Page images

most of which were occasioned by their own seditious murmurings; but at length they arrived at the southern frontier of the promised land, at a place called Kadesh Barnea. Their wanderings now appear drawing to an end, and they prepare to reap the reward of all their toil and suffering, the final testimony of the Divine favour. Twelve spies, one from each tribe, are sent out to make observations on the fruitfulness of the country, the character of the inhabitants, and the strength of their fortifications. Among these the most distinguished are Caleb, of the tribe of Judah, and Joshua, of Ephraim. During the forty days of their absence the assembled people anxiously await their return; and at length they are seen advancing towards the camp, loaded with delicious fruits, for it was now about the time of the vintage.

In one respect their report is most satisfactory: Canaan had undergone great improvements since the time when Abraham and Jacob had pastured their flocks in the open and unoccupied plains. The vine, the olive, the pomegranate, and the fig, were cultivated with great success; and the rich sample which they bear (a bunch of grapes, almost as much as two men could carry, suspended from a pole, with figs and pomegranates), confirms their cheering narrative.

But, at the same time, they bring intelligence which overwhelms the whole people with terror. These treasures were guarded by fierce and warlike tribes, not likely to abandon their native plains without an obstinate and bloody contest. Their cities were strongly fortified; and above all, nearly the first enemies they would have to encounter would be men of colossal stature, the descendants of the gigantic people, celebrated in their early national tradition, a people before whom they would be “as grasshoppers.” The inhabitants of Egypt are in general of small stature; and the same causes which tended to the rapid increase of the Jewish people in that country, were unfavourable to their height and vigour. But, worse than this, their long slavery had debased their minds: their confidence in the Divine protection gave way at once before their sense of physical inferiority, and the total deficiency of

moral courage.

Back to Egyptis the general cry. Joshua and Caleb in vain reprove their pusillanimity and want of faith in the promises of God. Moses therefore is instructed by God to inform the people that, on account of their murmurings, all who left the land of Egypt should perish in the wilderness, save only Joshua and Caleb. He therefore commands them, on the authority of God, to retreat directly from the borders of the promised land. They are neither to return to Egypt, nor to assail an easier conquest; but they are condemned to wander for a definite period of forty years in the barren and dismal regions through which they had marched. No hope is held out that their lives shall be prolonged ; they are distinctly assured that not one of them shall receive those blessings, on the promise of which they had surrendered themselves to the guidance of Moses, abandoned Egypt, and traversed the wilderness.

Of the Hebrew history during the succeeding thirtyeight years passed in the desert, nothing is known except the names of their stations. But during that period they were undergoing a course of discipline, which fitted them for achieving the conquest from which they had formerly shrunk. When the former generation, therefore, had gradually sunk into the grave, and a new race had sprung up, trained to the bold and hardy habits of the wandering Arab; when the free air of the desert had invigorated their frames, and the canker of slavery had worn out of their minds; and when continued miraculous support for so many years had strengthened their faith in the assistance of God, the Hebrew nation again suddenly appeared at Kadesh, the same point on the southern frontier of Palestine from which they had retreated. At this point Miriam died, and was buried with great honour. The whole camp was distressed for the want of water, and was again miraculously supplied. Here, likewise, Moses himself betrayed his mistrust in the Divine assistance, and the final sentence was issued, that he should not lead the nation into the possession of the promised land. Many formidable difficulties opposed their penetrating into Canaan on this frontier. They were therefore directed to make a circuit--to pass

