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THIKE the other Books of the Pentateuch, Exodus may be looked
at from three points of view. Its contents are either historical, or legislative, or doctrinal. The last feature is much more marked here than in Genesis. It opens by recalling
attention in a general way to the topics specially alluded to in Genesis xlvi. The writer repeats the statement, that “all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy” (ver. 5). The advent of a new dynasty brought trouble to the descendants of Jacob. “There arose a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (ver. 8). They were reduced to the condition of slaves. One act of oppression and another followed. “Their lives were bitter with hard bondage” (ver. 14). The crowning act of tyranny, they were commanded to become the murderers of their own children: “Pharaoh charged all the people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river” (ver. 22). This despotic order was given when the tyrant failed to influence the midwives to make secretly away with the male infants at whose birth they assisted. The early attention given to various aspects of medical practice by the Egyptians has been noticed already (Gen. 1.) We learn from this incident that the accoucheurs were females. There are not awanting proofs that other features of the healing art were practised by women. “Diodorus writes that in Egypt, and chiefly at Heliopolis, there lived women who boasted of certain potions, which not only made the unfortunates forget all their calamities, but drove away the most violent sallies of grief or anger.” Milton notes—
“That Nepenthes which the wife of Thone
“There went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when
she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink” (ver. 1-3). The materials used by Jochebed for making the ark or cradle for her infant son, were bulrushes and slime, or pitch. The word rendered “bulrush” is gõme, or the plant specially distinguished for its power of absorbing water. It occurs in other three passages. Job asks (ch. viii. 11)
“ Can the rush (gome) grow up without mire ?
Can the flag (achu) grow without water?
He wishes to show that while the wicked have their usual sources of happiness, and power to enjoy them, all is well. But if these be cut off
, it is like withdrawing water from the rush and the flag. They cannot subsist without it. They droop, and wither, and die. The habitat of the bulrush and the flag is thus shown to be marshy lands by the brink of lake or river. In Isaiah xviii. 2, one of the uses to which the bulrush was put is mentioned. Boats were built of it. The Ethiopians are spoken of as “sending ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes.' In chapter xxxv. 7, the same prophet, when describing the effects of a great revival, compares them, among other things, to fountains breaking forth in the lair of ravenous beasts, named as a place “ of reeds (kāneh) and rushes (gõme).”
These references are all we have to enable us to identify the plant named here. It has been too hastily assumed that it must have been the true paper reed, or papyrus, for which Egypt in ancient times was celebrated. It is indeed true, that one of the passages quoted from Isaiah is clear on the point, that it was often used for this purpose, and that the notices of it which occur in profane authors point to the same fact.
But this does not determine the matter. We know from Herodotus that sandals were frequently made from it, but this does not warrant the inference that all sandals were made from this material. The only conclusion to which in the circumstances we can come is, that under the term bulrush (Cyperus) any description suitable for this purpose may be referred to, and that under the term flags different sorts of reed-mace (Typha) are indicated.
The bulrush is one of the Sedge family of plants (Cyperacec). Several kinds are noted for the uses to which they are put. The edible cyperus (C. esculentus) is much cultivated in France.
Its roots are
sweet and agreeable to the taste. In Holland one species (C. arenaria) is planted on the dykes, whose soil it binds together by its intertwisting roots. But the most celebrated species is the true Paper-reed (C. papyrus), the Sacred Byblus (Byblus hieraticus) of Strabo. The cellular tissue of this plant was carefully divided, and when in a moist state, it was pieced together and made into a long roll. This when dried was used for writing on. Hence our word paper. The Hebrew gome points to the absorbing power of the plant, and so does the Greek translation biblos, from which our word Bible is derived. This and allied species yielded material also for making boats, ropes, sandals, baskets, and even articles of clothing
Upwards of two thousand species are included in the Cyperaceae. The papyrus of the Nile has a triangular stem, grows to the height of above six feet, and is noted for its gracefulness and beauty. It is now very rare in Egypt, if indeed it is to be found at all. Sir G. Wilkinson affirms that it is unknown. It is to be met with in Sicily, on the banks of the Anapus.
The flags among which Jochebed laid the ark were no doubt the marsh plants generally growing in such a situation. Among these the reed-maces (Typhacece) would prevail. In this verse the Hebrew word (suph) may be translated by reed-mace. The figure given above is that of the great reed-mace (Typha latifolia), with which most British readers must be familiar. It flourishes luxuriantly, during July and August, among other aquatic plants which fringe our quiet lakes and pools. Its stem is erect and often above six feet high. Its leaves are about an inch broad and four feet long. There is another British species which is well known—the lesser reed-mace (T. angustifolia), abundant in the neighbourhood of London. The word used here is generally translated “Red” when associated
In this connection it occurs twenty-four times, and gives its name to the sea thus named-Red Sea or Yam Suph, Sea of Weeds. It is only thrice rendered “flags,” twice in this chapter, and once in Isa. xix. 6, where it is associated with reeds (kaneh)—“ The reeds and flags shall wither”—which see.
