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BEDAWIN ROBBERS-LABAN AND JACOB.
not have reached his tent in safety, and that, without similar assistance from himself, I should not be able to proceed on the morrow round the eastern shore of the lake. Of the truth of this I had certain and rather startling evidence next morning, for I found myself suddenly confronted by a troop of the most savage Bedawîn I ever encountered; and they made no secret of the fact that they were restrained from plundering us solely by the guard from Sheikh Fareij. What significance do such incidents impart to a thousand allusions to robbers in the Bible, particularly in the history of David, and in his Psalms!
Your wanderings over the Jaulan must have led you near the track that Jacob followed on his return from Mesopotamia. Could you hear any thing about that Mizpeh where Laban overtook him ?
Mizpeh must have been to the east of our track; but I have never been able to identify any of the places mentioned in that remarkable narrative. The entire scene is eminently rich in allusions to Oriental manners and customs. The behavior of Laban is true to life, and every expression is familiar to my ear “as household words.” Laban says: The God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. Now we should think that Laban was uttering his own condemnation, and it appears strange that Jacob did not retort upon him by asking, Why, then, have you followed me? You have disobeyed the command of God, according to your own admission. Jacob, however, knew very well that such a plea would avail nothing. Laban believed that he fulfilled the intent of the divine command merely by refraining to injure Jacob, and so the latter understood it. The terms of the order were most comprehensive and stringent; but the real intention was to forbid violence, and this sort of construction must be applied to Oriental language in a thousand cases, or we shall push simple narratives into absurdities, and make men, and even the God of Truth, contradict himself.
1 Gen. xxxi. 29.
If Jacob gave as a reason for his departure from Mesopotamia that he “sore longed after his father's house," he appears to have stretched the truth to find a motive. It is one of the most mysterious parts of his conduct that, even after he entered Palestine, and was within a short distance of the aged, widowed, and blind Isaac, he allowed a number of years to pass (so far as appears from history) before visiting him. He resided first at Succoth, then at Sychem, and then at Bethel. Two things may throw light upon this singular delay. Jacob was never a favorite with his father, and his fond and partial mother was dead. The home of his youth, therefore, had but few attractions for him. Then, again, it is highly probable that he had good reason to fear his elder brother, especially after their meeting at Mahanaim. One thing is certain, that Jacob had some strong motive to avoid his father, or he was a colder and more selfish son than even his history would indicate.
The charge of stealing Laban's teraphim greatly provoked the idol-hating Jacob, and he very likely thought it a mere device to conceal some evil purpose. But the thing is interesting to us as the earliest distinct notice we have of the existence and worship of these images. They are frequent
mentioned in after times, but here we first find them in this patriarchal family. They must have been so small as to be easily concealed under the saddle of Rachel; and, by the
way, it is still very common for Arabs to hide stolen property under the padding of their saddles. They probably resembled the small images of saints which are now carried about by Oriental Christians, and may have been honored and consulted in much the same way. Some of those saints are celebrated for assistance given to women afflicted with Rachel's sorrow; and perhaps she herself had been driven to this sort of idolatry in her agony to become a mother. It would be Orientally feminine in an eminent degree if this were the cause of her stealing her father's gods. Nor does this act of stealing a god to worship strike these people about us as monstrous or absurd. I have known many such thefts of modern teraphim (pictures and
STEALING A GOD-ORIENTAL FAVORITISM.
images), and by women too. And why not? It is surely not absurd to steal the god whose aid you invoke to assist you to steal other things. It is well known that Greek, pirates are most devout worshipers of the saints; and, what is even more monstrous, the Moslems, who claim to worship only the one true God, yet pray to this very being for success even in their lowest intrigues and vilest lusts, and constantly mention his holy name in their lewd songs, blasphemously blessing him for success in their deeds of darkness, In this respect, as in most others, the “Thousand Nights” do but reflect the actual manners of the present generation of Arabs.
