We invite you to explore these Bible stories about heroes, both men, and women, who served God selflessly, obediently, courageously, and faithfully.
All the following Bible stories are from the classic book, “Bible Heroes – Stories from the Bible,” written by Mary Lathbury (DeWolfe, Fiske & Company, 1898).
We offer this public domain work for you and are seeking other material as a resource for you and for families.
The introduction of the book, written by Bishop John H. Vincent, is dedicated to Mothers and refers to the Bible as a textbook for life.
He reminds us that these stories are “not a substitute for the Word—only little approaches to it through which young feet may be guided by her who holds a place next to the great Teacher in His work with little children.”
Jesus said of children, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14,KJV.
These characters serve as wonderful examples, for adults and children, of heroes living exemplary lives according to God’s principles- being selfless servants and willing to serve courageously, obediently, and faithfully.
“. . . whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:43-45. KJV.
All the following Bible Stories are by Mary A. Lathbury
ABRAHAM—THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL
“The people who lived four thousand years ago were very much like children who easily forget. They told their children about the great flood, but nearly all forgot to tell them of the good God who is the Father of us all, whom we should always love and obey. Yet there is always one, if not more, who remembers God, and keeps his name alive in the world.
Abram had tried to do right, though there was no Bible in the world then, and no one better than himself to help him but God, and one day He called Abram, and told him to go away from his father’s house into another country.
“A land that I will show thee,” said the Lord, “and I will make of thee a great nation.”
“He also made Abram a wonderful promise,—
“In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
“He meant that sometime the Savior should be born among Abram’s children’s children, and that He should be the Savior of all the nations of the earth.
“Abram did just what God told him to do. He took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his nephew, and some servants, and cows, and sheep, and camels, and asses, and went into the land of Canaan. When they rested at night Abram and Lot set some sticks in the ground, and covered them with skins for a tent, and near by they made an altar, where Abram offered a sacrifice, for that was the only way they could worship God when the earth was young.
“Abram went down into Egypt when there was a lack of food in Canaan, but he came back to Bethel, where he made the altar before, and worshipped God there.
“He was very rich, for his cattle and sheep had grown into great herds and flocks, though he had sold many in Egypt for silver, and gold, and food. Abram and Lot moved often, for their flocks and herds soon ate up the grass. Then they rolled up the tents, and loaded the camels and asses, and went where the grass was thick and fresh.
“They could easily live in tents, for the country was warm. But Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen sometimes quarreled. And so Abram spoke kindly to Lot, and told him to take his servants, and flocks, and herds, and go where the pastures were good, and he would go the other way. So they parted, and Lot went to the low plains of the Jordan, but Abram went to the high plains of Mamre, in Hebron, and there he built another altar to the Lord, who had given him all that country—to him and to his children forever.
“There were warlike people in Canaan, and once when they had carried off Lot from Sodom, Abram took his servants and herdsmen and went out to fight. He had more than three hundred men, and they took Lot away from the enemy, and brought him back to Sodom. It was here that Abram met a wonderful man, who was both a king and a priest. His name was Melchisedek, and he brought Abram bread and wine, and blessed him there.
“After this, God spoke to Abram one evening, and promised that he should have a son, and then while Abram stood outside his tent, with the great sky thick with stars above him, God promised him that his children’s children should grow to be as countless as the stars. That was hard to believe, but Abram believed God always and everywhere.
“Still no child came to Abram and Sarai, and Abram was almost a hundred years old, but God spoke to him again, and told him that he should be the father of many nations.
“He told Abram that a little boy would be born to them, and his name would be Isaac, and God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of many people,” and Sarai’s to Sarah, which means “Princess.”
“Abraham was sitting in his tent one hot day, when three men stood by him. They were strangers, and Abraham asked them to rest beneath the tree, and bathe their feet, while he brought them food. So Sarah made cakes, and a tender calf was cooked, and these with butter, and milk, were set before the men. But they were not men of this world; they were angels, and they had come to tell Abraham and Sarah once more that their little child was sure to come. Then the angels went away, but one of them, who must have been the Lord Himself in an angel’s form, stopped to tell Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because the people who lived there were so very wicked, and Abraham prayed Him to spare them if even ten good men could be found in them, for he remembered that Lot lived in Sodom. But the Lord never forgets. The two angels went to Sodom and stayed with Lot until morning, when they took him and all his family outside the city, and then the Lord said to him, “Escape for thy life—look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain.”
The three strangers
“And the Lord hid them in the little town of Zoar, while a great rain of fire fell upon the wicked cities of the plain, until they became a heap of ashes. Only Lot’s wife looked back to see the burning cities, and she became a pillar of salt.
“The next morning when Abraham looked from Hebron down toward the cities of the plain, a great smoke was rising from them like the smoke of a furnace.
“At last the Lord’s promise to Abraham and Sarah came true. A little son was born to them, and they called him Isaac. They were very happy, for though Abraham was a hundred years old, no child had ever been sent them.
“When he was about a year old they made a great feast for him, and all brought gifts and good wishes, yet the little lad Ishmael, the son of Hagar, Sarah’s servant, mocked at Isaac. Sarah was angry, and told her husband that Hagar and her boy must be sent away. So he sent them out with only a bottle of water and a loaf of bread; for God had told Abraham to do as Sarah wished him to do, and He would take care of little Ishmael, and make him the father of another nation.
“When the water was gone, and the sun grew very hot, poor Hagar laid her child under a bush to die, for she was very lonely and sorrowful. While she hid her eyes and wept, saying,
“Let me not see the death of the child,” she heard a voice out of heaven telling her not to be afraid.”
Hagar in the desert
“Arise, lift up the lad,” said the voice, “for I will make him a great nation.”
“And God opened her eyes to see a well of water near. Then she filled the empty bottle, and gave the boy a drink, and God took good care of them ever after, though they lived in a wilderness.
Ishmael grew up to be an archer, and became the father of the Arabs, who still live in tents as Ishmael did.
But the Lord let a strange trial come to the little lad Isaac, also. His father loved and obeyed God, but there were heathen people around them, who worshipped idols, and sometimes killed their own children as a sacrifice to these idols. Abraham brought the best of his lambs and cattle to offer to the Lord; but one day the Lord told Abraham to take his only son Isaac and offer him upon a mountain called Moriah as a burnt sacrifice to God. Abraham had always obeyed God, and believed his word, and now, though he could not understand, he rose up early in the morning and took his young son, with two servants, and an ass loaded with wood, to the place of which God had told him.
“They were three days on the journey, but at last they came to the high place, where the city of Jerusalem was afterward built, and to the very rock upon which the temple was built long afterward, with its great altar and Holy of Holies.
On Mount Moriah
“Abraham had left the young men at the foot of the mount, and went with Isaac to the great rock on the top of the mount.
“My father,” said Isaac, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
“My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering,” said his father, still obeying God, and believing His word, that Isaac should be the father of many nations.
“Abraham made an altar of stones, and bound Isaac and laid him upon it, but when his hand was lifted to offer up the boy, the Lord called to him from heaven. “Lay not thine hand upon the lad,” said the voice, “for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thine only son from me.”
“Then Abraham turned and saw a ram with its twisted horns caught in the bushes, and he offered it to the Lord instead of his son. How glad and grateful Abraham must have been that morning, when he came down the mountain, with Isaac walking beside him, to think that he had still obeyed God when it was hard to do so.
