Hebrew Life and Times
by Harold B. Hunting
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Transcriber's Notes: Italicized text surrounded by text Bolded text surrounded by text A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.






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A DARIC, OR PIECE OF MONEY COINED BY DARIUS, One of the Earliest Specimens of Coined Money 10




































Most histories have been histories of kings and emperors. The daily life of the common people—their joys and sorrows, their hopes, achievements, and ideals—has been buried in oblivion. The historical narratives of the Bible are, indeed, to a great extent an exception to this rule. They tell us much about the everyday life of peasants and slaves. The Bible's chief heroes were not kings nor nobles. Its supreme Hero was a peasant workingman. But we have not always studied the Bible from this point of view. In this course we shall try to reconstruct for ourselves the story of the Hebrew people as an account of Hebrew shepherds, farmers, and such like: what oppressions they endured; how they were delivered; and above all what ideals of righteousness and truth and mercy they cherished, and how they came to think and feel about God. It makes little difference to us what particular idler at any particular time sat in the palace at Jerusalem sending forth tax-collectors to raise funds for his luxuries. It is of very great interest and concern to us if there were daughters like Ruth in the barley fields of Bethlehem, if shepherds tended their flocks in that same country who were so fine in heart and simple in faith that to them or their children visions of angels might appear telling of a Saviour of the world. On such as these, in this study, let us as far as possible fix our attention.



Ancient Arabia is the home of that branch of the white race known as the Semitic. Here on the fertile fringes of well-watered land surrounding the great central desert lived the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Canaanites who, before the Hebrews, inhabited Palestine. So little intermixing of races has there been that the Arabs of to-day, like those of the time of Abraham, are Semites.

The Hebrew people are an offshoot of this same Semitic group. They began their career as a tribe of shepherds on the border of the north Arabian desert. The Arab shepherds of to-day, still living in tents and wandering to and fro on the fringes of the settled territory of Palestine, or to the south and west of Bagdad, represent almost perfectly what the wandering Hebrew shepherds used to be.

The Arabs of to-day are armed with rifles, whereas Abraham's warriors cut down their enemies with bronze swords. Otherwise, in customs, superstitions, and even to some extent in language, the modern desert Arabs may stand for the ancient Hebrews in their earliest period. They were nomads with no settled homes. Every rainy season they led out their flocks into the valleys where the fresh green of the new grass was crowding back the desert brown. All through the spring and early summer they went from spring to spring, and from pasture to pasture seeking the greenest and tenderest grass. Then as the dry season came on and the barren waste came creeping back they also worked their way back toward the more settled farm lands, until autumn found them selling their wool to the nearby farmers and townspeople in exchange for wheat and barley and some of the other necessaries of life.


Sheep-raising might seem at times a peaceful and even a somewhat monotonous business. The flocks found their own food, grazing in the pastures. Morning and night they had to be watered, the water being drawn from the well and poured into watering troughs. Once or twice a day also the ewes and shegoats had to be milked. When these chores were done it was only necessary to stand guard over the flock and protect them from robbers or wild animals. This, however, had to be done by night as well as by day. On these wide pastures there were no sheepfolds into which the animals could be securely herded as on the settled farms. They slept on the ground, under the open sky, and the shepherds, like those in Bethlehem, in the story of Jesus' birth, had to keep "watch over their flocks by night." So long as no enemies appeared there was in such an occupation plenty of time in which to think and dream of God and man and love and duty. Very often, however, the dreamer's reveries were interrupted, and at such times there was no lack of excitement.

Wild beasts.—There were more beasts of prey in Arabia in those days than there are to-day. In addition to wolves and bears, there were many lions, which are not now found anywhere in the world except in Africa. So the sheepmen had to go well armed, with clubs, swords, and spears. We would want a high-powered rifle if we were in danger of facing a lion. The Hebrews defended their flocks against these powerful and vicious beasts with only the simplest weapons. Such fights were anything but monotonous.

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Among the most interesting events in the lives of the shepherds were their trips to town, when they sold some of their wool and bought grain, and linen cloth, and trinkets for the babies, and the things they could not find nor make on the grassy plains. The raw wool was packed in bags and slung over the backs of donkeys. On other donkeys rode two or more of the men of the tribe. Sometimes, perhaps, a small boy was taken along on the donkey's back behind his father to see the sights. And for him the sights must have been rather wonderful—the great thick walls of the town, the massive gates, the houses, row on row, and the people, more of them in one street than in the whole tribe to which he belonged!

The market.—They took their wool, of course, to the open square where all the merchants sold their goods. Soon buyers appeared who wanted wool. It was a long process then, as now, to strike a bargain in an Oriental town. It is very impolite to seem to be in a hurry. You must each ask after one another's health, and the health of your respective fathers, and all your ancestors. By and by, you cautiously come around to the subject of wool. How much do you want for your wool? At first you don't name a price. You aren't even sure that you want to sell it. Finally you mention a sum about five times as large as you expect to get. The buyer in turn offers to pay about a fifth of what it is worth. After a time you come down a bit on your price. The buyer comes up a bit on his. After an hour or two, or perhaps a half a day, you compromise and the wool is sold.

Weighing out the silver or gold.—In those early days there was no coined money. Silver and gold were used as money, only they had to be weighed every time a trade was put through; just as though we were to sell so many pounds of flour for so many ounces of silver. The weights used were very crude; usually they were merely rough stones from the field with the weight mark scratched on them. The scale generally used was as follows:

60 shekels = 1 mana. 60 manas = 1 talent.

The shekel was equal to about an ounce, in our modern avoirdupois system. There was no accurate standard weight anywhere. Honest dealers tried to have weights which corresponded to custom. But it was easy to cheat by having two sets of weights, one for buying and one for selling. So when our shepherds came to town, they had to watch the merchant who bought from them lest he put too heavy a talent weight in the balance with their wool, and too light a shekel-weight in the smaller balance with the silver.


The most precious and uncertain thing in the shepherd's life was water. If in the rainy season the rains were heavy, and the wells and brooks did not dry up too soon in the summer, they had plenty of goat's milk for food, and could bring plenty of wool to market in the fall. But if the rains were scant their flocks perished, and actual famine and death stared them in the face. In the dry years many were the tribes that were almost totally wiped out by famine and the diseases that sweep away hungry men. The next year, on the site of their last camp, strangers would find the bones of men and women and little children, whitening by the side of the trail. No wonder they looked upon wells and springs as sacred. Surely, they thought, a god must be the giver of those life-giving waters that bubble up so mysteriously from the crevices in the rock.

War with other tribes.—In addition to their constant struggle to make a living from a somewhat barren land, these shepherds were almost constantly in danger from human enemies. A small, weak tribe, grazing its flocks around a good well, was always in danger lest a stronger tribe swoop down upon them to kill and plunder. There were many robber clans who did little else besides preying on their neighbors and passing caravans of traders. Nowhere was there any security. The desert and its borders was a world of bitter hatreds and long-standing feuds. Certain rival tribes fought each other at every opportunity for centuries with a warfare that hesitated at no cruelty or treachery.


Such a life of eager longings, fierce passions, and dark despair is a fertile soil for religion. And these early Hebrew shepherds were intensely religious. It is true that in the earliest days the fierceness and cruelty of their wars were reflected in the character of the gods in whom they believed. They thought of them as doing many cruel and selfish things. Yet a people who believe very deeply and seriously in their religion, even in an imperfect religion, are sure to be a force in the world. Hence it is not surprising that three of the world's greatest religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism, arose at different times among the wandering shepherds of Arabia.


It would be well to keep a notebook in which to write the result of your study.

1. Look up in any Bible dictionary, under "Weights and Measures," the approximate size of an "ephah," which was the common Hebrew unit of dry measure, and "hin," which was their common unit for measuring liquids.

2. From the facts given in this chapter, calculate in pounds avoirdupois, the approximate weight of a talent.

3. To what extent does the Old Testament reflect the experiences of shepherd life? Look up "shepherd" in any concordance.

4. What are some valuable lessons which great spiritual teachers among the Hebrews learned from their shepherd life? Read Psalm 23.



Most persons, no matter what their race or country, spend a large proportion of their time at home. The home is the center of many interests and activities, and it reflects quite accurately the state of civilization of a people. In this chapter let us take a look into the homes of the shepherd Hebrews. We shall visit one of their encampments; perhaps we shall be reminded of a camp of the gypsies.


Here on a gentle hillside sloping up from a tiny brook, is a cluster of ten or a dozen black tents. Further down the valley sheep are grazing. Two or three mongrel dogs rush out to bark at us as we approach, until a harsh voice calls them back. A dark man with bare brown arms comes out to meet us, wearing a coarse woolen cloak with short sleeves. Half-naked children peer out from the tent flaps.

