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JACOB AT BETHEL.
The historian goes on to tell us that “the name of that city was called Luz at the first,” implying an earlier Canaanitish settlement. A curious and interesting trace of this fact is found in the stone-circles, resembling those in our own country, which still exist on the east of the city.
There are numerous instances in Palestine of the occurrence of dolmens and rude stone
circles. We must doubtless refer them to the early settlers, antecedent to the Hebrew conquest.
We now leave the sterile rocky heights of Benjamin and Judah, and shall soon enter upon the fertile plains and valleys of Samaria. The soil is richer and better cultivated. The hills are terraced up to their summits, and are covered with corn-fields and orchards. In the days of prosperity and
plenty, when "every man sat under his own vine and fig-tree,” even the barren slopes of Southern Palestine were brought under cultivation. They drew “honey from the rock, and oil out of the Ainty rock.” Even yet we can trace the lines of these ancient terraces showing what the land once was, and what it may yet become again when “the time to favour Zion, yea, the set time, is come.” But now these long lines or scattered heaps of stones only add to the general sense of desolation. In the country north of Bethel, however, we come to many districts in which something of the former fertility and prosperity may yet be found. From our camp in Ain Haramiyeh, or Robbers' Fountain, a few miles north of Bethel, we could see the hills clothed to their very summits with fig-gardens, now in their bright spring greenery. A Syrian gentleman, who was my frequent companion through this part of Palestine, plucked the young figs as he passed without stint or scruple. His reply to my question as to his right to do so was instructive as throwing light upon an incident in the life of our Lord as to which some difficulty has been felt. In the early spring, when the first leaves appear, an immense number of small figs are produced, which do not ripen but fall from the branches, crude and immature, to the ground. To these we find a reference in the Apocalypse " as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs.” The true crop is not produced till later in the year. This first crude “untimely” growth, though of no commercial value, is yet plucked and eaten by the peasantry, sometimes with a pinch of salt, sometimes with bread. Like the wild fruit of our hedgerows it is free to all passers-by. It was just at this early season, before the feast of the passover, , that our Lord and His disciples, having walked from Bethany, hungered." Seeing a fig-tree “afar off having leaves,” they sought fruit and “found nothing thereon but leaves only, for the time of figs was not yet.” That is to say, seeing leaves they had a right to expect fruit. Finding fruit they would have had a right to pluck it," for the time of figs was not yet,” the true and valuable crop was not yet produced.” This incident He turned into a solemn lesson of warning to the Jews. It was at the close of His public ministry. “Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit and finding none,”3—nothing but the leaves of mere profession and outward privilege. The time of forbearance and patient pitying delay had passed—that of rejection and destruction had come ; “and He said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig-tree withered away.”
“On the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah,”- stood Shiloh, exactly on the spot thus precisely indicated is the village of Seilân, the Arabic form of its ancient name. It stands on a slight eminence, rising from an extensive plain. An ancient well probably marks the spot where “the daughters of Shiloh came out to dance in dances” at their annual festival,
and were carried away as brides by the Benjamites who had crossed the frontier.' Of the tabernacle in which the ark rested, from the time of Joshua to that of Samuel, no trace, of course, remains. But on the summit of a little knoll we find the remains of what was once a Jewish synagogue, afterwards used as a church, and subsequently as a mosque.
On the lintel over the doorway, between two wreaths of flowers, is carved a vessel shaped like a Roman amphora; it so closely resembles the conventional type of the “pot of manna” as found on coins and in the ruins of the synagogue at Caper
naum, that it doubtless formed part of the original building. It is a not improbable conjecture that the synagogue may have been erected on the sacred spot which for so many generations formed the centre of Jewish worship. And in the rock sepulchres with which the neighbouring hill-sides are honeycombed, the remains of Eli, and of the high-priests who had ministered before him at the altar were doubtless laid to rest.
There are few spots in Palestine of which the identification is more certain, or the associations more interesting than Shiloh. Here the childless wife
Judges xxi. verses 15-23.
prayed; and when her prayer had been heard she brought the infant Samuel (Asked of the Lord), and said to the aged priest, “Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord : as long as he liveth shall he be lent to the Lord.” The incidents which followedthe annual visit of the happy mother, the little coat, made with such loving care, for the absent boy, the child Samuel “growing in stature and in favour both with the Lord and also with men,” the aged, sorrowful priest, the mysterious voice in the silence of the night, the mournful tragedy of Eli's death, and the universal recognition of “all Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord,”—have
delighted infancy and instructed manhood throughout the civilized world for three thousand years.
The subsequent history of this favoured spot is very mournful. Partaking in the wickedness and idolatry of Samaria, and then deserted by the apostate people for more favoured shrines, it soon sank down into ruin and desolation, so that in the time of the later kings it became a conspicuous instance of the fate which awaits all who forsake God. God “ forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men.' “But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.” “I will make this house (the Temple) like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.”2 The same lesson is thus taught us here as in the cities in which our Lord's mighty works were performed, that privileges abused or neglected can only increase our guilt and deepen our ruin.
2 Psa. lxxviii. 60. Jer. vii. 12 ; xxvi. 6.
i Sam. i.-iii.
HORTLY after leaving Seilân we descend
into the broad and fertile plain of El Mukhna. Two parallel ridges of mountains bound the view on the north-west. Rising to a height of two thousand seven hundred
feet above the level of the sea, they are conspicuous objects in the
landscape, and are visible from a great distance. Elsewhere in Palestine we are struck by the contrast between the grandeur of the
history, and the unimpressive character of the scenery; but these noble and massive forms are a fitting theatre for the grandest events. They are EBAL and GERIZIM. In the narrow valley between them
Shechem, where Abram pitched his tent, and built his first altar, on his entrance into the Promised Land.' In the plain at the foot was the parcel of ground which Jacob bought, where he digged a well, and erected an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel, (God, the God of Israel). Close by is the sepulchre in which the embalmed