“Abraham was an old man when Sarah died. They had lived together a long lifetime, and he mourned for her many days. He bought a field close by the oak-shaded plain of Mamre in Hebron, and there in a rocky cave he buried her. He was called a Prince of God by the Canaanites because he lived a true, faithful life.
“A few years after he also went to God, and his body was laid beside Sarah’s in the cave-tomb. Ishmael came up from the south country to mourn with Isaac at the burial of their father, the Friend of God, and Father of the faithful.
Lathbury, Mary A., “Bible Heroes – Stories from the Bible,” Boston, DeWolfe, Friske & Co, 1898
NOAH AND THE GREAT FLOOD
“As the people of the earth grew to be many more and spread over the plains and hills, they also grew very wicked. They forgot God, and all the thoughts of their hearts were evil. Only Noah still worshipped God and tried to do right.
“The people had destroyed themselves, and so God said to Noah:
“The end of all flesh is come; make thee an ark of gopher wood.”
“He told Noah to make it of three stories, with a window in the top, and a door in the side. It was to be a great floating house, more than four hundred feet long and full of rooms, and it was to be covered with tar within and without, so that the water should not creep in.”
“I bring a flood of waters upon the earth,” said the Lord, “and everything that is in the earth shall die.”
“This was to be the house of Noah, with his wife, and his three sons and their wives, during the great flood.
“Does the house seem large for eight people? God had told Noah to make room for a little family of every kind of bird and beast that lived, and to gather food of all kinds for himself and for them.”
The great flood
“So Noah did all that the Lord had told him to do, and seven days before the great storm he heard the Lord calling:
“Come thou and all thy house into the ark,” and that very day, Noah with his wife and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japtheth, and their wives, went into their great black house, and through the window in the top came flying the little families of birds and insects, from the tiny bees and humming birds, to the great eagles, and through the door on the side came the families of animals, two by two, from the little mice to the tall giraffes, and the elephants, and when all had come the Lord shut them in.
“It rained forty days and forty nights, and the waters rose higher and higher, covering the hills, and creeping up the mountains, so that every living thing died except Noah, and all that were with him in the ark.
“But after ten months the tops of the mountains were seen, and Noah sent out a raven and a dove. The raven flew to and fro, but the dove came back into the ark, because she found no place to rest her foot.
“After seven days Noah sent her out again, and she returned with an olive leaf in her bill, and then Noah knew that the waters were going away.
“After seven days again he sent out his good little dove, and she did not come back. So Noah was sure that the earth was getting dry, and that God would soon tell him to go out of the ark.
“And so he did. Think how glad the sheep and cows were to find fresh grass, and the birds to fly to the green trees.
“What a silent world it must have been, for there were none but Noah and his family in all the earth. Noah did not forget how God had saved them, and he made an altar of stone, and offered beasts and birds as a sacrifice. When he looked up to the sky there was a beautiful rainbow. It was God’s promise that there should be no more floods upon the earth. He still sends the rainbow to show us that He is taking care of this world, and will always do so.
“Perhaps the people who lived after this—for Noah’s children’s children increased very fast—did not believe God’s promise, for they began to build a great tower, or temple, on the plain of Shinar; or perhaps they had grown proud and wicked, and wanted a temple for the worship of idols; but the Lord changed their speech, so that they could not understand each other, and they were scattered over other countries; and so each country began to have a language of its own.”
ISAAC THE SHEPHERD PRINCE
Before Abraham died, he thought much about his dear son Isaac, to whom he was going to leave all that he had. The young man had no mother, no sister, and soon he would have no father. So the old man called his old and faithful servant, and told him to go on a journey into the land of his fathers, and bring back with him a wife for his son Isaac.
The children of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, lived there still, and Abraham wished for his son Isaac a wife of his own people, who should be both good and beautiful, and not like the heathen women of Canaan.
So the old servant listened to Abraham and promised to do all that he commanded.
He loaded ten camels with presents for his master’s family away in Syria, and Abraham said:
“The Lord shall send His angel before thee,” and from his tent door he saw the little caravan of camels and servants, as they set out across the plain, toward the land beyond the river Jordan.
There was a desert to cross and many dangers to meet, but the old servant believed in the God his master worshipped, and was not afraid.
When he came to Haran, he stopped outside the town by a well of water. It was early evening, and the women were coming each with a water-jar on her shoulder, to draw water.
The old man prayed that the Lord would show him which among these daughters of the men of the city, was the one who was to be his young master’s wife.
Before his prayer was ended, Rebekah, of the family of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came bearing her pitcher on her shoulder. She looked very kind and beautiful, and when she had filled her pitcher, the old man asked her for a drink of water. Then she let down the pitcher upon her hand saying:
“Drink, my lord,” and asked if she should also give water to his camels. While she was giving him a drink, the man showed her some golden jewels that he had brought, and when he had asked her name, and knew that God had sent her to him for his young master, he gave them to her, and worshipped the Lord who had led him to the house of his master’s brother.
Then Rebekah ran in and told Laban, her brother, and the old servant of Abraham had a warm welcome at the door of Nahor’s house.
“Come in, thou blessed of the Lord,” they said.
And after they had cared for the camels and the men, there was a hurrying of servants to prepare a feast, but the old man would not taste food until he had given the message of his master. Then the father and brother of Rebekah, saw that the Lord had sent for her, and they said:
“Let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken.”
And the old servant bowed his face to the ground worshipping the Lord who had led him.
Then there was feasting and giving of costly gifts, and preparing to take a long journey, for the old servant was in haste to get back to his master, and Rebekah, who was willing to go, took her maid-servants and rode away into a far country to be the wife of Isaac.
When Isaac was walking in his field at sunset, thinking and praying to God, he looked up and saw that the camels were coming, and he hastened to meet them. When the old servant told Rebekah that it was his young master, she alighted from her camel, and covered herself with a long veil as was the custom of the Syrian women. When the old servant had told the story of his journey, he gave Rebekah to Isaac, and he took her to the tent that had been his mother’s, and she became his wife, so that he was no longer lonely and sad.
Isaac lived to a very great age, and had two sons, Jacob and Esau. He was a gentle, quiet man, fond of his family, his flocks, and herds, and at the place where his father and mother were buried, he lived among the fields and oak groves of Hebron until he died.
JACOB, A PRINCE OF GOD
Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah.
They did not look alike as twins often do, and they were very unlike in all their ways. As they grew up, Esau loved the forests and wild places. He made bows and arrows, and was a hunter, and brought home wild birds and deer, for his father was very fond of such food. Jacob helped his father with the flocks, and learned how to cook food from his mother, who loved him more than she loved Esau.
One day Esau came home from hunting tired and hungry, and smelled the delicious soup of red lentils that Jacob was making. He begged Jacob to give him some, and Jacob, who wanted to be eldest, and have the right to the blessing that fathers gave to the first-born in those days, said:
“Sell me this day thy birthright,” and Esau gave him all his rights as the first born, for a little food which he might have had as a free gift.
Jacob wanted to be counted in the great promise that God had given to Abraham, but Esau despised it.
Afterward, when Isaac was old and his eyes were dim, he called Esau, and asked him to go out into the fields and shoot a deer, and cook the venison that he loved, so that he might eat it and bless his first born before he died.
