33.The first-born according to his birthright (170) Although of the sons of Jacob four were born of bond-women; yet, since they were the elder, they had precedence of their younger brethren, who had descended from free-born mothers; whence it appears that they had been accustomed by their father to keep this order. What, then, some one may say, becomes of the declaration, “the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman?” Truly, I think, since Ishmael was rejected, by the divine oracle proceeding from the mouth of Sarah, as Esau was afterwards, Jacob was fully taught that he had as many heirs as he had sons. Hence arose that equality which caused each to keep his place, first, middle, or last, according to his age. But the design of Moses was to show, that although Benjamin was the youngest, yet he was preferred to all the rest in honor; because Joseph could not refrain from giving him the principal token of his love. It was, indeed, his intention to remain unknown; but affection so far prevails, that, beyond the purpose of his mind, he suddenly breaks out into a declaration of his affection. From the concluding portion of the chapter we gather, what I recently intimated, that the feast was unusually luxurious, and that they were received to it, in a liberal and joyful manner, beyond the daily custom. For the word שכר (shakar,) they “were merry,” signifies, either that they were not always accustomed to drink wine, or that there was more than ordinary indulgence at the sumptuous tables spread for them. Here, however, no intemperance is implied, (so that drunkards may not plead the example of the holy fathers as a pretext for their crime,) but an honorable and moderate liberality. I acknowledge, indeed, that the word has a double meaning, and is often taken in an ill sense; as in Genesis 9:21, and in similar places: but in the present instance the design of Moses is clear. Should any one object, that a frugal use of food and drink is simply that which suffices for the nourishing of the body: I answer, although food is properly for the supply of our necessities, yet the legitimate use of it may proceed further. For it is not in vain, that our food has savor as well as vital nutriment; but thus our heavenly Father sweetly delights us with his delicacies. And his benignity is not in vain commended in Psalms 104:15, where he is said to create “wine that maketh glad the heart of man.” Nevertheless, the more kindly he indulges us, the more solicitously ought we to restrict ourselves to a frugal use of his gifts. For we know how unbridled are the appetites of the flesh. Whence it happens that, in abundance, it is almost always lascivious, and in penury, impatient. We must, however, adhere to St. Paul’s method, that we know how to abound and to suffer need; that is, we must take great care if we have unusual plenty, that it does not hurry us into luxury; and, on the other hand, we must see to it, that we bear poverty with an equal mind. Some one, perhaps, will say, that the flesh is more than sufficiently ingenious in giving a specious color to its excesses; and, therefore, nothing more should be allowed to it than necessity demands. And, truly, I confess, we must diligently attend to what Paul prescribes, (Romans 13:14,)
“Make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”
But because it greatly concerns all pious people to receive their food from the hand of God, with quiet consciences, it is necessary for them to know to what extent the use of food and wine is lawful.