MOSES, THE GREAT LEADER
So Moses grew up in the palace, treated as a prince instead of as a slave. He learned his lessons with the other boys of the palace, and was taught all that the wisest Egyptians could teach him. As he grew to be a man he learned also to be a soldier, and took rank as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But deep down in his heart he never forgot his own people.
The poor Israelites were worse off now than ever. They were forced to work harder and harder, were beaten and ill-treated in a most cruel way, and there was no one to speak a good word for them. In vain Moses tried to help them. His interference only seemed to bring fresh trouble upon them, and they looked with suspicion on the grandly- dressed, royal-looking young man who came from the king’s palace. How could he understand their misery?
Then a day came when Moses found one of the Egyptian taskmasters beating a poor Israelite most unmercifully, and the sight made him so angry that he rushed in to defend the slave, and dealt the cruel task master such a heavy blow that it killed him. The Israelites, instead o£ being grateful, only mistrusted him the more; and the next time he tried to help them they asked him if he meant to kill them as he had killed the Egyptian.
Moses knew at once then that the story had been whispered throughout the country, and that as soon as it reached Pharaoh’s ears his life would not be safe. The only thing to be done was to escape to some distant land; and so, with sorrow and disappointment in his heart, he fled from the palace, leaving behind all the riches and honors he had enjoyed so long.
A very different kind of life began now for Moses. He had journeyed far into the desert, and joined company there with an Arab tribe, which wandered from place to place feeding their flocks, and instead of being a prince he now became a shepherd.
But God had more difficult work for him to do than feeding sheep; and before long, out on the lonely hillside, the message came. He was to go back, he was to set himself to the task of freeing his people from Pharaoh’s power, and to lead them out into the land of Canaan, where they would be no longer slaves but a free people.
At first, when Moses heard God’s voice bidding him do all this, he thought it was an impossible task for him to attempt. Pharaoh would never listen to him. His own people would not trust him. He was not a great speaker, and he would most certainly fail. But God bade him do his best, and trust in the help that would be given him. Aaron, his brother, should be the spokesman, and God would work such wonders that both Pharaoh and the Israelites would be forced to listen to him.
Now Moses was a born leader of men, strong and fearless, and a splendid general, and above all he had now a firm faith that God’s strong arm would fight for him. So he left his quiet life, and began the great work at God’s command.
At first it seemed quite hopeless. Pharaoh refused to let his slaves go, even for a few days’ journey into the wilderness. Time after time God sent terrible plagues on Pharaoh and all the land of Egypt. Punishment after punishment fell on them, and still they refused to allow the Israelites to leave the country. Then at last God sent the angel of death, and killed all the eldest sons in every house, so that the whole land was filled with mourning. A great wail went up from the palace and from the poorest dwellings, and Pharaoh was so terrified that he told Moses to lead the people away at once. They might take anything they liked with them, only they must go quickly.
So the great company of people set out with all their families, their wives and children, their flocks and herds, and the gifts which the Egyptians thrust into their hands in their eagerness to get rid of them. It was Moses, the great leader, who arranged everything, and guided them on their way, and brought them to the shores of the Red Sea.
But by that time Pharaoh began to recover from his terror, and to think he had made a mistake in letting the people go so easily. A great army was sent in hot haste after them; and the poor Israelites, looking back, could see the Egyptians coming towards them from behind, while in front stretched the wide waters of the Red Sea. What was to become of them? Of course it was the fault of their leader, they thought. He had only brought them here to he cut to pieces or drowned.
But Moses knew better. He knew that God would make a passage for them through the sea, so he ordered them to go forward. In fear and trembling they did as he bade them, and behold! God sent a strong wind which divided the water so that a passage appeared, and they walked over on dry land.
Behind them the army of Pharaoh swept on. The chariots were driven at full speed, the horsemen came thundering along. They too reached the passage that led across the water, but it was too late; the people had all reached the other side, and the sea had begun to flow back. The chariot wheels sunk in the wet sand, the horses began to flounder, and before long all the great army was swept away by the returning tide.
So the people were saved from the Egyptians. But there were still many other enemies to be faced, and for forty long years they journeyed, a tribe of wanderers, across the desert. Many were the battles they fought, and many were the troubles they suffered. Sometimes they had no food to eat, sometimes they almost died for want of water, and when anything went wrong it was always Moses whom they blamed.
But the great leader was very patient with them. Only once he was so angry with their murmuring that he was tempted to disobey God’s direction; and then he sorrowfully knew that, as a punishment, he would not be allowed to lead them on into the Promised Land of Canaan. His work was nearly done, and others, he knew, would be able to finish what he had begun; but it must have been a sore grief to him. He was quite an old man now, but yet he showed no sign of age, and was as strong and full of courage as when he had been first called to do God’s work.
And now the word had come that he must lay down his leadership. From the top of Mount Pisgah God would show him the Promised Land, and there he must die.
With strong, firm steps the great leader climbed the rocky mountain side, and from the top of the mount he saw the land of Canaan stretched out before him, that fair land so rich and fruitful, “flowing with milk and honey.” The people, watching below, had seen him as he climbed higher and higher until he disappeared from their sight. Did they know, as they caught the last glimpse of his tall, straight figure, that their eyes would never look on him again, that he would never return to lead them and watch over them as he had so faithfully done until now?
Alone upon the mountain top he stood, as solitary and grand as those everlasting hills, ready to obey God’s call; and then he “was not, for God took him.”