The inside of the tents.—Our friend is eager to show us hospitality and invites us to enter his tent. It is a low, squatting affair, and we have to stoop low to enter the opening in the front. We note that the tent-cloth is a woolen fabric not like our canvas of to-day. It is stretched across a center-pole, with supports on the front and back, while the edges are pinned to the ground much as our tents are. There are curtains within the tent partitioning off one part for the men, and another for the women and children. There are mats on the ground to sit on and to sleep on at night.


Like the housewives of all ages, the Hebrew women have food to prepare, and meals to get. Their one great food is milk, not cows' milk, but the milk of goats. A modern traveler tells of meeting an Arab who in a time of scarcity had lived on milk alone for more than a year.

A meager diet.—Besides fresh milk there were then as now a number of things which were made from milk. The Hebrews on the desert took some milk and cream and poured it into a bag made of skin, and hung it by a stout cord from a pole. One of the women, or a boy, pounded this bag until the butter came out. This was their way of churning. Cheese also was a favorite article of diet. The milk was curdled by means of the sour or bitter juices of certain plants, and the curds were then salted and dried in the sun. Curdled milk even more than sweet milk was also used as a drink. It probably tasted like the kumyss, or zoolak, which we can buy in our drug stores or soda fountains.

We would get very tired of milk and milk products if we had nothing else to eat all the year round; and so did these shepherds. They were eager to get hold of wheat and barley, whenever they could buy them. The women took the wheat and pounded it with a wooden mallet or a stone in a hollow in some larger stone. The coarse meal which they made in this way they mixed with salt and water and baked on hot stones before the campfire. Once in a great while it was possible, in this shepherd life, to have a feast with mutton or kid or lamb. But milk and wool were so valuable that the shepherds were very cautious about killing their flocks. It was, you see, a very simple and healthful diet on which these tent-people lived. But one meal was pretty much like another. Dinner was like breakfast, and tomorrow's meals would be just like to-day's. It is not strange that they often longed for a change, and looked with envy at the crops of the farmers in the settled lands beyond the desert.

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Another occupation at which the women worked all day long was the making of clothing for their families. Most of their garments were made of the wool from their own flocks. First the wool had to be spun into yarn. They did not even have spinning wheels in those days, so a spinner took a handful of wool on the end of a stick called a distaff, which she held in her left hand. With her right hand she hooked into the wool a spindle. This was a round, pointed piece of wood about ten inches long with a hook at the pointed end, and with a small piece of stone fastened to the other to give momentum in the spinning. With deft fingers the spinner kept this spindle whirling and at the same time kept working the wool down into the thread of yarn which she was making. As the thread lengthened she wound it around the spindle, until the wool on the distaff was all gone and she had a great ball of yarn.

Weaving.—The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were experts in the art of weaving. They had large looms similar to ours, and wove on them beautiful fabrics of linen and wool. The shepherds on the plains no doubt bought these fabrics when they could afford them. But they could not carry these heavy looms around with them from one camp to another, and much of the time their own women had to weave whatever cloth they had. The primitive loom they used was made by driving two sticks into the ground, and stretching a row of threads between them, and then tediously weaving the cross threads in and out, a thread at a time, until a yard or so of cloth was finished. Slow work this was, and many a long day passed before enough cloth could be woven to make a coat for a man or even a boy.

They managed, however, to get along without nearly so much clothing as we think necessary. The little children, through warm days of summer, played around the tents almost naked. And the grown people dressed very simply. There were only two garments for either men or women. They wore a long shirt reaching to the knees. This was made by doubling over a strip of cloth, sewing the sides, and cutting out holes for arms and neck. The outer garment was a sort of coat, open in front, and gathered about the waist with leather belt. This outer garment was often thrown aside when the wearer was working. It was worn in cold weather, however, and was often the poor man's only blanket at night. Women's garments were probably a little longer than those of men, but in other respects the same. As for the feet, they mostly went barefoot. But on long journeys over rough ground they wore sandals of wood or roughly shaped shoes of sheepskin. On the head for a protection against sun and wind they, like the modern Arab, probably wore a sort of large scarf gathered around the neck.

Making the garments.—All these garments were cut and sewed by the women. They had no sewing machines to work with, not even fine steel needles like ours. They used large, coarse needles made of bronze or, very often, of splinters of bone sharpened at one end, with a hole drilled through the other. With such rough tools, and all this work to be done, we can be sure that the wives and daughters of Hebrew shepherds did not lack for something to do.


Among ancient Hebrews family life, from the very beginning, was often sweet, kindly, and beautiful. This is shown by the many stories in the early books of the Old Testament which reflect disapproval of unbrotherly conduct, or, which hold up kindness and loyalty in family life as a beautiful and praiseworthy thing. Take the story of Joseph. It begins indeed with an unpleasant picture of an unhappy and unloving family of shepherd brothers. We read of a father's partiality toward the petted favorite, of a spoiled and conceited boy, of the bitter jealousy of the other brothers, and finally of a crime in which they showed no mercy when they sold their hated rival to a caravan of traders to be taken away, it might be, forever. But the story goes on to tell how that same lad, years later, grown to manhood and risen to a position of extraordinary power and influence in the great kingdom of Egypt, not only saved from death by starvation his family, including those same brothers who had wronged him, but even effected a complete reconciliation with them and nobly forgave them.

Now, the most notable facts in connection with this story are those "between the lines." It is not merely that such and such events are said to have happened, but that for generations, perhaps centuries, Hebrew fathers and mothers kept the story of these events alive, telling it over and over again to their children. On numberless days, no doubt, in this shepherd life there were bickering and angry words among the children by the spring or at meal time, or in their games. The older brothers were tyrannical toward the younger, or one or another cherished black and unforgiving looks toward a brother or sister who he thought had done him a wrong. And many a time after such a day the old father would gather all the family together in the evening around the camp fire in front of the tent and would begin to tell the story of Joseph. And as the tale went on, with its thrilling episodes, and its touches of pathos leading up at last to the whole-souled generosity and the sweet human tenderness of Joseph, many a little heart softened, and in the darkness many a little brown hand sought a brother's hand in loving reconciliation.

The tribe as a larger family.—To some extent the desert shepherds of all ages have carried this family spirit into the relations between members of the tribe as a whole. Since they had to stand together for protection, quarrels between tribesmen were discouraged. Moreover, they were not separated into classes by difference of wealth. There were some who had larger flocks than others, but for the most part all members of the tribe were equal. Even from among the slaves who were captured now and then in war there were some who rose to positions of honor. There were no kings nor princes; the chief of the tribe held his position by virtue of his long experience and practical wisdom. The distinction between close blood relationship and the brotherhood of membership in the same tribe was not sharply drawn; all were brothers. This is true to-day of all these desert tribes.

Only a tribe, however, with an unusual capacity for brotherly affection and for making social life sweet and harmonious could have produced a Joseph or the story of Joseph, or would have preserved that story in oral form through the centuries until it could be written down. It is worth while looking into the later history of such a tribe, and seeing what happened to them and how they thought and acted, and what they contributed to the life of the world.


1. Get some cotton at a drug store, and see if you can spin some cotton thread, with a homemade spindle, such as is described in this chapter.

2. Who had the harder work among the Hebrew shepherds, the women or the men?

3. Find other stories in Genesis besides the story of Joseph which show how the Hebrews felt in regard to the relations between brothers.

4. Compare the home life in America with the home life of the Hebrews. Are American brothers and sisters growing more quarrelsome or more kindly and loving toward one another?

5. In what way do the oral traditions of a people throw light on the ideals and relationships they most valued?

6. Compare the dietary available to Americans with that of the ancient Hebrews.



According to one of the Hebrew traditions recorded in the book of Genesis, the earliest home of their ancestors was Ur of the Chaldees. This was one of the leading cities of ancient Babylonia. It was situated southwest of the Euphrates River, near the plains which were the nation's chief grazing grounds. And it is possible that of the shepherds who brought their sheep to market in Ur some were, indeed, among the ancestors of the Hebrews.


Babylonia is one of the two lands (Egypt being the other) where human civilization began. This rich alluvial plain, lying between the lower Tigris and the lower Euphrates Rivers, became the home of a gifted race which at least in its later history through intermarriage was in part Semitic and thus related to the Hebrews. Several thousand years before Christ the people of this land began to till the soil, to control the floods in the rivers by means of irrigating canals, to make bricks out of the abundant clay and with them to build houses and cities. They also invented a system of writing upon clay tablets. These were baked in the sun after the letters were inscribed. Commercial records and written laws and histories were thus made possible and in time a varied literature was created. Whole libraries of these baked clay tablets have been unearthed and deciphered by modern investigators.