Rebekah heard it, and told Jacob to bring kids from the flock, which she cooked and served as venison. Then she dressed Jacob in the clothes of Esau, and told him to say that it was Esau who had brought the venison. Isaac said:
“The voice is the voice of Jacob,” but he put his hands on him, and believed it was Esau, and blessed him.
When Esau came home and brought venison to his father, Isaac said:
“Who art thou?” and when Esau said, “I am thy son, thy first-born, Esau,” the old man trembled, and told Esau the blessing had been given to another.
Poor Esau cried out with grief, “Hast thou but one blessing?” “Bless me, even me also, O my father.”
And so Isaac blessed him, but he could not call back the blessing of the first-born. The Lord knew that Jacob would grow to be a good man, and love the things of God best, and that Esau would always love the things of this world best, yet it was wrong of Jacob and Rebekah to deceive, for we may not do evil that good may come.
Isaac blessing Jacob
After this Esau hated his brother, and said he would kill him.
So Isaac called Jacob, and, blessing him again, sent him away into Syria to the house of Laban, where Rebekah had lived, and where Abraham’s servant went to find her for his master’s son.
One night, when he was not far on his way, he lay down to sleep, with a stone for his pillow, on a hillside that looked toward his home, and he dreamed a wonderful dream. He saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and a vision of angels who were going up and down upon it.
Above it stood the Lord, who spoke to Jacob, and gave to him the promise that He had first given to Abraham, and told him that He would go with him, and bring him again into his own land.
Jacob was afraid when he woke, for he had seen the heavens opened, and had heard God’s voice. He made an altar of the pillow of stone, and called it Bethel—the House of God—and then he vowed that the Lord should be his God, and he added,—
“Of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give a tenth unto thee.”
When Jacob came to Haran, he saw the well from which his mother used to draw water. There were three flocks of sheep lying by it, waiting for all the flocks to gather in the cool of the day to be watered. Soon Rachel, the daughter of Laban, came leading her father’s flocks, and one of the shepherds told Jacob whose daughter she was.
So Jacob rolled the stone from the well, and watered the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. Then he kissed Rachel, and told her that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.
There was great joy in Laban’s house because Jacob had come, and after he had stayed a month with them Laban asked him to stay and take care of his flocks, and he would pay him for his work.
Since the day he had seen Rachel leading her father’s flocks he had chosen her in his heart to be his wife. So he said that he would work for Laban seven years, if at the end of that time he would give him Rachel for his wife. Laban was quite willing to do so, and the seven years seemed to Jacob but a few days, for the love he had to Rachel. But, according to the custom of that country, the younger daughter could not be given in marriage before the elder, and so Laban gave his daughter Leah also, and both Leah and Rachel became the wives of Jacob, for Jacob lived in that far away time and country of the early world when men were allowed to take more than one wife, and when each man was both king and priest over his family and tribe, and worshipped God by offering burnt sacrifices upon an altar.
After twenty years of work with Laban, in which he had earned many flocks and herds for himself, Jacob took his wives and the little sons God had sent him, and his flocks and herds, and started on a journey to his old home. Isaac was still alive, and Jacob longed to see him. He had lived long in Haran for fear of his brother Esau, and now he must travel through Edom, Esau’s country, on his way to his old home.
As he was on his way some of God’s angels met him, and he was strengthened. Still he feared Esau, and sent some of his men to tell his brother that he was coming.
The men came back, saying that Esau, with four hundred men, was coming to meet them.
Poor Jacob! He remembered the sin of his youth, when he had stolen the blessing from Esau, and he was afraid, and prayed God to protect him.
He sent his servants again to meet Esau with great presents of flocks, and herds, and camels, and after placing his wives and little ones in the safest place, he sent all that he had over the brook Jabbok, and he stayed on the other side to pray. It was as if he wrestled with a man all night, and when the day began to break the man wished to go, but Jacob said:
“I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”
So the man blessed him there, and call his name Israel; “for as a prince,” he said, “hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
Then Jacob knew that the Lord Himself, in the form of a man, had been with him, and he had seen Him face to face.
And as the sun rose he passed over the brook. When he looked up he saw Esau and his men coming, and when he had told his family to follow him, he went straight before them, for he was no longer afraid to meet his brother.
Jacob’s prayer had been answered, and Esau ran to meet his brother, and throwing his arms around him, wept on his shoulder. Then they talked in a loving and brotherly way, and Esau returned to his home with the presents Jacob had given him, and Jacob went on his way into Canaan full of joy and thankfulness. He stopped a little while in a pleasant place to rest his flocks and cattle, but he longed to see the place where he first saw the angels of God, and heard the voice of the Lord blessing him, so they journeyed on to Beth-el, and there built an altar and worshipped God.
Meeting of Jacob and Esau
Again the Lord spoke to Jacob at Beth-el, and called him Israel, and blessed him.
After they left Beth-el, they came near to Bethlehem, where many hundred years afterward the Lord Jesus was born, and there another little son was born to Rachel, and there too God sent for her, and took her to Himself, and there her grave was made.
Jacob and Rachel
The little boy was named Benjamin, and was the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the princes of a great nation.
Jacob was almost home. His great family, with all the flocks and herds, had been long on the way, for they often spread their tents by the brooks in the green valleys, that the cattle might rest and find pasture, but at last the long caravan came slowly over the fields of Mamre to Hebron, and Isaac, whom the Lord had kept alive to see his son once more, was there in his tent waiting for him.
But soon after this he died, an hundred and eighty years old, and Esau came, and the two brothers laid their father in the cave that Abraham bought when Sarah died, and where he had buried Rebekah, and Jacob became patriarch in place of his father.
JOSEPH, THE CASTAWAY
Of all the sons of Jacob, Joseph and Benjamin were the dearest to him, because they were the sons of his beloved Rachel, who had died on the journey from Syria into Canaan. They were also the youngest of all the twelve sons. When Joseph was about seventeen years old, he sometimes went with his elder brothers to keep his father’s flocks in the fields. He wore a long coat striped with bright colors, which his father had given him, because he was a kind and obedient son, and could always be trusted.
Once he told his father of some wicked thing his brothers had done, and they hated him for it, and could not speak pleasantly to him.
Joseph had many strange and beautiful thoughts when he looked across the fields to the hills, and up into the starry sky at night. He also had some strange dreams that he told to his brothers. He said that he dreamed that they were binding sheaves in the field, and that his sheaf stood up, while the sheaves of his brothers bowed down to it.
Again he dreamed that the sun, and the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him.
His father wondered that he should have such thoughts, and reproached him saying, “Shall I and thy brethren indeed come and bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” and his brothers said,
“Shalt thou indeed rule over us?” and they hated him.
When they were many miles from home with the flocks their father sent Joseph to see if all was well with them. It was a long journey, and when they saw the boy coming they did not go to meet him, and speak kindly to him, but they said,
“Behold this dreamer is cometh. Let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say some evil beast hath devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
But Reuben, the eldest, said,
“Let us not kill him; but cast him into this pit,” hoping to take him out secretly, and send him to his father.
So when Joseph came near, they robbed him of his coat of many colors, and cruelly cast him into a pit. After this they sat down to eat their bread, and looking up they saw a caravan coming. It was a company of Ishmaelites carrying costly spices down into Egypt to sell them.