THE FINDING OF MOSES
Many long years had passed since the days when Joseph’s brothers and their families had settled in the land of Egypt. They were a great nation in numbers now, but the Egyptians still ruled over them, and used them as servants. The Pharaoh who had been so kind to the shepherds from Canaan was dead long ago, and the new kings, or Pharaohs, as they were called, hated foreigners, and began to treat the Israelites very harshly. There were too many of them, they said; it was dangerous to have so many strong, powerful slaves. They must be kept down, and made to work from morning until night, and be beaten if they did not work fast enough.
That was very hard for the poor people; but worse was to come. An order was issued one day which spread sorrow through all the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived. Every baby boy that was born was to be thrown into the river. Girl babies might be allowed to live, for they would be useful as slaves, but boys might grow up to fight for their country, and so they must be destroyed.
In one little house, not far from the great river Nile, a woman sat holding her tiny baby in her arms, while the tears ran down her cheeks. He was such a beautiful baby, so strong and fair and healthy; but the king’s order was that he was to be thrown into the river, where the cruel, hungry crocodiles were waiting to snap up everything they could find for a meal. Jochebed, the poor mother, held her baby closer in her arms. No, she could not obey the king’s order. She would try and hide the baby for a little while, at any rate.
It was easy to hide a baby while he was still tiny and slept most of the day; but when he grew bigger it was much more difficult. His sister Miriam did her best to help her mother; but any day, now that the baby was three months old, he might be discovered, and something must be done at once.
So Jochebed thought of a plan, and prayed to God that He would help her to carry it out. At the edge of the river there grew tall bulrushes, which, when cut down and dried, could be made into many useful things. Taking some of these bulrushes, she wove them into a little cradle with a cover to it, just like a little ark, and this she covered with a kind of pitch, so that not a drop of water could come through. Inside the cradle she made a soft bed, and laid the baby there while he was fast asleep, and set the ark afloat in the water where the bulrushes were growing. She knew that presently the great princess, Pharaoh’s daughter, would come down to bathe in the river, and would notice the queer little ark floating there.
Very soon the royal procession came winding down from the palace towards the river, as the princess in her gorgeous robes made her way to bathe in the pool of the lotus flowers. But at the edge of the river she stopped. What was that among the bulrushes? It was no lotus flower, but a strange-looking covered basket, and she ordered her maidens to bring it to her.
The little ark was lifted out of the water and carried to the princess. There was surely something alive inside, and the princess was full of curiosity as she leaned down and lifted the cover to look in. Then she started back in amazement. The dearest little baby she had ever seen lay there, all rosy and fresh after his sleep, gazing up at her with wide- open eyes. The maidens crowded round, and the sight of all those strange faces was more than the baby could bear. He puckered up his face and began to cry.
The princess loved babies, and she had none of her own. That little wailing cry went to her heart. She guessed at once that this was one of the Hebrew babies which had been ordered to be destroyed, and she made up her mind that this beautiful boy should at least be saved.
All this time Miriam had been watching from her hiding-place close by, and with anxious, beating heart she came forward now. Could she help the princess? she asked. Should she run and find some Hebrew woman who might look after the baby?
Perhaps the princess guessed that the baby’s mother would not be far off, and she must have smiled a little when a nurse was so quickly found. But she took no notice of that.
“Take this child away,” she said, when Jochebed stood humbly before her, “and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.”
It was merely as a nurse that the mother was hired. The great princess meant to adopt the baby as her own. But he was safe, and Jochebed’s heart was full of gratitude to God as she took her little son into her arms again.
As long as he needed a nurse the baby was left to be looked after by his mother in the little house by the river side. The princess called him Moses, which means “drawn out,” because he had been drawn out of the water, and she had made up her mind that as soon as he was old enough he should come to live with her at the palace, and be brought up as a prince. He would be treated just as if he was really her son.
But his poor mother had him for those first precious years while he was still a little boy, and she did not waste one minute of that time in her training of him. She taught him about God, and told him all the wonderful stories about his own country, so that he should never forget that he belonged to God’s people, even when he should become a prince in the Egyptian palace. Just as a gardener sows seeds in a garden which afterwards grow up into beautiful flowers, so she sowed the seeds of truth in the heart of her little son, which long afterwards were to blossom out and bear such wonderful fruit.
Then when Moses was old enough to do without a nurse, she took him to the palace, and “brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.”
JOSEPH, THE RULER
It was a dreadful thing to be sold for a slave, and Joseph might well have become sullen and hopeless in the strange land of Egypt to which the merchantmen took him. But instead of being sorry for himself and thinking only of the unkindness and wickedness of his brothers, he made the best of everything, and set himself to do his new work as well as possible. If he was a slave he would be a thoroughly good slave.
So it was that his first master, Potiphar, soon found that this fair- haired, good-looking Hebrew boy was one to be trusted; and as time went on, he not only gave him his freedom, but made him the chief servant of his household. Then, just when happy days dawned again for Joseph, the sunshine was once more overshadowed. His master’s wife accused him of doing wrong, and declared he was thoroughly bad; and so all his well-deserved favors were taken from him, and he was put in prison.
Even in prison, however, Joseph’s quiet goodness and his wise ways made him a favorite with every one. He was the friend of all the prisoners, and before long became the governor’s right hand. Still it was weary work to be shut up in prison, and he longed with all his heart for freedom and a chance to win a place for himself in the great world. He knew that Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, was not unfriendly to strangers. If only he could reach his ear all might be well.