Evidences of ancient culture.—By B.C. 4000 there flourished on the plains of Babylonia a splendid civilization in many ways similar to ours to-day. The people raised enormous crops of grain and exported it by ship and caravan to distant lands. They had developed to a high point the arts of the weaver, the dyer, the potter, the metal worker, and the carpenter. They had devised a system of geometry for the measuring of their wheat fields and city streets. Through astronomy they had worked out the calendar of days, weeks, months, and years which with modifications we still use. They had erected magnificent temples to their gods. From translations of the inscriptions on their clay tablets we can gain a clear knowledge of their life and customs. Here, for example, is a translation of part of a letter from a son to a father asking for more money: "My father, you said, 'When I shall go to Dur-Ammi-Zaduga, I will send you a sheep and five minas of silver.' But you have not sent. Let my father send and let not my heart be vexed.... To the gods Shamash and Marduk I pray for my father." If we forget the outlandish-sounding names, how natural this seems! How like our boys was this boy who wrote the queer-looking characters on this bit of clay which we may hold in our hand!


With all their gifts and achievements there were certain great evils in Babylonian life. For one thing they were inclined to be greedy and covetous. They lived on a soil almost incredibly rich, and they were constantly increasing their wealth by trade. Babylonian merchants or their agents were to be found in almost every city and town of western Asia and perhaps even as far east as China. Of the vast mass of their written records which have been collected in our museums, the majority are business documents and records of contracts. Many of them tell the story of hard bargains. Professor Maspero declares that these records "reveal to us a people greedy of gain, exacting, and almost exclusively absorbed by material concerns."

Slavery.—Moreover, the wealth of the nation was not fairly distributed but was more and more in the hands of the favored few, the great nobles, and their friends. The fields were not tilled by independent farmers. There were, instead, a few great estates which were rented out to tenants. The actual work, both on the fields and in the towns, was more and more performed by slaves. Some of these were captives who had been taken in war. Others were native Babylonians who had been sold into slavery for debt. So it had come about that Babylonian society had set like plaster into a hard mold with the king and the wealthy nobles on top and the poor peasants and slaves below. This state of things was fastened all the more firmly on the people by strong kings such as Hammurabi, who lived about B.C. 2000 and who unified the country under a powerful central government with his own city, Babylon, as the capital.


About the time of Hammurabi's reign, if we follow the account related in the book of Genesis, there lived among the nomads on the plains west of the city of Ur a man named Abraham. If Hammurabi ever heard of him, which is improbable, he looked down upon him as of no account. Yet Abraham wielded a greater influence for the future welfare of humanity than all the princes of Babylon. For, discontented with Babylonian life, he was the earliest pioneer in a movement toward a civilization of a different and better type. And the sons of Hammurabi have yet to reckon with Abraham and his ambitions.

Discontent among the shepherds.—Many of Abraham's people, no doubt, were discontented in Babylonia. A shepherd's life is monotonous and hard. When they went to market they saw comforts and luxuries on every hand. Yet the money they received from the wool merchants of Ur gave no promise of larger opportunities in life for any shepherd boy. So, at length when Abraham said to them, "Come, let us leave this country," they were ready to answer, "Lead on, and we will follow!" So it came to pass that Abraham's clan set out northwest, toward Haran, in what is now called Mesopotamia, and finally after some years of migration found themselves camping on the hillsides of Canaan, southeast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ideals represented in Abraham.—But it is not as a leader of fortune hunters that Abraham is pictured in the Bible. No doubt he and his clansmen hoped to better their condition. But Abraham was a dreamer and a man of deep religious faith. He believed that he was being guided by his God. And he believed that in accordance with God's plan his descendants in the land to which they had come would become a great nation. Best of all, it seems probable that he dreamed of a nation different from Babylonia. Certainly he is described as a different kind of a man from the typical Babylonian. In some respects, to be sure, judging by our Christian standards, he had serious shortcomings. He did not scruple to deceive a foreigner, nor to treat harshly a slave. His ideas as to the character of God were far below those revealed by Christ. Yet he had the Hebrew gift for home and family life. He was a good father to his son. And he put a higher value on personal friendship and kindly family relations than on property interests. When his herdsmen quarreled with those of his nephew, Lot, he said to the latter with dignified generosity and common sense, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee ... for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left." Just what Abraham looked forward to, we, of course, do not know. Probably his ideas were vague. Yet it seems that such men as he must have dreamed of a nation great in faith as well as in material wealth; a nation in which money would not be considered more important than justice and kindness; in which home life might be sweet and loving, free from the fear of want or the blighting influence of greed; and in which the door of opportunity would always be kept open even for the humblest.

At any rate, some centuries after the time when Abraham is supposed to have lived, we find a group of shepherd tribes living in and around Canaan, who believed themselves to be descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, Abraham's grandson, and among whom there was the tradition of a divinely guided pilgrimage from Babylonia to Canaan under Abraham's leadership just as we have described. It is a great thing to have memories of noble parents and traditions of heroic ancestors. These the Hebrews had from the very beginning.


1. Look up in any good Bible dictionary, the articles on Babylonia and Hammurabi.

2. Read Genesis 12, 15, and 24 and form your own opinion of Abraham as a husband and father.

3. What was Abraham's most valuable contribution to history?

4. From any map of western Asia, draw a sketch map showing the Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris Rivers, the Mediterranean Sea, and the general direction of Abraham's pilgrimage.

5. Where in the Bible is found the sentence spoken by Abraham to Lot, and quoted in this chapter?



Although they had escaped for a time from Babylonian tyranny, the descendants of Abraham in Canaan found themselves somewhat within the range of the influence of the other great civilized power of that day, that is, Egypt. Egyptian officers collected tribute from rich Canaanite cities. The roads that led to Egypt were thronged with caravans going to and fro. By and by, a series of dry seasons drove several of the Hebrew tribes down these highways to Egypt in the search of food. The story of Joseph tells how they settled there.[1] They were hospitably received by the king (or Pharaoh, which was the Egyptian word for "king"), and were allowed to pasture their flocks on the plains called the land of Goshen in the extreme northeast of the country west of what we now call the Isthmus of Suez. For some decades or more they lived here, following their old occupation—sheep-raising.

Egyptian civilization.—Egypt was in many ways like Babylonia. In Egypt too a great civilization had sprung up many millenniums before Christ. In some ways it was an even greater civilization than that of Babylonia. Egyptian sculptors and architects erected stone temples whose grandeur has never been surpassed. Many of them are still standing and are among the world's treasures. It would seem that there was somewhat more of love of beauty and somewhat less of greed for money among the Egyptians than among the Babylonians.


There came to the throne of Egypt about B.C. 1200 a man of extraordinary vanity and selfish ambition known as Rameses II. He wished to build more temples in Egypt than any other king had ever built, so that wherever the traveler might turn people would point to this or that great building and say Rameses II built that. To put up these buildings he enslaved his people, compelling them to labor without pay. To raise the funds for building materials he made war on his neighbors, especially the Hittites in western Asia north of Canaan. Again and again Hebrew children would see the dust of marching armies over the roads past their pastures and men would say, "Rameses is going to war again." And by and by, weeks or months later, the soldiers would return with tales of bloody battles and sometimes laden with spoils.

Enslavement of the Hebrews.—Now, wars usually breed more wars. Rameses having attacked the Hittites was afraid they would attack him. Egypt was indeed very well protected from attack. There was only one gateway into the country, and that was by way of the narrow Isthmus of Suez. And there were a wall and a row of fortresses across the isthmus. But who were those shepherd tribes living just west of the isthmus inside the gateway? They are Hebrews, Rameses was told. They are immigrants from Canaan. "Look out for them," said Rameses. "If they came from Canaan, they may favor the Hittites and help them to get past my fortresses into Egypt. Let them be put at work so that they will have no time for plots."

Rameses was planning just then to build two large granary cities near the northeastern border to be a base of supplies for his armies on their campaigns into Asia. One was to be called Pithom.[2]

So one day armed men came to the Hebrew tents and the order was given to send such and such a number of men to work in the brick-molds of Pa-Tum. And they had to go. The women and the children had to care for the sheep while most of their men trod the clay and straw in the brick molds at Pa-Tum and carried heavy loads of brick on their shoulders to the masons on the walls. Of course the sheep suffered for lack of care. The children also pined from neglect. Life for the Hebrews became a grinding treadmill of hardship and weariness and drudgery.


During this time of oppression a Hebrew baby boy was by chance adopted by one of the princesses in Pharaoh's court and brought up by his own mother as his nurse. He was given an Egyptian name with the common Egyptian ending Mesu or M-ses, as in Rameses. The boy was given all the educational advantages that the Egyptian palace could offer. But all the time in secret from his mother he was learning the story of his own people and their wrongs, and was being trained to hate their oppressors. One day after he had grown to manhood he went down to the city of Pa-Tum to see the work on the new granaries which were being built. Here he saw one of his own people being flogged by an Egyptian overseer. In a fury he leaped to the man's defense and killed the Egyptian. Of course Rameses heard of it, and Moses had to flee from Egypt into the desert. In the desert he found a shepherd clan related to the Hebrews and lived there for some years brooding over the hard plight of his people.

