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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Chapter 8

The History of Revelation — Jacob.

Was the constancy of Abraham tested by sufferings, was Isaac's love proved by his willingness to die, because he supposed his God required it? Jacob was no less tested, no less did he by his example teach that they who confide in God are never forsaken. — We have seen that Abraham received a revelation, and after him, Isaac; and as soon as Jacob became a wanderer from his father's house, we see him also receiving the promise of God of the future greatness of his progeny, when he, the son and grandson of wealthy men, who were so powerful, that princes even sought their alliance, was obliged to sleep in the open air with the hard rock for his pillow. Here we have another example, if any were necessary, that God is no respecter of persons, that to Him the rich and the poor are equal; that only the righteous, though poor and needy, is to Him acceptable. — We therefore find it recorded, that Jacob sleeping in the open air, upon that spot where Bethel was afterwards built, received a confirmation of the promise previously made to Abraham and Isaac, and that this prophecy should not be fulfilled in the person and descendants of his brother Esau, but in his own person and descendants. — When Abraham, besides Isaac had Ishmael and other children, when Isaac, besides Jacob had Esau; Jacob had not one among his numerous children, who was not acceptable to his God and Protector.

Like his father and grandfather, Jacob erected altars to the true God, and thus spread the light of revelation in the countries to the east and north of Palestine, which before had been made known to the west and south only. Though Jacob was obliged to live for upwards of twenty years amid a people, who knew not his worship of God, we yet see him constant in his faith, see him teaching his wives and children to love and fear their Maker; and not alone those who were connected with him by the ties of relationship, but also all others who were about him, acted as he himself had taught them; for in chap. 35, v.4, of Genesis we read, that upon Jacob's requisition, all the members of his household delivered up whatever was in their possession, which in any manner could have been used for the worship of idols.

After a long separation from his father, Jacob was at last permitted to revisit Isaac's house; but he was not allowed to remain there long undisturbed, for sufferings and troubles again overtook him, when he, as he thought, had sat himself down in quiet for the short remnant of his days. Thus giving mankind a lesson, which cannot be too often called to mind: "that not in this world must the righteous expect the reward of his good deeds, for he is here only in the outbuilding, where he is to prepare himself to enter the palace." Also the following useful moral may be drawn from Jacob's patience and resignation, and his perseverance to serve God in all his severe and manifold calamities: "that man is not to serve God with a view of being rewarded, but to obey His commandments, and practice virtue independently of all views of emolument, gain, or honor," and "that in spite of calamities and reverses, we should never swerve from the path of right, for the practice of virtue will in itself be sufficient to kindle a light within, when even all around is gloom and darkness." Again — we often see the wicked prosper, and the pious suffer, for what serves virtue then, what avails piety, if with this life our existence were ended? But this is only the time for action, and when our body is enclosed within the grave, then will the soul reap the harvest of its righteousness.

Jacob had not been returned more than eight or nine years from his long exile, when dissention among his children became to him the fruitful source of the greatest mental sufferings, with which he had hitherto been afflicted. Joseph, being the eldest son of his beloved Rachel, was distinguished by his father by a superior dress from the other children: this vexed them, and envy soon ripened into hatred, particularly when they found, that Joseph had the weakness to speak of their failings, which, to judge from their otherwise virtuous conduct, must have been trifling, to Jacob. From the short account contained in the 37th chapter of Genesis we can draw the following moral lessons; first, that it is dangerous for a father to have an ostensible favorite amongst his children, even when his preference is founded upon the acknowledged superiority of the favored child; secondly, that it is dangerous to be a tale-bearer, even if the tales relate but to trifles, for the detection of this failing is sure to be followed by the detestation of the slanderer; and lastly, that we ought to be very careful, how we suffer envy or malice to approach us, for if we once give them a resting place in our bosom, we shall soon be hurried on to commit unjustifiable actions.

Jacob's other sons had been gone from home for some time to follow their occupation as shepherds, and Jacob determined to send Joseph after them to enquire about the welfare of his brothers and the well-being of the flock. No sooner had Joseph approached his brothers, than they determined to kill him, and to justify homicide by falsehood. But Reuben dissuaded them, but in his absence Judah advised to sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites just passing by. He was obeyed, and Joseph, then seventeen years old, was sold as a slave, and his father was left to mourn for him for the space of twenty-two years.