At last the chance came. There were two of Pharaoh’s servants in the prison, one the king’s cupbearer, and the other his chief baker, and both these men were sorely troubled one night because of the dreams they had dreamt. There surely was a meaning in these dreams, but who could explain them?
Now Joseph had thought a great deal about dreams, and so he listened to these men, and told them what it seemed to him their dreams must mean. The chief baker’s dream was a sad one. He had dreamt of three baskets, which he carried on his head, baskets filled with the king’s food, but the birds had come and eaten up all the food. The three baskets were three days, said Joseph, and in three days the baker would be hanged and the birds would eat his flesh. But the cup- bearer’s dream was a happy one, for he had seen a vine which bore three clusters of grapes, which he had pressed out into the king’s cup and presented to Pharaoh. The three clusters of grapes were three days, said Joseph, and in three days’ time the cupbearer would be once more free and hand the king his golden cup.
“But think of me when it shall be well with you,” added Joseph to the cupbearer wistfully, “and show kindness, I pray you, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: for indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.”
In three days all that Joseph had said came true. The chief baker was hanged, and the chief butler was set free and stood once more before the king. Only, he quite forgot the man who had been so kind to him in prison, and for two years never once thought of Joseph.
But at last something happened which reminded him. Once again it was a dream, but this time the dreamer was Pharaoh, the great king. He had sent for all the cleverest men in the land to explain his dreams to him, but no one could find a meaning for them. Then the cup-bearer suddenly remembered Joseph, and came and told the king all that had happened when he was in prison. Surely it would be worth while to try this man. So Pharaoh sent and brought Joseph out of prison, and asked him if it was true that he could tell the meaning of dreams.
There was no pride or boastfulness in Joseph’s answer. Of himself, he said, he could do nothing, but with God’s help he would tell the king all that he could.
So Pharaoh told his dreams, and as Joseph listened he knew at once that they had been sent as a warning from God. Seven years of good harvests and plenty of food were coming, and after that seven years of famine when, if all the food of the good years was eaten up, the people would starve. The warning dreams had been sent so that the corn should be saved up and stored; and it would be a good plan, said Joseph, to find the very wisest and best man in all the land who would undertake to do this.
Pharaoh listened thoughtfully, and soon made up his mind. He felt at once that Joseph was a man to be trusted.
“Forasmuch as God has showed you all this,” he said, “there is none so discreet and wise as you are: you shall be over my house, and according unto your word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than you.”
It was a great chance for Joseph, one day a poor unknown prisoner and the next the greatest man except the king in all the land of Egypt. But although his outside life was changed, he himself remained just the same. He was as keen as ever on doing his best, as brave and fearless in serving God and the king, as wise in ruling as he had been in serving.
So, when the years of famine came there were great stores of corn laid up to feed the Egyptians; and not only the people of Egypt, but strangers from other lands, came to Joseph the Ruler to buy food.
Then it was that one day ten tired, travel-stained men arrived at the city, saying they had come from the far-distant land of Canaan to buy corn for their wives and families, who were starving. Joseph knew them at once. They were his ten brothers—those brothers whom he had last seen when, as a helpless young boy, he had knelt and begged them for mercy. Now they came kneeling to the great ruler, little dreaming that this powerful prince was the young brother they had betrayed and sold.
And Joseph did not mean to tell them just yet. He pretended to take them for spies, and spoke roughly to them.
“Your servants are no spies,” the brothers answered humbly. “We are the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.”
Even then Joseph pretended that he did not believe them. No, they must first prove their words by bringing their youngest brother to him. They might leave one of their number behind as a hostage, and take corn for their families and return to fetch their brother. For Joseph longed to see Benjamin again, the little brother whom he had so dearly loved.
At first Jacob would not hear of letting the boy go. He remembered Joseph’s sad fate, and refused to trust Benjamin to his brothers. But presently, when all the corn was eaten up, and it seemed as if they must all die of hunger, he agreed that there was nothing else to do but to allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt and buy more corn from the great ruler.
Then Joseph could pretend no longer. The sight of Benjamin awoke all the old love in his heart, and he was obliged to turn away his head lest his brothers should see that his eyes were full of tears. Afterwards he sent every one away, and when he was alone with his brothers he told them who he was.
There was no fear of famine for them now. Nothing in all the land was too good for the brothers of the great ruler, and before long there were wagons and camels on their way to Canaan to fetch Jacob, the old father, and all the wives and little ones belonging to the ten brothers. They would all now share in Joseph’s good fortune.
So Jacob’s sorrow was turned into joy when the news was brought to him that Joseph was alive, and governor over all the land of Egypt. It sounded almost like a magic tale, and Jacob could not believe it at first; but joy gave him strength to endure the long journey. And there at the end Joseph stood waiting to welcome him-Joseph, the great ruler, held in such honor in that land; Joseph, the man whose word was law, and who was clad in rich robes, and lived in princely state. But in Jacob’s eyes he was still just the little lad who, in his mirthful coat of many colors, had tended the sheep in the home fields and been the light of his father’s eyes.
JOSEPH, THE DREAMER
There were many reasons why Jacob should love his son Joseph more than all his other sons, but there was one special reason above all. The little lad’s mother had been more to him than any one else in all the wide world, and when she died, leaving Joseph and a new-born baby brother, Benjamin, all the love in the father’s heart turned to his two little sons. The elder brothers were strong, grown-up men, quite able to look after themselves; it was on Joseph that all his father’s tenderness, all his hopes, were fixed.