Another Oriental trait comes out very offensively in the conduct of Laban, and afterward in that of Jacob -a most undisguised and grievous
favoritism. Laban searches all before he visits Rachel's tent, because she was the pet of his own and of Jacob's family; and so, when Jacob prepared for the worst in the immediate prospect of a hostile visit from Esau, he placed the handmaids and his sons by them foremost, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and her son last; that, as he said about the cattle, if Esau come to the one company and smite it, then the other company shall escape. Nor was there the least attempt to disguise this offensive and injurious favoritism, even in this hard extremity. There is nothing generous in the whole matter; nothing like say. ing, “These are all my children; I can not choose between them; come life, come death, it shall come upon us all together.” Far, far from this noble spirit. He in effect says, "You handmaids and your children go first; if any are to be killed, let it be you. And Leah, go you and your sons
next.” (Would she not in her heart of hearts say, "He never loved me, and is willing now to sacrifice me and my sons, if by doing so he can make an additional opportunity for his beloved Rachel and Joseph to escape ?") Such is the unmistakable English of this whole manoeuvre, and, no doubt, those concerned understood and remembered it long after that dreadful day of trial. This story needs two remarks to set certain matters in their proper light. The first is, that Jacob, in this affair, is no more than a type of every Arab emeer in the country, and, indeed, of nearly every Oriental household. Such favoritism is, and always has been, the prevailing custom of the East. He therefore did nothing but what the laws and domestic regulations of his day and generation sanctioned. The second remark is, that we have in this conduct of the father an explanation of the intense hatred to Joseph-I had almost said, a sort of palliation for it.
But to return to the meeting at Mizpeh. The terms with which Laban and Jacob reproved and berated each other are in admirable keeping with the parties and the story, and abound in allusions to Oriental customs, especially of a pastoral people. Twenty years long, cries Jacob, have I served thee. The ewes of thy flock have not cast their young. Evidence of most careful and successful treatment. The rams of thy flock have I not eaten. Implying that then, as now, the males of the flocks alone were used for food, or sold to the butcher. Then, as now, wild beasts tore some of the flock; but Jacob the shepherd, not Laban the landlord, bore the loss. Then, too, as at this day, thieves prowled about; but Jacob made good whatever was stolen. Of course, he had to watch by day and night, in winter's storms and summer's burning suns. It was, therefore, no mere figure of speech that the drought consumed him by day and the frost by night. Thus do the hardy shepherds suffer in the same regions at the present time. But it is a dog's life, in spite of all the eclogues and pastorals of lovesick poets. Real shepherds on the plains of Syria never wrote hymns in praise of their hard vocation.
MEETING OF JACOB AND ESAU.
We must not pass from these scenes in Jacob's history without noticing the admirable tact with which he appeased his justly-offended brother. He sends an embassy to him from a long distance. This itself was a compliment, and, no doubt, the embassadors were the most respectable he could command. Then the terms of the message were the best possible to flatter and to conciliate an Oriental. He calls Esau his lord, himself his servant—or slave, as it might be rendered—and he thus tacitly, and without alluding to the old trick by which he cheated him of his birthright, acknowledges him to be the elder brother, and his superior. At the same time, by the large presents, and the exhibition of great wealth, Esau is led to infer that he is not returning a needy adventurer to claim a double portion of the paternal estate, and it would not be unoriental if there was intended to be conveyed by all this a sly intimation that Jacob was neither to be despised nor lightly meddled with. There was subtle flattery, mingled with profound humility, but backed all the while by the quiet allusion to the substantial position and character of one whom God had greatly blessed and prospered. All this, however, failed, and the enraged brother set out to meet him with an army. Jacob was terribly alarmed; but, with his usual skill and presence of mind, he made another effort to appease Esau. The presents were well selected, admirably arranged, and sent forward one after another, and the drivers were directed to address Esau in the most respectful and humble terms: "They be thy servant Jacob's, a present unto my lord Esau; and be sure to say, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us; for he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face." Jacob did not miscalculate the influence of his princely offerings, and I verily believe there is not an emeer or sheikh in all Gilead at this day who would not be appeased by such presents; and, from my personal knowledge of Orientals, I should say that Jacob need not have been in such mortal terror, following in their rear. Far less will now “make room," as Sol