Moses' call and the struggle for freedom.—One day in the desert, Moses heard from a passing caravan that old Rameses II was dead. Like a flame that burned but did not consume the thought came to him: "Now is your chance! The king and his officers will not know about you. Go back to Egypt and lead your kinsmen out to freedom. This is God's call and God will help you."

So back to Egypt he went. First, he undertook to rally his own people, promising the help of their God, Jehovah. It was a dangerous undertaking that he proposed. The kings of Egypt were accustomed to make short work of those who resisted their authority. Moreover, these Hebrews had been slaves for years, and their spirits might have been cowed and broken. Yet they believed in Moses and his assurances and accepted him as their leader.

Soon thereafter Moses and his brother Aaron went boldly to the palace of the Pharaoh and declared to him that Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, had commanded that the Hebrews be allowed to hold a religious festival in the desert to offer sacrifices unto him as their God. The plan no doubt was that the people should escape once they were outside the boundaries of Egypt; Moses evidently considered any method justifiable in the effort to outwit the oppressor. But the Pharaoh answered, "Who is Jehovah that I should hearken to his voice to let Israel go?" The request was sharply refused. It is surprising that Moses himself was not arrested and imprisoned on the spot. Perhaps he still had friends in the Egyptian court. Or perhaps the Egyptians had a certain reverence for him as a messenger from a god, even though they did not grant his demands.

Bricks without straw.—At first it seemed that Moses had failed. For instead of the longed-for freedom, the toiling Hebrews found that a still heavier burden of work was laid upon them. In the manufacture of sun-dried brick it is necessary to mix straw with the clay in the molds, the fibers giving a tougher quality to the product. Previously the straw for this purpose had been furnished by the Egyptians. But now the order was, "Go yourselves, get straw where you can find it." So they had to go and hunt through the surrounding fields for old refuse straw, in rotting ricks and compost heaps. Yet the same number of bricks was required as before, with a whipping in case of failure.

The granaries in Pa-Tum and Rameses were excavated many years ago from beneath the sands of Egypt, and their ruined walls may still be seen by tourists. It is noticeable that the upper tiers in the walls are made of bricks of a very poor quality as compared to those in the lower tiers. Evidently, the Hebrews got through the work somehow each day, putting very little straw in the clay, or sometimes none at all.

But they wished they had never heard of Moses, and they reproached him for "making them hateful in the eyes of Pharaoh." In the first round of the fight Moses and freedom had lost; Pharaoh and slavery had won. But the end was not yet.


1. Look up in any good Bible dictionary, the article on Egypt; or read the summary of Egyptian history in some recent general history.

2. Draw a map of Egypt, locating approximately the place where the Hebrews worked.

3. In what special ways was Moses well trained to be an emancipator for his people?

4. Are there workers to-day who are in any form of slavery which may be compared to that of the Hebrews in Egypt?

5. Are there any Pharaohs to-day? Any Moseses?


[1] See Chapter I, and Genesis 46 and 47.

[2] Exodus I. 1-11, or Pa-Tum in Egyptian; the other Rameses, after the king himself. It was decided to compel the Hebrews to do the work of brickmaking for these new cities.



Egypt has never been a health resort. The intensely hot summers breed germs of disease, and also the insects which often carry them. Throughout its history the country has been ravaged periodically by fearful epidemics. A series of these pestilences predicted by Moses and declared to be Jehovah's punishment for the enslavement of the Israelites, made it possible for him to lead his people out of slavery. So severe were the plagues that the government was for a time disorganized. Taking advantage of their opportunity, the Hebrews suddenly gathered up their possessions and set out toward the desert, driving their sheep and goats before them. In spite of the large figures given in some passages of Exodus, other statements indicate that they were not very numerous, a few thousand at most, and they doubtless hoped to slip out past the border fortresses, at night, unnoticed. As they approached the border, however, news came that they were being pursued by a troop of horsemen. This meant, of course, that a watch would be made for them at the fortresses also. They were caught in a trap, and turned in despair upon Moses, who could only once more assure them that Jehovah was leading them, and would somehow open the way.


That night they encamped on the western shore of one of the shallow bays or lakes at the head of the Red Sea. To the east was the water. North of the lake the wall and the line of fortresses began. Behind them they could already see where their pursuers were camping for the night. In the morning—terror, death, and return to slavery!

A path through the sea.—During the night, however, someone came in from the shore of the lake with the astonishing news that it was going dry. A strong east wind was blowing, with an effect often observed by modern travelers, namely, that the comparatively shallow waters were being driven back into the deeper part of the sea. Instantly the word of command was given. With the women and children first and the flocks next, they picked their way through the mud and sand and rocks on the lake bottom, clear across to the other side. The next morning the wind changed, the waters returned, and many of their pursuers were drowned.

The feelings of the Hebrews are expressed in the words of the triumph song in which through all later centuries they celebrated this deliverance:

"I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. * * * * * * * * * Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea; And his chosen captains are sunk in the Red Sea."


It was indeed a notable deliverance, and the Hebrews never forgot it. It affected their ideals and their religion. Immediately after escaping from Egypt they set out across the desert for Mount Sinai, which was considered the home of their God Jehovah, there to offer up sacrifices of gratitude. Moreover, from that time on, every year they brought to mind the story of the great deliverance through a sacrificial feast called the Passover. Under Moses' leadership at Sinai they entered into a covenant with Jehovah. They were to be Jehovah's people forever, and they probably agreed to worship him only, as their national God.

Monotheism.—At this time few had come to perceive the truth of monotheism, namely, that there is but one God in the universe, and that all the so-called gods and goddesses are mere superstitions. The Hebrews, at this time, did not doubt the real existence of other gods than Jehovah, such as Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and Marduk and Shamash, gods of Babylon. But after the deliverance from Egypt they felt themselves bound to Jehovah by special ties of gratitude, and more and more came to consider the worship of any other god, by a Hebrew as base disloyalty. So the Exodus, and the experiences at Sinai, pointed the way, at least, toward monotheism.

Justice.—Of great importance also was the influence of these experiences on their ideas of right and wrong, and their conception of the character of Jehovah. Because they as a nation had been enslaved they were the better able to sympathize with the oppressed and down-trodden. "Remember," their prophets could always say, "that ye were slaves in the land of Egypt." And when, in after years, they were unjust in their dealings with foreigners living among them, they were reminded that "Ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."

These ideals were reflected in their conception of their God. Many of their notions about him were crude and unworthy, even late in their history. This was natural and inevitable in the light of the times in which they lived. But in these Egyptian and desert experiences we see a notable beginning of nobler religious ideals. From this time on they were impelled to think of Jehovah, first of all as the God who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, and who had taken their part, humble shepherds as they were, against the mighty Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. To that extent, at least, their God was a God of justice and mercy. Other ideas, which were inconsistent with this, continued for a time, but gradually fell away, until at length great seers arose who proclaimed that God is nothing else than justice and mercy; righteousness is the essence of his character, and that is all he asks of men.

"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne."


According to all the Hebrew records, the covenant at Sinai was embodied in a divinely given Decalogue, or a set of ten short commands, which could be counted off on the ten fingers. Two Decalogues are given in Exodus, as coming from Moses at Sinai. One is in Exodus 34. 17-28. The other is the well-known Decalogue in Exodus 20. The former has to do largely with sacrifices and ritual observances. The latter, with its stern demands for right conduct toward one's fellow men, and for the worship of Jehovah rather than idols, expresses well the new moral and religious impulses which came to the Hebrews under the leadership of their first great deliverer.

In its original form the Decalogue probably read something as follows:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven (or molten) image. Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Honor thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet.


1. Read in Hastings or any other modern Bible dictionary, the article on "Exodus." Note the testimony of modern travelers on the effect of high winds on the upper part of the Red Sea.

2. Where was Mount Sinai? Look up in Bible dictionary.

3. Draw a map, showing the probable route of the Hebrews after leaving Egypt.

4. What part of the Ten Commandments seems most to reflect the influence of the great deliverance from Egypt? Read Deuteronomy 5. 12-15.

5. Test your memory for the Ten Commandments in their brief form as given in this chapter.

6. The records of the events of this chapter are found in Exodus, chapters 6-12, 14, and 15. Read as much of this as your time will permit.



Once safely out of Egypt, the next problem for Moses and his people was to find a way into Canaan. Through all the centuries the wandering shepherds on the edge of the desert have looked with longing eyes on the fertile valleys and plains of Palestine. To have a settled, comfortable home, with cisterns of water as well as springs and wells; to have fields of wheat, vineyards of grapes, and gardens of melons and all luscious fruits—this is the picture that haunts the wandering Arab, amid the hardships and monotony of his desert life.


