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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 5 out of 12

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thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of
me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was
stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done
nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.'--GENESIS xl. 1-15.

Potiphar was 'captain of the guard,' or, as the title literally
runs, chief of the executioners. In that capacity he had charge of
the prison, which was connected with his house (Gen. xl. 3). It is,
therefore, quite intelligible that he should have put Joseph in
confinement on his own authority, and the distinction drawn between
such a prisoner and the 'king's prisoners,' who were there by royal
warrant or due process of law, is natural. Such high-handed
treatment of a slave was a small matter, and it was merciful as well
as arrogant, for death would have been the punishment of the crime
of which Joseph was accused. Either Potiphar was singularly lenient,
or, as is perhaps more probable, he did not quite believe his wife's
story, and thought it best to hush up a scandal. The transfer of
Joseph from the house to the adjoining prison would be quietly
managed, and then no more need be said about an ugly business.

So now we see him at the lowest ebb of his fortunes, flung down in a
moment by a lie from the height to which he had slowly been
climbing, having lost the confidence of his master, and earned the
unslumbering hatred of a wicked woman. He had wrecked his career by
his goodness. 'What a fool!' says the world. 'How badly managed
things are in this life,' say doubters, 'that virtue should not be
paid by prosperity!' But the end, even the nearer end in this life,
will show whether he was a fool, and whether things are so badly
arranged; and the lesson enforced by the picture of Joseph in his
dungeon, and which young beginners in life have special need to
learn, is that, come what will of it, right is right, and sin is
sin, that consequences are never to deter from duty, and that it is
better to have a clean conscience and be in prison than do
wickedness and sit at a king's table. A very threadbare lesson, but
needing to be often repeated.

'But the Lord was with Joseph.' That is one of the eloquent 'buts'
of Scripture. The prison is light when God is there, and chains do
not chafe if He wraps His love round them. Many a prisoner for God
since Joseph's time has had his experience repeated, and received
tenderer tokens from Him in a dungeon than ever before. Paul the
prisoner, John in Patmos, Bunyan in Bedford jail, George Fox in
Lancaster Castle, Rutherford in Aberdeen, and many more, have found
the Lord with them, and showing them His kindness. We may all be
sure that, if ever faithfulness to conscience involves us in
difficulties, the faithfulness and the difficulties will combine to
bring to us sweet and strong tokens of God's approval and presence,
the winning of which will make a prison a palace and a gate of

Joseph's relations to jailer and fellow-prisoners are beautiful and
instructive. The former is called 'the keeper of the prison,' and is
evidently Potiphar's deputy, in more immediate charge of the prison.
Of course, the great man had an underling to do the work, and
probably that underling was not chosen for sweetness of temper or
facile leniency to his charges. But he fell under the charm of
Joseph's character--all the more readily, perhaps, because his
occupation had not brought many good men to his knowledge. This
jewel would flash all the more brightly for the dark background of
criminals, and the jailer would wonder at a type of character so
unlike what he was accustomed to. Eastern prisons to-day present a
curious mixture of cruelty and companionship. The jailers are on
intimate terms with prisoners, and yet are ready to torture them.
There is no discipline, nor any rules, nor inspection. The jailer
does as he likes. So it seems to have been in Egypt, and there would
be nothing unnatural in making a prisoner jailer of the rest, and
leaving everything in his hands. The 'keeper of the prison' was
lazy, like most of us, and very glad to shift duties on to any
capable shoulders. Such a thing would, of course, be impossible with
us, but it is a bit of true local colouring here.

Joseph won hearts because God was with him, as the story is careful
to point out. Our religion should recommend us, and therefore
itself, to those who have to do with us. It is not enough that we
should be severely righteous, as Joseph had been, or ready to meet
trouble with stoical resignation, but we are to be gentle and
lovable, gracious towards men, because we receive grace from God. We
owe it to our Lord and to our fellows, and to ourselves, to be
magnets to attract to Jesus, by showing how fair He can make a life.
Joseph in prison found work to do, and he did not shirk it. He might
have said to himself: 'This is poor work for me, who had all
Potiphar's house to rule. Shall such a man as I come down to such
small tasks as this?' He might have sulked or desponded in idleness,
but he took the kind of work that offered, and did his best by it.
Many young people nowadays do nothing, because they think themselves
above the small humdrum duties that lie near them. It would do some
of us good to remember Joseph in the jail, and his cheerful
discharge of what his hands found to do there.

Of course, work done 'because the Lord was with him,' in the
consciousness of His presence, and in obedience to Him, went well.
'The Lord made it to prosper,' as He always will make such work.

'When thou dost favour any action,
It runs, it flies.'

And even if, sometimes, work done in the fear of the Lord does not
outwardly prosper, it does so in deepest truth, if it work in us the
peaceable fruit of righteousness. We need to have a more Christian
idea of what constitutes prosperity, and then we shall understand
that there are no exceptions to the law that, if a man does his work
by God and with God and for God, 'that which he does, the Lord makes
it to prosper.'

The help that Joseph gave by interpreting the two high officials'
dreams cannot be considered here in detail, but we note that the
names of similar officers, evidently higher in rank than we should
suppose, with our notions of bakers and butlers, are found in
Egyptian documents, and that these two were 'king's prisoners,' and
put in charge of Potiphar, who alleviated their imprisonment by
detailing Joseph as their attendant, thus showing that his feeling
to the young Hebrew was friendly still. Dreams are the usual method
of divine communication in Genesis, and belong to a certain stage in
the process of revelation. The friend of God, who is in touch with
Him, can interpret these. 'The secret of the Lord is with them that
fear Him,' and it is still true that they who live close by God have
insight into His purposes. Joseph showed sympathy with the two
dreamers, and his question, 'Why look ye so sadly?' unlocked their
hearts. He was not so swallowed up in his own trouble as to be blind
to the signs of another's sorrow, or slow to try to comfort. Grief
is apt to make us selfish, but it is meant to make us tender of
heart and quick of hand to help our fellows in calamity. We win
comfort for our own sorrows by trying to soothe those of others.
Jesus stooped to suffer that He might succour them that suffer, and
we are to tread in His steps.


'And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a
one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And
Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed
thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou
art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy
word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne
will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph,
See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And
Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon
Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen,
and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to
ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried
before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all
the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am
Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand
or foot in all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh called
Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah; and he gave him to wife
Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On. And
Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt. And Joseph
was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king
of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of
Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. And
in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by
handfuls. And he gathered up all the food of the seven
years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the
food in the cities: the food of the field, which was
round about every city, laid he up in the same.'
GENESIS xli. 38-48.

At seventeen years of age Joseph was sold for a slave; at thirty he
was prime minister of Egypt (Gen. xxxvii, 2; xli. 46). How long his
prison life lasted is uncertain; but it was long enough for the
promises contained in his early dreams to 'try him' (Ps. cv. 19)
whether his faith would stand apparent disappointment and weary
delay. Like all the Scripture narratives, this history of Joseph has
little to say about feelings, and prefers facts. But we can read
between the lines, and be tolerably sure that the thirteen years of
trial were well endured, and that the inward life had grown so as to
fit him for his advancement. We have here a full-length portrait of
the prime minister, or vizier, which brings out three points--his
elevation, his naturalisation, and his administration.

Joseph had not only interpreted Pharaoh's dream, but had suggested a
policy in preparation for the coming famine. He had recommended the
appointment of 'a wise and discreet man,' with supreme authority
over the land. Pharaoh first consulted 'his servants,' and, with
their consent, possibly not very hearty, appointed the proposer of
the plan as its carrier-out, quoting to him his own words, 'wise and

The sudden installing of an unknown prisoner in high office has
often been thought hard to believe, and has been pointed to as proof
of the legendary character of the story. But the ground on which
Pharaoh put it goes far to explain it. He and his servants had come
to believe that 'God' spoke through this man, that 'the Spirit of
God' was in him. So here was a divinely sent messenger, whom it
would be impiety and madness to reject. Observe that Pharaoh and
Joseph both speak in this chapter of 'God.' There was a common
ground of recognition of a divine Being on which they met. The local
colour of the story indicates a period before the fuller revelation,
which drew so broad a line of demarcation between Israel and the
other nations.

Joseph's sudden promotion is made the more intelligible by the
probability which the study of Egyptian history has given, that the
Pharaoh who made him his second in command was one of the Hyksos
conquerors who dominated Egypt for a long period. They would have no
prejudices against Joseph on account of his being a foreigner. A
dynasty of alien conquerors has generally an open door for talent,
and cares little who a man's father is, or where he comes from, if
he can do his work. And Joseph, by not being an Egyptian born, would
be all the fitter an instrument for carrying out the policy which he
had suggested.

His ceremonial investiture with the insignia of office is true to
Egyptian manners. The signet ring, as the emblem of full authority;
the chain, as a mark of dignity; the robe of 'fine linen' (or rather
of cotton), which was a priestly dress--all are illustrated by the
monuments. The proclamation made before him as he rode in the second
chariot has been very variously interpreted. It has been taken for a
Hebraised Egyptian word, meaning 'Cast thyself down'; and this
interpretation was deemed the most probable, until Assyrian
discovery brought to light 'that _abarakku_ is the Assyrian
name of the grand vizier' (Fr. Delitzsch, _Hebrew Language Viewed
in the Light of Assyrian Research_, p. 26). Sayce proposes
another explanation, also from the cuneiform tablets: 'There was a
word _abrik_ in the Sumerian language, which signified a seer,
and was borrowed by the Semitic Babylonians under the varying forms
of _abrikku_ and _abarakku_. It is _abrikku_ which we have in Genesis,
and the title applied by the people to the "seer" Joseph proves to be
the one we should most naturally expect.' The Tel el-Amarna tablets
show that the knowledge of cuneiform writing was common in Egypt
(Sayce, _Higher Criticism and the Monuments_, p. 214). This
explanation is tempting, but it is perhaps scarcely probable that the
proclamation should have been in any other language than Egyptian,
or should have had reference to anything but Joseph's new office. It was
not as seer that he was to be obeyed, but as Pharaoh's representative,
even though he had become the latter because he had proved himself the

But in any case, the whole context is accurately and strongly
Egyptian. Was there any point in the history of Israel, down to an
impossibly late date, except the time of Moses, at which Jewish
writers were so familiar with Egypt as to have been capable of
producing so true a picture?

The lessons of this incident are plain. First stands out, clear and
full, the witness it bears to God's faithfulness, and to His
sovereign sway over all events. What are all the persons concerned
in the narrative but unconscious instruments of His? The fierce
brothers, the unconcerned slave-dealers, Potiphar, his wife, the
prisoners, Pharaoh, are so many links in a chain; but they are also
men, and therefore free to act, and guilty if acting wrongly. Men
execute God's purposes, even when unconscious or rebellious, but are
responsible, and often punished, for the acts which He uses to
effect His designs.

Joseph's thirteen years of trial, crowned with sudden prosperity,
may read all of us, and especially young men and women, a lesson of
patience. Many of us have to fight our way through analogous
difficulties at the outset of our career; and we are apt to lose
heart and get restive when success seems slow to come, and one
hindrance after another blocks our road. But hindrances are helps.
If one of Joseph's misfortunes had been omitted, his good fortune
would never have come. If his brethren had not hated him, if he had
not been sold, if he had not been imprisoned, he would never have
ruled Egypt. Not one thread in the tapestry could have been
withdrawn without spoiling the pattern. We cannot afford to lose one
of our sorrows or trials. There would be no summer unless winter had
gone before. There is a bud or a fruit for every snowflake, and a
bird's song for every howl of the storm.

