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- The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 3/65 -


When Moses perceived by this act of treachery on the part of a countryman, whom he had befriended, that nothing remained to him but flight, he started in the direction of southern Arabia, toward what was called the Land of Midian, and which, at the moment, seems to have lain beyond the limits of the Egyptian administrative system, although it had once been one of its most prized metallurgical regions. Just at that time it was occupied by a race called the Kenites, who were more or less closely related to the Amalekites, who were Bedouins and who relied for their living upon their flocks, as the Israelites had done in the time of Abraham. Although Arabia Patrea was then, in the main, a stony waste, as it is now, it was not quite a desert. It was crossed by trade routes in many directions along which merchants travelled to Egypt, as is described in the story of Joseph, whose brethren seized him in Dothan, and as they sat by the side of the pit in which they had thrown him, they saw a company of Ishmaelites who came from Gilead and who journeyed straight down from Damascus to Gilead and from thence to Hebron, along the old caravan road, toward Egypt, with camels bearing spices and myrrh, as had been their custom since long beyond human tradition, and which had been the road along which Abraham had travelled before them, and which was still watered by his wells. This was the famous track from Beersheba to Hebron, where Hagar was abandoned with her baby Ishmael, and if the experiences of Hagar do not prove that the wilderness of Shur was altogether impracticable for women and children it does at least show that for a mixed multitude without trustworthy guides or reliable sources of supply, the country was not one to be lightly attempted.

It was into a region similar to this, only somewhat further to the south, that Moses penetrated after his homicide, travelling alone and as an unknown adventurer, dressed like an Egyptian, and having nothing of the nomad about him in his looks. As Moses approached Sinai, the country grew wilder and more lonely, and Moses one day sat himself down, by the side of a well whither shepherds were wont to drive their flocks to water. For shepherds came there, and also shepherdesses; among others were the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, who came to water their father's flocks. But the shepherds drove them away and took the water for themselves. Whereupon Moses defended the girls and drew water for them and watered their flocks. This naturally pleased the young women, and they took Moses home with them to their father's tent, as Bedouins still would do. And when they came to their father, he asked how it chanced that they came home so early that day. "And they said, an Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock." And Jethro said, "Where is he? Why is it that ye have left the man? Call him that he may eat bread."

"And Moses was content to dwell with" Jethro, who made him his chief shepherd and gave him Zipporah, his daughter. And she bore him a son. Seemingly, time passed rapidly and happily in this peaceful, pastoral life, which, according to the tradition preserved by Saint Stephen, lasted forty years, but be the time long or short, it is clear that Moses loved and respected Jethro and was in return valued by him. Nor could anything have been more natural, for Moses was a man who made a deep impression at first sight--an impression which time strengthened. Intellectually he must have been at least as notable as in personal appearance, for his education at Heliopolis set him apart from men whom Jethro would have been apt to meet in his nomad life. But if Moses had strong attractions for Jethro, Jethro drew Moses toward himself at least as strongly in the position in which Moses then stood. Jethro, though a child of the desert, was the chief of a tribe or at least of a family, a man used to command, and to administer the nomad law; for Jethro was the head of the Kenites, who were akin to the Amalekites, with whom the Israelites were destined to wage mortal war. And for Moses this was a most important connection, for Moses after his exile never permitted his relations with his own people in Egypt to lapse. The possibility of a Jewish revolt, of which his own banishment was a precursor, was constantly in his mind. To Moses a Jewish exodus from Egypt was always imminent. For centuries it had been a dream of the Jews. Indeed it was an article of faith with them. Joseph, as he sank in death, had called his descendants about him and made them solemnly swear to "carry his bones hence." And to that end Joseph had caused his body to be embalmed and put in a coffin that all might be ready when the day came. Moses knew the tradition and felt himself bound by the oath and waited in Midian with confidence until the moment of performance should come. Presently it did come. Very probably before he either expected or could have wished it, and actually, as almost his first act of leadership, Moses did carry the bones of Joseph with him when he crossed the Red Sea. Moses held the tradition to be a certainty. He never conceived it to be a matter of possible doubt, nor probably was it so. There was in no one's mind a question touching Joseph's promise nor about his expectation of its fulfilment. What Moses did is related in Exodus XIII, 19: "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you."