During the twelfth and eleventh centuries before Christ there was an unusually good opportunity for nomads to settle in Palestine. Before and after that time there were strong empires in control of the land protecting it from invasion. The Greeks and Romans long afterward built a line of fortified towns east of the Jordan on the border of the desert, whose ruins may be seen to-day. In similar ways the Babylonians and the Egyptians had occupied and defended the country. But just about the time when the Hebrews escaped from Egypt, and for a century and more afterward, both the Egyptian and Babylonian governments were weak. And as the various petty kings of Canaan itself were usually at war with each other, there was no strong government anywhere whose soldiers newcomers would have to face.

The first invasion from the south.—Very soon after leaving the mountain of Sinai the Hebrew tribes found themselves on the southern edge of Canaan, in what was afterward known as the South Country, south of Judah. Scouts were sent up as far as the town of Hebron, which was afterward for a time the capital of Judah, to investigate and report on conditions there. They returned with a glowing account of the fertility of the soil. It is even stated in the Hebrew traditions that they brought back as a sample of the crops, one bunch of grapes so large that it had to be carried on a pole between two men.

But with the exception of one of their leaders, a certain Caleb, all the men reported that the cities were strongly fortified and the inhabitants so warlike that an invasion was out of the question. The people adopted this "majority report" in spite of the protests of Moses. It is probable that the life in Egypt, with something of ease and luxury for a time, and then so many years of slavery, had sapped their courage and will power. At any rate, after a brief encounter with some of the tribesmen nearby, they fled in panic into the desert again.


There followed, for a generation and more, a period of training somewhat like that which Boy Scouts receive, or should receive, on their "hikes" and camping trips. They learned to be independent and resourceful. It was at times very difficult to find food for themselves, or pasture for their sheep, and there was nothing to eat but the "manna," which they believed their God provided for them, and which was perhaps in the nature of an edible moss or lichen. At times there was a terrible scarcity of water. Always there was the danger of losing their way on those trackless wastes, and in this matter also they learned to look to their God as their pillar of cloud by day and their pillar of fire by night, guiding them from oasis to oasis in their search for food and pasturage. Then there were wild beasts and poisonous serpents and, worst of all, hostile tribes with whom more than once they had to fight for their lives.

Gaining a foothold east of the Jordan.—All these years of wandering were spent mostly in the desert south of Canaan. Later they worked their way around the lower end of the Dead Sea to the east toward what was later known as the land of Gilead, on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

This region is very fertile and was always noted in Bible times for its fat cattle. But its rolling plains lie open and defenseless toward the desert. Here under Moses' leadership the Hebrews were able to conquer one or two of the petty local chieftains, and thus gained a foothold from which they might some time make a sally across the River Jordan into central Canaan itself.

The death of Moses.—In this eastern country Moses died. According to the Hebrew story, Jehovah gave him a view of the land of Canaan from one of the high mountains overlooking the Jordan River, after which death came. And "no man knoweth of his sepulcher to this day." He had been loyal to the divine call which had come to him so long ago in a flame which "burned and did not consume," loyal to the mother who had taught him amid the luxuries of an Egyptian palace not to forget his own people and their sorrows. He had led his people out of Egypt and its slavery in defiance of the proud and mighty Pharaoh. And he had taught them to turn to Jehovah as God of justice and to worship only him.


It was not long after the settlement east of the Jordan that the Hebrews began to make raids across the river, in part under the leadership of one of Moses' lieutenants, Joshua. The first town they captured was Jericho, down in the hot valley of the Jordan River, a few miles north of the Dead Sea. They had friends within the city, a woman named Rahab and her family. Since this was the first city captured it was considered to be sacred to Jehovah. The pity of it is that, in accordance with the standards of that day, this meant the ruthless slaughter of every living thing within its walls, including men, women, and little children.

New conquests.—In these early raids some tribes, led by the men of Judah, went southwest and captured a few towns in the mountains west of the Dead Sea. Others, led by the strong tribe of Ephraim, went northwest. Throughout their later history, these were always the two leading tribes, Judah in the south, and Ephraim in the north. After the victories of the fighting men, the women and children and flocks would follow.

We can imagine these rough warriors, with their untrained boys and girls, swarming into the houses of these little towns and villages. Most of them had never been inside a house before; and they would be eager to look at the furniture and to know the uses of the many strange things: for example, the jar of lye for cleaning, the perfumes on the stand, the earthen vessels for water and milk, the lamps, the baskets made of twigs, the pots for boiling broth, the oven for baking, in the door yard, and the wine press on the hillside where the grapes were trodden at the time of grape harvest.

The right and wrong of conquest.—One may ask, what right had the Hebrews to attack and kill these people and seize their homes? Ideal Christian standards develop slowly. In these days of which we speak such standards had hardly been thought of. All weak nations were at the mercy of their stronger neighbors, and no one ever questioned the morality of it. It is good to know, moreover, that conquest, after all, was not the chief method by which the Hebrews made themselves masters of Canaan. After they had established themselves, here and there, in certain towns, and certain sections of the country, they gradually made friends with their Canaanite neighbors whom they had not been able to conquer at the beginning. In time their children intermarried with the children of the Canaanites until at last there came to be one nation, which was known as the Hebrews, or the Children of Israel.


1. Read any one of the following sections: Numbers 11. 13-14, 20, 21; Deuteronomy 34; Joshua 1. 6.

2. Draw a map showing in a general way the movements of the Hebrews described in this chapter.

3. Look up in the Bible dictionary, "Manna," "Spies," "Kadesh," "Jericho."

4. Compare the conquest of Canaan with the treatment of the American Indians by white settlers.

5. How should the natives of Africa be treated in the opening up of Africa to civilization?



The wandering Hebrew shepherds were not savages nor barbarians. In many ways Abraham and his friends were cultured, civilized people; but their civilization was of a different kind from that of the settled farmers and villagers of Canaan. So when the Hebrews crossed the Jordan and gradually fought their way to the highland fields and villages where they were able to settle down and live as farmers and vineyard keepers instead of shepherds, they soon found that they had much to learn. The only teachers to whom they could turn were the Canaanites. Very soon, therefore, they made friends with their Canaanite neighbors.

"Tell us how to plant wheat," the Hebrews said to them, for example; or, "Will you please show us how to prune these grape vines?" or, "Won't you give us a few lessons in driving oxen? We can't make these young steers pull."


This lesson about the training and care of cattle was one of the first and most necessary parts of their new education. As shepherds they knew all about sheep and goats; and this knowledge was still valuable, for on many a Canaanite hillside goats could thrive where no other animal could live. But as farmers they must also raise cattle, not only because of the milk, and the beef, but because they needed the oxen to draw their carts and plows and harrows. Oxen and asses, not horses, were the work animals of the farmers of those days. Oxen were more powerful than asses. Horses were seldom seen at all. They were used chiefly in war by the great military emperors of Egypt and Assyria.

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Driving an ox team.—So we can imagine the young Canaanites of those days watching a Hebrew farmer taking his first lesson with a team of oxen. There was a wooden yoke to lay on their necks; there was the two-wheeled farm cart with its long tongue to be fastened to the yoke. There was the goad, a long pole with a sharp point, to stick into the animals' flanks if they should balk. And probably there were many useful tricks to be learned; for example, words like our "Gee" and "Haw" and "Whoa," to shout at the animals when it was necessary to turn to the left or the right or to stop altogether.

Plowing was one of the most difficult of the tasks to be done with oxen. The furrows had to be run straight and true. And the plows were clumsy affairs—not like our shining steel plows to-day—just a long pole with a short diagonal crosspiece, sharpened at the lower end, or tipped with a small bronze share.


The Hebrews raised the same crops as the earlier Canaanites. The leading ones were wheat, barley, olives, grapes, and figs. The two grain crops were, of course, the most necessary to life. They were planted in the early spring, and harvested in the summer. The grain was sown broadcast, by hand, just as Jesus describes in his great parable of the sower.

Ancient agriculture.—Harvesting and threshing were done almost entirely by hand. The grain was cut with sickles. Some of the old sickles have recently been found by investigators, buried deep in the mounds where ruined Canaanite cities lie hidden. Some of these sickles are of metal, and others are made of the jawbones of oxen or asses, with sharp flints driven into the tooth sockets. After the grain was cut it was tied in bundles and carried to the threshing floor, which was usually a wide, level space of hard ground or rock. Oxen were driven back and forth across the grain on the floor, drawing a heavy weight, until all or nearly all the kernels were shaken or crushed out of the heads. It usually took several days to thresh all the grain from an average-sized field. Then the straw was raked away, and the grain was left mixed with chaff and dust. The next windy day the winnowers, with large "fans," or wooden shovels, came and tossed the mingled chaff and dust and grain in the wind. The kernels of wheat fell back and the chaff and dust were blown away. Last of all, the good clean grain was gathered in baskets and bags, and hauled to the farmer's house, or to the granary, which was a round brick building standing beside or behind his house.