Plainly, too, does the story read the lesson of quiet doing of the
work and accepting the circumstances of the moment. Joseph was being
prepared for the administration of a kingdom by his oversight of
Potiphar's house and of the prison. His character was matured by his
trials, as iron is consolidated by heavy hammers. To resist
temptation, to do modestly and sedulously whatever work comes to our
hands, to be content to look after a jail even though we have
dreamed of sun and moon bowing down to us, is the best
apprenticeship for whatever elevation circumstances--or, to speak
more devoutly, God--intends for us. Young men thrown into city life
far away from their homes, and whispered to by many seducing voices,
have often to suffer for keeping themselves unspotted; but they are
being strengthened by rough discipline, and will get such promotion,
in due time, as is good for them. But outward success is not God's
best gift. It was better to be the Joseph who deserved his high
place, than to have the place. The character which he had grown into
was more than the trappings which Pharaoh put on him. And such a
character is always the reward of such patience, faith, and self-
control, whether chains and chariots are added or not.

Little need be said about the other points of the story. Joseph's
naturalisation as an Egyptian was complete. His name was changed, in
token that he had completely become a subject of Pharaoh's. The
meaning of the formidable-looking polysyllable, which Egyptian lips
found easier than 'Joseph,' is uncertain. 'At present the origin of
the first syllable is still doubtful, and though the latter part of
the name is certainly the Egyptian _n-ti-pa-ankh_ ("of the
life"), it is difficult to say in which of its different senses the
expression _pa-ankh_ ("the life") is employed' (Sayce, _ut
supra_, p. 213). The prevailing opinion of Egyptian experts is
that it means 'Support of life.'

The naturalising was completed by his marriage to Asenath (supposed
to mean 'One belonging to the goddess Neith'), a daughter of a high
officer of state, Poti-phera (meaning, like its shortened form,
Potiphar, 'The gift of Ra' the sun-god). Such an alliance placed him
at once in the very innermost circle of Egyptian aristocracy. It may
have been a bitter pill for the priest to swallow, to give his
daughter to a man of yesterday, and an alien; but, just as probably,
he too looked to Joseph with some kind of awe, and was not unwilling
to wed Asenath to the first man in the empire, wherever he had
started up from.

But should not Joseph's religion have barred such a marriage? The
narrator gives no judgment on the fact, and we have to form our own
estimate. But it is not to be estimated as if it had occurred five
or six centuries later. The family of Jacob was not so fenced off,
nor was its treasure of revelation so complete, as afterwards. We
may be fairly sure that Joseph felt no inconsistency between his
ancestral faith, which had become his own in his trials, and this
union. He was risking a great deal; that is certain. Whether the
venture ended well or ill, we know not. Only we may be very sure
that a marriage in which a common faith is not a strong bond of
union lacks its highest sanctity, and is perilously apt to find that
difference in religious convictions is a strong separator.

Joseph's administration opens up questions as to Egyptian land
tenure, and the like, which cannot be dealt with here. 'In the
earlier days of the monarchy the country was in the hands of great
feudal lords; ... the land belonged to them absolutely.... But after
the convulsion caused by the Hyksos conquest and the war of
independence, this older system of land tenure was completely
changed.... The Pharaoh is the fountain head, not only of honour,
but of property as well.... The people ceased to have any rights of
their own' (Sayce, _ut supra_, p. 216).

We may note Joseph's immediate entrance upon office and his
characteristic energy in it. He 'went out from the presence of
Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.' No grass grew
under this man's feet. He was ubiquitous, personally overseeing
everything for seven long years. Wasteful consumption of the
abundant crops had to be restrained, storehouses to be built,
careful records of the contents to be made, after Egyptian fashion.
The people, who could not look so far as seven years ahead, and
wanted to enjoy, or make money out of, the good harvests, had to be
looked after, and an army of officials to be kept in order. Dignity
meant work for him. Like all true men, he thought more of his duty
than of his honours. Depend on it, he did not wear his fine clothes
or ride in the second chariot, when he was hurrying about the
country at his task.

He had come 'out of prison to reign,' and, as we all find, if we are
God's servants, to reign means to serve, and the higher the place
the harder the task. The long years of waiting had nourished powers
which the seven years of busy toil tested. We must make ourselves,
by God's help, ready, in obscurity, and especially in youth, for
whatever may be laid on us in after days. And if we understand what
life here means, we shall be more covetous of spheres of diligent
service than of places of shining dignity. Whatever our task, let us
do it, as Joseph did his, with strenuous concentration, knowing, as
he did, that the years in which it is possible are but few at the


'Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them
that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go
out from me. And there stood no man with him, while
Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he
wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh
heard. And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph;
doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not
answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. And
Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray
you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your
brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not
grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me
hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
For these two years hath the famine been in the land:
and yet there are five years, in the which there shall
neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before
you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to
save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not
you that sent me hither, but God: and He hath made me
a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a
ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. Haste ye, and
go up to my father, and say unto him. Thus saith thy son
Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down
unto me, tarry not: And thou shalt dwell in the land of
Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy
children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks,
and thy herds, and all that thou hast: And there will I
nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine;
lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast,
come to poverty. And, behold, your eyes see, and the
eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that
speaketh unto you. And ye shall tell my father of all
my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye
shall haste and bring down my father hither. And he fell
upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin
wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren,
and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked
with him.'
GENESIS xlv. 1-15.


If the writer of this inimitable scene of Joseph's reconciliation
with his brethren was not simply an historian, he was one of the
great dramatic geniuses of the world, master of a vivid minuteness
like Defoe's, and able to touch the springs of tears by a pathetic
simplicity like his who painted the death of Lear. Surely theories
of legend and of mosaic work fail here.

1. We have, first, disclosure. The point at which the impenetrable,
stern ruler breaks down is significant. It is after Judah's torrent
of intercession for Benjamin, and self-sacrificing offer of himself
for a substitute and a slave. Why did this touch Joseph so keenly?
Was it not because his brother's speech shows that filial and
fraternal affection was now strong enough in him to conquer self? He
had sent Joseph to the fate which he is now ready to accept. He and
the rest had thought nothing of the dagger they plunged into their
father's heart by selling Joseph; but now he is prepared to accept
bondage if he may save his father's grey head an ache. The whole of
Joseph's harsh, enigmatical treatment had been directed to test
them, and to ascertain if they were the same fierce, cruel men as of
old. Now, when the doubt is answered, he can no longer dam back the
flood of forgiving love. The wisest pardoning kindness seeks the
assurance of sorrow and change in the offender, before it can safely
and wholesomely enjoy the luxury of letting itself out in tears of
reconciliation. We do not call Joseph a type of Christ; but the
plain process of forgiveness in his brotherly heart is moulded by
the law which applies to God's pardon as to ours. All the wealth of
yearning pardon is there, before contrition and repentance; but it
is not good for the offender that it should be lavished on him,

What a picture that is of the all-powerful ruler, choking down his
emotion, and hurriedly ordering the audience chamber to be cleared!
How many curious glances would be cast over their shoulders, by the
slowly withdrawing crowd, at the strange group--the viceroy, usually
so calm, thus inexplicably excited, and the huddled, rude shepherds,
bewildered and afraid of what was coming next, in this unaccountable
country! How eavesdroppers would linger as near as they durst, and
how looks would be exchanged as the sounds of passionate weeping
rewarded their open ears! The deepest feelings are not to be
flaunted before the world. The man who displays his tears, and the
man who is too proud to shed them, are both wrong; but perhaps it is
worse to weep in public than not to weep at all.

'I am Joseph.' Were ever the pathos of simplicity, and the simplicity
of pathos, more nobly expressed than in these two words?--(There
are but two in the Hebrew.) Has the highest dramatic genius ever
winged an arrow which goes more surely to the heart than that?
The question, which hurries after the disclosure, seems strange and
needless; but it is beautifully self-revealing, as expressive of
agitation, and as disclosing a son's longing, and perhaps, too, as
meant to relieve the brothers' embarrassment, and, as it were, to
wrap the keen edge of the disclosure in soft wool.

2. We have, next, conscience-stricken silence. No wonder his
brethren 'could not answer' and 'were troubled at his presence.'
They had found their brother a ruler; they had found the ruler their
brother. Their former crime had turned what might have been a joy
into a terror. Already they had come to know and regret it. It might
seem to their startled consciences as if now they were about to
expiate it. They would remember the severity of Joseph's past
intercourse; they see his power, and cannot but be doubtful of his
intentions. Had all his strange conduct been manoeuvring to get
them, Benjamin and all, into his toils, that one blow might perfect
his revenge? Our suspicions are the reflections of our own hearts.
So there they stand in open-mouthed, but dumb, wonder and dread. It
would task the pencil of him who painted, on the mouldering
refectory wall at Milan, the conflicting emotions of the apostles,
at the announcement of the betrayer, to portray that silent company
of abased and trembling criminals. They are an illustration of the
profitlessness of all crime. Sin is, as one of its Hebrew names
tells us, missing the mark--whether we think of it as fatally
failing to reach the ideal of conduct, or as always, by a divine
nemesis, failing to hit even the shabby end it aims at. 'Every rogue
is a roundabout fool.' They put Joseph in the pit, and here he is on
a throne. They have stained their souls, and embittered their
father's life for twenty-two long years, and the dreams have come
true, and all their wickedness has not turned the stream of the
divine purpose, any more than the mud dam built by a child diverts
the Mississippi. One flash has burned up their whole sinful past,
and they stand scorched and silent among the ruins. So it always is.
Sooner or later the same certainty of the futility of his sin will
overwhelm every sinful man, and dumb self-condemnation will stand in
silent acknowledgment of evil desert before the throne of the
Brother, who is now the Prince and the Judge, on whose fiat hangs
life or death. To see Christ enthroned should be joy; but it may be
turned into terror and silent anticipation of His just condemnation.

3. We have encouragement and complete forgiveness. That invitation
to come close up to him, with which Joseph begins the fuller
disclosure of his heart, is a beautiful touch. We can fancy how
tender the accents, and how, with some lightening of fear, but still
hesitatingly and ashamed, the shepherds, unaccustomed to courtly
splendours, approached. The little pause while they draw near helps
him to self-command, and he resumes his words in a calmer tone. With
one sentence of assurance that he is their brother, he passes at
once into that serene region where all passion and revenge die,
unable to breathe its keen, pure air. The comfort which he addresses
to their penitence would have been dangerous, if spoken to men blind
to the enormity of their past. But it will not make a truly
repentant conscience less sensitive, though it may alleviate the
aching of the wound, to think that God has used even its sin for His
own purposes. It will not take away the sense of the wickedness of
the motive to know that a wonderful providence has rectified the
consequences. It will rather deepen the sense of evil, and give new
cause of adoration of the love that pardons the wrong, and the
providence that neutralises the harm.