Then Judah said,
“Why should we kill our brother? Let us sell him to these Ishmaelites.”
Then there passed by some Midianite merchants, and who drew Joseph out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and he was carried down into Egypt.
Joseph sold to the Ishmaelites
Reuben, when his brothers went back to their flocks, went to the pit to try to save Joseph, but he was not there, and Reuben cried out,
“The child is not, and I, whither shall I go?”
The brothers who had been so cruel to Joseph brought his coat to their father, all stained with blood. They had themselves dipped it in the blood of a kid to deceive him, and he mourned long, and would not be comforted, for the beloved child that he believed had been torn in pieces by evil beasts.
JOSEPH, A PRISONER, A SERVANT, AND A SAINT
The king of Egypt, where Joseph was taken by the Ishmaelites, was called Pharaoh, and he had a captain of the guard named Potiphar, who bought Joseph for a house servant. Though he was the son of a Hebrew prince, Joseph did his work faithfully and wisely as a servant, and was soon made steward of the house, and was trusted with all that his master had, and the Lord made all that he did to prosper; but the wife of Potiphar was a wicked woman, who persuaded her husband that Joseph was a bad man, and he was sent to prison.
Even there Joseph won the hearts of all, until the keeper of the prison set him over the other prisoners, and trusted him as Potiphar had done. It was the Lord in Joseph who helped him to win the love and trust of those around him.
Pharaoh sent two of his servants to prison because they had displeased him.
One was his chief cook, and one was the chief butler, who always handed the wine cup to the king, and Joseph had the care of them.
They each had a dream the same night, and were troubled because they could not understand them. Joseph asked them to tell him the dreams, for God knew what they meant.
So the chief butler told Joseph that he saw a vine having three branches, and the branches budded and blossomed, and the blossoms changed into ripe grapes, and he took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and handed the cup to the king.
Then Joseph said: “The three branches are three days. Within three days the king will take you out of prison, and you shall hand the king’s cup to him as you used to do.”
Joseph also asked the butler, to think of him when he was again in the king’s palace, and speak to the king to bring him out of prison, because he had been stolen from his own land, and he had done nothing wrong that he should be put in prison.
Then the chief cook told his dream. He said that he dreamed that he carried three baskets on his head, one above another.
In the highest one was all kinds of cooked meats for Pharaoh, and the birds flew down and ate from the basket.
“The three baskets are three days,” said Joseph as he said to the butler, but he told the cook that in three days he would be put to death, and hanged on a tree, where the birds would eat his flesh.
All this came true, for Pharaoh’s birthday came, and he brought out the chief butler to serve at a birthday feast, but he hanged the chief cook. Yet the chief butler forgot Joseph, and did not speak to the king about him as he might have done.
At the end of two long years, Pharaoh dreamed a dream. He thought he stood by the river of Egypt, and saw seven cows looking well kept and fat, came up out of the river.
Behind them came seven other cows, looking thin and poorly fed, and the thin and poorly fed cows ate up the well-kept and fat ones.
And Pharoah had a second dream. He thought he saw seven heads of wheat growing on one stalk—and they were all full of grain. After them came seven thin heads of wheat with no grain in them; and the seven bad heads of wheat ate up the seven good ones.
In the morning Pharaoh was troubled about these dreams, and called for his wise men who worked magic for him, and they could tell him nothing.
Then the chief butler standing near the king remembered Joseph, and told Pharaoh of the young Hebrew who had told the meaning of his dream, and that of the chief cook, and they had come to pass as he had said, so Pharaoh sent for Joseph and said to him:
“I have heard that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.”
Joseph answered the king humbly and wisely:
“It is not in me,” he said, “God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
When the king had told his dream Joseph said:
“The dream is one,” and then he showed him that the seven fat cows, and the seven full heads of wheat meant seven good years in the land of Egypt, when the harvests would be great; and the seven lean cows, and the seven empty heads of wheat, meant seven years of famine, when the east winds should spoil the wheat, so there would be nothing to reap in time of harvest and the people would want bread. He told the king that he had better set a wise man over the land, who would attend to saving the grain during the seven good years, so that the people would have bread to eat in the seven years of famine.
The king was greatly pleased with Joseph, and told him that God had taught him to interpret dreams, and had showed him things to come, and there could be no wiser man found to be set over the land.
So he made Joseph a ruler over the whole land, and next to the king in all things.
He put his own ring on his hand, and dressed him in the robes of a prince, and gave him an Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife, so that there was no one in all the land of Egypt so great as Joseph, except the king.
He built storehouses in every city, and stored the grain, until it was like the sand of the sea, and could not be measured.
In the years of plenty two sons were born to Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, and then the seven years of dearth began to come. When the people began to cry to the king for bread, he always said,—
“Go to Joseph; what he says to you do.”
And Joseph and his helpers began to open the storehouses, and sell wheat to the Egyptians, and to the people of all countries, for the famine was in all lands.
JOSEPH—THE SAVIOR OF HIS PEOPLE.
The famine reached even to the fruitful land of Canaan, and Jacob, though rich in flocks and herds, began to need bread for his great family. So he sent his ten sons down into Egypt to buy wheat, keeping Benjamin, the youngest at home.
When they came before the governor they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. Joseph knew them, though he acted as if he did not, and remembered his dream of his brother’s sheaves bowing down to his sheaf. At first, he spoke roughly to them, and called them “spies.” But they said that they were all one man’s sons, and had come to buy food.
Joseph still spoke roughly to them, not because he was angry, but because he did not wish them to know him yet. His heart was full of love for them, and he was soon going to show them great kindness; but when they told him that they had left an old father and a young brother at home, and one was dead, he still acted as if they did not tell the truth.
He said that to prove themselves true men one of them should go home and bring the youngest brother, and the others should be kept in prison until they returned; and he put them all in prison.
After three days, he said one might stay while the others took the wheat home to their families, but that they must surely come back and bring the boy with them.
Then Reuben, who had tried to save Joseph from the pit long before, told his brothers that all this trouble had come upon them for their wickedness to their brother Joseph, and they said to each other in their own language:
“We are verily guilty concerning our brother; when he besought us, we would not hear, therefore is this distress come upon us.”
Joseph understood everything they said though they did not know it, for he had been talking to them through an interpreter, and they thought he was an Egyptian. Now his heart was so full that he had to go out of the room to weep. But he came back and chose Simeon to stay while the others went to Canaan to bring back Benjamin.
They took the wheat that they had bought in bags, and went away; but when they stopped at an inn to rest and feed their asses, one of the brothers opened his bag, and found the money that he had paid for the wheat in the top of his bag. Here was more trouble, and they were afraid.
When they came home to their father they told him all that had happened, and as they opened the bags, each one found his money. Jacob was deeply troubled; for Joseph was gone, and Simeon was gone, and now they wanted to take Benjamin.
Reuben who had two sons said: “Slay my two sons if I bring him not to thee.”
But Jacob said Benjamin should not go down to Egypt. But the wheat was gone in a short time, and they were likely to starve so great was the famine, and at last Jacob said they must go to Egypt again for food.
Judah said they would go if Benjamin would go with them, but Jacob would not listen to this. He asked them why they told the man that they had a brother, and they replied, that the Governor had asked them if their father was yet living and if they had another brother.
“Send the lad with me,” said Judah, “if I bring him not unto thee, let me bear the blame forever.”
