"Then there passed by . . . merchantmen."
—Genesis xxxvii. 28.
I T was a much larger caravan which passed out of Egypt, when the time came at last for Abraham to go back to Canaan; there were more flocks and herds, sheep and cattle, camels and asses. They returned by the same way they came, till they reached one of their old camping-grounds near Bethel.
But Abraham and Lot were no longer wandering explorers, in search of pasture for their flocks. They were rich men now, with numerous attendants, and the pasture that was enough to feed all, in the old days, was no longer enough for both. And there was some quarrelling between the herdmen of Abraham's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle.
Together, the two men stood on a piece of rising ground, from which they could look over the surrounding country.
"Is not the whole land before thee?" said the older man, who had already made up his mind as to the future. "Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."
And Lot, knowing the value of the river Jordan which flowed through the midst of the land, chose its fertile plain, which was well watered everywhere, like the land of Egypt, from which he had just come. So he took his servants, his cattle, and his sheep, and there he made his new home.
Abraham lived in Canaan, right away from Lot; but he did not forget the little colony that had settled in the plains of Jordan—like a branch from the old root,—and when Lot was in difficulties with his foes, Abraham was the first to go to his help.
It was the same in those old days as it is now; the mother country helps her colonies, when they are in trouble.
After a time Abraham's descendants possessed the whole land of Canaan, which reached from his old home beyond the river Euphrates to the river Nile in Egypt. But the love of the old country was still strong within him; and when it was time to choose a wife for his son Isaac, it was to the land beyond the Euphrates that he turned.
Thence came Rebekah, who became the grandmother of Joseph, the story of whose life in Egypt is at once so pathetic and interesting.
As time went on, there was more and more traffic between the two settlements in Asia and Africa, through the land of Canaan. More than one route was discovered by which the long lines of camels and caravans could pass with safety from the one country to the other. And why should they want to go from one land to the other? For purposes of trade.
If one settlement could make and produce what another settlement could not, it was natural that an exchange should take place. And so it came to pass that long lines of camels were constantly journeying across Canaan bearing spices, balm, and myrrh into Egypt, and taking back with them silk and ivory from that country. It was to one of these parties of merchantmen, that Joseph was sold—merchants, on their way down into Egypt.
The story of Joseph is familiar to every child. They know how he was loved by his father Jacob, and how he lived with his parents in the land of Canaan, inherited from his grandfather Abraham. How his elder brothers had gone south to pasture their flocks, like the Arabs of the present day, wherever the wild country was unowned. How by-and-by Jacob, growing uneasy about his elder sons, sent Joseph,—then a boy of seventeen,—clad in his coat of many colours, to see how they were getting on. How the elder brothers hated Joseph because he was his father's favourite, and how, when they saw him coming, they whispered among themselves, "Come now, therefore, and let us slay him."
Finally, they sold him to the party of merchants passing with their camels, laden with spices, for Egypt. So the boy Joseph, now robbed of his coat of many colours, was carried off to Egypt, and there sold to one Potiphar, a courtier of the great Pharaoh of the country.
And while Joseph was serving in Egypt his old father was weeping for him away in Canaan.
"All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted."
Little did Jacob think, as he mourned for Joseph as dead, that some day he too should travel down to Egypt, where he should find his son again, "governor over all the land."