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contains numerous rich pastures and pleasant hills, although the want of water prevents large portions of soil, naturally fertile, from being productive. The air is very pure throughout the whole country of Mesopotamia, but the sandy deserts, by which the southern portion is surrounded, render the climate remarkably warm in the summer season.
The familiarity of shepherds with their flocks in oriental countries was very remarkable. We read of their going before, leading, calling their sheep, and of their flocks following, and distinguishing their voices. Jacob was, indeed, one of the most celebrated shepherds of the patriarchal age, for he not only tended his flock, but improved the variety. The object of the drawing is to exhibit him in the discharge of his duties, and the result of his ameliorating labours, which may be traced in the appearance of the sheep.
Salvator Rosa has painted this subject; but his Jacob is a bandit of the Abbruzzi, and the sheep those of the Campagna of Kome— a mode of representation contrary to both reason and Scripture. He has also represented the flock on the margin of a rich stream of water, which is equally opposed to the truth. As Scripture represents, so the flocks feeding on the plains of Mesopotamia are watered, in the absence of streams, from a well; whence it arose that a good well was considered by the inhabitants an invaluable blessing. On the possession of wells, indeed, depended the existence of men and beasts in many parts of the East.
The costume in which Jacob appears in the drawing is that of the primitive Bedouin. As the manners and habits of the orientals continue unchanged, it is probable that Jacob wore such a dress while tending his flocks.
Two distinct races of sheep are, in the present day, found inhabiting Syria and Palestine, the Bedouin and the Syrian. The latter species is the more numerous, and, therefore, introduced into the drawing, with the improved varieties of ringstraked, spotted, speckled, etc. As the Syrian variety, indeed, is found in great perfection in countries with which the Hebrews were conversant, it is highly probable that it composed the flocks of the patriarchs. The tail of one of these animals is very broad and large, hence the variety has been an object of wonder to every traveller from the time of Herodotus. Dr. Russell, in his "Natural History of Aleppo," says, that the carcass of a sheep of this variety, exclusive of the head, feet, skin, etc., weighs from sixty to eighty pounds, of which the tail alone usually weighs fifteen pounds. To preserve these appendages from injury, the Arabs frequently affix a piece of board to the under part, and sometimes it is found necessary to attach wheels. The fat of the tail is employed as a substitute for butter and oil, and when eaten with boiled rice it is very palatable. Under the Mosaic law, the Levites were constantly directed to place the hind part, or tail, whole on the fire of the altar. The reason for this is obvious. It was the most delicate part of the animal, and, therefore, the most proper to be presented in sacrifice to Jehovah, under a dispensation of types and shadows.
In contemplating the calm and benevolent attitude of Jacob, the shepherd, the mind recurs to the many beautiful figures found in Scripture which are drawn from the pastoral character. The Hebrew nation was truly pastoral; and it is from this circumstance that they are frequently mentioned as a flock of sheep, under the care of their great Shepherd, Jehovah. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Jews in this character, when describing their return from captivity under his Almighty protection.
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock
And will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered
And upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be:
And in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.
See also Psalm lxxiv. 1; Ixxviii. 52; Ixxix. 13; xcv. 7;
As the gracious relation of Jehovah and the Israelites was thus represented, so is Jesus Christ and the spiritual Israel represented, both in the Old and New Testaments. Thus Isaiah, alluding to the oriental custom of the shepherds carrying the lambs in their arms, and of driving the dams tenderly when they were with young, says:—
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:
He shall gather the lambs with his arm,
And carry them in his bosom,
And shall gently lead those that are with young. Isa. xl. 11.
The young, the weary, and the weak believer alike shall know his tender care. See also Jer. xxiii. 3,4; Ezek. xxxiv. 23; Zech. xiii. 7.
Our Lord himself, having reference to these passages, in John, chap. x., after delineating the duties of a faithful shepherd, in which he makes some interesting allusions to oriental usages — such as calling the sheep by name, the shepherd going before while they follow, and their recognising and obeying his voice—asserted, before the enraged Jews, who were well acquainted with prophecy, that he was "the Good Shepherd;" after which, he characterized his sheep, showed what love he bears to them, and described their eternal safety under his protection. After his resurrection, he charged his disciples, and all his ministers after them, to feed his sheep and his lambs.
The strongest proof which our Lord has given of his being "the Good Shepherd," is his death on the cross. He had power to retain his life; but he saw mankind going astray like "lost sheep," and he offered to die for their redemption. Looking at the greatness of his love, therefore, what solid ground does the Christian possess for confidence and rejoicing! He may say:—
The Lord is my Shepherd, no want shall I know;
I feed in green pastures, safe-folded I rest;
Restores me when wandering, redeems when opprest.
And, looking to the future, when he will be surrounded by the thick shadows of death, he may still exclaim with exultation:—
Through the valley and shadow of death though I stray,
Since Thou art my Guardian, no evil I fear;
No harm can befall, with my Comforter near.
Through the sacrifice of Christ the valley of the shadow of death opens a vista to heaven, to the sight of the dying Christian.