At first the other brothers took no notice of their father’s preference; but as Joseph grew older they began to feel uneasy and envious, especially when Jacob made a beautiful coat for the boy, a coat of many pieces of cloth all of different colors joined together. So mirthful and beautiful a coat it was, that every one who saw him wearing it said, “This must be the son of a great chief.”
But if the mirthful coat made them angry, they were more angry still; when Joseph began to dream strange dreams and to tell them to his brothers. He must be full of wicked pride, they said, or how could he dream such dreams. There, in a cornfield, so Joseph said, his sheaf had stood upright, while all their sheaves had bowed down before it; and another time in his dream he had seen the sun and moon and eleven stars all doing reverence to him.
Was he indeed going to rule over all of them? It was more than his brothers could bear, and they began to hate him with all their hearts. It was hard for Joseph, because he had not meant to boast when he told them of his dreams. If he was proud of his coat of many colors, it was only because it was a gift from his father. He was a straight- forward, good-natured boy, clever and brave, and ready to take his turn in watching the flocks or helping his brothers with their work in the field.
But it grew day by day more difficult to keep the peace between them, and the only quiet times were when the elder brothers went farther afield to find new pasture for their flocks.
It was at one of these times when the brothers had been gone for some time that Jacob called Joseph to him and bade him go and find his brothers, and bring back news if they were safe and well.
Joseph was now a lad of about seventeen, and this would be the first journey he had taken by himself; so he was eager to show that he was to be trusted, and set out most cheerfully.
After some days he arrived at Shechem, where his father had told him he would find his brothers, but there were no signs of them there. Unwilling to return home without news, Joseph wandered about until he met a man, who directed him to a place farther on; and at last he caught sight of their tents in a field far ahead, and he hurried forward with a light heart to greet them.
It was a clear day and the shepherds’ keen eyes could see far along the winding road that stretched out towards Shechem. So, long before Joseph arrived they saw his figure in the distance hastening towards them.
Perhaps it was the mirthful color of his coat that first told them who it was, and perhaps it was the coat that reminded them of their hate and their envious feelings, and brought to their memory again those prideful dreams.
“Behold, this dreamer comes,” they said to one another. “Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast has devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
With dark looks of hate they watched the mirthful figure coming so joyfully to meet them, and only one heart felt any pity for the boy. Reuben, the eldest brother, made up his mind quickly that he would save him if possible. Only he must set to work cunningly, for those other brothers were very determined men. What was the use of killing him outright? he suggested; why not put him into the pit close by and leave him there to die? (for he meant to come back and save Joseph after the others had gone).
Never dreaming of evil Joseph came on, and now he ran to them and began to give them his father’s message. But the rough hands held out to him were not held out in welcome. The brothers seized the boy and savagely tore off his coat, as if the very sight of it hurt their eyes, and then they hurried him towards the pit which Reuben had pointed out.
Then Joseph knew that they meant to kill him. He knew that if they threw him into one of those deep narrow pits there was no chance of climbing up its steep sides, even if he were not immediately drowned in the water which often gathered there. Was he never to see his father and little brother again? nevermore to spend happy days in the green fields under the blue sky? It was useless to cry out or beg for pity, and Reuben was not there to help him. The pit was reached, strong hands pushed him forward, and into the blackness he fell, down, down, until with a terrible thud he reached the bottom. There was no water to break his fall, for the pit was dry.
There!—that was done! The cruel brothers went off to a little distance and began sullenly to eat their midday meal. But scarcely had they begun when they saw a company of travelers coming towards them, a long train of camels laden with spices, on their way down to Egypt.
Here was a splendid opportunity of making some money out of their evil plan. Instead of leaving Joseph to starve in the pit, they would fetch him out and sell him to these merchants, who would most likely give a good price for such a strong young slave.
Perhaps for a moment, when Joseph heard their voices at the pit’s mouth, and when they drew him up and lifted him out into the sunshine again, he thought they were sorry and meant to be kind to him, but that thought soon vanished.
The Midianite merchants were waiting, and very soon a rope was bound round his hands and he was tied to the saddle of the man who had bought him, and he knew now that they had drawn him up from the pit only to sell him as a slave.
Meanwhile Reuben had been keeping out of sight, waiting to return and rescue Joseph as soon as it was safe to do so. Very cautiously he at last stole back. But alas! when he reached the pit he found that it was empty. What had happened.? In his distress he forgot his caution; he no longer cared to hide his intentions from his brothers.
“The child is not; and I, where shall I go?” he cried to them in bitter sorrow, when at last he found them.
With angry, sullen looks they told hire that Joseph was now far away on his road to Egypt. He must keep their secret. There was but one thing to be done. Joseph’s coat lay there, just as they had torn it off him: they would dip the coat in goat’s blood and carry it to their father.
The poor, gay-colored little coat, all bloodstained and torn, was brought and laid out before Jacob’s eyes.
“This have we found,” said the brothers: “know now whether it be your son’s coat or no.”
Did he not indeed know that coat of many colors? Had not his heart been filled, many a time, with pride and love as he watched his boy wearing it with the gallant air of a young chieftain.
“It is my son’s coat,” he cried, with a bitter cry of grief; “an evil beast has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.”
THE TWO BROTHERS, JACOB AND ESAU
It had indeed been a shining road of happiness which Rebekah had trod since she had left her far distant home to become the wife of Isaac, and perhaps the greatest happiness of all had come when her twin babies were born, and they told her that God had sent her two little sons.