Joseph takes the true point of view, which we are all bound to
occupy, if we would practise the Christian grace of forgiveness. He
looks beyond the mere human hate and envy to the divine purpose.
'The sword is theirs; the hand is Thine.' He can even be grateful to
his foes who have been unintentionally his benefactors. He thinks of
the good that has come out of their malice, and anger dies within

Highest attainment of all, the good for which he is grateful is not
his all-but-regal dignity, but the power to save and gladden those
who would fain have slain, and had saddened him for many a weary
year. We read in these utterances of a lofty piety and of a
singularly gentle heart, the fruit of sorrow and the expression of
thoughts which had slowly grown up in his mind, and had now been
long familiar there. Such a calm, certain grasp of the divine
shaping and meaning of his life could not have sprung up all at once
in him, as he looked at the conscience-stricken culprits cowering
before him. More than natural sweetness and placability must have
gone to the making of such a temper of forgiveness. He must have
been living near the Fountain of all mercy to have had so full a cup
of it to offer. Because he had caught a gleam of the divine pardon,
he becomes a mirror of it; and we may fairly see in this ill-used
brother, yearning over the half-sullen sinners, and seeking to open
a way for his forgiveness to steal into their hearts, and rejoicing
over his very sorrows which have fitted him to save them alive, and
satisfy them in the days of famine, an adumbration of our Elder
Brother's forgiving love and saving tenderness.

4. The second part of Joseph's address is occupied with his message
to Jacob, and shows how he longed for his father's presence. There
is something very natural and beautiful in the repeated exhortations
to haste, as indicating the impatient love of a long-absent son. If
his heart was so true to his father, why had he sent him no message
for all these years? Egypt was near enough, and for nine years now
he had been in power. Surely he could have gratified his heart. But
he could not have learned by any other means his brethren's
feelings, and if they were still what they had been, no intercourse
would be possible. He could only be silent, and yearn for the way to
open in God's providence, as it did.

The message to Jacob is sent from 'thy son Joseph,' in token that
the powerful ruler lays his dignity at his father's feet. No
elevation will ever make a true son forget his reverence for his
father. If he rise higher in the world, and has to own an old man,
away in some simple country home, for his sire, he will be proud to
do it. The enduring sanctity of the family ties is not the least
valuable lesson from our narrative for this generation, where social
conditions are so often widely different in parents and in children.
There is an affectionate spreading out of all his glory before his
father's old eyes; not that he cared much about it for himself,
since, as we have seen, elevation to him meant mainly work, but
because he knew how the eyes would glisten at the sight. His mother,
who would have been proud of him, is gone, but he has still the joy
of gladdening his father by the exhibition of his dignity. It
bespeaks a simple nature, unspoiled by prosperity, to delight thus
in his father's delight, and to wish the details of all his
splendour to be told him. A statesman who takes most pleasure in his
elevation because of the good he can do by it, and because it will
please the old people at home, must be a pure and lovable man. The
command has another justification in the necessity to assure his
father of the wisdom of so great a change. God had set him in the
Promised Land, and a very plain divine injunction was needed to
warrant his leaving it. Such a one was afterwards given in vision;
but the most emphatic account of his son's honour and power was none
the less required to make the old Jacob willing to abandon so much,
and go into such strange conditions.

We have another instance of the difference between man's purposes
and God's counsel in this message. Joseph's only thought is to
afford his family temporary shelter during the coming five years of
famine. Neither he nor they knew that this was the fulfilment of the
covenant with Abraham, and the bringing of them into the land of
their oppression for four centuries. No shadow of that future was
cast upon their joy, and yet, the steady march of God's plan was
effected along the path which they were ignorantly preparing. The
road-maker does not know what bands of mourners, or crowds of
holiday makers, or troops of armed men may pass along it.

5. This wonderfully beautiful scene ends with the kiss of full
reconciliation and frank communion. All the fear is out of the
brothers' hearts. It has washed away all the envy along with it. The
history of Jacob's household had hitherto been full of sins against
family life. Now, at last, they taste the sweetness of fraternal
love. Joseph, against whom they had sinned, takes the initiative,
flinging himself with tears on the neck of Benjamin, his own
mother's son, nearer to him than all the others, crowding his pent-
up love in one long kiss. Then, with less of passionate affection,
but more of pardoning love, he kisses his contrite brothers. The
offender is ever less ready to show love than the offended. The
first step towards reconciliation, whether of man with man or of man
with God, comes from the aggrieved. We always hate those whom we
have harmed; and if enmity were ended only by the advances of the
wrong-doer, it would be perpetual. The injured has the prerogative
of praying the injurer to be reconciled. So was it in Pharaoh's
throne-room on that long past day; so is it still in the audience
chamber of heaven. 'He that might the vantage best have took found
out the remedy.' 'We love Him, because He first loved us.'

The pardoned men find their tongues at last. Forgiveness has opened
their lips, and though their reverence and thanks are no less, their
confidence and familiarity are more. How they would talk when once
the terror was melted away! So should it be with the soul which has
tasted the sweetness of Christ's forgiving love, and has known 'the
kisses of His mouth.' Long, unrestrained, and happy should be the
intercourse which we forgiven sinners keep up with our Brother, the
Prince of all the land. 'After that his brethren talked with him.'



THE noble words in which Joseph dissipates his brothers' doubts
have, as their first characteristic, the recognition of the God by
whom his career had been shaped, and, for their next, the
recognition of the purpose for which it had been. There is a world
of tenderness and forgivingness in the addition made to his first
words in verse 4, 'Joseph, _your brother_.' He owns the mystic
bond of kindred, and thereby assures them of his pardon for their
sin against it. It was right that he should remind them of their
crime, even while declaring his pardon. But he rises high above all
personal considerations and graciously takes the place of soother,
instead of that of accuser. Far from cherishing thoughts of anger or
revenge, he tries to lighten the reproaches of their own
consciences. Thrice over in four verses he traces his captivity to
God. He had learned that wisdom in his long years of servitude, and
had not forgotten it in those of rule.

There will be little disposition in us to visit offences against
ourselves on the offenders, if we discern God's purpose working
through our sorrows, and see, as the Psalmist did, that even our
foes are 'men which are Thy hand, O Lord.' True, His overruling
providence does not make their guilt less; but the recognition of it
destroys all disposition to revenge, and injured and injurer may one
day unite in adoring the result of what the One suffered at the
other's hands. Surely, some Christian persecutors and their victims
have thus joined hands in heaven. If we would cultivate the habit of
seeing God behind second causes, our hearts would be kept free from
much wrath and bitterness.

Joseph was as certain of the purpose as of the source of his
elevation. He saw now what he had been elevated for, and he eagerly
embraced the task which was a privilege. No doubt, he had often
brooded over the thought, 'Why am I thus lifted up?' and had felt
the privilege of being a nation's saviour; but now he realises that
he has a part to play in fulfilling God's designs in regard to the
seed of Abraham. Cloudy as his outlook into the future may have
been, he knew that great promises affecting all nations were
intertwined with his family, separation from whom had been a sorrow
for years. But now the thought comes to him with sudden illumination
and joy: 'This, then, is what it all has meant, that I should be a
link in the chain of God's workings.' He knows himself to be God's
instrument for effecting His covenant promises. How small a thing
honour and position became in comparison!

We cannot all have great tasks in the line of God's purposes, but we
can all feel that our little ones are made great by being seen to be
in it. The less we think about chariots and gold chains, and the
more we try to find out what God means by setting us where we are,
and to do that, the better for our peace and true dignity. A true
man does not care for the rewards of work half as much as for the
work itself. Find out what God intends, and never mind whether He
puts you in a dungeon or in a palace. Both places lie on the road
which He has marked and, in either, the main thing is to do His

Next comes the swiftly devised plan for carrying out God's purpose.
It sounds as if Joseph, with prompt statesmanship, had struck it out
then and there. At all events, he pours it forth with contagious
earnestness and haste. Note how he says over and over again 'My
father,' as if he loved to dwell on the name, but also as if he had
not yet completely realised the renewal of the broken ties of
brotherhood. It was some trial of the stuff he was made of, to have
to bring his father and his family to be stared at, and perhaps
mocked at, by the court. Many a successful man would be very much
annoyed if his old father, in his country clothes, and hands
roughened by toil, sat down beside him in his prosperity. Joseph had
none of that baseness. Jacob would come, if at all, as a half-
starved immigrant, and would be 'an abomination to the Egyptians.'
But what of that? He was 'my father,' and his son knows no better
use to make of his dignity than to compel reverence for Jacob's grey
hairs, which he will take care shall _not_ be 'brought down
with sorrow to the grave.' It is a very homely lesson--never be
ashamed of your father. But in these days, when children are often
better educated than their parents, and rise above them in social
importance, it is a very needful one.

The first overtures of reconciliation should come from the side of
the injured party. That is Christ's law, and if it were Christians'
practice, there would be fewer alienations among them. It is
Christ's law, because it is Christ's own way of dealing with us. He,
too, was envied, and sold by His brethren. His sufferings were meant
'to preserve life.' Stephen's sermon in the Sanhedrin dwells on
Joseph as a type of Christ; and the typical character is seen not
least distinctly in this, that He against whom we have sinned pleads
with us, seeks to draw us nearer to Himself, and to lead us to put
away all hard thoughts of Him, and to cherish all loving ones
towards Him, by showing us how void His heart is of anger against
us, and how full of yearning love and of gracious intention to
provide for us a dwelling-place, with abundance of all needful good,
beside Himself, while the years of famine shall last.


'Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father
and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and
all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan;
and, behold, they are in the land of Goshen. And he took
some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them
unto Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What
is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy
servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.
They said moreover unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the
land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for
their flocks, for the famine is sore in the land of
Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants
dwell in the land of Goshen. And Pharaoh spake unto
Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come
unto thee: The land of Egypt is before thee; in the
best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell;
in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest
any men of activity among them, then make them rulers
over my cattle. And Joseph brought in Jacob his father,
and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob
said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage
are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the
days of the years of my life been, and have not attained
unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in
the days of their pilgrimage. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh,
and went out from before Pharaoh. And Joseph placed his
father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in
the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land
of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph nourished
his father, and his brethren, and all his father's
household, with bread, according to their families.'
--GENESIS xlvii. 1-12.

1. The conduct of Joseph in reference to the settlement in Goshen is
an example of the possibility of uniting worldly prudence with high
religious principle and great generosity of nature. He had promised
his brothers a home in that fertile eastern district, which afforded
many advantages in its proximity to Canaan, its adaptation to
pastoral life, and its vicinity to Joseph when in Zoan, the capital.
But he had not consulted Pharaoh, and, however absolute his
authority, it scarcely stretched to giving away Egyptian territory
without leave. So his first care, when the wanderers arrive, is to
manage the confirmation of the grant. He goes about it with
considerable astuteness--a hereditary quality, which is redeemed
from blame because used for unselfish purposes and unstained by
deceit. He does not tell Pharaoh how far he had gone, but simply
announces that his family are in Goshen, as if awaiting the
monarch's further pleasure. Then he introduces a deputation, no
doubt carefully chosen, of five of his brothers (as if the whole
number would have been too formidable), previously instructed how to
answer. He knows what Pharaoh is in the habit of asking, or he knows
that he can lead him to ask the required question, which will bring
out the fact of their being shepherds, and utilise the prejudice
against that occupation, to ensure separation in Goshen. All goes as
he had arranged. Thanks partly to the indifference of the king, who
seems to have been rather a _roi fainéant_ in the hands of his
energetic _maire du palais_, and to have been contented to
give, with a flourish of formality, as a command to Joseph, what
Joseph had previously carefully suggested to him (vers. 6, 7). There
is nothing unfair in all this. It is good, shrewd management, and no
fault can be found with it; but it is a new trait in the ideal
character of a servant of God, and contrasts strongly with the type
shown in Abraham. None the less, it is a legitimate element in the
character and conduct of a good man, set down to do God's work in
such a world. Joseph is a saint and a politician. His shrewdness is
never craft; sagacity is not alien to consecration. No doubt it has
to be carefully watched lest it degenerate; but prudence is as
needful as enthusiasm, and he is the complete man who has a burning
fire down in his heart to generate the force that drives him, and a
steady hand on the helm, and a keen eye on the chart, to guide him.
Be ye 'wise as serpents' but also 'harmless as doves.'