Then Jacob told them to take him and go, and also to take presents of honey, and spices, and balm, and nuts, and double the money, so as to return that which was put in their bags, and he blessed them, and sent them away.
They went down into Egypt, and stood before Joseph again. When he saw Benjamin with them he told the steward of his house to make ready a fine dinner for them, and bring them to him at noon, and he did so.
Then the brothers were afraid that they were all to be put in prison, and at the door of Joseph’s house began to tell the steward how they found the money when they opened their bags, and that they had brought it back doubled; but the steward spoke kindly to them, and said that he had placed their money, and that they need not fear, for God had given it back to them.
Then he brought Simeon out, and they made ready to dine with the Governor at noon, and to give him their presents.
When he came they bowed down to him and presented their gifts, and he asked them if they were well, and if the old man of whom they spoke was still alive, and they replied that he was. When he saw Benjamin, and knew that he was truly his own brother, the son of Rachel, he said:
“God be gracious unto thee my son,” and he went quickly to his own chamber, lest he should weep before them.
When he came out to them again, and they sat down to dine, he placed the sons of Jacob by themselves, and the Egyptians of his house by themselves, and the brothers were placed according to their ages—Reuben at the head and Benjamin last, and they wondered among themselves at this. Joseph also sent portions from his own table to his brothers, but the portion of Benjamin was five times greater than that of the others.
The next morning their wheat was measured to them, and the asses were loaded with it, and they went on their way, but Joseph had told the steward to put the money of each man in the top of his bag, and in Benjamin’s to put his silver cup.
When they were a little away from the city, the steward overtook them, and charged them with stealing his lord’s silver cup.
The men were so sure that no one of them had stolen the silver cup, that they said,
“Let him die with whom the cup is found, and the rest of us will be your slaves.”
So everybody’s bag was opened from the oldest to the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s bag. Then they rent their clothes for grief, and loaded the asses and went back to the city, and when they came to Joseph’s house, they fell on their faces before him, Joseph tried to speak sternly and said:
“What deed is this you have done?”
“What shall we say unto my lord, or how shall we clear ourselves? We are my lord’s servants.”
Then said Joseph:
“The man in whose hand the cup is found he shall be my servant, and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.”
Then Judah came nearer to Joseph, and all his soul came forth into his voice as he said:
“O, my lord, let thy servant speak a word in my lord’s ears!”
Then he told the story of their coming down into Egypt, and of the old father and young brother whom he had asked them about; of the love of this father for the little one, for his mother, and his brother now dead. He reminded Joseph that he had told them to bring the boy to him, and that they had said, that if the boy should leave his father, his father would die; but the governor had said “Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more.”
Then Judah told the story of the father’s grief when he found that he must let Benjamin go down into Egypt, that they might buy a little food; how he spoke of his two sons, that were the sons of Rachel—that one had been torn in pieces, and now if mischief should befall the other, it would bring his gray hairs in sorrow to the grave. He asked Joseph what he should do when he returned to his father without the lad, seeing that his life was bound up in the lad’s life, and Judah begged him, as he had made himself surety for the lad, to take him to be his slave, but to let Benjamin return to his father with his brothers.
“For how shall I go up to my father,” said Judah, “and the lad be not with me?”
Then Joseph could bear it no longer. He told all the Egyptians to go out of the room, and then weeping so that the Egyptians and the people in the king’s house heard, he made himself known to his brothers.
Joseph makes himself known to his brothers
“I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “whom you sold into Egypt,” and he begged them to come near to him.
“Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves,” he said, for he saw that they were terrified, “for God sent me before you to save your lives by a great deliverance. It was not you that sent me hither, but God, and he hath made me a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
Then he told them to hasten and go to his father and tell him this, and ask him to come down at once, with all his flocks and herds, and dwell in Goshen, the best part of Egypt, for years of famine were yet to come.
Then Joseph took little Benjamin in his arms and wept over him, and kissed him, and kissed all his brothers, and after that his brothers talked with him. The king heard the story of Joseph’s brothers and was pleased. He told Joseph to send wagons for the wives and little ones of his brothers, and to tell them to bring their father, and all their cattle and sheep, and come to live in Goshen where they should have the best of the land for their flocks and herds.
Joseph did as the king commanded, and also gave them food for the journey, and a suit of clothing to each brother, but to little Benjamin he gave five suits, and three hundred pieces of silver. He also loaded twenty asses with the good things of Egypt as presents to his father, so he sent them all on their journey saying:
“See that ye fall not out by the way.”
When they came to Jacob in Hebron, they told him the wonderful story of the finding of Joseph, and his heart was faint, for he did not believe them; but when he had heard all Joseph’s messages, and had seen the gifts, and the wagons, he said:
“It is enough: Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.”
So they began the long journey to Egypt, for it took a long time to travel with a great family, and with thousands of cattle and sheep. At Beersheba Jacob stopped and worshiped God, where his father had built an altar years before; and God told him in the night that he need not fear to go down into Egypt, for He would there make him a great nation, and that He would bring him back again to his own land.
So Jacob with all his children and their little ones, and all his flocks and herds came into Egypt. There were sixty-seven souls, and when they had counted Joseph and his two sons, there were seventy.
Jacob sent Judah on before to see Joseph and ask the way to Goshen, so that they might go directly there with the cattle and sheep. And when Joseph knew that his father was coming, he went to meet him in Goshen, and there he wept on his father’s neck a long time, and Jacob said:
“Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive.”
After this Joseph presented five of his brothers to Pharaoh, and the king spoke very kindly to them, and gave them the best of the land for their flocks, and hired some of them to oversee his own shepherds.
Joseph brought his father in also and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
So the family of Jacob lived in peace, and were cared for by Joseph, just as the Lord had promised Jacob, when in a dream he saw the angels of God at Bethel, and heard above them the voice of the Lord blessing him, and saying:
“Thou shalt spread abroad to the West, and to the East, and to the North, and to the South, and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
Joseph carried all Egypt through the years of famine, and saved seed for the people to sow their fields in the seventh year so that they said:
“Thou hast saved our lives.”
He afterwards visited his father, and Jacob made him promise that he would bury him when he died in the tomb of Abraham and Isaac, his father, in his own land.
When Jacob was near his end, Joseph brought his two little sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to his bedside, and the old man gave them his blessing, laying his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, the youngest, and his left hand on that of Manasseh the first born, even as Isaac had given the birthright blessing to him instead of to Esau, and he said:
“The angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads.”
Then he called all his sons together and told them what should befall them in the last days. To each one he spoke as a prophet speaks who has a vision of things to come, and he blessed them there. When he spoke to Judah, he told him that kings and lawgivers should arise from among his children until the Saviour of the world should come.
Jacob was an hundred and forty-seven years old when he died, and there was great mourning for him.
Joseph had the body of his father embalmed, as the Egyptians had the custom of doing, and after a long mourning in Egypt, Joseph and his brothers and many Egyptians who were Joseph’s friends, carried the body of Jacob to Canaan, in a great procession, and buried him in the cave of Machpelah, where his fathers were buried.
After they had returned to Egypt, the brothers of Joseph said:
“Perhaps now he will hate us, and bring upon us all the evil we did to him.”
So they sent to him to ask his forgiveness for all that was past. Then Joseph wept, for he had nothing but love in his heart toward his brothers, and he wished them to trust him. He comforted them and spoke kindly to them, saying:
“Fear not: ye meant evil unto me, but God meant it unto good. I will nourish you and your little ones.”