Another new experience of the Hebrews in Canaan was the culture of grapevines. The vineyards were often on hillsides, especially those facing the south, and hence warmed by the early spring sunshine. The soil on these hillsides had to be terraced so that the rain would not wash it away. The vines had to be planted, trained on trellises, and pruned. At the time of the grape harvest many of the grapes, especially of the sweeter varieties, were set aside for raisins. They were spread out on sheets in the hot sunshine until they were dry and wrinkled. Then they were packed away in jars, where they settled into delicious cakes. Figs were dried and packed in the same way.

The manufacture of wine.—Many of the grapes were used for wine. The juice of these was trodden out in wine-presses. These were large hollows several feet square, cut in the solid rock on the hillside. There were always two of them, one lower than the other, with connecting passages. The bunches of grapes were piled in great heaps in the higher of the two, and then it was great fun for the boys and girls and youths and maidens to jump barefooted and barelegged among the purple clusters, and trample them until the foaming red juice ran down into the lower of the stone chambers, where it was taken up with gourd dippers and poured into skins. The youngsters would come home with their legs and shirts all stained and spotted red.

Olive orchards.—Almost every Canaanite farm had a few olive trees or a small olive orchard. The olives were prized for the oil which was squeezed from them. This oil was used as we use butter, with bread and in cooking. It was also burned in lamps. In fact, it was their chief fuel for lighting purposes.

The olive press was a large stone with a hollow in the top. From the bottom of the hollow, a hole was drilled through to the outside of the stone. Across the hollow swung a wooden beam, one end riveted to a tree or another stone, and the other end carrying weights. The ripe olives were shaken from the trees, and basket full after basket full poured into the hollow stone. Then the weighted beam would be laid across the top, with flat stones under it, fitting down into the hollow over the olives. The oil, trickling out below, was strained and stored in jars.


Most of these different kinds of crops called for an immense amount of hard work and drudgery. Think of the weariness of the reapers, swinging their sickles in the wheat or barley all day long under the hot Syrian sun. Think of the winnowers, tossing the grain into the wind. Think of the aching backs of the plower and the sower. Of course there were happy hours, also. It was great fun to ride home behind the oxen, on a cart packed full and pressed down with golden sheaves. The time of treading out the grapes was a festival of laughter, love-making, and song. And in the rainy season, after a year of plentiful harvests, when the granaries and cellars were well stored, there must have been many happy days of quiet rest and play in Hebrew homes.

But most of all, what cheered them on was the hope of better days to come, when their children at least, or their children's children, would not have to toil quite so hard or so long each day, and when the danger of famine and starvation would not loom up quite so grimly as in the old days in the desert when one summer of drought might mean death for all. Here in Canaan, they thought, we will surely be happy by and by.


1. Explain the following Scripture passages, in the light of the customs described in this chapter: Isaiah 63. 2; Deuteronomy 25. 4; Matthew 3. 12.

2. Psalm 23. 1 draws a great lesson about God from the experiences of shepherd life. What lesson about God is drawn from farm life in Isaiah 5. 1-7?

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The farmers of ancient Canaan all lived in villages. No farmer would have dreamed of building an isolated house for his family on his own field out of sight of his nearest neighbor as our American farmers do. The danger from robbers would have been too great. Instead of that, the Hebrew farmer lived in the nearest village or town. Early in the morning he went out to his field, and in the evening returned to his home inside the protecting village walls.

These ancient villages would have seemed to us most unattractive places. The houses were crowded close together. The streets were only narrow crooked lanes between the houses. In the rear room of each house were the stalls of the family ox and ass. The brays of the ass were the alarm clock in the early morning. There was no drainage. Garbage was thrown into the street. There were smells of all varieties. One is not surprised by the frequent stories of pestilences in the Old-Testament history.

Compensations of village life.—It seems strange that people who were accustomed to life in the open desert should have ever brought themselves to settle down in these dirty, ill-smelling places. Surely, at first they must often have been homesick for the clean, pure air of the plains. On the other hand, probably most of them were willing to put up with the disagreeable odors and the dirty streets for the sake of being near other people. The desert was lonesome. In the village there was always something going on, something to hear and see, gossip of weddings and courtships and quarrels. Even to-day we find it hard to persuade those who are accustomed to the city to live in the country. Even though their city home may be a dark tenement in the slums, yet they enjoy being in a crowd of their fellow men. The country seems lonesome.


This village and town life, like the work on the farm, was a new school for the Hebrew shepherds, and set many an interesting problem for them to solve. They had to learn to build and repair houses. They were most often built of rough stones set in mud. The mud, when dry, became fairly hard, but not like mortar or cement. It was always easy for a thief "to dig through and steal," as Jesus so graphically described. Even though no thief came the dried mud was always crumbling, leaving holes between the stones through which snakes or lizards could crawl. In such a house, if a man should lean against the wall, it might easily happen that a serpent would bite him, as the prophet Amos suggests.[3]

Primitive Homes.—The floor of the average poor man's house was simply the hard ground. The flat roof was made of poles thatched with straw or brushwood and covered over with mud or clay. There was seldom more than one room. Often there were no windows; even in the palaces of kings there were in those days no windows of glass. In one corner of the room there was a fireplace where the family cooking was done. There was no chimney, however, and the smoke had to go out through the open door. The door itself was generally fastened to a post, the lower end of which turned in a hollow socket in a heavy stone. When the family went away from home the door was locked with a huge wooden key, which was carried, not in the pocket, like our keys, but over the shoulder. Such keys had this advantage, at any rate, over ours. You could not very well lose them and you did not need a key ring.

Houses of the well-to-do.—Rich men's houses were, of course, more substantially and comfortably built. Real mortar made of lime was used in the walls. There were several rooms, including perhaps a cool "summer house" on the roof, making a kind of second story. One climbed up to these upper rooms by a ladder on the outside. The roof was solidly built and surrounded by a railing, so that on a hot summer evening the family could sit there and enjoy the cool evening breeze. There were windows also, covered with wooden lattice work, which let in light and air.

No doubt every Hebrew father hoped that some day he or his children might live in such a house. Some of them learned the builder's trade and were able to lay stones in mortar and to use saws and axes and nails and other tools for woodwork. Yet when David built his palace, he had to send to Tyre for skilled masons. Evidently in his day the Hebrews had not progressed very far in the manual training department of their new school.


Many trades, which with us are carried on in separate shops, were a part of the household work among the ancient Hebrews: for example, spinning and weaving and the making of baskets, of shoes, girdles, and other articles of skin or leather. We will study some of these household activities in another chapter. Other trades, however, even in the early days, were carried on by special artisans who worked at nothing else.

Trained artisans.—Metal workers, for example, formed a special trade. Among the excavations of ancient Canaanite cities have been found the ruins of a blacksmith shop. When the Hebrews entered Canaan no one had as yet learned the art of working in iron and steel by means of a forge with a forced draft. All tools and metal implements, such as plowshares, knives, axes, saws, and so on, were made of bronze, which consists of copper mixed and hardened with tin. The blacksmith melted the metals in a very simple and rough furnace of clay heated by charcoal. The bronze itself, although harder than copper, could be worked into the desired shape by hammering and filing, without the use of heat. We who are used to our sharp, finely tempered tools of steel would certainly have found these clumsy bronze affairs most unsatisfactory.

The pottery shop.—Another very ancient trade is that of the potter. This worker did not need much of a shop; only an oven in which to fire his products, a pile of clay, and a wheel. This consisted of a frame, in which turned an upright rod on which were two flat wooden wheels, one small at about the height of the worker's hands as he sat in front of it, and the other larger, to be turned by the feet. A heap of clay was placed on the upper wheel, which was then turned by the revolving rod, the potter's feet all the time kicking on the larger wheel below. The whirling mass was shaped by the fingers, according to the plan in the worker's mind.

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How quickly a modern boy would have contrived a different arrangement, with a belt and foot-tread like the one on our mother's sewing machine! But for those days the ancient wheel was ingenious. Many different kinds of Hebrew pottery are found in the excavations: large jars, small cups, lamps of all sizes and shapes and even babies' rattles.

How Hebrew boys learned a trade.—The youngsters from the desert had never seen any of these interesting crafts, except perhaps now and then when their fathers had brought them with the wool to market. But now, on a rainy day when there was no work to be done in the field or at home, the boys would go down the street to the blacksmith shop, or to the shed where the old Canaanite potter worked his clay. One of the older boys would say, "Let me see if I can make something," and if the old man was good-natured he would let him try and perhaps would teach him some of the tricks of the trade. By and by the boy would hire out as a potter's helper and in a year or two would set up a little pottery of his own.