Now, although the babies were twins they were not in the least alike, and the older they grew the more different they became. Esau, the elder, was a big strong boy, fond of working in the open air, a keen hunter, loving all kinds of out-of-door sports. He was rough-looking, too, beside his smooth-faced, gentle brother Jacob, who was a thoughtful, quiet boy, quite content to do indoor work, and caring very little for rough games or the excitement of hunting.
It was Jacob who was his mother’s favorite. She had always loved him best. It displeased her to think that Esau with his rough ways and rough looks was to be lord of all, was to have his father’s blessing as well as the birthright, and that Jacob, her quiet, beautiful boy, should have nothing. There was always an echo in her heart of God’s words, “the elder shall serve the younger.”
But if his mother loved Jacob best, it was on Esau that all his father’s hopes and love were fixed. Isaac delighted in the wild adventures and strength of his hunter son. He loved the strong hairy hands which were so skillful in the use of weapons, and the rough looks of his son only filled him with pride. When Esau entered he brought with him the wild fragrance of the woods and hills which clung even to his clothes, and it rejoiced his father’s heart.
In many ways it was Jacob who was the cleverer of the two boys; but it was this very cleverness which sometimes led him into crooked ways and taught him to take a mean advantage of his brother. So one day, when Esau had been out hunting and came home hungry and faint, Jacob offered him food, a dish of red pottage cooked and ready, if for it he would give up his birthright. Esau was too hungry and too careless to think what that meant. He did not indeed deserve the birthright if he was willing to give it away so easily. But he only thought how hungry he was, and that he might die if he did not have food, and so Jacob’s crooked plan was successful.
Now, although Jacob had managed to get the birthright, there was something else he wanted, something which his mother, too, thought of day and night. Whichever of the two sons received their father’s blessing he it was who would be master of all, who would inherit all the good things, and carry on the family name. It was of this blessing that Jacob and his mother thought continually, and at last the time came when it must be decided once for all.
Isaac had grown very old and knew he had not much longer to live, and he called Esau, his beloved elder son, and told him to go out hunting and to prepare some venison for him, the special dish which he loved.
“Make me savory meat, such as I love,” he said, “that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Rebekah, listening at the tent door, knew what that meant. She watched Esau set out to do his father’s bidding, and then she called quickly to Jacob. There was not a moment to be lost. He must go at once to the flock that was feeding in the field close by, and bring her two kids. She would make of them the savory meat, and he would then take the dish to his father and pretend that he was Esau. The poor old father was almost blind now; he would not be able to tell the difference.
But Jacob hesitated. He did not think it was a safe plan. Suppose that his father should touch him and feel his smooth skin. Why, he would know at once that it was not Esau.
“Go and do as I tell you,” said his mother. He might leave it all to her; she had planned everything. And after cooking the food, she took the hairy skins of the kids and put them on Jacob’s hands and on his neck; and she dressed him, too, in some of his brother’s clothes. Then she sent him in quickly to his father, with the smoking dish of savory meat in his hands.
The blind old father could not see who it was, he could only stretch out groping hands to feel if this was really his son Esau. Somehow he had an uneasy idea that the voice did not sound like Esau’s voice.
“Come near, I pray you, that I may feel you, my son,” he said, “whether you be my very son Esau or not.”
Those groping hands felt carefully over Jacob’s hairy neck and hands. Yes, it must be Esau, but he would make quite sure.
“Are you my very son Esau? “he asked.
And Jacob answered, “I am.”
The food was eaten, and again Isaac called his son to come near to him, and as Jacob bent down to kiss him the old man smelt the sweet earthy fragrance of Esau’s borrowed clothes. That smell was a delight to him, and he blessed his son with a wonderful blessing.
“See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed,” he began, “therefore God give you of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth.”
Jacob was to be lord of all. The blessing was his now, and no one could take it away. He had only been just in time; the blessing was scarcely ended, and he had only just left the tent, when Esau came hurrying in.
Then the trick was discovered.
“Your brother has come with subtlety and taken away your blessing,” said Isaac, trembling with grief. And when he heard that, there burst from Esau an exceeding bitter cry.
Surely that cry must have hurt his mother’s heart, surely Jacob must have hated his own mean ways when he heard that terrible cry of grief.
Already his crooked ways were bringing their punishment. He dared not stay any longer in his home, but must flee away into a distant land, to his mother’s people, where he would be safe from Esau’s anger.
Alone in the desert, with only a stone for his pillow, he dreamed that God’s angels came down the golden stairs of heaven to bring him a message of comfort; but there was little comfort for one who was banished from home, and who knew that he deserved his punishment. He repented sorely now, and God forgave him and allowed him to enjoy the blessing; but all his life he suffered for his deceit, and paid in sorrow for the evil he had done.
ISAAC AND REBEKAH
There was sadness in the home of Abraham, the great chief, and his son Isaac. Sarah’s tent was empty now, and Isaac, her son, went about sorrowfully, for he sorely missed his mother, whom he had loved with all his heart. Abraham was an old man now, and his life was nearly over; but Isaac was young, and the future looked very lonely and very sad to him.
Abraham watched his son with anxious eyes. It was not good for him to grieve so sorely. Surely it was time that he should marry and have a wife to bring back happiness to him. But it must be the right kind of wife; his son must not choose any of the ordinary women among whom they lived. No, he would send his old and trusted servant back to that far-away home he had left so long ago, and bid him bring from there a maiden of his own people, one who would be a fit wife for his only son. So here the story begins.
