Among the sons of Shem (called Hebrews after his descendant Heber, who dwelt in Mesopotamia) was Abram, the good and faithful man, whom God chose out to be the father of the people in whom He was going to set His Light. In the year 1921, He tried Abram's faith by calling on him to leave his home, and go into a land which he knew not, but which should belong to his children after him -- Abram, who had no child at all.
Yet he obeyed and believed, and was led into the beautiful hilly land then held by the sons of Canaan, where he was a stranger, wandering with his flocks and herds and servants from one green pasture to another, without a loot of land to call his own. For showing his faith by thus doing as he was commanded, Abram was rewarded by the promise that in his Seed should all the families of the earth be blessed; his name was changed to Abraham, which means a father of a great multitude; and as a sign that he had entered into a covenant with God, he was commanded to circumcise his children.
One son, Ishmael, had by this time been born to him of the bondmaid Hagar; but the child of promise, Isaac, the son of his wife Sarah, was not given till he was a hundred years old. Ishmael was cast out for mocking at his half-brother, the heir of the promises; but in answer to his father's prayers, he too became the father of a great nation, namely the Arabs, who still live in the desert, with their tents, their flocks, herds, and fine horses, much as Ishmael himself must have lived. They are still circumcised, and honour Abraham as their father; and with them are joined the Midianites and other tribes descended from Abraham's last wife, Keturah.
Isaac alone was to inherit the promise, and it was renewed to him and to his father, when their faith had been proved by their submission to God's command, that Isaac should be offered as a burnt-offering upon Mount Moriah, a sign of the Great Sacrifice long afterwards, when God did indeed provide Himself a Lamb.
When Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah for a, burial-place, it was in the full certainty that though he was now a stranger in the land, it would be his children's home; and it was there that he and the other patriarchs were buried after their long and faithful pilgrimage.
Isaac's wife, Rebekah, was fetched from Abraham's former home, in Mesopotamia, that he might not be corrupted by marrying a Canaanite. Between his two sons, Esau and Jacob, there was again a choice; for God had prophesied that the elder should serve the younger, and Esau did not value the birthright which would have made him heir to no lands that would enrich himself, and to a far-off honour that he did not understand. So despising the promises of God, he made his right over to his brother for a little food, when he was hungry, and though he repented with tears when it was too late, he could not win back what he had once thrown away.
His revengeful anger when he found how he had been supplanted, made Jacob flee to his mother's family in Mesopotamia, and there dwell for many years, ere returning to Canaan with his large household, there to live in the manner that had been ordained for the first heirs of the promise. Esau went away to Mount Seir, to the south of the Promised Land, and his descendants were called the Edomites, from his name, meaning the Red; and so, too, the sea which washed their shores, took the name of the Sea of Edom, or the Red Sea. They were also named Kenites from his son Kenaz. Their country, afterwards called Idumea, was full of rocks and precipices, and in these the Edomites hollowed out caves for themselves, making them most beautiful, with pillars supporting the roof within, and finely-carved entrances, cut with borders, flowers, and scrolls, so lasting that the cities of Bosra and Petra are still a wonder to travellers, though they have been empty and deserted for centuries past. The Edomites did not at once lose the knowledge of the true God; indeed, as many believe, of them was born the prophet Job, whom Satan was permitted to try with every trouble he could conjure up, so that his friends believed that such sufferings could only be brought on him for some great sin; whereas he still maintained that the ways of God were hidden, and gave utterance to one of the clearest ancient prophecies of the Redeemer and the Resurrection. At length God answered him from the whirlwind, and proclaimed His greatness through His unsearchable works; and Job, for his patience in the time of adversity, was restored to far more than his former prosperity.
Jacob's name was changed to Israel, which meant a prince before God; and his whole family were taken into the covenant, though the three elder sons, for their crimes, forfeited the foremost places, which passed to Judah and Joseph; and Levi was afterwards chosen as the tribe set apart for the priesthood, the number twelve being made up by reckoning Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, as heads of tribes, like their uncles. Long ago, Abraham had been told that his seed should sojourn in Egypt; and when the envious sons of Israel sold their innocent brother Joseph, their sin was bringing about God's high purpose. Joseph was inspired to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, which foretold the famine; and when by-and-by his brothers came to buy the corn that he had laid up, he made himself known, forgave them with all his heart, and sent them to fetch his father to see him once more. Then the whole family of Israel, seventy in number, besides their wives, came and settled in the land of Goshen, about the year 1707, and were there known by the name of Hebrews, after Heber, the great-grand-son of Shem. There in Goshen, Jacob ended the days of his pilgrimage, desiring his sons to carry his corpse back to the Cave of Machpelah, there to be buried, and await their return when the time of promise should come. He gave his blessing to all his sons, and was inspired to mark out Joseph among them as the one whose children should have the choicest temporal inheritance; but of the fourth son, he said, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." Shiloh meant Him that should be sent, and Judah was thus marked out to be the princely tribe, which was to have the rule until the Seed should come.