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MOSES IN MIDIAN.
Country occupied by the Midianites-Position of Reuel among them
Position of Moses -Character of the Sinaitic region-DesolationSilence-Occasional sand-storms-Silence of the nights-Moses' life in the desert a preparation for his subsequent career-Few circumstances of his life known to us--Names of his sons and explanation of them, Egyptian story of Saneha illustrates this part of the history of Moses.
THE Midianites were a rich and a powerful people. A portion of them were settled in cities (Numb. xxxi. 10); but the greater number led a nomadic life, passing from district to district over a large extent of ground in continual search of fresh pastures for their flocks and herds. In the later life of Moses, their most important settlement was within the territory generally assigned to Moab, on the eastern and northern shores of the Dead Sea (Numb. xxiv. 1-4). Their tribes, however, did not confine themselves to this locality, but wandered as their fancy led them over the entire tract between Palestine and Egypt, while they spread also into Arabia Proper, occupying the eastern no less than the western coast of the Elanitic Gulf, and even build. ing cities there.
At the time of the flight of Moses from Egypt, the Midianitish sheikh of most authority in the south-eastern portion of the Sinaitic peninsula was a certain Reuel or Raguel, who was at once priest and king of his tribe. This Reuel was the father of the maidens whom Moses had championed, and the person who had received him into his tent, and with whom he took service. It does not at all militate against this view of the rank of Reuel that his daughters watered their father's flock; for, in the simplicity of ancient times, chiefs' daughters, and even prin. cesses, condescended to such an occupation (Gen. xxiv. 15-20). Reuel's position was like that of Melchisedek (Gen. xiv. 18), only that Melchisedek was a city king, while Reuel exercised his authority over a tribe of nomads. He was the chief man in the parts to which Moses had come, and it was a fortunate circumstance for the latter that his wanderings had conducted him to the residence of so important a person. Reuel's friendliness at once placed him above want, and secured him a life of peace, freedom, and dignity.
It has been said that Moses was Reuel's “slave," : but this is entirely to misapprehend his position. He was a refugee whom an Arab sheikh had taken under his protection and received into his household out of compassion and kindness. He naturally placed his services at the disposal of his benefactor, and employed himself as his benefactor suggested. But he continued a free agent. He might at any time have resumed his wanderings if it had so pleased him, or have transferred his services elsewhere. But self-interest and affection alike retained him where he was. Reuel after a time gave him one of his daughters to wife, and having thus become a member of the tribe and of the family, it was natural that he should make his permanent home in the tents of his new kindred. His employment was, of course, shepherding, as that was the general occupation of the tribe ; and he probably moved with the tribe at different periods of the year into different parts of the peninsula.
The pastoral life of the desert is wonderfully peaceful and wonderfully elevating, more especially when the desert has the character which attaches to the region in which the lot of Moses was now cast. All around is stillness. Great bare mountains, scarred and seamed, raise their bald heads into the azure sky, casting broad shadows at morn and eve over the plains or valley's at their base, at noonday searched and scorched by the almost vertical sun, which penetrates into every recess and spreads everywhere a glare of quivering light, except where some overhanging rock casts a grateful but scanty shade. The herbage in the valleys and plains is short, but sweet and nourishing. Trees are rare; but low shrubs and bushes, chiefly camel-thorn and acacia, abound; while here and there a clump, or even a grove, of palms affords the eye a welcome variety. The moun
· Stanley, in Smith's “ Dictionary of the Bible,” vol ii. p. 426
tains "combine grandeur with desolation" in this respect, “their scenery is absolutely unrivalled. They are the Alps of Arabia, but the Alps planted in the desert, and therefore stripped of all the clothing which goes to make up our notions of Swiss or English mountains ; stripped of the variegated drapery of oak, and birch, and pine, and fir ; of moss, and grass, and fern, which to landscapes of European hills are almost as essential as the rocks and peaks themselves. Of all the charms of Switzerland, the one which most impresses a traveller recently returned from the East, is the breadth and depth of its verdure. The very name of “Alp" is strictly applied only to the green pasture lands enclosed by rocks or glaciers—a sight in the European Alps so common, in these Arabian Alps so wholly unknown. The absence of verdure, it need hardly be said, is due to the absence of water-to those perennial streams which are at once the creation and the life of every other mountain district.”
And the silence, partly owing to this absence of running water, is complete. No song of birds enlivens the Sinaitic solitudes, no hum of insect life breaks the deathlike stillness. The bleat of a goat is heard at the distance of half a mile. Now and then a mysterious sound, half ghostly, half musical, suddenly fills the air, and then passes away, leaving the stillness stiller than before. It is caused by some slip of sand upon the mountainside, or by some expansion or contraction of the rocks through change of temperature. Otherwise, the silence is unbroken. Thunder and lightning, storm and tempest, are rare visitants of the region; but when they occur, they have a marked character of their own ; and it is one of peculiar impressiveness.