The river into which the children were to be cast was the Nile, which rises in Lake Victoria Nyanza, 3° S. of the equator, and then flows in a northern direction. On reaching Darfur it is known as the Bahrel-Abiad, or White River. At Khartum (15° 38' N.L.) it meets its confluent the Bahr-el-Azrak, or Blue River, from Abyssinia. After receiving the Tacazze it leaves “the stony valleys of Nubia, after having ten times, terrace-like, dashed its floods over the rocks impeding its way; it enters Egypt, near Syene (at 23° 33' N.L.), where it forms its last cataract; continues its sinuous way northward through a valley between five and ten miles wide, and shut in, on both sides, by two chains of irregular mountains of sandstone, till it divides itself, not far from Cairo (at the ancient Cercasorum), in two arms, which form the Delta, and discharge their waters into the Mediterranean at Damietta and Rosetta respectively. The eastern or
The eastern or Arabian range of mountains is overtopped by higher granite chains, it is more precipitous, crossed by several valleys in an oblique direction, and often approaches the river so near, that the latter has scarcely more than room to pass. The valley ceases above Cairo; from this point the Libyan chain advances in a north-westerly direction towards the coast, while the Arabian range proceeds almost rectangularly eastward to the Red Sea.” At its entrance into the valley of Egypt the Nile is about four thousand feet wide; above Cairo it is nearly three thousand feet wide.
Divine honours were paid to the river under the impersonated name Nilus, its Latin form. In earliest times of Egyptian story, the devotions paid to the water of their river were given to Osiris, the sun-god, who was believed to send the waters to the earth. Thus in a hymn to Osiris, to which the date of B.c. 1700 is ascribed, it is said, “ From him descend the waters of the heavenly Nile, from him proceeds the wind. The air we breathe is also in his nostrils for his own contentment and the gladdening of his heart; he purifies the realms of space,
which taste of his felicity, because the stars that move therein obey him in the height of heaven.”—(M. Chabas, Rev. Archeol. 1857). In time the Nile came to take the place of the sun-god in the superstitious creed of Egypt-a fact curiously illustrative of a declension, even in the idolatry of that remarkable people. “The Egyptian mind,” says Hardwick, “is seen descending more and more entirely from the worship of the heavenly bodies to the contemplation of the marvellous agencies at work in its immediate neighbourhood. In earlier times Osiris was enthroned upon the sun; but now the Nile itself is substituted for that glorious luminary. Then the spouse of the great sun-god was the mother and the nurse of universal vegetation; now she is the single land of Egypt fructified and gladdened by the Nile. Then Osiris was a nature-god, a verbal representative of forces active in the varied processes of nature; now he has been moulded into the great civilizing hero of Mizraim, binding men together in a fixed society, teaching agriculture, and subduing nations, not by force alone, but by the charms of eloquence and music. Then his death was the suspension of all vital power without the least distinction of locality; now it coincides precisely with that season of the year in Egypt when decay and barrenness are everywhere ascendant through the valley of the Nile. The reason of this gradual localizing of the story—this confusion, one might call it, of the sun with the Egyptian river—is hardly to be sought in the prevailing fancy that the Nile and sun were wont to meet together at the western horizon, and after plunging down into the under-world came forth again together from the caverns of the east.
An explanation, simple in itself and serving also to account for other kindred stories, is suggested by the fact that the Egyptian had been gradually tempted to associate every genial, fertilizing power in nature with the annual overflow of his great river. In one meaning of the phrase Herodotus was right, when he declared that Egypt is “the gift of the Nile." 'My river is mine own" was the ungodly boast ascribed to Egypt in the vision of the Hebrew prophet (Ezek. xxix. 3, 9), “My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.” “ Turn the course of the Nile,” it has been said, “and not one blade of vegetation would ever arise in Egypt.” And the more intelligent of modern travellers, no longer open to the potent witcheries which nature once exerted on mankind, but recognizing the almighty hand of God himself throughout this “annual miracle of mercy,” are still awe-struck by the grand phenomena presented to them as the river bursts afresh into its ancient channels. “All nature shouts for joy. The men, the children, the buffaloes, gambol in its refreshing waters; the broad waves sparkle with shoals of fish, and fowl of every wing flutter over them in clouds. Nor is this jubilee of nature confined to the higher orders of creation. The moment the sand becomes moistened by the approach of the fertilizing waters, it is literally alive with insects innumerable.” — See also under Genesis xli. 1, and Amos ix. 5.