2 We may note in Joseph's conduct also an instance of a man in high
office and not ashamed of his humble relations. One of the great
lessons meant to be taught by the whole patriarchal period was the
sacredness of the family. That is, in some sense, the keynote of
Joseph's history. Here we see family love, which had survived the
trial of ill-usage and long absence, victorious over the temptation
of position and high associates. It took some nerve and a great deal
of affection, for the viceroy, whom envious and sarcastic courtiers
watched, to own his kin. What a sweet morsel for malicious tongues
it would be, 'Have you heard? He is only the son of an old shepherd,
who is down in Goshen, come to pick up some crumbs there!' One can
fancy the curled lips and the light laugh, as the five brothers, led
by the great man himself, made their rustic reverences to Pharaoh.
It is as if some high official in Paris were to walk in half a dozen
peasants in blouse and sabots, and present them to the president as
'my brothers.' It was a brave thing to do; and it teaches a lesson
which many people, who have made their way in the world, would be
nobler and more esteemed if they learned.

3. The brother's words to Pharaoh are another instance of that
ignorant carrying out of the divine purposes which we have already
had to notice. They evidently contemplate only a temporary stay in
the country. They say that they are come 'to _sojourn_'--the
verb from which are formed the noun often rendered '_strangers_,' and
that which Jacob uses in verse 9, 'my _pilgrimage_.' The reason for
their coming is given as the transient scarcity of pasturage in Canaan,
which implies the intention of return as soon as that was altered.
Joseph had the same idea of the short duration of their stay; and
though Jacob had been taught by vision that the removal was in order
to their being made a great nation, it does not seem that his sons'
intentions were affected by that--if they knew it. So mistaken are our
estimates. We go to a place for a month, and we stay in it for
twenty years. We go to a place to settle for life, and our tent-pegs
are pulled up in a week. They thought of five years, and it was to be
nearly as many centuries. They thought of temporary shelter and food;
God meant an education of them and their descendants. Over all this
story the unseen Hand hovers, chastising, guiding, impelling; and the
human agents are free and yet fulfilling an eternal purpose, blind
and yet accountable, responsible for motives, and mercifully ignorant
of consequences. So we all play our little parts. We have no call to
be curious as to what will come of our deeds. This end of the action,
the motive of it, is our care; the other end, the outcome of it, is
God's business to see to.

4. We may also observe how trivial incidents are wrought into God's
scheme. The Egyptian hatred of the shepherd class secured one of the
prime reasons for the removal from Canaan--the unimpeded growth of a
tribe into a nation. There was no room for further peaceful and
separate expansion in that thickly populated country. Nor would
there have been in Egypt, unless under the condition of comparative
isolation, which could not have been obtained in any other way. Thus
an unreasonable prejudice, possibly connected with religious ideas,
became an important factor in the development of Israel; and, once
again, we have to note the wisdom of the great Builder who uses not
only gold, silver, and precious stones, but even wood, hay,
stubble--follies and sins--for His edifice.

5. The interview of Jacob with Pharaoh is pathetic and beautiful.
The old man comports himself, in all the later history of Joseph, as
if done with the world, and waiting to go. 'Let me die, since I have
seen thy face,' was his farewell to life. He takes no part in the
negotiation about Goshen, but has evidently handed over all temporal
cares to younger hands. A halo of removedness lies round his grey
hairs, and to Pharaoh he behaves as one withdrawn from fleeting
things, and, by age and nearness to the end, superior even to a
king's dignity. As he enters the royal presence he does not do
reverence, but invokes a blessing upon him. 'The less is blessed of
the better.' He has nothing to do with court ceremonials or
conventionalities. The hoary head is a crown of honour, Pharaoh
recognises his right to address him thus by the kindly question as
to his age, which implied respect for his years. The answer of the
'Hebrew Ulysses,' as Stanley calls him, breathes a spirit of
melancholy not unnatural in one who had once more been uprooted, and
found himself again a wanderer in his old age. The tremulous voice
has borne the words across all the centuries, and has everywhere
evoked a response in the hearts of weary and saddened men. Look at
the component parts of this pensive retrospect.

Life has been to him a 'pilgrimage'. He thinks of all his wanderings
from that far-off day when at Bethel he received the promise of
God's presence 'in all places whither thou goest,' till this last
happy and yet disturbing change. But he is thinking not only,
perhaps not chiefly, of the circumstances, but of the spirit, of his
life. This is, no doubt, the confession 'that they were strangers
and pilgrims' referred to in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He was a
pilgrim, not because he had often changed his place of abode, but
because he sought the 'city which hath foundations,' and therefore
could not be at home here. The goal of his life lay in the far
future; and whether he looked for the promises to be fulfilled on
earth, or had the unformulated consciousness of immortality, and
saluted the dimly descried coast from afar while tossing on life's
restless ocean, he was effectually detached from the present, and
felt himself an alien in the existing order. We have to live by the
same hope, and to let it work the same estrangement, if we would
live noble lives. Not because all life is change, nor because it all
marches steadily on to the grave, but because our true home--the
community to which we really belong, the metropolis, the mother city
of our souls--is above, are we to feel ourselves strangers upon
earth. They who only take into account the transiency of life are
made sad, or sometimes desperate, by the unwelcome thought. But they
whose pilgrimage is a journey home may look that transiency full in
the face, and be as glad because of it as colonists on their voyage
to the old country which they call 'home,' though they were born on
the other side of the world and have never seen its green fields.

To Jacob's eyes his days seem 'few.' Abraham's one hundred and
seventy-five years, Isaac's one hundred and eighty, were in his
mind. But more than these was in his mind. The law of the moral
perspective is other than that of the physical. The days in front,
seen through the glass of anticipation, are drawn out; the days
behind, viewed through the telescope of memory, are crowded
together. What a moment looked all the long years of his struggling
life--shorter now than even had once seemed the seven years of
service for his Rachel, that love had made to fly past on such swift
wings! That happy wedded life, how short it looked! A bright light
for a moment, and

'Ere a man could say "Behold!"
The jaws of darkness did devour it up.'

It is well to lay the coolness of this thought on our fevered
hearts, and, whether they be torn by sorrows or gladdened with
bliss, to remember 'this also will pass' and the longest stretch of
dreary days be seen in retrospect, in their due relation to
eternity, as but a moment. That will not paralyse effort nor abate
sweetness, but it will teach proportion, and deliver from the
illusions of this solid-seeming shadow which we call life.

The pensive retrospect darkens as the old man's memory dwells upon
the past. His days have not only been few--that could be borne--but
they have been 'evil' by which I understand not unfortunate so much
as faulty. We have seen in preceding pages the slow process by which
the crafty Jacob had his sins purged out of him, and became 'God's
wrestler.' Here we learn that old wrong-doing, even when forgiven--or,
rather, when and because forgiven--leaves regretful memories
lifelong. The early treachery had been long ago repented of and
pardoned by God and man. The nature which hatched it had been
renewed. But here it starts up again, a ghost from the grave, and
the memory of it is full of bitterness. No lapse of time deprives a
sin of its power to sting. As in the old story of the man who was
killed by a rattlesnake's poison fang embedded in a boot which had
lain forgotten for years, we may be wounded by suddenly coming
against it, long after it is forgiven by God and almost forgotten by
ourselves. Many a good man, although he knows that Christ's blood
has washed away his guilt, is made to possess the iniquities of his
youth. 'Thou shalt be ashamed and confounded, and never open thy
mouth any more, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou
hast done.'

But this shaded retrospect is one-sided. It is true, and in some
moods seems all the truth; but Jacob saw more distinctly, and his
name was rightly Israel, when, laying his trembling hands on the
heads of Joseph's sons, he laid there the blessing of 'the God which
fed me all my life long, ... 'the Angel which redeemed me from all
evil.' That was his last thought about his life, as it began to be
seen in the breaking light of eternal day. Pensive and penitent
memory may call the years few and evil, but grateful faith even
here, and still more the cleared vision of heaven, will discern more
truly that they have been a long miracle of loving care, and that
all their seeming evil has been transmuted into good.


'And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, Few and evil have the
days of the years of my life been.'--GENESIS xlvii. 9.

'The God which fed me all my life long unto this day;
the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.'
--GENESIS xlviii. 15,16.

These are two strangely different estimates of the same life to be
taken by the same man. In the latter Jacob categorically contradicts
everything that he had said in the former. 'Few and evil,' he said
before Pharaoh. 'All my life long,' 'the Angel which redeemed me
from all evil,' he said on his death-bed.

If he meant what he said when he spoke to Pharaoh, and characterised
his life thus, he was wrong. He was possibly in a melancholy mood.
Very naturally, the unfamiliar splendours of a court dazzled and
bewildered the old man, accustomed to a quiet shepherd life down at
Hebron. He had not come to see Pharaoh, he only cared to meet
Joseph; and, as was quite natural, the new and uncongenial
surroundings depressed him. Possibly the words are only a piece of
the etiquette of an Eastern court, where it is the correct thing for
the subject to depreciate himself in all respects as far inferior to
the prince. And there may be little more than conventional humility
in the words of my first text. But I am rather disposed to think
that they express the true feeling of the moment, in a mood that
passed and was followed by a more wholesome one.

I put the two sayings side by side just for the sake of gathering up
one or two plain lessons from them.

1. We have here two possible views of life.

Now the key to the difference between these two statements and moods
of feeling seems to me to be a very plain one. In the former of them
there is nothing about God. It is all Jacob. In the latter we notice
that there is a great deal more about God than about Jacob, and that
determines the whole tone of the retrospect. In the first text Jacob
speaks of 'the days of the years of _my_ pilgrimage,' 'the days
of the years of _my_ life,' and so on, without a syllable about
anything except the purely earthly view of life. Of course, when you
shut out God, the past is all dark enough, grey and dismal, like the
landscape on some cloudy day, where the woods stand black, and the
rivers creep melancholy through colourless fields, and the sky is
grey and formless above. Let the sun come out, and the river flashes
into a golden mirror, and the woods are alive with twinkling lights
and shadows, and the sky stretches a blue pavilion above them, and
all the birds sing. Let God into your life, and its whole complexion
and characteristics change. The man who sits whining and
complaining, when he has shut out the thought of a divine Presence,
finds that everything alters when he brings that in.