In fine, Moses, in the solitude of the Arabian wilderness, in his wanderings as the shepherd of Jethro, came to believe that his destiny was linked with that of his countrymen in a revolution which was certain to occur before they could accomplish the promise of Joseph and escape from Egypt under the guidance of the god who had befriended and protected him. Moreover, Moses was by no means exclusively a religious enthusiast. He was also a scientific man, after the ideas of that age. Moses had a high degree of education and he was familiar with the Egyptian and Chaldean theory of a great and omnipotent prime motor, who had had no beginning and should have no end. He was also aware that this theory was obscured by the intrusion into men's minds of a multitude of lesser causes, in the shape of gods and demons, who mixed themselves in earthly affairs and on whose sympathy or malevolence the weal or woe of human life hinged. Pondering deeply on these things as he roamed, he persuaded himself that he had solved the riddle of the universe, by identifying the great first cause of all with the deity who had been known to his ancestors, whose normal home was in the promised land of Canaan, and who, beside being all-powerful, was also a moral being whose service must tend toward the welfare of mankind. For Moses was by temperament a moralist in whom such abominations as those practised in the worship of Moloch created horror. He knew that the god of Abraham would tolerate no such wickedness as this, because of the fate of Sodom on much less provocation, and he believed that were he to lead the Israelites, as he might lead them, he could propitiate such a deity, could he but by an initial success induce his congregation to obey the commands of a god strong enough to reward them for leading a life which should be acceptable to him. All depended, therefore, should the opportunity of leadership come to him, on his being able, in the first place, to satisfy himself that the god who presented himself to him was verily the god of Abraham, who burned Sodom, and not some demon, whose object was to vex mankind: and, in the second place, assuming that he himself were convinced of the identity of the god, that he could convince his countrymen of the fact, and also of the absolute necessity of obedience to the moral law which he should declare, since without absolute obedience, they would certainly merit, and probably suffer, such a fate as befell the inhabitants of Sodom, under the very eyes of Abraham, and in spite of his prayers for mercy.

There was one other apprehension which may have troubled, and probably did trouble, Moses. The god of the primitive man, and certainly of the Bedouin, is usually a local deity whose power and whose activity is limited to some particular region, as, for instance, a mountain or a plain. Thus the god of Abraham might have inhabited and absolutely ruled the plain of Mamre and been impotent elsewhere. But this, had Moses for a moment harbored such a notion, would have been dispelled when he thought of Joseph. Joseph, when his brethren threw him into the pit, must have been under the guardianship of the god of his fathers, and when he was drawn out, and sold in the ordinary course of the slave-trade, he was bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard. "And the Lord was with Joseph and he was a prosperous man." Thenceforward, Joseph had a wonderful career. He received in a dream a revelation of what the weather was to be for seven years to come. And by this dream he was able to formulate a policy for establishing public graineries like those which were maintained in Babylon, and by means of these graineries, ably administered, the crown was enabled to acquire the estates of the great feudatories, and thus the whole social system of Egypt was changed. And Joseph, from being a poor waif, cast away by his brethren in the wilderness, became the foremost man in Egypt and the means of settling his compatriots in the province of Gotham, where they still lived when Moses fled from Egypt. Such facts had made a profound impression upon the mind of Moses, who very reasonably looked upon Joseph as one of the most wonderful men who had ever lived, and one who could not have succeeded as he succeeded, without the divine interposition. But if the god who did these things could work such miracles in Egypt, his power was not confined by local boundaries, and his power could be trusted in the desert as safely as it could be on the plain of Mamre or elsewhere. The burning of Sodom was a miracle equally in point to prove the stern morality of the god. And that also, was a fact, as incontestable, to the mind of Moses, as was the rising of the sun upon the morning of each day. He knew, as we know of the battle of Great Meadows, that one day his ancestor Abraham, when sitting in the door of his tent toward noon, "in the plain of Mamre," at a spot not far from Hebron and perfectly familiar to every traveller along the old caravan road hither, on looking up observed three men standing before him, one of whom he recognized as the "Lord." Then it dawned on Abraham that the "Lord" had not come without a purpose, but had dropped in for dinner, and Abraham ran to meet them, "and bowed himself toward the ground." And he said, "Let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that you shall pass on." "And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat." Meanwhile, Abraham asked no questions, but waited until the object of the visit should be disclosed. In due time he succeeded in his purpose. "And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And he [the Lord] said, ... Sarah thy wife shall have a son.... Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age." At this time Abraham was about one hundred years old, according to the tradition, and Sarah was proportionately amused, and "laughed within herself." This mirth vexed "the Lord," who did not treat his words as a joke, but asked, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Then Sarah took refuge in a lie, and denied that she had laughed. But the lie helped her not at all, for the Lord insisted, "Nay, but thou didst laugh." And this incident broke up the party. The men rose and "looked toward Sodom": and Abraham strolled with them, to show them the way. And then the "Lord" debated with himself whether to make a confidant of Abraham touching his resolution to destroy Sodom utterly. And finally he decided that he would, "because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grievous." Whereupon Abraham intervened, and an argument ensued, and at length God admitted that he had been too hasty and promised to think the matter over. And finally, when "the Lord" had reduced the number of righteous for whom the city should be saved to ten, Abraham allowed him to go "his way ... and Abraham returned to his place."

In the evening of the same day two angels came to Sodom, who met Lot at the gate, and Lot took them to his house and made them a feast and they did eat. Then it happened that the mob surrounded Lot's house and demanded that the strangers should be delivered up to them. But Lot successfully defended them. And in the morning the angels warned Lot to escape, but Lot hesitated, though finally he did escape to Zoar.

"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven."

"And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord:

"And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke


The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 3/65

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