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Miriam and her companions celebrated the triumph with music and dancing,
This is perfectly conformable to what they had learned of the manners and customs of the Egyptians. The sculptures show us triumphal dances of Egyptian females, with timbrels or tambourines in their hands. The instrument was usually played by women, who danced at the same time to its sound, without any other accompaniment. We meet with it frequently in the future history of the Hebrews, and it is observable, that every description of its use in the Bible finds an exact illustration in the Egyptian paintings and sculpture.
The first particular inviting our notice in the Bible history of the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, is that of food. Before, however, we proceed to a consideration of any of the topics suggested by this part of our subject, it may be well to submit the general remark that, taking into view the precise condition of the Hebrews at this time, as a people born in Egypt, familiar only with Egyptian usages and opinions, accustomed to Egyptian conveniences, and differing probably from the natives of Egypt in the single particular of knowing, if not truly worshipping Jehovah, who had just manifested his power in their behalf; we are not to be surprised at discovering, as a natural consequence of these things, not merely that their thoughts often reverted with fond regret to the comforts of their native land; but that as time rolled on, and the purposes of God were gradually developed, and they fully knew that they should see Egypt no more, they should, in all the arrangements of their new position, with reference to laws, devotional habits, domestic usages, dec., assimilate their institutions to those they had left behind them, as far as was consistent with the great governing distinction of recognizing and worshipping the only true God. We must expect, therefore, in this part of our subject, to see much which Egypt illustrates. In fact, it were easy to write on this topic, not merely a chapter, but a book. We will endeavor to select that only most likely to interest the reader, and at the same time afford the testimony we are seeking from Egypt.
Food.—Their first cry was for bread. We know that when the Israelites went out they "took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading-troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders." We are also informed that after entering on their journey, "they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt." When the small quantity of food, which, as we learn from the Bible, they had, was exhausted, they were pressed by hunger, and cried for bread, as they had before done at Marah for water.
The Egyptians perfectly understood the art of baking, and we have already had occasion to remark that the monuments abundantly prove it. The Israelites, of course, had learned it, and had carried with them some, if not all, of the necessary implements for the work. We must not, however, be misled by names. The kueading-troughs here mentioned were not the utensils known to us by that name. They were small wooden bowls, such as the Arabs now use for kneading their bread, and were therefore no heavy burden.
Manna and quails were the food with which they were supplied. Of the first named, much has been written; and those reluctant to find a miracle in any thing have labored to prove that it is a gum that exudes, at this day, from the punctures made by insects in the twigs of the tamarisk plant. This gum, however, which is but in small quantities, by no means answers the description given of the manna; and even if it did, it would not relieve the advocate of exclusive natural causes from his difficulty. For there would still be a great deal that is miraculous left: thus, the gum is yielded but six weeks in the year, but the manna was afforded constantly for forty years: a double supply came every Friday regularly, to compensate for its absence on the next day, the Sabbath. That collected on Friday would remain uncorrupted two days, while that gathered on any other day in the week, if kept to the next day, invariably became offensive, and unfit for use. To this there was made but one exception, and that a remarkable one, in the quantity that was preserved and laid up as a memorial, after the necessity for its use as food had ceased. Again, the gum is found under and about the tree from which it falls, the manna was showered down through the whole encampment of the Hebrews. If, therefore, the product of the tamarisk and the manna of the Israelites were the same article, we are obliged to admit a number of miraculous circumstances quite as strange as any recorded in the story of the Pentateuch. We must acknowledge a miracle, even if natural causes be invoked, or reject the account altogether. There is no other alternative. This manna, unlike the gum of the tamarisk, could be pounded to powder, and baked as bread. That the Israelites knew how to bake will not be doubted.
Indeed, that it was no natural production, and that the Israelites actually knew nothing about it, when they first saw it, is proved by their inquiring what it was, and by the very name bestowed on it. Josephus tells us that man is a particle of interrogation, and the Septuagint so understands it. When the Israelites, therefore, said to one another, "What is it?" (man-hu ?) they unconsciously bestowed on it a name which proved their entire ignorance of its nature.
Quails; Heb. Sclav.—The same bird is still to be seen in the Levant. It is a bird of passage, remarkable for its migratory habits, and flies in such flocks to and from Africa, across the Mediterranean, that more than one hundred thousand have been killed at Naples at one time. The monuments show that the Egyptians were skilful fowlers, and from them the Israelites learned the art of snaring birds. Poultry and feathered game were favorite articles of food in Egypt; and the quail, which was often preserved by salting for future use, was particularly esteemed. An extraordinary wind sending immense flocks of these birds at this time over the camp of the Israelites, furnished them with a species of flesh which they particularly esteemed. The time and the quantity made the supply out of the usual order of natural events. The Golden Calf of the Israelites.—This finds its illustration in Egyptian usages only. The points here to be examined are:
1. Had the Israelites skill to make such an image 1
2. Why make a calf?
3. Why dance and sing around it in their idolatrous worship?
4. How could Moses make the Israelites drink the dust of it?
As to the skill of the Israelites as workmen in metals, there can be no doubt. The Egyptians, among whom they lived, knew perfectly how to work in metals; and some of their beautiful productions may be handled even at the present day. The monuments, were there no other evidence,