And, then, look at the two particulars on which the patriarch
dwells. 'I am only one hundred and thirty years old,' he says; a
mere infant compared with Abraham and Isaac! How did he know he was
not going to live to be as old as either of them? And 'if his days
were evil,' as he said, was it not a good thing that they were few?
But, instead of that, he finds reasons for complaint in the brevity
of the life which, if it were as evil as he made it out to be, must
often have seemed wearisomely long, and dragged very slowly. Now,
both things are true--life is short, life is long. Time is elastic--you
can stretch it or you can contract it. It is short compared with the
duration of God; it is short, as one of the Psalms puts it pathetically,
as compared with this Nature round us--'The earth abideth for ever';
we are strangers upon it, and there is no abiding for us. It is short
as compared with the capacities and powers of the creatures that possess
it; but, oh! if we think of our days as a series of gifts of God, if we
look upon them, as Jacob looked upon them when he was sane, as being one
continued shepherding by God, they stretch out into blessed length. Life
is long enough if it manifests that God takes care of us, and if we learn
that He does. Life is long enough if it serves to build up a God-pleasing

It is beautiful to see how the thought of God enters into the dying
man's remembrances in the shape which was natural to him, regard
being had to his own daily avocations. For the word translated 'fed'
means much more than supplied with nourishment. It is the word for
doing the office of shepherd, and we must not forget, if we want to
understand its beauty, that Jacob's sons said, 'Thy servants are
shepherds; both we and also our fathers.' So this man, in the
solitude of his pastoral life, and whilst living amongst his woolly
people who depended upon his guidance and care, had learned many a
lesson as to how graciously and tenderly and constantly fed, and
led, and protected, and fostered by God were the creatures of His

It was he, I suppose, who first gave to religious thought that
metaphor which has survived temple and sacrifice and priesthood, and
will survive even earth itself; for 'I am the Good Shepherd' is as
true to-day as when first spoken by Jesus, and 'the Lamb which is in
the midst of the throne shall lead them,' and be their Shepherd when
the flock is carried to the upper pastures and the springs that
never fail. The life which has brought us that thought of a
Shepherd-God has been long enough; and the days which have been so
expanded as to contain a continuous series of His benefits and
protections need never be remembered as 'few,' whatsoever be the
arithmetic that is applied to them.

The other contradiction is equally eloquent and significant. 'Few
and evil' have my days been, said Jacob, when he was not thinking
about God; but when he remembered the Angel of the Presence, that
mysterious person with whom he had wrestled at Peniel, and whose
finger had lamed the thigh while His lips proclaimed a blessing, his
view changed, and instead of talking about 'evil' days, he says,
'The Angel that redeemed me from all evil.' Yes, his life had been
evil, whether by that we mean sorrowful or sinful, and the sorrows
and the sins had been closely connected. A sorely tried man he had
been. Far away back in the past had been his banishment from home;
his disappointment and hard service with the churlish Laban; the
misbehaviour of his sons; the death of Rachel--that wound which was
never stanched; and then the twenty years' mourning for Rachel's
son, the heir of his inheritance. These were the evils, the sins
were as many, for every one of the sorrows, except perhaps the
chiefest of them all, had its root in some piece of duplicity,
dishonesty, or failure. But he was there in Egypt beside Joseph. The
evils had stormed over him, but he was there still. And so at the
end he says, 'The Angel ... redeemed me from evil, though it smote
me. Sorrow became chastisement, and I was purged of my sin by my
calamities.' The sorrows are past, like some raging inundation that
comes up for a night over the land and then subsides; but the
blessing of fertility which it brought in its tawny waves abides
with me yet. Joseph is by my side. 'I had not thought to see thy
face, and God hath showed me the face of thy seed.' That sorrow is
over. Rachel's grave is still by the wayside, and that sorest of
sorrows has wrought with others to purify character. Jacob has been
tried by sorrows; he has been purged from sins. 'The Angel delivered
me from all evil.' So, dear friends, sorrow is not evil if it helps
to strip us from the evil that we love, and the ills that we bear
are good if they alienate our affections from the ills that we do.

2. Secondly, note the wisdom and the duty of taking the completer
and brighter view.

These first words of Jacob's are very often quoted as if they were
the pattern of the kind of thing people ought to say, 'Few and evil
have been the days of the years of my pilgrimage.' That is a text
from which many sermons have been preached with approbation of the
pious resignation expressed in it. But it does not seem to me that
that is the tone of them. If the man believed what he said, then he
was very ungrateful and short-sighted, though there were excuses to
be made for him under the circumstances. If the days had been evil,
he had made them so.

But the point which I wish to make now is that it is largely a
matter for our own selection which of the two views of our lives we
take. We may make our choice whether we shall fix our attention on
the brighter or on the darker constituents of our past.

Suppose a wall papered with paper of two colours, one black, say,
and the other gold. You can work your eye and adjust the focus of
vision so that you may see either a black background or a gold one.
In the one case the prevailing tone is gloomy, relieved by an
occasional touch of brightness; and in the other it is brightness,
heightened by a background of darkness. And so you can do with life,
fixing attention on its sorrows, and hugging yourselves in the
contemplation of these with a kind of morbid satisfaction, or
bravely and thankfully and submissively and wisely resolving that
you will rather seek to learn what God means by darkness, and not
forgetting to look at the unenigmatical blessings, and plain,
obvious mercies, that make up so much of our lives. We have to
govern memory as well as other faculties, by Christian principle. We
have to apply the plain teaching of Christian truth to our
sentimental, and often unwholesome, contemplations of the past.
There is enough in all our lives to make material for plenty of
whining and complaining, if we choose to take hold of them by that
handle. And there is enough in all our lives to make us ashamed of
one murmuring word, if we are devout and wise and believing enough
to lay hold of them by that one. Remember that you can make your
view of your life either a bright one or a dark one, and there will
be facts for both; but the facts that feed melancholy are partial
and superficial, and the facts that exhort, 'Rejoice in the Lord
alway; and again I say, Rejoice,' are deep and fundamental.

3. So, lastly, note how blessed a thing it is when the last look is
the happiest.

When we are amongst the mountains, or when we are very near them,
they look barren enough, rough, stony, steep. When we travel away
from them, and look at them across the plain, they lie blue in the
distance; and the violet shadows and the golden lights upon them and
the white peaks above make a dream of beauty. Whilst we are in the
midst of the struggle, we are often tempted to think that things go
hardly with us and that the road is very rough. But if we keep near
our dear Lord, and hold by His hand, and try to shape our lives in
accordance with His will--whatever be their outward circumstances
and texture--then we may be very sure of this, that when the end
comes, and we are far enough away from some of the sorrows to see
what they lead to and blossom into, then we shall be able to say, It
was all very good, and to thank Him for all the way by which the
Lord our God has led us.

In the same conversation in which the patriarch, rising to the
height of a prophet and organ of divine revelation, gives this his
dying testimony of the faithfulness of God, and declares that he has
been delivered from all evil, he recurs to the central sorrow of his
life; and speaks, though in calm words, of that day when he buried
Rachel by 'Ephrath, which is Bethel.' But the pain had passed and
the good was present to him. And so, leaving life, he left it
according to his own word, 'satisfied with favour, and full of the
blessing of the Lord.' So we in our turns may, at the last, hope
that what we know not now will largely be explained; and may seek to
anticipate our dying verdict by a living confidence, in the midst of
our toils and our sorrows, that 'all things work together for good
to them that love God.'


The archers shot at him, but his bow abode in strength,
and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands
of the mighty God of Jacob.'
GENESIS xlix. 23, 24.

These picturesque words are part of what purports to be one of the
oldest pieces of poetry in the Bible--the dying Jacob's prophetic
blessing on his sons. Of these sons there are two over whom his
heart seems especially to pour itself--Judah the ancestor of the
royal tribe, and Joseph. The future fortunes of their descendants
are painted in most glowing colours. And of these two, the blessing
on the 'son who was dead and is alive again, who was lost and is
found' is the fuller of tender desire and glad prediction. The words
of our text are probably to be taken as prophecy, not as history--as
referring to the future conflicts and victories of the tribe, not to
the past trials and triumphs of its father. But be that as it may,
they contain, in most vivid metaphor, the earliest utterance of a
very familiar truth. They are the first hint of that thought which
is caught up and expanded in many a later saying of psalmist, and
prophet, and apostle. We hear their echoes in the great song
ascribed to David 'in the day that the Lord delivered him from the
hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul': 'He teacheth my
hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms'; and
the idea receives its fullest carrying out and noblest setting
forth, in the trumpet-call of the apostle, who had seen more
formidable weapons and a more terrible military discipline in Rome's
legions than Jacob knew, and who pressed them into his stimulating
call: 'Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.' 'Put
on the whole armour of God.' Strength for conflict by contact with
the strength of God is the common thought of all these passages--a
very familiar thought, which may perhaps be freshened for us by the
singular intensity with which this metaphor of our text presents it.
Look at the picture.--Here stands the solitary man, ringed all round
by enemies full of bitter hate. Their arrows are on the string,
their bows drawn to the ear. The shafts fly thick, and when they
have whizzed past him, and he can be seen again, he stands unharmed,
grasping his unbroken bow. The assault has shivered no weapon, has
given no wound. He has been able to stand in the evil day--and look!
a pair of great, gentle, strong hands are laid upon his hands and
arms, and strength passes into his feebleness from the touch of 'the
hands of the mighty God of Jacob.' So the enemy have two, not one,
to reckon with. By the side of the hunted man stands a mighty
figure, and it is His strength, not the mortal's impotence, that has
to be overcome. Some dream of such divine help in the struggle of
battle has floated through the minds, and been enshrined in the
legends, of many people, as when the panoplied Athene has been
descried leading the Grecian armies, or, through the dust of
conflict, the gleaming armour and white horses of the Twin Brethren
were seen far in advance of the armies of Rome. But the dream is for
us a reality. It _is_ true that we go not to warfare at our own
charges, nor by our own strength. If we love Him and try to make a
brave stand against our own evil, and to strike a manful blow for
God in this world, we shall not have to bear the brunt alone.
Remember he who fights for God never fights without God.

There is a strange story in a later book of Scripture, which almost
reads as if it had been modelled on some reminiscence of these words
of the dying Jacob--and is, at any rate, a remarkable illustration
of them. The kingdom of Israel, of which the descendants of Joseph
were the most conspicuous part, was in the very crisis and agony of
one of its Syrian wars. Its principal human helper was 'fallen sick
of the sickness whereof he died.' And to his death-bed came, in a
passion of perplexity and despair, the irresolute weakling who was
then king, bewailing the impending withdrawal of the nation's best
defence. The dying Elisha, with curt authority, pays no heed to the
tears of Joash, but bids him take bow and arrows. 'And he said to
the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow,' and he put his
hand upon it; and '_Elisha put his hands upon the king's
hands_.' Then, when the thin, wasted, transparent fingers of the
old man were thus laid, guiding and infusing strength, by a strange
paradox, into the brown, muscular hands of the young king, he tells
him to open the casement that looked eastward towards the lands of
the enemy, and, as the blinding sunshine and the warm air streamed
into the sick-chamber, he bids him draw the bow. He was obeyed, and,
as the arrow whizzed Jordanwards, the dying prophet followed its
flight with words brief and rapid like it, 'the arrow of the Lord's
deliverance.' Here we have all the elements of our text singularly
repeated--the dying seer, the king the representative of Joseph in
the royal dignity to which his descendants have come, the arrows and
the bow, the strength for conflict by the touch of hands that had
the strength of God in them. The lesson of that paradox that the
dying gave strength to the living, the feeble to the strong, was the
old one which is ever new, that mere human power is weakness when it
is strongest, and that power drawn from God is omnipotent when it
seems weakest. And the further lesson is the lesson of our text,
that our hands are then strengthened, when His hands are laid upon
them, of whom it is written: 'Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is Thy
hand, and high is Thy right hand.