And so through all Joseph’s life, and he lived one hundred and ten years, he was a tender father to all his family, and a wise ruler of the people, and he died after making his family promise to carry his body back into Canaan to be buried with his fathers when they themselves should go.
“For God will surely visit you,” he said, “and bring you out of this land into the land which he promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.”
THE CRADLE THAT WAS ROCKED BY A RIVER.
After Joseph and all the sons of Jacob had grown old and had passed away, their children’s children grew in numbers until they became a great multitude.
The Pharaoh whom Joseph had served also died, and the king who followed him did not like the Hebrews. He feared them because they had grown to be strong, so he set overseers to watch them, and make them work like slaves.
He treated them cruelly, and made them lift the great stones with which they built the tombs of the kings and temples of the gods. He also tried to kill all the little boys as soon as they were born, but the Lord took care of them. Also, the king told his servants, that wherever they found a baby boy among the Hebrews, to throw him into the river Nile, but the little girls, they should save alive.
There was a man named Amrom, who, with his wife Jochebed, had a beautiful little boy whom they tenderly loved. They hid him as long as they could, and then when he was three months old and she could hide him no longer, she made up her mind to give him into the care of God. She made a little boat, or ark of stout rushes, that grew by the river. She wove it closer than a basket, and then covered it with pitch that the water might not enter, just as Noah covered the great ark before the flood.
Then she wrapped her baby carefully and laid him in the little boat, and set it among the reeds at the edge of the river Nile. God and His angels watched the cradle of the child, and the river gently rocked it. Jochebed told the baby’s sister to wait near by and see what might happen to him, and this is what happened, or rather what God prepared for the baby in the boat of rushes.
The king’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and as her maidens walked up and down by the riverside, she called one of them to bring to her the little ark that she saw rocking on the river among the reeds. When she had opened it she saw a beautiful little child, and when it cried her heart was touched, and she longed to keep it for her own.
Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses
“This is one of the Hebrew’s children,” she said, and as the baby’s sister came near she asked the princess if she should go and get a nurse from among the Hebrew women to bring it up for her, and the princess said to her, “Go,” and the maid went and called the child’s mother. The princess said: “Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.”
And the mother took her baby joyfully though she hid her joy in her heart, and carried him home to nurse and bring up for Pharoah’s daughter.
And the child grew, and when he was old enough his mother took him to the king’s palace, and he became the son of the princess. She called his name Moses, which means “drawn out,” because she drew him out of the water.
MOSES IN MIDIAN
Moses had teachers, and was taught all the learning of the Egyptians, but his heart was with his own people. He was grieved when he saw their burdens, and heard their cries when their taskmasters struck them.
Once, when he was a grown man, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and he struck the Egyptian and killed him, for he thought he ought to defend his people: and when he saw that the man was dead, he buried him in the sand. In a day or two Moses tried to make peace between two Hebrews who were fighting, and they answered him roughly, and one of them said:
“Who made thee a ruler over us? wilt thou kill me, as thou didst the Egyptian yesterday?”
Then Moses was afraid, and when the king heard of it, and tried to take his life, Moses fled away out of Egypt, through a desert into Midian. There he found a well and sat down by it to rest. While he sat there the seven daughters of the priest of Midian came to draw water for their father’s flocks, and some rough shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flocks. When their father knew that a noble stranger had been kind to his daughters, he asked him to come into his house, and eat bread with him, and stay as long as he would. So Moses stayed and Zipporah, one of the seven sisters, became his wife.
But Moses did not forget his people. God was preparing him to lead them out of bondage, and he learned many things, during the years that he kept the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness.
One day he led his flocks across the desert to Mount Horeb or Sinai. There he saw a bush all bright within as if it burned. He drew nearer to see why the bush was not consumed, and heard the voice of the Lord calling him. The Lord told him to come no nearer, and to put off his shoes, for he stood on holy ground. Then the Lord told him that He was the God of his fathers, and that He had heard the cry of his oppressed people in Egypt.
“I know their sorrows,” said the voice from the midst of the fire, “And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land into a good land, and a large—unto a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Then the Lord said that Moses must go to the new Pharaoh, for the old king was dead, and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. Moses was a very humble man, and he could not believe that Pharaoh would listen to him or that the Hebrews would follow him, but the Lord said,
“Certainly I will be with thee.”
And as a sign that it should be so, He said that after Moses had brought his people out of Egypt, they should serve God in this mountain.
But Moses had many fears. He knew that he had been brought up as an Egyptian, and he feared that his people would not listen to his words.
Then the Lord showed signs to Moses to help his faith.
He turned the rod in Moses’ hand into a serpent, and then when he was afraid of it, the Lord told him to take it in his hand and it became a rod again.
He also turned his hand white with leprosy, and then changed it again to natural flesh, and told Moses, that these, and other signs he should show in Egypt—to prove that he was sent of God.
But Moses felt himself to be so weak and faithless as a leader of his people, that he still cried out that he was “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue,” and when the Lord said, “I will teach thee what thou shalt say,” he did not believe, but begged the Lord to send by whom he would, only not by him.
Then the Lord said that
THE ROD THAT TROUBLED EGYPT.
So Moses took his wife and his sons and returned to Egypt, and the rod of God was in his hand; and Aaron, sent of God, came to meet him in the wilderness, and there Moses told him all that was in his heart, and all that God had sent him to do.
When they came into Egypt they gathered the Israelites together, and Aaron spoke to them, and they believed his words, and the signs that Moses showed them.
Afterward, they went to Pharoah and gave him the message of the Lord, and Pharoah said:
“I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.”
And he began to oppress the Israelites more than he had ever done before. They made bricks of clay mixed with straw, that hardened in the sun, and were as lasting as stone, but he forced them to find the straw wherever they could, and make as many bricks as before. This they did until no more straw could be found, and their Egyptian masters beat them cruelly because they failed to make the full number of bricks. Then they turned upon Moses and Aaron and said, that they had put a sword in the king’s hand to slay them.
Where could Moses turn except to the Lord who had sent him? The Lord heard him and made to him again the great promise, as he did at the burning bush, and Moses told the people, but they could not believe it, for they were crushed under their cruel burdens.
And now the Lord sent Moses and Aaron again to Pharoah, to show by sign and miracle, that their message was from Him. They took the rod that Moses brought from Mount Horeb, and Moses told Aaron to cast it down before the king, and it became a serpent. Pharoah called his wise men and wizards, and they did the same, only Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods, and Pharoah would not listen to their words.
The rod that troubled Egypt
But in the morning when Pharoah walked by the river the two men stood by him and said again:
The Lord God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee saying:
“Let my people go that they may serve me in the wilderness,” and then Aaron struck the waters of the river Nile with his rod, and the waters turned to blood.
In all the land, in every stream and pond there was blood, so that the fishes died and no one could drink the water.
But because the wizards could turn water to blood also, Pharoah’s heart was hardened toward Moses and Aaron.
While the people were digging wells for water, Aaron stretched forth his rod over the river again, and frogs came up from it, and spread over all the land and filled the houses of the people. This also the magicians did, but so great was the plague that the king said:
“I will let the people go.”