It was evening, and the little village, perched on the side of the hill, shone white in the last rays of the setting sun against its rocky background. Below, in the plain, evening shadows had already begun to gather as a weary traveler made his way with his swaying train of camels towards the well, sheltered by palm trees at the foot of the hill.
He was an old man, and his dusty sandals and travel-stained appearance showed that he had come a long distance. The camels, too, were travel-worn and thirsty. There was no one at the well as the old man, Abraham’s trusted servant, drew near; and after he had made the camels kneel down he sat himself at the well side to wait until the women of the village should come to draw the evening supply of water.
It was a difficult errand on which his master had sent him. How was he to find out which of all the village maidens was the right wife for Isaac, his beloved master’s son ? Surely the best thing he could do was to ask God to help him. So there, in the gathering twilight, the old servant knelt and asked God to be graciously kind to him, and to show him by a sign which maiden he should choose. He would ask for a drink, and the one who answered, “Drink, and I will give your camels drink also,” would be the one he sought.
He had not long to wait, for scarcely was his prayer ended when down the path that led from the village came a young girl carrying a pitcher upon her shoulder. The old man watched her keenly. “She is very fair to look upon,” he said to himself. He wondered if she would also have a kind heart. Then after she had filled her pitcher he determined to try the test, and went forward to meet her.
“Let me, I pray you, drink a little water of your pitcher,” he said. Immediately the girl lowered her water-jug from her shoulder and held it towards him.
“Drink, my lord,” she said kindly; and as she looked round on the tired beasts kneeling patiently there, she added, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have done drinking.”
It seemed almost too good to be true. The old man could only stand and look at her in silent wonder as she gave the camels their drink. Then he took from his pack two golden bracelets and a wonderful gold ear-ring, and presented them to her, asking her name, and if she thought he could find a lodging in the village.
If he had had any doubts about the sign these vanished now as he listened to her answer. She was Rebekah, the daughter of his master’s own brother, not only one of his race, but one of his own family.
So he followed her as she went on ahead to tell her father of the traveler who was coming, and when he arrived there was a warm welcome awaiting him, and everything in readiness for his comfort.
But before the faithful servant would even eat or drink he declared that he must tell them the reason of his coming: how his master Abraham had sent him to seek for a wife for his only son, and how God had showed him by a sign that Rebekah was the maiden of his choice.
The family listened wonderingly. Surely it was plain that they must let their beautiful Rebekah return with the servant to be Isaac’s bride, for God had clearly shown that it was His will.
That night there was much feasting and rejoicing, but next morning a little sadness crept in. It was not easy to part with the only daughter of the house. Would it not be possible to wait for a few days? asked her mother wistfully.
“No,” said the old servant decidedly, “send me away, that I may return at once.”
“We will call Rebekah,” said her mother, “and she shall decide.” Rebekah came and answered the question bravely. Yes, she would go. She was ready to start at once on that long journey, ready to trust herself to the faithful servant whom God had sent to fetch her.
She was very young; all unknown and untried the future lay before her. It might be a shining path of happiness, or rough with the stones of difficulty, but it was the path God had chosen for her.
So after many farewells they set out, a long train of swaying camels, to journey to that far-off land where Abraham and his son Isaac dwelt. It was again evening time as the journey drew to an end. Isaac had wandered out into the fields after his day’s work, to be alone with his sorrowful thoughts. He was watching the sun dip down in the west, when far along the winding strip of white road a cloud of dust caught his eye. Travelers must be coming that way. Closer and closer they came, until the camels and their riders could be clearly seen through the dust. Then Isaac saw that it was the faithful servant who had returned; and as they stopped and dismounted, he knew that the silent girl who stood there with veiled face was the wife his father had desired for him.
Quickly the servant told his story, and then Isaac came near and took Rebekah’s hand and led her away. There was but one place for this beautiful maiden who had so trustfully left her home to come to him. Straight to his mother’s tent he took her, that silent tent which now would be empty no longer; and before long all his loneliness and sorrow vanished, and his empty heart too was filled with love for his beautiful wife who had come to comfort him for the loss of his mother.
THE STORY OF ABRAHAM
In those long ago days, when the story of the world was only beginning, a city had grown up, far away in the East, on the banks of the great river Euphrates. The people who settled there had learned to make bricks and build houses; but many of them still lived in tents, for they often wandered far away from their city, and lived among the fields, where they were herding their sheep and cattle.
There were no books in those days to teach the people what they wanted to know; but they learned from other things besides books, and the great sky above them was a page they often studied. They watched the golden sun rise in the east, and marked the hours as it climbed high into the sky, and it taught them all about times and seasons; and at night, when they saw the moon hang out her silver lamp, and the stars come out one by one, they learned the lesson of numbers, and how to guide their way, and many other things.
It was among these people that Abraham had been born—Abraham the great traveler, the man who had journeyed far away into unknown lands, and who had met with so many adventures. He had returned now from his wanderings, and returned a very rich man indeed. His possessions were piled high on the backs of the long string of camels and donkeys; his flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle were driven along by hundreds of his servants; and he, the great chief, in his scarlet robe rode at their head.
A whole country was needed for this large tribe of people, with their flocks and herds; so Abraham halted on the wide plain of Mamre, and settled down there to make his home.
