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Haran, when, amid its wide flowery plains and the attractions of intercourse among relatives, he believed and obeyed, and left all, not knowing whither he was going, but only that God was leading him. The friend he was, following the call over those sandy intervening deserts to Damascus, and then away from its richness and beauty, and onward among the giants at Bashan, and so to live among the giants at Hebron, a stranger and helpless, except that he had God's protection, but not doubting that Protector. The friend he was, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, and he went and built the altar, and took the knife and raised it to strike!
Always the friend ; trusting, true, faithful. And it was for this that God blessed him and honored him. Our friendship to God—what is it? Who can fathom the full depth of its distrusts, and weaknesses, and hesitancies, and of our idol-worship of the world and its belongings, and of our shame and backwardness in acknowledging God, and of our withholding when called to make sacrifices of sins or comforts for him, and of our frequent practical disbelief?
The world has changed greatly since Abraham's time. Centuries of experience have passed over men's heads; history has raised her voice for God ; intelligence has been sharpened and strengthened ; Jesus has come and given us his divine teachings, and his life and death; we have all means of knowledge and all incentives to trust in God; but among mortals Abraham yet stands alone in the fulness of his undoubting faith; pre-eminent as The friend of God.
We return to notice a few items respecting this buryingplace at Machpelah, and its surrounding wall. It lies on the southern side of a hill which, rising northwardly from Hebron, ascends to the table-land above. The spot is guarded with most careful jealousy by the Mohammedan owners of that country, whose fanaticism is peculiarly intense with regard to this, one of the most sacred places in their religion. There is a hole in the enclosing wall at its
foundations near its northwestern corner, and the Jews are allowed there to reach through and touch the native rock, which they can do by lying flat on the ground. This is the only privilege allowed them with regard to this spot. Christians were equally debarred from entering the walls until the visit of the Prince of Wales to Palestine in 1862, when, after negotiations with the Turkish Government and great difficulties thrown in the way, he was allowed, as a token of great favor to the British government, to enter with a suite of seven persons, among them Dean Stanley, who has given an account of the visit. The southern end of the enclosed space is occupied by a Turkish mosque facing toward the north, where is a court or open square, and beyond this, quite at the northern end, is a smaller mosque. In the larger mosque just on the right, as it is entered from the court, is a recess faced with marble and separated from the spectator by a railing of silver; within this is a cenotaph or
raised platform six feet high, and covered with green cloths embroidered in gold. The Turks call it Abraham's tomb; but it is undoubtedly only a monumental representative of what is below. On the opposite side of the mosque is a similar cenotaph for Sarah, similarly guarded and enriched ; and further in are cenotaphs of like form for Isaac on the right, and Rebekah on the left; the grating here is not of silver but iron. Beyond the court in the smaller northern building are similar monuments for Jacob and Leah. Near Abraham's cenotaph, outside the railing, in the pavement is a circular hole about eight inches across, at the lower part of which, as far as the visitors could see and feel, was the living rock. “This cavity,” says Stanley," appears to open into a dark space beneath, and that space (which the guardians of the mosque believed to extend under the whole platform) can hardly be anything else than the ancient lave of Mach pelah. This was the only aperture which the guardians recognized. A lamp is let down at night and burnt in the place beneath.”
Since that visit further explanations have been made by Mons. Pioretti, formerly engineer in the Sardinian army, but at the time of this visit, acting as engineer and architect for Suray Pasha at Jerusalem ; and in consequence of his official position having unusual privileges. He says, " The true entrance to the patriarch's tomb is to be seen close to the western wall of the enclosure and near the northwest corner. I observed the Musselmans themselves did not go near it. In the court opposite the entrance of the mosque there is an opening through which I was allowed to go down for three steps, and I was able to ascertain by sight and touch that the rock exists there, and to conclude it to be about five feet thick. From the short observations I could make during my brief descent, as also from consideration of the eastern wall of the mosque and the little information I extracted from the chief Santon who jealously guards the sanctuary, I consider that a part of the grotto exists under the mosque and that the other part is under the court, but at a lower level than that lying under the mosque. This latter must be separated from the former by a vertical stratum of rock which contains an opening, as I conclude for two reasons; first, because the east wall being entirely solid and massive, it requires a good foundation ; second, because the petitions which the Musselmans present to the Santon to be transmitted to the Patriarchs are thrown, some through one opening, some through the other, according to the Patriarch to whom they are directed; and the Santon goes down by the way I went, whence I suppose that on that side there is the vestibule, and that the tombs may be found below it.
“I explained my conjecture to the Santon himself, after leaving the mosque, and he showed himself very much surprised at the time, and told the pacha afterward that I knew more about it than the Turks themselves. The fact is that even the Pacha, who governs the province, has no right to penetrate into the enclosure, where (according to Musselman legend), the patriarchs are living, and only condescend to receive the petitions addressed to them by mortals.”
TSAAC was seventy-five years old when Abraham died. 1 He and Ishmael, after performing the last solemn duty to their father's remains, had turned again toward their homes ; Isaac to the well Lahai-roi, about forty miles S. E. from Hebron, and the older brother to his tribe and his family in Arabia. In the Hebrew tribe the aged patriarch was greatly missed; for not only had he been a person who attached himself to all around him, but the belief in the constant communion between God and him had given him a deep sacredness in the regards of all.
The tent of Isaac would now present to the eyes of observers a man amiable and beloved, but lacking the commanding force of his father; a woman, his wife, very beautiful, keenly observant, and quick in resource; and, in addition, two sons, twins, and at Abraham's death fifteen years of age. The mother's regards were always attentively fixed upon them both.
They were almost the opposites of each other in appearance and disposition. One was fond of home and of his mother, and was of course her favorite. The other was a hardy, restless youth, who, disdaining the monotony of the pastoral life and of the tent, took his bow and arrows and roamed over the country, and brought back game to his father with stirring accounts of his adventures and successes in the chase. The latter, who had been the first to make his appearance in the world, was at his birth, covered with hair, and was named from this circumstance Esau,“ hairy.” The other on the same occasion, had his hand on his brother's heel, and was called from this Jacob,“ holding the heel," a name of unpleasant significance; for the verb whence it is derived means also to act deceitfully,' to supplant. It had previously been declared of them by divine communication to Isaac, that “two manner of people should come from them,” and “the elder should serve the younger.”
The mother soon became partial. We can scarcely wonder at it, as we see the one child almost deformed by his hairy covering, and the other fair to look upon; the one soon manifesting the rough, bold characteristics so marked in after life, and the other pliant and gentle; the one soon sheltering himself in his rude manners under the father's authority, and the other asking in earnest tones for the mother's help.
1 See Gen. xxvii. 36; Jer. ix. 4.