So there came to be Hebrew as well as Canaanite potters and blacksmiths. They were proud of their skill in these arts, and as a nation they never were foolish enough to look down on them or to despise those who practiced them. All work was looked on as honorable. The apostle Paul was a tent-maker. Jesus was a carpenter. And in this respect for honest and useful work we may see another reason why the people of Israel have played so remarkable a part in the life of humanity.


1. Explain the following Scripture passage in the light of the customs described in this chapter. Isaiah 22. 22; Deuteronomy 22. 8.

2. In earlier chapters we have seen how the Hebrew leaders drew lessons about God from shepherd life (Psalm 23), and from farm life (Isaiah 5. 1-7). What lesson did a great prophet learn in regard to God from the experiences of an artisan? (Jeremiah 18. 1-6.)

3. Why was it necessary to build a tower in a Canaanite vineyard, as suggested in Isaiah 5. 2 and Mark 12. 1?


[3] Amos 5. 19.



Let us suppose that we have been invited to spend a day or two as guests in the home of one of these Hebrew families who have just settled in Canaan and begun to learn the new arts and customs of the land. It is one of the poorer homes. We have slept through the night on our mat spread on the dirt floor of the house, with our cloak over us to keep us warm. Before daylight we are awakened by the older people moving about in the dim light of the burning wick in the saucer of oil. Soon everyone is awake. The mats are rolled up and piled in a corner. In the early dawn one of the older girls takes a jar on her shoulder and goes for water to the spring, which is outside the village half way up the hill.

If we are expecting to be called to breakfast, we shall be disappointed. There is no regular morning meal, although everyone helps himself to a bite or two of bread from the bread basket in the corner of the room. By and by father and the older boys take the ox and the ass from the shed just back of the one-roomed house (we are lucky if the animals were not kept all night in the house itself) and start for the field. And the women also have their day's work before them in the house. First of all, there is a bag of wheat to be ground into flour.


In the desert the wheat or barley, when they had it, was merely pounded between two rough stones such as could be picked up anywhere. The flour, or meal, which was made in this way was not very good. Here in Canaan, each house had a rude stone hand-mill for grinding grain. It consists of a large lower stone with a saddle-shaped hollow on the upper side. The upper stone is somewhat like a large, very heavy rolling pin. The grain is poured into the hollow and the upper stone is rolled back and forth over it while the flour gradually sifts out over the sides on to the cloth which is spread on the ground underneath the mill. It is a monotonous task, and very often two people work it together, one feeding in the grain and the other turning the millstone. This is pleasanter, as each worker is "company" for the other. Perhaps our hostess will let us roll the millstone for her while she feeds in the grain and sweeps up the flour from the cloth on the ground.

Baking bread.—After the wheat is ground into flour there is bread to be baked. On the plains they do not use much yeast-bread, for this requires an oven for baking and one cannot carry heavy ovens from camp to camp. But in Canaan each family has its oven. It is made of baked clay and looks like a section of tiling standing on end, about two feet high, the clay being about an inch and a half thick. There is a cover of the same material. Sometimes the fire is made on the inside and the loaves of dough plastered on the outside. More often the loaves are placed on a baking tray, let down on the inside of the oven, and the fire built all around and over it outside.

All sorts of fuel are used. Wood is the best, of course, but in that land wood has always been scarce. In the times of the Hebrews, as to-day, dried manure, straw, and all sorts of refuse were used. Jesus speaks of the grass of the field, "which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven."

Baking day.—To-day, while we are visiting, our Hebrew hostess is kneading some dough. She "set it" last night, pouring in some liquid yeast. By and by it is ready for baking. A tray of small loaves about the size of biscuits is placed in the oven, and a great pile of dried grass placed around the sides and over the cover. By and by the fire is lighted from some coals on the hearth; and in a few moments the house is filled with smoke. We all go out on the street until the oven is heated and the smoke has escaped.


Another household utensil which Hebrew women learned to use in Canaan was the heavy loom. This consisted of a low horizontal frame, with a device for separating the odd and even threads of the "warp" while a shuttle was drawn through them, carrying the yarn for the "web," or the cross threads. With this kind of a loom it was possible to weave much more rapidly than when one had to insert each thread, plaiting it over and under, by hand. There is, no doubt, one of these looms in the house where we are visiting.

Making linen out of flax.—In the desert almost all garments were made of wool, especially in the case of the poorer tribes, who could not afford to buy linen. In those days the use of cotton was probably unknown. Now everyone knows how it feels to wear a flannel shirt on a hot summer day. And one of the things which drew the Hebrew shepherds to Canaan was the hope of raising a little flax on each farm, and spinning it into cool, soft linen garments for the hot summers. So it may be that a part of the work in the house we are visiting to-day is to soak some of the stalks of flax in water, or to beat out from them the long fibers, or to spin and weave some of these fibers into cloth.


Of course the main business of each day in the household then, as now, is to get dinner ready. There is a light lunch about noon for the women and children. To-day perhaps we have some bread and milk. But as the sun begins to sink in the west we know that before long the men folks will come home hungry. We must have dinner ready for them when they come. If it has been a good year, even poor families in Canaan can have a fairly good meal. There is no meat, unless perhaps a lamb or a kid has been killed, especially for us as guests. But there is the curdled milk, and bread with olive oil and other things which shepherd folk never have. Here's a steaming kettle of beans or lentils. How good they smell! And here are some bunches of raisins and figs, just as sweet and luscious as those which we buy in the fruit stores in America. The figs in our stores may have come from that very country of which we are studying.

Serving the meal.—Soon the father and the boys come home. The ox and the ass are fed in the stall behind the house. The mother spreads a cloth on the ground and on it places a small stand about eight inches high, which is their only dining-room table. The pot of beans is placed on this stand, and the bread and other good things on the cloth around it. We all sit down on the ground and begin to eat.

Fingers were made before forks. For the beans, however, we need a spoon, and here are some shells from the beach that serve admirably for that purpose; and we all dip into the same dish on the little stand. By and by, when all is gone but the liquid, we sop that up with pieces of bread. When every crumb is picked up and eaten, we all lift our eyes to heaven, and the father repeats a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Dinner is over. The sun has set. It is growing dark, and soon it will be time to go to bed.


1. Explain the following Scripture passages in the light of this chapter:

Judges 16. 13; Deuteronomy 24. 6; Matthew 24. 41.

2. Read Proverbs 31. 10-31 for another picture of daily life in an ancient Hebrew home. What is said in this chapter about the making of beautiful as well as necessary things, and about the doing of kindly deeds?



On the whole, Canaan was a good school for the Hebrew shepherds. New arts to learn, new crops to raise, new kinds of cloth to spin and weave, new kinds of food to cook—all this helped to make life more interesting and worth while. But there were other lessons which newcomers might learn which were not so wholesome.

Wine drinking, for example, was a habit which the wisest of the Hebrews always feared. The wine which they made in those foaming wine-presses was, of course, mild and harmless as compared with the distilled liquors of modern times. But even Canaanitish wine could deaden men's consciences and make them more like beasts than men. "Wine is a mocker," said one of the sages who wrote the book of Proverbs, "strong drink is raging, and he that is deceived thereby is not wise."


Canaanite religion was to a large extent an unwholesome influence. The Canaanites worshiped many gods. Each village had its Baal, or lord, who had to be bribed with burnt offerings of fat beasts, or (as they thought) the soil would lose its fertility and the crops would fail.

Dangerous examples.—These sacrificial rites were carried on in the shrines or "high places," one of which stood outside almost every village and town. They often were accompanied by dances and other performances which were licentious and degrading. The Hebrews, of course, were pledged to worship only Jehovah. Moreover, during these first centuries in Canaan they were very poor, and had little time for the carousals which went on at the "high places" in the name of religion. Corruption usually comes with wealth and luxury. Poverty and hardship are often useful safeguards. But from the beginning these heathen rites were a temptation and a snare in the lives of the Hebrews.


There are certain questions which awaken the curiosity of everyone. How did this wonderful world come into existence? How is it that you and I happen to be here? How did things in general come to be as they are? Some of these difficult questions are to-day being partly answered by careful students of science. In ancient times there was little or no science, yet in every country there were certain answers to these questions handed down from generation to generation and generally accepted as true.

Idolatrous stories of creation.—When the Hebrews entered Canaan they naturally were inclined to accept the ideas of the earlier inhabitants of that country, whose knowledge in regard to many matters was far beyond theirs. The Canaanites in turn had got most of their ideas from the leading civilized nations of that day, the Egyptians, and especially the Babylonians. From these sources had come certain stories about the beginning of things.

Babylonian traders in the inns of Canaan used to tell a story of the creation of the world, and also about a great flood which the gods once sent upon the earth.

How the Hebrews retold these stories.—The best men among the Hebrews knew that these stories were imperfect. Their forty years training in the wilderness had made them wise in the ways of God. This wisdom enabled them to sift the wheat from the chaff. They retold these stories, omitting the error, and retaining the truth. Thus we come to have the wonderful stories of the creation and the flood as we find them in the Bible.