Joseph was in the mean time carried to Mitzrayim (Egypt), and sold to an officer of the Pharaoh, by the name of Potiphar, who was so pleased with his new servant, that he made him his steward. How long Joseph continued in his new station, we cannot precisely determine; but it could hardly have been above two years, when his mistress attempted to induce him to commit adultery, which Joseph refused to do, and gave as a reason, that he, by compliance, would "sin against God"; thus we have another proof, that some at least of the civil laws of our code were, even before Moses, known to the patriarchs, who were scrupulous in observing them. — When Joseph's mistress saw that he would not be the slave of her desires, her love for him was turned into hatred, and she artfully accused him to her husband of an attempt to insult her, while he was absent. The master became enraged and threw Joseph in prison, where he lingered for many years a captive and a slave. But even in this apparently forlorn condition he was not without a friend, or altogether miserable; for the superintendent of the prison took, by the will of God, a fancy to Joseph, and gave him the appointment of an overseer of the prisoners' work. — Two years before his release he interpreted the dreams of two household officers of Pharaoh, who had been one year in prison. Joseph begged the one, whose dream he had favorably interpreted, to remember him; but he forgot his companion in captivity, when he was prosperous, thus verifying David's saying: "put not your trust in princes." At the expiration, however, of the above mentioned time, when Pharaoh had a dream, of which not one of his sages could give the desired interpretation, his cup-bearer at last remembered Joseph, who was forthwith liberated from prison and brought before the King. Joseph's modesty and wisdom quite captivated Egypt's ruler, and he raised him (so was God's will) from a state of servitude to the second dignity in the empire; and Joseph became the viceroy of the land. Though he now stood at the highest pinnacle of human glory, he yet sighed for his father, and his father's household, of whose fate he was altogether ignorant. — At length the severe famine, which raged both in the land of Canaan and Mitzrayim, compelled the brothers of Joseph to resort to the granaries, which he had provided for the approaching scarcity foretold by him to Pharaoh. — His brothers came before him, and bowed, or rather prostrated themselves, before their brother, who immediately recognized them, though they had not the least recollection of him.

He sought a quarrel with them, called them spies, and would not, so he pretended, suffer them to depart, till one of them had brought Benjamin to him, who had remained behind with their father. He had them locked up for three days, and then permitted them to return, after having taken Simeon and bound him in their presence. — The reader would do well to peruse the whole transaction in the elegant language of the Bible, where we find Reuben reproving his brothers for the violence they had committed against the child (Joseph) and them, justifying the judgment of God and the punishment they then suffered for their inhumanity to Joseph, No wonder than that he wept, no wonder that he felt moved.

The nine brothers accompanied by Benjamin returned to Egypt after the lapse of a considerable time, and brought back the money, which they had found in their bags on their return home, to restore it to the superintendent of the magazines, to whose treasure they supposed it to belong. — When Joseph saw Benjamin he was obliged to leave the room and to withdraw into his private chamber, where his full heart was eased by tears; but he returned soon and dined with his brothers. — Before they were ready to depart, he ordered his superintendent, to contrive to put a silver cup, which had been on the table, in the bag of Benjamin, then to pursue them, after they had left the city, and when upon searching he should have found the cup, to bring Benjamin (as the supposed thief) back with him. The officer obeyed. But the noble brothers disdained to escape and suffer their youngest brother to remain behind a slave; and the magnanimous Yehudah (Judah) stepped forward to offer himself in Benjamin's place. "For," said he, "thy servant (himself) has been a security for the youth to my father, saying, 'if I bring him not to thee, then will I have sinned against my father for ever.' And now let thy servant remain, instead of the youth, a slave to my lord, and let the youth go up with his brothers. For how could I go up to my father, without having the youth with me? I never could witness the distress, which would overwhelm my father."

Such generous self-devotion moved Joseph, his feelings were too strong almost for utterance, he ordered all strangers from his presence, and then cried out: "I am Joseph! Lives my father yet?"

The children of Israel hurried away from Egypt, to tell their father that Joseph yet lived, and that he was regent over all the land of Egypt; but the heart once inured to sorrow does not even wish any joy to rob it of its sacred grief: it knows how short lived all pleasure is, and is fearful of some worse calamity yet to come, and then it can hardly admit any sudden gladness, because it is doubting its reality; and so did Jacob too remain incredulous, till he had seen the vehicles, which Joseph had sent for his accommodation. Then indeed was his joy unbounded, and from a full heart he spoke; "Enough, my son Joseph lives yet; I will go and see him before I die." — Thus it came to pass, that Israel went with his whole family to Egypt; and in Beare Shebang (Beersheba) God revealed himself to Jacob and told him, to go without fear to Egypt, for He would go down with him, and bring him also back again, — meaning: that neither Jacob's body not his descendants should for ever remain buried in Egypt, but that both should be brought out again from that land.

Thus fortified by the word of God, our glorious ancestor arrived in Egypt, where he was soon locked in the embrace of his long-lost son; where he was soon taught to forget all his previous sufferings. Joseph, with the permission of Pharaoh, gave his family land, in the district of Goshen, where he supplied them with all the necessaries of life; and the children of the true faith became inmates of the land of the children of Cham.

Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt, when he found his end fast approaching; he therefore assembled his children around him, and giving them his blessing and admonitions, he foretold that which should happen to them till the latest posterity. He prophesied of the Messiah, who is to descend from Judah, and thus spoke the dying saint:

"Not for ever shall the sceptre depart from Judah, not the lawgiver from his descendants, for Shiloh shall come, and unto him shall the nations assemble."

And surely the time will come, when unto the teacher, the prince David, all nations will assemble to worship the only true God, the Father of all, the shield of Israel. The sceptre has departed, and no more does the law-giver reside in Jerusalem; but the sceptre must be restored, and the crown will return again to its former dwelling! —

When Jacob had blessed his children, he composed himself in his bed, and departed this life, to be an angel in heaven, and to shine foremost amidst the saints, whose resting place is at the foot of the throne of glory.

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