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which they lived. It is not only Christian charity, but also strict justice, to judge them by the times in which they lived, not by our times. No charity
No charity or justice, however, though it may modify our condemnation, can make sin otherwise than it actually is, simply and truly sin.
No logical difficulties now troubled the mind of Abraham as he looked on his son that evening. His thoughts kept centering upon the vast promises made by Jehovah respecting him,—the covenants made, the glory that was to come through him, the blessedness to all the earth. Isaac was to him, apart from fatherly affection, an intensely interesting object, a being marked by heaven, and designated as one by whom God was to give his highest favors to the world. No wonder that Abraham loved and doted on that son!
With what amazement, then, did this patriarch, just after the scene detailed, hear a command given from heaven,
“ Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah ; and OFFER HIM THERE FOR A BURNT-OFFERING upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
The first supposition that might occur now to our minds would be that Abraham could not believe such a communication to be heavenly; and that all his feelings would revolt against the demand as a thing incongruous with the dealing of a good Creator toward his creatures, and therefore impossible to come from God. This leads us to revert to the idea suggested above, that we must judge those ancient people by the times in which they lived, and not by our own.
Human sacrifices, as a choice offering to their gods, prevailed in the countries adjoining Abraham's residence; and, “Down to the times of Manetho and Plutarch,” says Bunsen, “and certainly to the fall of paganism in Egypt, the sacrificial stamp remained a speaking proof of the original sin-offering in Egypt also having been human sacrifice, which is indeed implied in the primary idea of sacrifice. It represented a man on his knees, with his hands tied behind him and the sacrificial knife pointed at his throat." “ Manetho related,” says Plutarch, “ that in Eilthyia (the city of the mother of Isis) the sacrifice of the so-called Typhoneans was performed during the dog-days,-human sacrifices, namely, when the ashes of the victims were scattered to the winds. This account is derived from Manetho's work on · Archæology and Devotion.' Porphyry quotes this same work to the following effect: ‘Amos (Aahmes, according to Bunsen, the first Pharaoh of the new or restored Egyptian empire, and after Abraham's time) abolished the practice of human sacrifices in Heliopolis [On of our Scriptures]. They were formerly performed to Hera (the mother of Isis). The victims were examined and a seal was affixed to them, just as the calves without blemish are now examined and sealed. Three were sacrificed daily.” The celebrated Egyptologist, Wilkinson, has recently discovered on the monuments a stamp answering exactly to the description of Manetho, and has given a copy of it in the fifth volume of his “Manners and Customs of the Egyptians.”ı
“It was a custom among the Phænicians and Canaanites," says another excellent authority, “in times of great calamity, for their kings to sacrifice one of their sons, whom they loved best; and it was common both with them, as well as with the Moabites and Ammonites, to sacrifice their children.... Upon extraordinary occasions, multitudes were sacrificed at once to their sanguinary deities. Thus, during the battle between the Sicilian army under Gelon, and the Carthaginians [a Phænician colony] ander Amilcar in Sicily, the latter remained in his camp offering sacrifices to the deities of his country, and consuming, upon one large pile, the bodies of numerous victims. (Herod. lib. vii. c. 167.) When Aga
1 See Bunsen's “ Egypt's Place in History.”
thocles was about to besiege Carthage, its inhabitants, seeing the extremity to which they were reduced, imputed all their misfortunes to the anger of Saturn; because, instead of offering up children of noble descent (who were usually sacrificed), there had been fraudulently substituted for them the children of slaves and foreigners. Two hundred children of the best families in Carthage were therefore immolated to propitiate the offended divinity, to whom upward of three hundred citizens voluntarily sacrificed themselves from a sense of their guilt of this pretended crime.” The chief oracles among the heathen, as that at Delphi, at Dodona, and that of Jupiter Saotes, also directed human sacrifices to be offered.
Abraham prepared to obey the command. Whatever were his feelings toward Isaac himself, the terrible influences around him, and the systems of belief and practice in Egypt and Phænicia and Canaan—where it was considered that the more precious the child the more acceptable to the divinity was the offering-kept him from revolting from the command or questioning its origin on account of its terrible nature; and he yielded. Nor would the young man, under such universal teachings around them, rebel and refuse submission ; for his gentleness of disposition would lead him readily to acquiesce in the belief that he and his father would thus be paying the highest possible honor to God. Our own views of the Jehovah are certainly far different, and our training has been different; but we must remember that Abraham was only catching glimpses of the Deity by present revelations; that he was alone amid the dark overclondings of heathendom all around, without a human being to go to for counsel or instruction, and that he could do no more than listen to promptings which had mysteriously led him on. To them he had always yielded implicit obedience with fulness of unquestioning faith.
1 See Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
He prepared now to obey, his faith not giving way, but his heart torn into shreds and bleeding at every pore. For he loved the young man with such an entireness of love as could exist only where there was no other heart's treasure in the world. His wife he had known to be querulous, sometimes despotic, always jealous; but the son was one upon whom all his affections could be lavished without check, and who could return them without stint from any countervailing influences. The other son was gone: the father could never think of that one without a feeling of self-abasement from his own yieldingness, and also of but half-stifled anger against his jealous wife; but here there was no drawback, and the grievances from conjugal occurrences made his love—which we know from other things to have been capable of great strength—all centre with additional power on this, the son of his old age, the heavenheralded child, about whom such future wonderful glory had been promised. His affections had been allowed to have, and they had, full concentration on his beloved Isaac.
God, it was true, could give another, as he had given this one: there Abraham's faith did not waver ; but yet !—to remove Isaac would be to make the whole world to him a blank, a terrible, dark abyss.
But he set about obeying the command.
The Scriptures tell us that “God did tempt Abraham ;" but a more correct translation would have been, he“proved ” him, “put him to the test;}” not that the omniscient Jehovah needed any proof for himself, but because the example was needed for the world. And so this has been, ever since, to the world, an example of pure, unhesitating, unquestioning faith.
1 As in 1 Sam. xvii. 39, where, twice, the same Hebrew word as in this instande means tried or proved ; and in Job iv. 2, literally, "If any one try a word with thee."
Though the faith was such, still the trial was a terrible one; and every item of the preparation,—the cleaving of the wood for the offering, the arrangements for the fire to be kept up on the way, the knife for the sacrifice,-all was like a sword piercing the father's heart. Questions also by the mother, or by the young man himself, were to be evaded or ambiguously answered, leaving the eyes of the questioners still expressing doubt or dissatisfaction, and making the weight of the secret in the old man's heart—a guilty secret, it seemed to be-almost intolerable to be borne alone. But he bore it alone, and in silence, as far as possible; and then putting the wood on an ass, and with two servants and his son in company, he set out on his journey.
“ What answer,” he thought, “must he give to the mother on his return ?” He was to be informed by divine admonition respecting the place intended for the sacrifice, and was led onward from Beersheba in a northerly direction, past Hebron with its old associations, and where, if there were now greetings from old acquaintances, he could have no heart to reply; past where afterward grew up Bethlehem, at which, centuries afterward, was to appear in human form the great self-sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, of which, indeed, Abraham's intended act was faintly typical ; and now, probably somewhere about this place, looking forward, he saw the mountain, Moriah, where his own altar for the purposed sacrifice of his son was to be built. They travelled slowly, for the distance from Beersheba to Mount
1 A recent traveller has designated the place near this whence Moriah may be seen, "afar off.”
2 Dean Stanley supposes that Mt. Gerizim was the place selected for the sacrifice; but, if there were no other objection, the distance from Beersheba to this mountain (seventy-five miles) would be a sufficient argument against such an hypothesis.