It seemed as if the chief had all that his heart could desire: there was his dear wife, Sarah, to keep him company; there was his gold and silver, his sheep and cattle, a beautiful land to dwell in, and, best of all, he had God for his friend.
But there was just one thing that Abraham and his wife had not got, and they wanted that one thing more than anything else in the world. They had no children, and they longed with all their hearts for a little son. God had been so good to them, had taken care of them through all their wanderings, had given them great riches; but this one gift He had not sent, and they said to themselves, “What is the use of all our possessions when we have no son to enjoy them after we are gone?”
Now it happened one day that Abraham sat at the door of his tent, and looked out over the rich fields where his flocks were feeding, finding very little pleasure in it all, and feeling, perhaps, rather sorrowful and lonely, when suddenly there came to him three wonderful men whom he knew were messengers from God. And the message they brought was a very joyful one-so joyful that Sarah, who was listening inside the tent, could scarcely believe it could be true. God was going to give them a little son, the messenger angels said.
But although Sarah thought the news was too good to be true, Abraham was quite sure that God would do as He promised; and he was quite right, for, after waiting all those many, many years, the baby whom they had so longed for was born.
There was surely no happier woman in all the world than Sarah when she held her little son in her arms, and Abraham’s happiness was as great as hers. They called the baby Isaac, which means “laughter,” and he was the very joy of their hearts; and as he grew into a strong, healthy boy, they seemed to love him more every day. He was their only child, and so much more precious than all the other gifts that God had given them.
Now God knew that Abraham loved and trusted Him, and He knew, too, how much Abraham loved his little son, and so He made a plan to try which love was the greater.
In the stillness one day God’s voice called, “Abraham!”
And Abraham answered at once, “Behold, here am I.”
Then, quite plain and clear, the command came, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.”
Abraham knew just what that meant, for he had often built an altar of stones and offered a lamb upon it to God; but now, instead of a lamb, he was to give his only son.
Not for one moment did Abraham hesitate. He could not understand why God should want to take back His precious gift, but he trusted God with all his heart, and was sure that whatever He did must be right.
Very early in the morning he prepared for the journey to those distant mountains which he could just see on the horizon. He saddled the donkey, and told Isaac to get ready to go on a journey with him, and he also carefully cut the wood ready for the burnt offering.
Isaac was quite a big boy by this time, and was accustomed to go on journeys with his father; so he asked no questions about what they were going to do until at last they reached the mountain and began to climb up over the rocks. His father had given him the bundle of wood to carry, and he saw, too, the knife and the fire, so he was sure they were going to offer a sacrifice to God. But where was the lamb? What was the use of fire and wood without the lamb? Isaac was puzzled, and at last he felt that he must ask a question.
“My father,” he said.
And the poor father, climbing up and up with tired feet and a heart heavy with sorrow, paused for a moment, and answered, “Here am I, my son.”
“Behold the fire and the wood,” said Isaac, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
“My son,” answered Abraham, “God Himself will provide a lamb for a burnt offering.”
So on and on they went, until at last they came to the place which God had chosen; and there Abraham built an altar, and put everything ready, and took his son, whom he loved so dearly, and who was so willing to do as his father bade him, and put him also upon the altar. Now he took the knife, and raised it up to kill the boy; but before he had time to strike, God’s voice rang out from heaven.
“Abraham, Abraham, lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do you anything unto him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
So Isaac was saved, and all Abraham’s sorrow was turned into joy. He had trusted in God through the darkness of sorrow, when every step of that long journey had cost him bitter suffering; and now in the sun shine of joy he retraced his steps, with a heart so full of gratitude and happiness that the long journey seemed to him as a pathway of flowers, the boy’s hand clasped in his, and God leading them.
NOAH AND THE RAINBOW OF HOPE
As God looked down upon the beautiful world He had made, it grieved Him to see how it was spoilt by the wickedness of the people who lived upon it. No one tried to be good or to obey God’s laws, and as time went on they grew worse and worse, until God was sorry that He had made the world at all.
“I will destroy it,” God said, “both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air.”
But there was just one man in all the world who loved God, and tried to please Him; and in the end God determined not to destroy everything, but to save this man and his family, and some of the animals and birds and creeping things as well. And so God told the man, whose name was Noah, exactly what to do-how he was to build a great ark of safety, to be ready for the time when God would destroy the world by a great flood.
All the rest of the people in the world went on enjoying themselves and doing just as they liked, never thinking of God at all. Only Noah worked with all his might to obey God’s directions. He tried to warn the people of what was coming, but they only laughed at him and his work. What was this curious kind of ship that he was building ? It surely must be meant to float upon the water. But Noah was building it inland, far away from any sea, and no one had ever beheld such a huge vessel before.
“Where is the great sea on which it is going to float? “asked the people; and they only scoffed when he told them that God would send a mighty flood that would cover the earth and drown all the people of the world. There was no sign of a flood, they said, and they did not believe any flood was coming. What a fool he was to toil all day and wear himself out with work, instead of taking his ease and enjoying his pleasures.
But Noah worked on. And as the years passed by, the ark at last was finished, and Noah went in with his wife and family and two of each of the birds and beasts and insects which God had promised to save. Then the sky grew black with clouds, and a terrible rain began to pour down. Blacker and blacker grew the sky, and fiercer and fiercer blew the wind, and the rain came down in such torrents that the rivers began to swell and overflow their banks, and presently the whole world was just one great sea of tossing grey waters.