“When shall I entreat for thee and for thy people to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses?” said Moses; and Pharoah told him to do so the next day.
So on the next day Moses prayed to the Lord that the frogs might go out of the land, and the Lord answered his prayer; but when Pharoah saw that the frogs had been destroyed his heart grew hard, and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron.
Then another plague was brought upon the Egyptians. The dust of the land was changed to lice that covered man and beast, and this was followed by swarms of flies that settled upon all the land except Goshen where the Israelites lived.
Then Pharoah said:
“Go, sacrifice to your God in this land,” but they would not worship in Egypt, and Pharoah at last told them that they could go into the wilderness, but they must not go very far away. So Moses prayed, and the swarms of flies were swept out of Egypt, but Pharoah did not keep his word.
Then a great sickness fell upon the cattle and sheep of the country, though the flocks and herds of the Israelites were free from it; and this was followed by a breaking out of boils upon men and beasts everywhere, even upon the magicians, but Pharaoh’s heart was still too wicked to yield to God.
Then came a great storm of hail over Egypt, such as had never been known in that sunny land. It killed the cattle in the fields, and destroyed the grain that was grown, and broke the trees and herbs. The lightnings fell also and ran upon the ground, and when it was over the heart of Pharaoh was still hard against God.
Then Moses told Pharaoh that the face of the earth would be covered with clouds of locusts that would eat every green thing left by the storm, if he did not let God’s people go. This frightened Pharaoh’s servants and they begged him to send them away, and though he would not let their wives and little ones go, he said:
“Go now, ye that are men, for that ye did desire,” and he drove them out of his presence.
Then at the Lord’s word, Moses arose and stretched forth his rod over Egypt, and the plague of locusts came, driven by the East wind, and covered the land until there was no green thing left in Egypt.
Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron in great haste, and confessing his sin, begged to be forgiven and to be saved from, “this death only,” and, at Moses’ prayer, a mighty west wind drove the army of locusts into the Red Sea.
But again the heart of Pharaoh turned against God, and the Lord brought thick darkness over the land for three days, only in the homes of the Hebrews there was light. Then Pharaoh was willing to let them take their wives and their little ones, but not their flocks and herds, and because they would not leave them behind, Pharaoh drove Moses and Aaron from him in anger, saying:
“See my face no more.”
But the Lord proposed to break the hard heart of Pharaoh. He told Moses to see that every Israelite should take a lamb from the flock and keep it four days. Then, at evening, he was to kill it, and dip a branch of hyssop in its blood, and strike it against the sides of his door, also over it, leaving three marks of blood there. Then he was to close his door and no one was to go out of it until morning.
They were to roast the lamb and eat of it, and be ready for the journey they were to make, and it should be to them forever the feast called the Passover. They were to eat it with unleavened bread, and the feast should be kept forever from the first to the seventh day of the month, a holy feast to the Lord.
And this is why it was called the feast of the Passover. At midnight, after the lamb was killed in each house of the Israelites, and the doors were shut, the Lord passed through the land, and wherever he saw the blood on the side posts and the top of the door, he passed over that house, and it was safe, but in every Egyptian house the first born died, from the child of Pharaoh who sat on the throne, to the child of the captive in the cell, and all the first born of cattle.
The next morning a great cry went up from the land of Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
Then Pharaoh was quite ready to let the Israelites go.
“Take all you have and be gone,” he said.
They were all ready, and rose up very gladly to join the great procession, led by Moses and Aaron, that gathered in Goshen, and started on its long journey toward the east.
They had heard of the land of their fathers, and now they were going home to be slaves no more. They were a family of seventy souls when they came into Egypt, four hundred and thirty years before, and now they went out a great nation, as the Lord had promised when he blessed their fathers.
The feast of the Passover has been the chief one held by the Israelites, from the time of their coming out of Egypt until now, and since Jesus held the Passover feast with his disciples on the night that he went forth to death, it has become to all Christians the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
FOLLOWING THE CLOUD
“God led the people,” says the Word, as they came up out of Egypt. He gave them the two leaders by whom He had broken the power of Pharaoh, and set His people free, and He also set a great cloud in the air, just above and before them, to lead them in the right way. It was to them the presence of the Lord. By day it rose white and beautiful against the blue sky, and moved slowly before them. At night it stood still while they rested, and shed light over all the camp, for there seemed to be a fire within the cloud at night. How safe and happy they must have felt away from the cruel taskmasters of Egypt, and the Lord’s presence, spreading a wing of cloud over them. They were not led by a straight way to Canaan, for a warlike people lived in the land which they must pass through, but they were led at first through a country without cities or armies, where they would not trouble many people or be troubled by them. They bore with them the embalmed body of Joseph, for they had promised to bury him with his fathers in the cave of Machpelah; and they also had much wealth in herds, and flocks, and gold, and silver. Pharaoh thought of this after they had gone, and his wicked heart grew harder than before, so he ordered his chariots and horsemen to follow them, and they found the Israelites camped by the Red Sea.
Then there was great fear and mourning in the camp when they saw the army of Pharaoh coming, but Moses cried:
“Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
Then the Lord told Moses to speak to the people that they go forward. He also told him to lift up his rod and stretch his hand over the sea and divide it, and the children of Israel should go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. Night was falling, and the waters lay dark before them, but the angel of God, the pillar of cloud and fire, moved from its place before them and went behind them, while Moses and Aaron led them on. Then the presence of the Lord was a cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, but it gave a light by night to the Israelites. A strong east wind drove the waters apart all night, so that there was a way through the sea, and the waters were a wall upon their right hand and on their left. Pharaoh’s army saw the broad path through the sea, and followed fast after the Israelites, but as morning dawned the Lord looked from the cloud and troubled the Egyptians. Their chariot wheels came off, and all went wrong with them.
At last the Lord told Moses to stretch his hand forth over the sea, that the waters might come back upon the Egyptians, and he did so; and as the sun rose, the sea swallowed up the Egyptian host, and their bodies were cast upon the shore. There on the other side stood the great host of Israel, and saw the salvation of God, and they believed in Him, and in Moses His servant.
Destruction of Pharaoh’s army
Then a great shout went up from the host of Israel. Moses led them in a song of praise, and Miriam, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine, and the women followed her in dances as they answered in a chorus of praise:—
“Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider hath he thrown into the sea.”
Soon they took up their journey, the cloudy pillar going before. There was but little water by the way, and after three days of thirst, they came to the waters of Marah, but they were bitter, and the people cried to Moses,
“What shall we drink?”
Then the Lord showed him a tree which he cast into the waters, and they were made pure and sweet. Soon after they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees, and there they rested.
Again they took up their journey and passed through a desert land, where they could get no food, and again they complained to Moses because he had brought them into the wilderness to die. They did not yet believe that God could supply all their need.
“I will rain bread from heaven for you,” said the Lord to Moses. He was ready to provide, if they would only believe in Him and obey Him.
Moses called them to come near before the Lord while Aaron should speak his word to them. As they came near and looked toward the wilderness where the cloud stood, the glory of the Lord shone out of it. The Lord had heard them speak harshly to Moses for bringing them into a desert to die, but he said,
“At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread.”