The Sinaitic peninsula, though composed chiefly of rock and gravel, is in certain localities liable to sand-storms. Dean Stanley tells us of one that he experienced, which lasted all day. “Imagine,” he says, “all distant objects entirely lost to view, the sheets of sand fleeting along the surface of the desert like streams of water ; the whole air filled, though invisibly, with a tempest of sand, driving in your face like sleet. Imagine the caravan toiling against this, the Bedouins, each with his shawl thrown completely over his head, half of the riders sitting backwards ; the camels, meantime, thus virtually left without guidance, though from time to time throwing their long necks
Stanley, “Sinai and Palestine," p. 13.
sideways, to avoid the blast, yet moving straight onwards with a painful sense of duty truly edifying to behold. . . . Through this tempest, this roaring and driving tempest, we rode on the whole day." :
Such scenes, however, are rare. For the most part, the Sinaitic region is one of unvarying calm and stillness. By day the sun rises through a dull haze in the east, then springs into a clear and speckless sky, through which it slowly moves hour after hour in constant unclouded majesty, bathing the earth in an unvarying flood of light, until, towards evening, it begins to sink into the purple haze that lies along the west, and, turning it for a few minutes into an ensanguined sea, drops down below the horizon and is hid. Night at once closes in-the glow in the west rapidly fades away-darkness descends upon the face of the earth, and with darkness a hush of silence, even deeper than that of the day. One by one the stars come out in the solemn, blue-black sky, till all their hosts are marshalled, but only to look with many-coloured eyes-yellow, and red, and white, and violet—without noise and without motion on the sleeping earth beneath them. Even when the yellow glory of the moon rises above the horizon and walks, or rather floats, in the softness of the limpid firmament, there is little stir of life, or sound, or movement. Bats perhaps come out and flutter their wings; the cry of a hyæna or a jackal is heard in the distance ; but such sights and sounds are “few and far between," and when they occur, seem rather to intensify the stillness than break it.
The pastoral life is always one that favours contemplation. In the East, the shepherd rises with the early dawn, and leads forth his flock from the rough sheep-folds in which they have passed the night, going before them, and guiding them to the pastures whereon he intends them to browse during the ensuing day. The docile flock follow him, and seldom need a word of chiding; for they soon understand whither he is about to take them, and know they may trust to his guidance. When he has brought them to the spot where he intends them to graze, they scatter themselves, while he seats himself and rests on some convenient knoll, or bank, or stone, whence he can command a view of the beasts under his care, and see that they do not wander away too far. He has but little to do, except to main. tain this watch, which he does almost mechanically, while his
• Stanley, “Sinai and Palestine," pp. 67, 68.
thoughts go far a-field, imagining the future, or recalling the past, or straying into those speculative inquiries concerning God, and man, and nature, and the mystery of life, which have always had charms for Oriental minds, and given them unending occupation. Moses could perhaps not be always quite alone while he was shepherding ; for as a head herdsman, to whom a considerable portion of the flock of a great sheikh was in. trusted, he would have subordinates to help him in his task, and would have to give them orders and see to their execution. But still there would be long hours during each day when practically he would be by himself, face to face with nature and with God, unconsciously drinking in the influences of his surroundings, gaining mental strength and vigour from his contact with the simplicity and solemnity of nature. At the same time he would be disciplining his body by spare and simple meals, by much walking in the open air, by sleep on the ground, short nights, and early risings; while he invigorated his whole character by communing with himself and with God, by deep
searchings of heart,” sharp questionings of conscience, reflections upon his past life, repentance of his sins, and good resolutions with respect to the future. A long spell of solitude, or comparative solitude, is of the highest value for the formation of a high, a noble, and a commanding personality. Elijah's life was chiefly passed in the wilds of Gilead, far away from the haunts of men. John the Baptist " was in the deserts” from the time of his early childhood "till the day of his showing unto Israel” (Luke i. 80), when he was fully thirty years of age. St. Paul, after his conversion and baptism, withdrew for three years into Arabia (Gal. i. 17, 18). The saints of God generally have found the advantage of long periods of retirement from the bustle of active life, and have refreshed and recruited their souls by removing into deserts, or hermitages, or convents, and there passing months or years.
Had Moses during these years any presentiment of his future, and did he consciously seek to prepare himself for it? Our answer must be negative. Unless Divinely warned, Moses could have no expectation of what was about to befall him, and there is no reason to think that he was Divinely warned. When the time for his call came, it came upon him as a new thing, utterly strange to his thoughts, utterly unexpected—“Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh ?" (Exod. iii. 11). No! He was not