But God remembered His promise, and the ark floated safely on that tossing sea. For many long days the storm raged, and then at last the rain stopped, and the flood began to subside. Noah waited patiently still for a while, and then opened one of the windows of the ark, and sent out a raven and a dove to see if they would find anything to rest upon. But the dove came back with tired wings, and Noah knew that there was no dry ground yet showing above the water. So he waited for another seven days, and again sent the dove out; and this time she came back with a tiny green olive leaf in her beak. And the third time he sent her out she did not return at all.
The waters were slowly going down; the earth, all fresh and clean, began to show itself once more, and the green things were all beginning to grow again. Then God bade Noah open the ark and set all the animals free upon the green earth once more.
So Noah came out with his wife and all his family, and he built an altar to God, and sacrificed upon it the best of everything in a great thanksgiving service.
Then God blessed Noah, and promised that never again would He send another flood to destroy the world. And as Noah listened to God’s voice, he looked up, and saw in the sky a beautiful half-circle of shining light made up of all the fairest colors, its ends touching the earth, and its circle stretching across the sky.
It was the sign of God’s promise, the rainbow of hope, which should always bring to us its message telling of sunshine after rain, joy after sorrow.
THE BEAUTIFUL WORLD
When night comes down and everything is dark and black, we sometimes are a little afraid, for we cannot see all the pleasant things around us, and it makes us feel lonely to be in the dark. The very first thing of all we want is light.
So it was when God made the world that the very first thing He did was to make the light. It had all been quite dark until He looked down and said, “Let there be light,” and then the beautiful light came.
There were many things to be done after that. There was the light to be divided into day and night, and the sky and the land and the sea to be made and set all in their right places; and as God worked He was glad, because He saw that it was all going to be very beautiful and very good. But still the earth was quite bare, worse even than the garden in winter when all the flowers are dead, because there had never been any trees or flowers or grass at all. So then God made a glad springtime to come bursting over the earth, and flowers and trees began to grow, and green leaves and buds and corn began to sprout; and instead of a bare, dark world there was a great garden, all clothed in a beautiful green dress and starred with flowers.
Now there is one thing which a garden needs above everything else, and that is sunshine. So God made the sun to shine down from the blue sky in the day-time, and he made the silver moon that hangs up there like a great lamp in the night-time, and all the stars that shine “like diamonds in the sky.” Spring, summer, autumn, and winter —God arranged them all, so that everything should grow in its right time.
It was a very silent earth still, for trees and flowers grow very quietly; but soon the sweet sound of music came stealing into the world, for, after making all the fishes that swim in the seas and rivers and streams, God made the dear birds that chirp and twitter as they fly about. He taught them, too, to make their nests, and bring up the baby birds, so that we should always have birds in the world to sing their songs to us.
Now in the air there was the sound of fluttering wings, and in the water the fishes swam and flashed their tails, and only the earth was waiting for the animals and insects that were to make it their home. So God next made all the beasts and cattle and all the creeping things, and when He looked down He saw it was all very good.
Then it was that God made the greatest thing of all, for it was something that was made “in His own image,” which means like God Himself. He made the first man Adam, and the first woman Eve, and He made them different to all the other things which He had created, because He put into them some of His own life, the part of us which we call our soul.
At first the two people whom God had made were very happy indeed. They lived in the most beautiful garden, where all the most wonderful trees and flowers grew, where there was nothing to harm them and everything to make them happy. All the animals and birds were their friends, and Adam gave all of them their names; and there was no suffering or pain in the garden, because everything was good.
Then a sad day came, when Eve was disobedient and all the happiness was spoilt. God had said that Adam and Eve might enjoy all the delicious fruit that grew in the garden except the fruit of one special tree which they were forbidden to touch. But the tempter came, and whispered to Eve that it was very hard that she should not taste that fruit, and that God would not really punish her if she did. Poor Eve was not wise enough to listen to the voice inside her, which told her she must not disobey God; and so she did as the tempter suggested, and all the happiness in that beautiful garden came to an end.
Neither Adam nor Eve had ever known before what fear meant; but now that they had disobeyed God, they were afraid to meet Him, and went and hid themselves. And God was very sorrowful to think His children had disobeyed Him, and by their wrongdoing had brought sin and death into the beautiful world which He had made so good.
No longer could Adam and Eve live in the fair garden, for they must be punished; and God sent them out, and placed His angels with flaming swords to guard the way back.
It had been easy work for Adam in the garden to look after all the growing things; but now it was very different. Thorns and thistles, and all kinds of weeds began to spring up and to choke the good plants, and Adam had to toil hard from morning until night; and Eve too soon learned what it meant to be tired and sorrowful.
But even then there was still some happiness left, for God sent Eve a great gift, the gift of a little son. She called his name Cain. And afterwards another baby boy was born, and this second boy she called Abel.
Perhaps she thought she could never be very sorrowful again, now that she had two boys to love and care for; but, sad to say, as the boys grew up, sorrow and sin crept in again. Cain began to be jealous of his younger brother. From angry, jealous thoughts came angry words, until at last followed angry blows, and Cain killed his brother out in the fields, where he thought no one could see him. But he forgot that God sees everything we do, even when we think we are quite alone, and his punishment followed swiftly. God put a mark upon his brow, and sent him to wander alone out into the world, far away from his home and his mother. Then Eve knew, even better than before, all the trouble and pain and suffering which sin had brought into the world. Grace Gems!
Genesis chapter 1 KJV
Children’s Bible Stories
Amy Steedman, 1923