As a father in old days might have taken his little boy out to the
butts, and put a bow into his hand, and given him his first lesson
in archery, directing his unsteady aim by his own firmer finger, and
lending the strength of his wrist to his child's feebler pull, so
God does with us. The sure, strong hand is laid on ours, and is
'profitable to direct.' A wisdom not our own is ever at our side,
and ready for our service. We but dimly perceive the conditions of
the conflict, and the mark at which we should aim is ever apt to be
obscured to our perceptions. But in all cases where conscience is
perplexed, or where the judgment is at fault, we may, if we will,
have Him for our teacher. And when we know not where to strike the
foes that seem invulnerable, like the warrior who was dipped in the
magic stream, or clothed in mail impenetrable as rhinoceros' hide,
He will make us wise to know the one spot where a wound is fatal. We
shall not need to fight as he that beats the air; to strike at
random; or to draw our bow at a venture, if we will let Him guide

Or if ever the work be seen clearly enough, but our poor hands
cannot take aim for very trembling, or shoot for fear of striking
something very dear to us, He will steady our nerves and make our
aim sure and true. We have often, in our fight with ourselves, and
in our struggle to get God's will done in the world, to face as
cruel a perplexity as the father who had to split the apple on his
son's head. The evil against which we have to contend is often so
closely connected with things very precious to us, that it is hard
to smite the one when there is such danger of grazing the other.
Many a time our tastes, our likings, our prejudices, our hopes, our
loves, make our sight dim, and our pulses too tumultuous to allow of
a good, long, steady gaze and a certain aim. It is hard to keep the
arrow's point firm when the heart throbs and the hand shakes. But in
all such difficult times He is ready to help us. 'Behold, we know
not what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee,' is a prayer never
offered in vain.

The word that is here rendered 'made strong,' might be translated
'made pliable,' or 'flexible' conveying the notion of deftness and
dexterity rather than that of simple strength. It is practised
strength that He will give, the educated hand and arm, masters of
the manipulation of the weapon. The stiffness and clumsiness of our
handling, the obstinate rigidity as well as the throbbing feebleness
of our arms, the dimness of our sight, may all be overcome. At His
touch the raw recruit is as the disciplined veteran; the prophet who
cannot speak because he is a child, gifted with a mouth and wisdom
which all the adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor to
resist. Do not be disheartened by your inexperience, or by your
ignorance; but as the prophet said to the young king, Take the bow
and shoot. God's strong hand will hold yours, and the arrow will fly

That strong hand is laid on ours, and lends its weight to our feeble
pull. The bow is often too heavy for us to bend, but we do not need
to strain our strength in the vain attempt to do it alone. Tasks
seem too much for us. The pressure of our daily work overwhelms us.
The burden of our daily anxieties and sorrows is too much. Some huge
obstacle starts up in our path. Some great sacrifice for truth,
honour, duty, which we feel we cannot make, is demanded of us. Some
daring defiance of some evil, which has caught us in its toils, or
which it is unfashionable to fight against, seems laid upon us. We
cannot rise to the height of the occasion, or bring ourselves to the
wrench that is required. Or the wearing recurrence of monotonous
duties seems to take ail freshness out of our lives, and all spring
out of ourselves; and we are ready to give over struggling any more,
and let ourselves drift. Can we not feel that large hand laid on
ours; and does not power, more and other than our own, creep into
our numb and relaxed fingers? Yes, if we will let Him. His strength
is made perfect in our weakness; and every man and woman who will
make life a noble struggle against evil, vanity, or sin, may be very
sure that God will direct and strengthen their hands to war, and
their fingers to fight.

But the remarkable metaphor of the text not only gives the fact of
divine strength being bestowed, but also the _manner_ of the
gift. What a boldness of reverent familiarity there is in that
symbol of the hands of God laid on the hands of the man! How
strongly it puts the contact between us and Him as the condition of
our reception of power from Him! A true touch, as of hand to hand,
conveys the grace. It is as when the prophet laid himself down with
his warm lip on the dead boy's cold mouth, and his heart beating
against the still heart of the corpse, till the life passed into the
clay, and the lad lived. So, if we may say it, our Quickener bends
Himself over all our deadness, and by His own warmth reanimates us.

Perhaps this same thought is one of the lessons which we are meant
to learn from the frequency with which our Lord wrought His miracles
of healing by the touch of His hand. 'Come and lay Thy hand on him,
and he shall live.' 'And He put forth His hand and touched him, and
said, I will, be thou clean.' 'Many said, He is dead; but Jesus took
him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.' The touch of His
hand is healing and life. The touch of our hands is faith. In the
mystery of His incarnation, in the flow of His sympathy, in the
forth-putting of His power, He lays hold not on angels, but He lays
hold on the seed of Abraham. By our lowly trust, by the forth-
putting of our desires, we stretch 'lame hands of faith,' and,
blessed be God! we do not 'grope,' but we grasp His strong hand and
are held up.

The contact of our spirits with His Spirit is a contact far more
real than the touch of earthly hands that grasp each other closest.
There is ever some film of atmosphere between the palms. But 'he
that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,' and he that clasps
Christ's outstretched hand of help with his outstretched hand of
weakness, holds Him with a closeness to which all unions of earth
are gaping gulfs of separation. You remember how Mary cast herself
at Christ's feet on the resurrection morning, and would have flung
her arms round them in the passion of her joy. The calm word which
checked her has a wonderful promise in it. 'Touch me not, for I am
not yet ascended to my Father'; plainly leading to the inference,
'When I am ascended, then you may touch Me.' And that touch will be
more reverent, more close, more blessed, than any clasping of His
feet, even with such loving hands, and is possible for us all for

Nothing but such contact will give us strength for conflict and for
conquest. And the plain lesson therefore is--see to it, that the
contact is not broken by you. Put away the metaphor, and the simple
English of the advice is just this:--First, live in the desire and
the confidence of His help in all your need, of His strength as all
your power. As a part of that confidence--its reverse and under
side, so to speak--cherish the profound sense of your own weakness.

'In our own strength we nothing can;
Full soon were we down-ridden'--

as Luther has taught us to sing. Let there be a constant renewal, in
the midst of your duties and trials, of that conscious dependence
and feeling of insufficiency. Stretch out the empty hands to Him in
that desire and hope, which, spoken or silent, is prayer. Keep the
communications open, by which His strength flows into your souls.
Let them not be choked with self-confidence, with vanities, with the
rubbish of your own nature, or of the world. Do not twitch away your
hands from under the strong hands that are laid so gently upon them.
But let Him cover, direct, cherish, and strengthen your poor fingers
till they are strong and nimble for all your work and warfare. If
you go into the fight trusting to your own wit and wisdom, to the
vigour of your own arm, or the courage of your own heart, that very
foolhardy confidence is itself defeat, for it is sin as well as
folly, and nothing can come of it but utter collapse and disaster.
But if you will only go to your daily fight with yourself and the
world, with your hand grasping God's hand, you will be able to
'withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.' The
enemies may compass you about like bees, but in the name of the Lord
you can destroy them. Their arrows may fly thick enough to darken
the sun, but, as the proud old boast has it, 'then we can fight in
the shade'; and when their harmless points have buried themselves in
the ground, you will stand unhurt, your unshivered bow ready for the
next assault, and your hands made strong by the hands of the mighty
God of Jacob. 'In all these things we are more than conquerors,
through Him that loved us.'


'... The mighty God of Jacob. From thence is the Shepherd,
the stone of Israel.'--GENESIS xlix. 24.

A slight alteration in the rendering will probably bring out the
meaning of these words more correctly. The last two clauses should
perhaps not be read as a separate sentence. Striking out the
supplement 'is,' and letting the previous sentence run on to the end
of the verse, we get a series of names of God, in apposition with
each other, as the sources of the strength promised to the arms of
the hands of the warlike sons of Joseph. From the hands of the
mighty God of Jacob--from thence, from the Shepherd, the stone of
Israel--the power will come for conflict and for conquest. This
exuberant heaping together of names of God is the mark of the flash
of rapturous confidence which lit up the dying man's thoughts when
they turned to God. When he begins to think of Him he cannot stay
his tongue. So many aspects of His character, so many remembrances
of His deeds, come crowding into his mind; so familiar and so dear
are they, that he must linger over the words, and strive by this
triple repetition to express the manifold preciousness of Him whom
no name, nor crowd of names, can rightly praise. So earthly love
ever does with its earthly objects, inventing and reiterating
epithets which are caresses. Such repetitions are not tautologies,
for each utters some new aspect of the one subject, and comes from a
new gush of heart's love towards it. And something of the same
rapture and unwearied recurrence to the Name that is above every
name should mark the communion of devout souls with their heavenly
Love. What a wonderful burst of such praise flowed out from David's
thankful heart, in his day of deliverance, like some strong current,
with its sevenfold wave, each crested with the Name--'The Lord is my
rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in
whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my
high tower.'

Those three names which we find here are striking and beautiful in
themselves; in their juxtaposition; in their use on Jacob's lips.
They seem to have been all coined by him, for, if we accept this
song as a true prophecy uttered by him, we have here the earliest
instance of their occurrence. They all have a history, and appear
again expanded and deepened in the subsequent revelation. Let us
look at them as they stand.

1. _The Mighty God of Jacob_.--The meaning of such a name is
clear enough. It is He who has shown Himself mighty and mine by His
deeds for me all through my life. The dying man's thoughts are busy
with all that past from the day when he went forth from the tent of
Isaac, and took of the stones of the field for his pillow when the
sun went down. A perplexed history it had been, with many a bitter
sorrow, and many a yet bitterer sin. Passionate grief and despairing
murmurs he had felt and flung out, while it slowly unfolded itself.
When the Pharaoh had asked, 'How old art thou?' he had answered in
words which owe their sombreness partly to obsequious assumption of
insignificance in such a presence, but have a strong tinge of
genuine sadness in them too: 'Few and evil have the days of the
years of my life been.' But lying dying there, with it all well
behind him, he has become wiser; and now it all looks to him as one
long showing forth of the might of his God, who had been with him
all his life long, and had redeemed him from all evil. He has got
far enough away to see the lie of the land, as he could not do while
he was toiling along the road. The barren rocks and white snow glow
with purple as the setting sun touches them. The struggles with
Laban; the fear of Esau; the weary work of toilsome years; the sad
day when Rachel died, and left to him the 'son of her sorrow'; the
heart sickness of the long years of Joseph's loss--all have faded
away, or been changed into thankful wonder at God's guidance. The
one thought which the dying man carries out of life with him is: God
has shown Himself mighty, and He has shown Himself mine.