round the Dead Sea, and, crossing the Jordan, to proceed at once into the heart of the richest and least defensible part of the country. Before they commenced this march, Aaron died, and was buried on Mount Hor. As the Edomites refused to let them pass through the defiles in the mountains, they were forced to march southward along the valley, now called El Araba, and turn the ridge where it is very low, close to the branch of the Red Sea. It was at this period that they were infested by fiery serpents, of the biting of which they were cured by stedfastly gazing on a serpent of brass, erected at the command of God by Moses. At length, notwithstanding the opposition of the Moabites, Midianites, and Ainorites, aided by the divinations of Balaam, they drew near the termination of their wanderings. But the triumph of the people was to be preceded by the death of the law-giver. He was to behold, not to enter, the promised land. Once he had sinned from want of confidence in the Divine assistance. and the penalty affixed to his offence was now exacted. As his end approached, he summoned the assembly of all Israel to receive his final instructions. He recounted their whole eventful history since their deliverance, their toils, their dangers, their triumphs. He recapitulated, and consolidated in one brief code, the Book of Deuteronomy, the whole law in some degree modified and adapted to the future circumstances of the republic. F. then appointed a solenn ratification of the covenant with God, to be made as soon as they were in possession of the country which now lay before them. And, finally, having enlarged on the blessings of obedience ; haviny, with dark and melancholy foreboding of the final destiny of the people, laid before them still more at length the consequences of apostacy and wickedness ; and

having enriched the national poetry with an ode worthy of him who composed the Hymn of Triumph by the Red Sea, Moses was directed to ascend the loftiest eminence in the neighbourhood, in order that he might once behold, before his eyes were closed for ever, the land of promise. From the top of Mount Abarim, or Nebo, the law-giver, whose eyes were not dimned, and who had suffered none of the infirmities of age, might survey a large tract of country. To the right lay the mountain pastures of Gilead, and the romantic district of Bashan ; the windings of the Jordan might be traced along its broad and level valley, till, almost beneath his feet, it flowed into the Dead Sea. To the north spread the luxuriant plains of Esdraelon, and the more hilly, yet fruitful country of Lower Galilee. Right opposite stood the city of Jericho, embowered in its groves of palins ; beyond it the mountains of Judca, rising above each other till they reached the sea. Gazing on this magnificent prospect, and beholding in prophetic anticipation, his great and happy commonwealth occupying its numerous towns and blooming fields, Moses breathed his last. The place of his burial was unknown, lest, perhaps, the impious gratitude of his followers might ascribe Divine honours to his name, and assemble to worship at his sepulchre

Irish School Book.



Te extent of that portion of Syria which was granted io the Hebrew nation has been variously estimated; but assuming that the true boundaries of the promised land were, Mount Libanus on the north, the wilderness of Arabia on the south, and the Syrian desert on the east, it may be computed at about fifteen millions of acres. If this computation be correct, there was, in the possession of the Hebrew chiefs, land sufficient to allow to every Israelite capable of bearing arms, a lot of about twenty acres ; reserving for public uses, as also for the cities of the Levites, about one-tenth of the whole. This territory was ordered to be equally divided among their tribes and families, according to their respective numbers; and the persons selected to superintend this national work, were, Eliazar, the high priest, Joshua, who acted in the character of judge, and the twelve princes or heads of Israel. The rule which they followed, is expressed in these words: * And ye shall divide the land by lot, for an inheritance

among your families; and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth ; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit.” Every tribe was thus put in possession of a separate district or province, in which all the occupiers of the land were not only Israelites, but more particularly sprung from the same stock, and descendants of the same patriarch. The several families again, were placed in the same neighbourhood, receiving their inheritance in the same part or subdivision of the tribe. To secure the permanence and mutual independence of every separate tribe, a law was enacted by the authority of Heaven, providing that the landed property of every Israelite should be unalienable. Whatever circumstances might befall the owner of a field, and whatever might be the obligations under which he placed himself to his creditor, he was released from all claims at the year of jubilee. “Ye shall hallow,” said the inspired legislator, “ the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. It shall be a jubilee unto you, and ye shall return every man to his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. And the land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is mine, saith the Lord; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."

The attentive reader of the Mosaical law, will observe, that, though a Hebrew could not divest himself of his land in perpetuity, he could dispose of it so far as to put another person in possession of it during a certain number of years, reserving to himself and his relations the right of redeeming it, should they ever possess the means; and, having, at all events, the sure prospect of reversion at the period of the jubilee. In the eye of the lawgiver, this transaction was not regarded as a sale of the land, but merely of the crops for a stated number of

It might, indeed, have been considered simply as a lease, had not the owner, as well as his nearest kinsman, enjoyed the privilege of resuming occupation, whenever they could repay the sum for which the temporary use of the land had been purchased. The houses


« PreviousContinue »