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cattle; and every shepherd' was an abomination to the Egyptians. It is of moment to observe this historical fact; because the circumstance in it, which looked to be most adverse to the fulfilment of the divine prediction, did eventually conduce to, and almost prepare the way for it. First of all, their occupation and habits of life as shepherds, were a reason for a separate place being given to them to inhabit, the land of Goshen, the best fitted for their use. Next, the prejudices and antipathy of the Egyptians to their pastoral character, acted as a constant principle of separation, to preserve the selected race in union with itself, and unmingled with the mass of their indigenous, but to them alien fellow subjects. The land of Goshen, covered with its cattle, in a country principally devoted, as Egypt always has been, to the labours of tillage ; and the inhabitants of that pastoral oasis, fenced in, like their own flocks, within a separate pale and fold, by the very hatred of the people who had given them a reception ; wore a character of their own, and gave signs of the purposes which the Almighty Shepherd was preparing to bring out of such beginnings; when He should lead his people forth like sheep, as he afterwards did, by the hand of Moses and Aaron, and bring them, according to his promise, to their land of rest.” i
- Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and
. i Davison.
waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens.”k Thus was active oppression added to secret prejudice and antipathy, to keep the people effectually separated from the Egyptians; and thus was literally fulfilled that portion of the prophecy, which said to Abraham, “ thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them."
The circumstances of their deliverance out of this bondage, are detailed with incomparable sublimity in the early chapters of the book of Exodus; where we find an awfully literal fulfilment of the next clause of the prophecy—“ And also that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge.” It was soon after this deliverance, and during their passage through the wilderness, towards the promised land, that the circumstances already mentioned, connected with our text, occurred ; and prophecy again marked them out as a people separate, and to continue separate. “Lo! the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations."
k Exod. i. 6-11.
Much of the prophecy given to Abraham had now received its literal fulfilment. The people were increased into a great nation; they had been in a strange land, serving strangers; the predicted period of their affliction had expired; they were delivered, and their enemies destroyed; and now it only remained, that they should be put in full possession of the land of Canaan. It is remarkable, that after so many particulars of the prophecy had been fulfilled to the letter, the people should have hesitated, or evinced any sceptical feeling respecting the remainder : but they did so; and the faithfulness with which their murmuring is recorded, is no small internal testimony to the honesty of the author of the Pentateuch.
The congregation generally, received, with culpable willingness, the evil report of the land, brought back by the majority of the spies; and they said, “ Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” And when Joshua and Caleb resisted that evil report, and declared, on the contrary, that the land was an exceeding good land, a land which flowed with milk and honey; all the con. gregation bade stone them with stones. The anger of the Lord was kindled against the congregation; and he sware in his wrath, that they should not enter into the land. Their unbelief, however, could not render the faithfulness of God of none effect: the promise was sure to the seed of Abraham ; some must enter in; and the Lord said to Moses, “ Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.”
In the accomplishment of this part of the prophecy, we again see the special providence of God, in preserving the people separate. They were delayed in Egypt, and in the wilderness, till the iniquity of the Canaanites was completely full: that is, till it was a righteous thing in God, who had given those nations warning, and time for repentance, now, at last, to destroy them, either by famine, or pestilence, or earthquake, or by the hand of man. This last was his purpose, and he employed the Israelites in the dreadful mission.
When they entered the land, therefore, they were commanded utterly to destroy the inhabitants, sparing neither sex nor age, and thus their separation, as a people dwelling alone, was secured. And when one of the nations of the land deceived them into a league, so that they could not destroy them without breach of faith; they resolved upon a mode of treatment which would equally secure their national separation ; they degraded them into a state of perpetual servitude; making them hewers of wood, and drawers of water, for the accommodation of the congregation."
| Numb. xiv.
Together with establishment in their own land, they had now fresh elements of separation among them. The ordinances of the tabernacle worship, which had been instituted in the wilderness, with express and repeated injunctions to continue them in the land, served as a hedge by which the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts was surrounded and fenced from the world.
Pausing, then, and contemplating the nation at this period of their history, we make these two important observations. First, the literal interpretation of the prophecies given to Abraham was proved, by the events, to be the true one. And, secondly, a rich provision was made for the continued literal fulfilment of the prophecy of BalaamLo! the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
III. The voice of prophecy, which had so long, and so frequently, pronounced blessings upon the Hebrew nation, had now raised a counter tone, and the Lord had declared, by Moses, their dispersion and desolation. On this part of the subject, the twenty-eighth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy should be carefully studied. No selection of quotations can convey any adequate idea of that celebrated prophecy. The same infallible voice had given utterance to the still more remote purposes of
m Joshua ix.