For each of us, our own experience should be a revelation of God.
The things about Him which we read in the Bible are never living and
real to us till we have verified them in the facts of our own
history. Many a word lies on the page, or in our memories, fully
believed and utterly shadowy, until in some soul's conflict we have
had to grasp it, and found it true. Only so much of our creed as we
have proved in life is really ours. If we will only open our eyes
and reflect upon our history as it passes before us, we shall find
every corner of it filled with the manifestations to our hearts and
to our minds of a present God. But our folly, our stupidity, our
impatience, our absorption with the mere outsides of things, our
self-will, blind us to the Angel with the drawn sword who resists
us, as well as to the Angel with the lily who would lead us. So we
waste our days; are deaf to His voice speaking through all the
clatter of tongues, and blind to His bright presence shining through
all the dimness of earth; and, for far too many of us, we never can
see God in the present, but only discern Him when He has passed by,
like Moses from his cleft. Like this same Jacob, we have to say:
'Surely God was in this place, and I knew it not.' Hence we miss the
educational worth of our lives, are tortured with needless cares,
are beaten by the poorest adversaries, and grope amidst what seems
to us a chaos of pathless perplexities, when we might be marching on
assured and strong, with God for our guide, and the hands of the
Mighty One of Jacob for our defence.

Notice, too, how distinctly the thought comes out in this name--that
the very vital centre of a man's religion is his conviction that God
is his. Jacob will not be content with thinking of God as the God of
his fathers; he will not even be content with associating himself
with them in the common possession; but he must feel the full force
of the intensely personal bond that knits him to God, and God to
him. Of course such a feeling does not ignore the blessed fellowship
and family who also are held in this bond. The God of Jacob is to
the patriarch also the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.
But that comes second, and this comes first. Each man for himself
must put forth the hand of his own faith, and grasp that great hand
for his own guide. '_My_ Lord and _my_ God' is the true form of the
confession. 'He loved _me_ and gave Himself for _me_,' is the shape in
which the Gospel of Christ melts the soul. God is mine because His
love individualises me, and I have a distinct place in His heart, His
purposes, and His deeds. God is mine, because by my own individual
act--the most personal which I can perform--I cast myself on Him, by
my faith appropriate the common salvation, and open my being to the
inflow of His power. God is mine, and I am His, in that wonderful
mutual possession, with perpetual interchange of giving and receiving
not only gifts but selves, which makes the very life of love, whether
it be love on earth or love in heaven.

Remember, too, the profound use which our Lord made of this name,
wherein Jacob claims to possess God. Because Moses at the bush
called God, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, they
cannot have ceased to be. The personal relations, which subsist
between God and the soul that clasps Him for its own, demand an
immortal life for their adequate expression, and make it impossible
that Death's skeleton fingers should have power to untie such a
bond. Anything is conceivable, rather than that the soul which can
say 'God is mine' should perish. And that continued existence
demands, too, a state of being which shall correspond to itself, in
which its powers shall all be exercised, its desires fulfilled, its
possibilities made facts. Therefore there must be the resurrection.
'God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for
them a city.'

The dying patriarch left to his descendants the legacy of this great
name, and often, in later times, it was used to quicken faith by the
remembrance of the great deeds of God in the past. One instance may
serve as a sample of the whole. 'The Lord of Hosts is with us, the
God of Jacob is our refuge.' The first of these two names lays the
foundation of our confidence in the thought of the boundless power
of Him whom all the forces of the universe, personal and impersonal,
angels and stars, in their marshalled order, obey and serve. The
second bids later generations claim as theirs all that the old
history reveals as having belonged to the 'world's grey fathers.'
They had no special prerogative of nearness or of possession. The
arm that guided them is unwearied, and all the past is true still,
and will for evermore be true for all who love God. So the venerable
name is full of promise and of hope for us: 'The God of Jacob is our

2. _The Shepherd_.--How that name sums up the lessons that
Jacob had learned from the work of himself and of his sons! 'Thy
servants are shepherds' they said to Pharaoh; 'both we, and also our
sons.' For fourteen long, weary years he had toiled at that task.
'In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my
sleep departed from mine eyes,' and his own sleepless vigilance and
patient endurance seem to him to be but shadows of the loving care,
the watchful protection, the strong defence, which 'the God, who has
been my Shepherd all my life long,' had extended to him and his.
Long before the shepherd king, who had been taken from the
sheepcotes to rule over Israel, sang his immortal psalm, the same
occupation had suggested the same thought to the shepherd patriarch.
Happy they whose daily work may picture for them some aspect of
God's care--or rather, happy they whose eyes are open to see the dim
likeness of God's care which every man's earthly relations, and some
part of his work, most certainly present.

There can be no need to draw out at length the thoughts which that
sweet and familiar emblem has conveyed to so many generations.
Loving care, wise guidance, fitting food, are promised by it; and
docile submission, close following at the Shepherd's heels,
patience, innocence, meekness, trust, are required. But I may put
emphasis for a moment on the connection between the thought of 'the
mighty God of Jacob' and that of 'the Shepherd.' The occupation, as
we see it, does not call for a strong arm, or much courage, except
now and then to wade through snowdrifts, and dig out the buried and
half-dead creatures. But the shepherds whom Jacob knew, had to be
hardy, bold fighters. There were marauders lurking ready to sweep
away a weakly guarded flock. There were wild beasts in the gorges of
the hills. There was danger in the sun by day on these burning
plains, and in the night the wolves prowled round the flock. We
remember how David's earliest exploits were against the lion and the
bear, and how he felt that even his duel with the Philistine bully
was not more formidable than these had been. If we will read into
our English notions of a shepherd this element of danger and of
daring, we shall feel that these two clauses are not to be taken as
giving the contrasted ideas of strength and gentleness, but the
connected ones of strength, and therefore protection and security.
We have the same connection in later echoes of this name. 'Behold,
the Lord God shall come with _strong_ hand; He shall feed His
flock like a shepherd.' And our Lord's use of the figure brings into
all but exclusive prominence the good shepherd's conflict with the
ravening wolves--a conflict in which he must not hesitate even 'to
lay down his life for the sheep.' As long as the flock are here,
amidst dangers and foes, and wild weather, the arm that guides must
be an arm that can guard; and none less mighty than the Mighty One
of Jacob can be the Shepherd of men. But a higher fulfilment yet
awaits this venerable emblem, when in other pastures, where no lion
nor any ravening beast shall come, the 'Lamb, which is in the midst
of the throne,' and is Shepherd as well as Lamb, 'shall feed them,
and lead them by living fountains of waters.'

3. _The Stone of Israel_.--Here, again, we have a name, that
after-ages have caught up and cherished, used for the first time. I
suppose the Stone of Israel means much the same thing as the Rock.
If so, that symbol, too, which is full of such large meanings, was
coined by Jacob. It is, perhaps, not fanciful to suppose that it
owes its origin to the scenery of Palestine. The wild cliffs of the
eastern region where Peniel lay, or the savage fastnesses in the
southern wilderness, a day's march from Hebron, where he lived so
long, came back to his memory amid the flat, clay land of Egypt; and
their towering height, their immovable firmness, their cool shade,
their safe shelter, spoke to him of the unalterable might and
impregnable defence which he had found in God. So there is in this
name the same devout, reflective laying-hold upon experience which
we have observed in the preceding.

There is also the same individualising grasp of God as his very own;
for 'Israel' here is, of course, to be taken not as the name of the
nation but as his own name, and the intention of the phrase is
evidently to express what God had been to him personally.

The general idea of this symbol is perhaps firmness, solidity. And
that general idea may be followed out in various details. God is a
rock for a foundation. Build your lives, your thoughts, your
efforts, your hopes there. The house founded on the rock will stand
though wind and rain from above smite it, and floods from beneath
beat on it like battering rams. God is a rock for a fortress. Flee
to Him to hide, and your defence shall be the 'munitions of rocks,'
which shall laugh to scorn all assault, and never be stormed by any
foe. God is a rock for shade and refreshment. Come close to Him from
out of the scorching heat, and you will find coolness and verdure
and moisture in the clefts, when all outside that grateful shadow is
parched and dry.

The word of the dying Jacob was caught up by the great law-giver in
his dying song. 'Ascribe ye greatness to our God. He is the Rock.'
It reappears in the last words of the shepherd king, whose grand
prophetic picture of the true King is heralded by 'The Book of
Israel spake to me.' It is heard once more from the lips of the
greatest of the prophets in his glowing prophecy of the song of the
final days: 'Trust ye in the Lord for ever; for in the Lord Jehovah
is the Rock of Ages,' as well as in his solemn prophecy of the Stone
which God would lay in Zion. We hear it again from the lips that
cannot lie: 'Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which
the builders rejected, the same is become the headstone of the
corner?' And for the last time the venerable metaphor which has
cheered so many ages appears in the words of that Apostle who was
'surnamed Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone': 'To whom
coming as unto a living Stone, yea also as living stones are built
up.' As on some rocky site in Palestine, where a hundred generations
in succession have made their fortresses, one may see stones with
the bevel that tells of early Jewish masonry, and above them Roman
work, and higher still masonry of crusading times, and above it the
building of to-day; so we, each age in our turn, build on this great
rock foundation, dwell safe there for our little lives, and are laid
to peaceful rest in a sepulchre in the rock. On Christ we may build.
In Him we may dwell and rest secure. We may die in Jesus, and be
gathered to our own people, who, having died, live in Him. And
though so many generations have reared their dwellings on that great
rock, there is ample room for us too to build. We have not to
content ourselves with an uncertain foundation among the shifting
rubbish of perished dwellings, but can get down to the firm virgin
rock for ourselves. None that ever builded there have been
confounded. We clasp hands with all who have gone before us. At one
end of the long chain this dim figure of the dying Jacob, amid the
strange vanished life of Egypt, stretches out his withered hands to
God the Stone of Israel; at the other end, we lift up ours to Jesus,
and cry:--

'Rock of Ages! cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.'

The faith is one. One will be the answer and the reward. May it be
yours and mine!


'And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren,
and all that went up with him to bury his father, after
he had buried his father. And when Joseph's brethren
saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will
peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all
the evil which we did unto him. And they sent a messenger
unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he
died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I
pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their
sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee,
forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy
father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And
his brethren also went and fell down before his face;
and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. And Joseph
said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God
meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day,
to save much people alive Now therefore fear ye not: I
will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted
them, and spake kindly unto them. And Joseph dwelt in
Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an
hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw Ephraim's children
of the third generation: the children also of Machir the
son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph's knees. And
Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely
visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land
which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And
Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying,
God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones
from hence. So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten
years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a
coffin in Egypt.'--GENESIS l. 14-26.

Joseph's brothers were right in thinking that he loved Jacob better
than he did them; and they knew only too well that he had reasons
for doing so. But their fear that Jacob's death would be followed by
an outbreak of long-smothered revenge betrayed but too clearly their
own base natures. They thought him like themselves, and they knew
themselves capable of nursing wrath to keep it warm through long
years of apparent kindliness. They had no room in their hearts for
frank, full forgiveness. So they had lived on through numberless
signs of their brother's love and care, and still kept the old
dread, and, probably, not a little of the old envy. How much
happiness they had lost by their slowness to believe in Joseph's

Is there nothing like this in our thoughts of God? Do men not live
for years on His bounty, and all the while cherish suspicions of His
heart? 'Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as
thyself.' It is hard to believe in a love which has no faintest
trace of desire for vengeance for all past slights. It is hard for
hearts conscious of their own slowness to pardon, to realise
undoubtingly God's infinite placability.