And his word came true. Great flocks of quails came up and covered the camp at sunset, so that they caught them for food; and in the morning the dew lay around them, and when it had risen, there lay on the ground a small, round, white thing, something like frost, or a little seed, and it tasted like wafers made with honey. The Lord told Moses that the people must gather just enough to eat through the day, and no more. The morning before the Sabbath they must gather enough for two days, for none would fall on the Sabbath. This was the bread that the heavenly Father provided for his children through all the years of their journey from Egypt to Canaan, and they called it “Manna.”
There were hard things to bear in the wilderness. Often when they wanted water for their little ones and their cattle, and could not find it, they were like fretful children when they were tired and thirsty. Once, at Horeb, Moses struck a rock with his wonderful rod, and water sprung out in a stream.
There were enemies also in the way. The Amelikites came out to fight with the Israelites. The strong men went to meet the enemy, but Moses stood on a hill with the rod of God in his hand, and Aaron and Hur were with him. While Moses held up the rod, Israel prevailed; but when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed.
But Moses grew tired and they placed a stone for him to sit upon, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands on either side until the going down of the sun, when Amalek was conquered. Moses built an altar there, and called it “The Lord my Banner.”
They were now drawing near the Mount, where Moses saw the burning bush, and heard the Lord calling him to be the leader of his people.
They were far out of their way to Canaan, but it was in the Lord’s purpose to bring them into obedience and faith before he brought them into the promised land. They had lived long among the Egyptians, and were very far from being like Jacob and Joseph, but there were good and true men like Aaron, and Joshua, and Hur, who helped Moses. It was about three months after the children of Israel left Egypt, that they came into the wilderness of Sinai. There the “Mount of God” still lifts its great granite cliffs toward the sky. There are high valleys midway where it is cooler than below, and there the people encamped and waited to hear what God would say to them, for God talked with Moses on the Mount.
He said He had chosen them, if they would obey his voice, to be a holy nation. He told Moses to tell the people to be ready, and on the third day He would come down in the sight of all the people on Mount Sinai.
And so it was, as the people looked there was a thick cloud upon the Mount, from which came thunder and lightning, and the sound of a great trumpet, while the mountain trembled as with an earthquake. Only Moses and Aaron could approach the holy Mount, and from it God gave to Moses the laws that the people were to live by, and Moses wrote them all down that he might read them to the people. A company of the Elders of Israel went up and saw the glory of God afar off, but God called Moses up into the Mount, and the cloud closed him round, while the Lord gave him the laws for a great nation, and the pattern of the tabernacle which He wished him to make for a church in the wilderness.
Forty days and forty nights Moses was on the Mount with God, and then God gave him the ten great commandments written with his own hands on tablets of stone, that he might give them to the people. They were to be kept as the rules of life for all people in all times.
Forty days and nights seemed a long time to the people camped around the Mount. Perhaps they thought Moses would never come back to lead them, for they began to think of the gods of Egypt, and asked Aaron to make one for them. So to please them he told them to bring him their gold ornaments, and he melted them and made a golden calf such as the Egyptians worshiped, and before it they made an altar, and they worshiped the calf.
The Lord who sees all things told Moses to go down to the people for they were worshiping an idol. So Moses went down a little way and met Joshua, and they both went down and saw the people feasting, and singing, and dancing, and Moses cast the tablets of stone upon the ground and they were broken. The heart of Moses, too, was almost broken, but he destroyed the golden calf, and punished the people for their great sin, and then went up to the Mount to plead for the life of his people.
“O this people have sinned a great sin,” he cried, “and have made them gods of gold, yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin, and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which thou has written,” so great was the love of Moses for his people.
There was a time of repentance among the people after this, and Moses and his servant Joshua reared a tent outside the camp and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. It was for worship until the true Tabernacle should be built according to the pattern given in the Mount. All who sought the Lord went to worship there, and the pillar of cloud came and stood at the Tabernacle door while Moses talked with God, and all the people saw it and worshiped.
Moses prayed again for the people, and the Lord said:
“My presences shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
The Lord called Moses again into the mount, and told him to bring with him two tablets of stone and He would again write the ten commandments upon them.
So Moses hewed them from the rock and took them up into Mount Sinai. Then the Lord came down again in a thick cloud and talked with Moses, and wrote upon the tablets of stone.
After forty days Moses came down to the people bringing the commandments with him, but his face shone with a strange light that the people never saw before, and they were afraid of him. It was something above the light of the sun, for Moses had seen the Glory of the Lord.
Moses descending from the Mount
While they still camped around the mount they began to build the Tabernacle. Moses told the people to bring gold, and silver, and brass, and wood. They also brought precious stones, and oil for the lamp, and fine linen, and they gave so willingly that at last Moses told them that there was more than enough.
These were put in the hands of two wise men whom the Lord had chosen and taught to do the work, and they had willing helpers among the people, for wise hearted women did spin with their own hands, and bring what they had spun, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen to make the hangings of the Tabernacle.
If you would know all the beautiful and costly and curious things that were made for this church in the wilderness, you will find them described in the last chapters of Exodus.
The Israelites camped a long time in the high valleys around the Mount of God, and at last set up the Tabernacle. It was so made that it could be taken down and carried with them when they journeyed, for it was a beautiful tent. Over it the pillar of cloud stood. Whenever it moved the people followed, and when it stood still, they rested. Within the Tabernacle they placed a beautiful chest of wood overlaid with gold, which ever after held their most precious things, the tablets of stone written upon by the Lord himself.
This “Ark of Testimony,” as it was called, had rings at the sides through which men laid strong rods by which to carry it, and so had the golden table for bread, and the golden altar of incense. There was a beautiful seven-branched candlestick of pure gold in which olive oil was burned for a sacred sign, and there was a brazen altar for burnt offerings, and a great brazen bowl for washing, and other things to be used in the worship of the Sanctuary.
There were beautiful garments, also, for the priests, Aaron and his sons, and for Aaron there was a wonderful breast-plate of gold set with twelve precious stones, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.
When all was finished, and the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud that veiled the presence of the Lord came and covered it, and the glory of the Lord filled it, so that Moses could not enter; but the Lord spoke to him from the cloud, and told him how the priests should order the worship of the Lord there.
Afterward, Aaron and his sons offered burnt offerings for their sins, and the sins of the people, in the way the Lord had commanded, and fire from the Lord came down and consumed the offering.
When the people saw the answer of the Lord they fell on their faces before him.
In the second month of the second year the cloud rose from over the Tabernacle, and then the people knew it was time to go on their Journey. So they took down the tent of the Tabernacle and put all things in order for the journey. Each of the twelve tribes descended from the twelve sons of Jacob marched by themselves, carrying banners, and having captains. In the midst of them all marched the Levites carrying the Ark and the different parts of the Tabernacle, and when the cloud stood still, they stopped and set up the Tabernacle, while the people formed their camp all around it in the order of their tribes.
Still the manna fell with the dew at night, and the people gathered it in the morning, and when they tired of it, the Lord sent them quails again.
Over and over the people complained and rebelled, but the Angel of the Lord’s Presence still hovered over them, and led them toward the promised land. Forty years they were on the journey that was so easily made by the sons of Jacob when they went back and forth to buy wheat in the time of famine; and forty-two times did they encamp on the way, yet the mercy of the Lord never failed them, and they were brought into their own land at last. Then the cloud was no longer needed to go before them, but long after, when they built a beautiful temple at Jerusalem in which to put the sacred Ark of Testimony, the cloud came again and filled the temple with the glory of the Lord.