about a great purpose. There are wheels almost imperceptible in the great machine, which the untutored eye is apt wholly to overlook, but which are indeed as necessary to motion as the largest and most obvious.
I cannot accompany this fatal pledge to the place of its destination. Who can bear to witness the anguish of a miserable old man sinking under the weight of accumu
of consolation. They were more directly from the hand of God, they were in the course of nature, they might be cured or endured. But this stab was mortal; it defied medicine, it mocked at length of time. He himself has had the principal hand in this great evil; and I fear, I fear he suspects the truth, though he says it not. Beautiful, too much beloved, ill-starred Rachel! once I pitied, now I congratulate thee. A gracious Providence has Thus was the jewel of his father's heart in kindness taken thee away from the evil to vilely bartered away as a thing of little value. come. The sight of Joseph's vesture dipped Behold Joseph in the hands of the descend-in blood, must have proved fatal to thee,