The brothers' procedure is marked by unwarrantable lack of trust in
Joseph. Why did they not go to him at once, and appeal to his
brotherly affection? Their roundabout way of going to work by
sending a messenger was an insult to their brother, though it may
have been meant as honour to the viceroy. The craft which was their
father's by nature seems to have been amply transmitted. The story
of Jacob's dying wish looks very apocryphal. If he had been afraid
of Joseph's behaviour when he was gone, he was much more likely to
have spoken to Joseph about it before he went, than to have left the
gun loaded and bid them fire it after his death. Jacob knew his son
better, and trusted him more than his brothers did.

We note, too, the ingenious way of slipping in motives for
forgiving, first in putting the mention of their relationship into
Jacob's mouth, and then claiming to be worshippers of 'thy (not our)
father's God.' They had proved how truly they were both, when they
sold him to the Midianites!

Joseph's tears were a good answer. No doubt they were partly drawn
out by the shock of finding that he had been so misunderstood, but
they were omens of his pardon. So, when they were reported to the
brothers, they came themselves, and fulfilled the old dream by
falling down before him in abjectness. They do not call themselves
his brethren, but his slaves, as if grovelling was the way to win
love or to show it. A little affection would have gone farther than
much submission. If their attitude truly expressed their feelings,
their hearts were as untouched by Joseph's years of magnanimous
kindness as a rock by falling rain. If it was a theatrical display
of feigned subjection, it was still worse. Our Brother, against whom
we have sinned, wants love, not cowering; and if we believe in His
forgiveness, we shall give Him the hearts which He desires, and
after that shall render the unconditional submission which only
trust and love can yield.

Joseph's answer is but the reiteration of his words at his first
making himself known. He soothes unworthy fears, says not a word of
reproach for their misunderstanding of him, waives all pretension to
deal out that retribution which God alone sends, and shows that he
has lost all bitterness in thinking of the past, since he sees in
it, not the working of their malice, but of God's providence, and is
ready to thank, if not them, at any rate Him, for having, by even so
painful a way, made him the instrument of widespread good. A man who
sees God's hand in his past, and thinks lightly of his sorrows and
nobly of the opportunities of service which they have brought him,
will waste no feeling on the men who were God's tools. If we want to
live high above low hatreds and revenges, let us cultivate the habit
of looking behind men to God. So we shall be saved from many
fruitless pangs over irrevocable losses and from many disturbing
feelings about other people.

The sweet little picture of the great minister's last days is very
tenderly touched. Surrounded by his kindred, probably finding in a
younger generation the reverence and affection which the elder had
failed to give, he wears away the calm evening of the life which had
opened so stormily. It 'came in like a lion, it goes out like a
lamb.' The strong domestic instincts so characteristic of the Hebrew
race had full gratification. Honours and power at court and kingdom
probably continued, but these did not make the genial warmth which
cheered the closing years. It was that he saw his children's
children's children, and that they gathered round his knees in
confidence, and received from him his benediction.

But it is in his death that the flame shoots up most brightly at the
last. 'By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing
of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his
bones.' He had been an Egyptian to all appearance all his life from
the day of his captivity, filling his place at court, marrying an
Egyptian woman, and bearing an Egyptian name, but his dying words
show how he had been a stranger in the midst of it all. As truly as
his fathers who dwelt in tents, he too felt that he here had no
continuing city. He lived by faith in God's promises, and therefore
his heart was in the unseen future far more than in the present.

He died with the ancestral assurance on his lips. Jacob, dying, had
said to him, 'Behold, I die; but God shall be with you, and bring
you again unto the land of your fathers' (Gen. xlviii. 21). Joseph
hands on the hope to his descendants. It is a grand instance of
indomitable confidence in God's word, not nonplussed, bewildered, or
weakened, though the man who cherishes it dies without seeing even a
beginning of fulfilment. Such a faith bridges the gulf of death as a
very small matter. In the strength of it we may drop our unfinished
tasks, and, needful as we may seem to wider or narrower circles, may
be sure that God and His word live, though we die. No man is
necessary. Israel was safe in Egypt, and sure to come out of it,
though Joseph's powerful protection was withdrawn.

His career may teach another lesson; namely, that true faith does
not detach us from strenuous interest and toil in the present.
Though the great hope burned in his heart, he did all his work as
prime minister all the better because of it. It should always be so.
Life here is not worth living if there is not another. The distance
dignifies the foreground. The highest importance and nobleness of
the life that now is, lie in its being preparation or apprenticeship
for the greater future. The Egyptian vizier, with Canaan written on
his heart, and Egypt administered by his hands, is a type of what
every Christian should be.

Possibly Joseph's 'commandment concerning his bones may have been
somewhat influenced by the Egyptian belief which underlies their
practice of embalming the body. He, too, may have thought that, in
some mysterious way, he would share in the possession of the land in
which his bones were to be laid. Or he may simply have been yielding
to natural sentiment. It is noteworthy that Jacob desired to be laid
beside his ancestors, and Joseph to be kept in Egypt for a time.
Both had the same assurance as to future possession of Canaan, but
it led to different wishes as to burial. Perhaps Joseph felt that
his position in Egypt required that his embalmed body should for a
while remain there. Perhaps he wished to leave with his people a
silent witness of his own hope, and a preacher, eloquent in its
dumbness, of the duty of their keeping alive that hope, whatever
might come upon them.

'In a coffin in Egypt'--so the book ends. It might seem that that
mummy-case proclaimed rather the futility of the hope of restoration
to the land, and, as centuries rolled away, and the bondage became
heavier, no doubt many a wondering and doubting look was turned to
it. But there it lay, perhaps neglected, for more than three hundred
years, the visible embodiment of a hope which smiled at death and
counted centuries as nothing. At last the day came which vindicated
the long-deferred confidence; and, as the fugitives in their haste
shouldered the heavy sarcophagus, and set out with it for the Land
of Promise, surely some thrill of trust would pass through their
ranks, and in some hearts would sound the exhortation, 'If the
vision tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not

We have not a dead Joseph to bid us wait with patience and never
lose our firm grip of God's promises, but we have a living Jesus.
Our march to the land of rest is headed, not by the bones of a
departed leader, but by the Forerunner, 'who is for us entered'
whither He will bring all who trust in Him. Therefore we should
live, as Joseph lived, with desires and trust reaching out beyond
things seen to the land assured to us by God's promise, doing our
day's task all the more vigorously because we do not belong to the
order of things in the midst of which we live; and then, when we lie
down at the end of our life's work, we shall not be saddened by
disappointed hopes, nor reluctantly close our eyes on good to come,
when we shall not be there to share it, but be sure that we shall
'see the good of Thy chosen,' and 'rejoice in the gladness of Thy


'Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying,
God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones
from hence.'--GENESIS l. 25.

This is the one act of Joseph's life which the author of the Epistle
to the Hebrews selects as the sign that he too lived by faith. 'By
faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the
children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.'

It was at once a proof of how entirely he believed God's promise,
and of how earnestly he longed for its fulfilment. It was a sign too
of how little he felt himself at home in Egypt, though to outward
appearance he had become completely one of its people. The ancestral
spirit was in him true and strong though he was 'separate from his
brethren.' He bore an Egyptian name, a swelling title, he married an
Egyptian woman, he had an Egyptian priest for father-in-law, but he
was an Israelite in heart; and in the midst of official cares and a
surfeit of honours, his desires turned away from them all towards
the land promised by God to his fathers.

And when he lay dying, he could not bear to think that his bones
should moulder in the country where his life had been spent. 'I know
that this is not our land after all; swear to me that when the
promise that has tarried so long comes at last, you will take me,
all that is left of me, and carry it up, and lay it in some corner
of the blessed soil, that I too may somehow share in the inheritance
of His people. God shall surely visit you. Carry my bones up hence.'

Perhaps there is in this wish a trace of something besides faith in
God's promises. Of course, there is a natural sentiment which no
clearness of knowledge of a future state wholly dispels. We all feel
as if somehow our bodies remain a part of ourselves even after
death, and we have wishes where they shall lie. But perhaps Joseph
had a more definite belief on the matter than that. What theory of
another life does an Egyptian mummy express? Why all that sedulous
care to preserve the poor relics? Was it not a consequence of the
belief that somehow or other there could be no life without a body,
and that in some mysterious way the preservation of that contributed
to the continuance of this? And so Joseph, who was himself going to
be embalmed and put into a mummy-case, may have caught something of
the tone of thought prevalent around him, and have believed that to
carry his bones to the land of promise was, in some obscure manner,
to carry _him_ thither. Be that as it may, whether the wish
came from a mistake about the relation of flesh and spirit, or only
from the natural desire which we too possess, that our graves may
not be among strangers, but beside our father's and our mother's--that
is not the main thing in this fact. The main thing is that this
dying man believed God's promise, and claimed his share in it.

And on this the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever he
was, fastens. Neglecting the differences in knowledge between Joseph
and the Christians whom he addresses, and pointing back to the
strong confidence in God and longing for participation in the
promises which brightened the glazing eye and gave _him_ 'hope
in his death,' he declares that the principle of action which guided
this man in the dim twilight of early revelation, is that same faith
which ought to guide us who live in the full light of the unsetting

Taking, then, this incident, with the New Testament commentary upon
it, it leads us to a truth which we often lose sight of, but which
is indispensable if we would understand the relations of the earlier
and later days.

1. _Faith is always the same, though knowledge varies._--There
is a vast difference between a man's creed and a man's faith. The
one may vary, does vary within very wide limits; the other remains
the same. The things believed have been growing from the beginning--the
attitude of mind and will by which they have been grasped has
been the same from the beginning, and will be the same to the end.
And not only so, but it will be substantially the same in heaven as
it is on earth. For there is but one bond which unites men to God;
and that emotion of loving trust is one and the same in the dim
twilight of the world's morning, and amid the blaze of the noonday
of heaven. The contents of faith, that on which it relies, the
treasure it grasps, changes; the essence of faith, the act of
reliance, the grasp which holds the treasure, does not change.

It is difficult to decide how much Joseph's gospel contained. From
our point of view it was very imperfect. The spiritual life was
nourished in him and in the rest of 'the world's grey fathers' on
what looks to us but like seven basketsful of fragments. They had
promises, indeed, in which we, looking at them with the light of
fulfilment blazing upon them, can see the broad outlines of the
latest revelation, and can trace the future flower all folded
together and pale in the swelling bud. But we shall err greatly if
we suppose, as we are apt to do, that those promises were to them
anything like what they are to us. It requires a very vigorous
exercise of very rare gifts to throw ourselves back to their
position, and to gain any vivid and approximately accurate notion of
the theology of these ancient lovers of God.

This, at any rate, we may, perhaps, say: they had a sure and clear
knowledge of the living God, who had talked with them as with a
friend; they knew His inspiring, guiding presence; they knew the
forgiveness of sins; they knew, though they very dimly understood,
the promise, 'In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be
blessed.' How far they looked across the gulf of death and beheld
anything--even cloudland--on the other side, is a question very hard
to answer, and about which confident dogmatism, either affirmative

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