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thousand five hundred years after the Patriarchs; and who, in the great leisure that sort of life afforded, and the good humour those delightful countries inspired them with, composed several little pieces of poetry, still extant, of inimitable beauty and simplicity,
THE Patriarchs were not at all nice in their eating or other necessaries of life: one mav. judge of their common food by the pottage of lentiles that Jacob had prepared, which tempted Esau to sell his birthright*. But we bave an instance of a splendid entertainment in that which Abraham made for the three angels t. He set a calf before them, new bread, but baked upon the hearth, butter and milk. It seems they had some sort of made dishes, by that which Rebecca cooked for Isaac: but his great age may excuse this delicacy. This dish was made of two kids I. Abraham dressed a whole calf for the angels, and three measures of meal made into bread, which comes to more than two of our bushels, and nearly to fifty-sir pounds of our weight. Whence we may conclude they were great eaters, used much exercise, and were perhaps of a larger stature as well as longer lives than we. The Greeks seem to think their heroes were bigger mer,
*Gen. xxv. 29. 34. | Gen. xviii. 6.
Gen. xxvii. 9.
and Homer makes them great eaters. When Eumæus* entertained Ulysses, he dressed a hog of five years old for five persons.
Homer's heroes wait upon themselves in the common occasions of life: and we see the Patriarchs do the same. Abraham, who had so many servants, and was near a hundred years old, brings the water himself to wash the feet of his divine guests, bids his wife make the bread quickly, goes himself to choose the meat, and comes again to serve them standingt. I will allow that he was animated upon this occasion with a desire of shewing hospitality: but all the rest of their lives is of a piece with it.
Their servants were to assist them, but not sa as to exempt them from working themselves. In fact, who could have obliged Jacob, when he went into Mesopotamia, to travel a journey of more than two hundred leagues (for it was at least so far from Beersheba to Haran) alone and on foot, with only a staff in his handf? what, I say, could oblige him to it but his own commendable plainness and love of toil? Thus he rests where night overtakes him, and lays a stone under his head instead of a pillow. Thus, though he was so tenderly fond of Joseph, he does not scruple sending him alone from Hebron to seek his brethren at Sichem, which was a long day's journey; and when Joseph does not find them there, he goes on to Dothan, more than a day's journey further $, and all this when he was but sixteen years old. ..
* Odyss. xiv. + Gen. xviii. 4. Gen. xxxii. 10
§ Gen. xxxvii. 15, 17.
. It was this plain and laborious way of life,
no doubt, that made them attain to such a great old age, and die so calmly. Both Abraham and Isaac lived near two hundred years. The other Patriarchs, whose age is come to our knowledge, exceeded a hundred at least, and we do not hear that they were ever sick during so long a life. He gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, full of days, is the manner in which the Scripture describes their death*. The first time we read of physicians is, when it is said, that Joseph commanded his domestic to embalm the body of his fathert. It was in Egypt; and many have ascribed the invention of physic to the Egyptians [..
The moderation of the Patriarchs with regard to wives is no less to be admired, when we consider, ist. they were allowed to have several; and, 2dly, their desire of a numerous posterity. - Abraham, whom God had promised to make the father of an innumerable people, though he had a barren wife, was so far from thinking of taking another, that he had made a resolution of leaving his substance to his head servants. He did not take a second till he was eighty-six years old, and it was his own wife who gave her to himl. We must not say that he was still young with respect to his life, which was a hundred seventy-five years long; because thirteen years after, he and Sarah, who was ten years younger, are called old, and laughed at it as an incredible thing, when God
promised them a son*. As old as Abraham was, and as desirous, as we may suppose him to see the children of Isaac, he did not marry him till he was forty years old +: and though Rebecca had no child for twenty years, and never but two, and those at one birth I, Isaac had no other wife.
It is true, Jacob had two wives at the same time, and as many concubines: but it is fit we should consider the reason of it. He staid till he was seventy-seven with his father, waiting for the important blessing which he had a right to by the resignation of his brother: at that age he thought of marrying, and asked for Rachel, but did not obtain her till he had served seven years . At last then he married at eighty-four. They gave him Leah against his will, and he kept her, that she might not be disgraced. But as he might have more wives than one, or marry two sisters, without the breach of any law then existing, he took her too that he had first engaged to wedll. When she found herself barren, she gave her husband a handmaid to have children by her. This was a sort of adoption practised at that time, and her sister did the same, that the family might be increased. From all which St. Augustin draws this conclusion: IVe do not read that Jacob desired any more than one wife, or made use of more, without strictly observing the rules of conjugal chastity . We must not imagine he had other wives before; for why should the last only be mentioned?
And yet I do not undertake to justify all the patriarchs in this point. The story of Judah and his sons affords but too many examples of the contrary*. I would only shew that we cannot, with justice, accuse those of incontinence whom the Scripture reckons holy. For with regard to the rest of mankind they were from that time very much corrupted. Such then, in general, was the first state of God's people. An entire freedom, without any government but that of a father, who was an absolute monarch in his own family. A life very natural and easy, through a great abundance of necessaries, and an utter contempt of superfluities; through an honest labour, accompanied with care and frugality, without anxiety or ambition. Let us now proceed to the second period: which is, that of the Israelites, from their coming out of Egypt to the Babylonish captivity. It lasted more than nine hundred years, and most of the sacred writings relate to it.