SOME time during the twentieth century before our era, a small and unimportant tribe of Semitic shepherds had left its old home, which was situated in the land of Ur on the mouth of the Euphrates, and had tried to find new pastures within the domain of the Kings of Babylonia. They had been driven away by the royal soldiers and they had moved westward looking for a little piece of unoccupied territory where they might set up their tents.
This tribe of shepherds was known as the Hebrews or, as we call them, the Jews. They had wandered far and wide, and after many years of dreary peregrinations they had been given shelter in Egypt. For more than five centuries they had dwelt among the Egyptians and when their adopted country had been overrun by the Hyksos marauders (as I told you in the story of Egypt) they had managed to make themselves useful to the foreign invader and had been left in the undisturbed possession of their grazing fields. But after a long war of independence the Egyptians had driven the Hyksos out of the valley of the Nile and then the Jews had come upon evil times for they had been degraded to the rank of common slaves and they had been forced to work on the royal roads and on the Pyramids. And as the frontiers were guarded by the Egyptian soldiers it had been impossible for the Jews to escape.
After many years of suffering they were saved from their miserable fate by a young Jew, called Moses, who for a long time had dwelt in the desert and there had learned to appreciate the simple virtues of his earliest ancestors, who had kept away from cities and city-life and had refused to let themselves be corrupted by the ease and the luxury of a foreign civilisation.
Moses decided to bring his people back to a love of the ways of the patriarchs. He succeeded in evading the Egyptian troops that were sent after him and led his fellow tribesmen into the heart of the plain at the foot of Mount Sinai. During his long and lonely life in the desert, he had learned to revere the strength of the great God of the Thunder and the Storm, who ruled the high heavens and upon whom the shepherds depended for life and light and breath. This God, one of the many divinities who were widely worshipped in western Asia, was called Jehovah, and through the teaching of Moses, he became the sole Master of the Hebrew race.
One day, Moses disappeared from the camp of the Jews. It was whispered that he had gone away carrying two tablets of rough-hewn stone. That afternoon, the top of the mountain was lost to sight. The darkness of a terrible storm hid it from the eye of man. But when Moses returned, behold! there stood engraved upon the tablets the words which Jehovah had spoken unto the people of Israel amidst the crash of his thunder and the blinding flashes of his lightning. And from that moment, Jehovah was recognised by all the Jews as the Highest Master of their Fate, the only True God, who had taught them how to live holy lives when he bade them to follow the wise lessons of his Ten Commandments.
They followed Moses when he bade them continue their journey through the desert. They obeyed him when he told them what to eat and drink and what to avoid that they might keep well in the hot climate. And finally after many years of wandering they came to a land which seemed pleasant and prosperous. It was called Palestine, which means the country of the "Pilistu" the Philistines, a small tribe of Cretans who had settled along the coast after they had been driven away from their own island. Unfortunately, the mainland, Palestine, was already inhabited by another Semitic race, called the Canaanites. But the Jews forced their way into the valleys and built themselves cities and constructed a mighty temple in a town which they named Jerusalem, the Home of Peace. As for Moses, he was no longer the leader of his people. He had been allowed to see the mountain ridges of Palestine from afar. Then he had closed his tired eyes for all time. He had worked faithfully and hard to please Jehovah. Not only had he guided his brethren out of foreign slavery into the free and independent life of a new home but he had also made the Jews the first of all nations to worship a single God.