How these stories were handed down.—In the earliest days of the settlement in Canaan very few Hebrews, if any, could read or write. Possibly Moses understood the Egyptian picture-writing, or the wedge-shaped letters of the Babylonian clay tablets. The Hebrew letters, however, in which the books of the Old Testament afterward were written, were invented by the Phoenicians, and the Phoenicians passed on their invention to the old Canaanites.

After the Hebrews came it was not long before ambitious Hebrew boys and girls were staring at the queer marks in the inscriptions which they found here and there, over the gates of Canaanite cities or on the tombs of Canaanite kings. Gradually they learned to spell out syllables, words, and sentences, and then they learned to copy these same letters, so that in time the Hebrews were making inscriptions and books of their own. Among the earliest of these books was one containing the stories of the creation and the flood. They had been handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another, until finally they were gathered into a book. This became a part of the book of Genesis in our Bible.


Another and different kind of temptation which the Hebrews met in Canaan was the tendency to forget their own tribal brothers as they scattered here and there and settled down, each family with its own little farm. There were some, naturally, who were more successful as farmers than others. And those who were unfortunate were not always the lazy or thriftless. Sickness or accident or some pest which attacked the grain or the cattle would sometimes wipe out the entire property of one of those little peasant farmers and leave him and his children face to face with starvation and death. Now, in the old days in the desert, as long as the tribe had a crust of bread or a drop of water, the weakest and poorest could count on a share. But here in Canaan the poor, the widow, the orphan, did not always feel so surely the sheltering arms of kindness and brotherhood.

Humane laws enacted.—Yet the spirit of Moses still lived and made its power felt. Certain laws gradually came to be accepted during this period when the Hebrews were learning to be farmers which were a special protection to the poor and helpless, just as the great leader would have chosen. We can imagine how these laws were first proclaimed by the chiefs of the clans and the elders of the villages wherever there were men who remembered how, years before, the whole nation had been poor and oppressed and enslaved. Here are some examples:

"Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry."

"If thou lend money to any of my people with thee that is poor, thou shalt not be to him as a creditor; neither shall ye lay upon him usury. If thou at all take thy neighbor's garment to pledge, thou shalt restore it unto him before the sun goeth down; for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? And it shall come to pass when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious."

"Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning."

There is one law which illustrates especially well how the best men among the Hebrews tried to meet the new temptations of Canaan in the spirit of kindness and justice which they had learned from Moses.

"When ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of the harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard. Thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger."

It was already the custom among the Canaanites to leave the grain in the corners of the fields uncut, and not to pick up the scattered gleanings, which fell from the arms of the harvesters, and to leave on the ground the fruit that fell of itself from the vines and fruit trees. With the Canaanites this was on account of a superstition; the gleanings and the grain in the corners of the fields were for the Baal, or god of the field. If they were taken he would be angry. The Hebrews kept the old custom, but with a different aim—not to keep the Baal in good humor, but to make life a bit easier for the poor and unfortunate among their own neighbors. It was in accordance with this law that Ruth, although a foreigner, was allowed to glean after the reapers in the barley field of Boaz of Bethlehem, and thus obtained food to keep herself and her mother alive. So among these lowly people were being laid the foundations of that greater and better civilization for which Moses had prepared the way, and of which Abraham had dimly dreamed.


1. What parts of this chapter illustrate the special talent of the Hebrews for discovering good in things partly evil?

2. How could this talent be used in our American life? For example, in the matter of moving picture shows?

3. Read Leviticus 19. This chapter contains laws which were made during the period of the settlement in Canaan. Which of them seem to you to be in the spirit of Moses?



After the Hebrews began to be settled in Canaan, not only were they tempted to neglect the poor and unfortunate; they also failed to stand together against their enemies. Each tribe and clan seemed to care only for its own safety.

The men of Judah in the south, the Ephraimites in central Canaan, and the Naphtalites in the northern hills, and Gilead and Reuben across the Jordan—each group tried to fight its own battles. Often they fought with each other. There was a bloody war between the men of Gilead, and their cousins, the Ephraimites on the opposite side of the Jordan. The Ephraimites crossed the river and attacked the Gileadites, and were badly beaten; when they tried to get back home again, they found the Gileadites holding the fords of the river. Each fugitive was asked, "Are you an Ephraimite?" If he said "No," they would order him to say "Shibboleth" (a Hebrew word). And if he said "Sibboleth" (the Gileadite dialect), and did not pronounce it exactly right, then they would kill him.

This was only one example of the many wars between the tribes. There was no central government to keep the peace. This age in their history is sometimes called the period of the Judges. But these judges did not rule over the whole land. Most of them were only petty champions, each of whom helped his own tribe to defend itself against its enemies.


In this disorganized state they would have been an easy prey to any strong enemy; and before long, an enemy came. In the fertile plain of Esdraelon, which cuts across Palestine just north of the central highland, there was a group of Canaanite towns which the Hebrews had not as yet conquered. These were organized into a kingdom by a warrior named Sisera, who at once began to reconquer those parts of the country which now belonged to the Hebrews. It was a bitter time for the tribes that were settled around the Plain of Esdraelon. Those villages which were perched on the mountain sides held out for a time, but the inhabitants dared not go down into the valleys. They could not take their grain to the market. The valley roads were all deserted except for bands of Sisera's troopers. Each year Sisera grew stronger, and more of the Hebrews submitted to him. In a little while there would have been none left to call themselves Hebrews and to keep up the noble traditions and hopes of Moses and Abraham.

A wise and patriotic woman.—If only the more distant tribes had come to the help of those that bordered on Sisera's kingdom, if only all the Hebrews had stood together, they could easily have defended themselves. But no one seemed to see this, or had faith enough to try to accomplish anything in this way "until Deborah arose." One day there came up through the sheepfolds of the Reubenites this remarkable woman whose name was Deborah. "Come to the help of your brethren across the river," she said, as she told her story. "Come to the help of Jehovah, by helping his people."

At first the Reubenites seemed greatly moved by Deborah's words. Certainly, they would come, whenever Deborah and her friends were ready. So the brave woman was encouraged and went to other tribes, to all of them one after another. But not everywhere was she successful. Many said: "Why should we go up and help your people? Suppose Sisera wins, he will come and punish us. We will stay here where we are safe." Even the Reubenites, whose first resolves had been so brave, changed their minds, and "stayed in their sheepfolds, listening to the pipings of the flocks."

The battle by the Kishon River.—After many weeks of tramping, however, Deborah was able to get a few of the tribes really organized. Ephraim, Benjamin, Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar, and some smaller clans all promised to send troops and did send them. An army was gathered under a captain named Barak. The Canaanites under Sisera came out to fight them, and the battle took place on the flat fields of the Plain of Esdraelon. It looked like a victory for Sisera. He had charioteers as well as foot soldiers—troops of men in heavy war carts, from the axles of which extended sharp blades like scythes.

But Deborah had called to her people in the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah seemed, indeed, to be on their side. We may well believe that it was the spirit of God that put it into the hearts of Deborah and Barak to delay the battle until there should be a rainy day. When the clash finally came there was a heavy downpour. The flat plain became a swamp. The war chariots sank into the mud and were helpless. The Canaanites became panic-stricken and fled in terror. Many of them were drowned in the attempt to cross the Kishon, which is usually a shallow creek, but on that day was a deep and swiftly flowing torrent. Sisera, himself in flight, was killed by a woman in whose tent he tried to take refuge. The battle was won for Jehovah's people. The Hebrews could still be free and independent, and they had learned a valuable lesson—the necessity for cooperation.


1. Read chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Judges.

2. With the help of a map showing the location of the various tribes in Canaan, find the ones which were most in danger from Sisera, whose kingdom was in the Plain of Esdraelon.

3. With the help of the map, explain why it was not easy for Deborah to persuade the Reubenites and the Gileadites to enter this war.

4. What arguments would you have used to persuade them?

5. Could you use the same arguments in favor of the League of Nations and our membership in it, as a nation?



After Sisera was conquered, the Hebrew tribes which had combined against him immediately fell apart, relapsing into the same state of disunion and disorganization as before. And very soon other enemies took advantage of it to plunder and kill.

The Midianites.—Among the most harassing of these enemies for a time were the Midianites, who lived as nomads, roaming over the deserts just as the Hebrews themselves had done except that they made their living chiefly by robbery. Every spring just after the wheat and barley had begun to sprout, covering all the fields with a carpet of the brightest green, bands of these nomads would drive their flocks across the Jordan and turn them loose on the young grain while the men stood guard in armed bands. In the summer and fall after what was left of the grain had been harvested and beaten out on the threshing floors they would come again and steal the threshed grain, taking it away in bags on the backs of camels.

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