Page images
PDF
EPUB

violator of the contract was to be treated in a similar manner. It seems to be referred to in Matt. xxiv. 51; Luke xii. 46; Jer. xxxiv. 18, 19, 20, and in some other passages in Scripture. According to Herodotus, Xerxes ordered one of the sons of Pytheus to be cut in two, and half to be placed on each side of the way, that his army might pass between them—an act seemingly in consequence of an offer and a request made by the father.

On the present occasion Abram was directed by the divine communication to provide certain animals as if for such a solemn covenant-making, one that would be open to his outward perceptions and be a demonstration clear to all his senses and clearly impressed upon his mind. He accordingly selected a heifer, a goat and a ram, and a dove and pigeon; and dividing all but the fowls into halves, laid them against each other. It was an act that would require assistance and attract attention, and the circumstances may all indeed have been designed to operate on the feelings of questioners around him and to be a demonstration to others as well as to himself. We can imagine them, standing at a respectful distance, earnest, curious, watchful, and filled with awe and perhaps fear. He himself remained near the bodies; and “when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.” The divine communication now again gave him knowledge of the future with reference both to himself and his descendants, and also to other nations. Then it is added, “And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces,” and a covenant was made with him by heaven, by which his posterity were to have inheritance of those lands.

CHAPTER VIII.

IN SOUTHERN PALESTINE. MROUBLE came into Abram's tent. We have seen,

1 in the second chapter of this work, how under the system of concubinage or secondary wives allowed in that country, dissensions almost necessarily arise; and the beautiful but arbitrary Amsha there exhibited seems to have had a full exemplar in Sarai, Abram's wife. In the feeling of chagrin in the latter at having no children, and her desire for an heir to Abram, she persuaded him to take her servant Hagar, an Egyptian, as concubine, which was done; but as soon as her scheme for an heir promised to be successful, a strong jealousy took possession of Sarai's heart. This had some apology in the feeling of contempt which the Egyptian woman had very soon begun to manifest toward her mistress, and the hope doubtless that she would supplant the latter in the affections of the master. Soon, the mistress, indignant and wrathful, and using language as if she thought he was himself to blame, ended a complaint to him about her wrongs with the stinging purposed malediction, “The Lord judge between me and thee.” He sought peace by telling his wife to have her own way on the subject; and the consequence was such treatment by the mistress that the concubine, in a passion of vexation and rage, fled from the tent.

She wandered off, leaving a dull, heavy, fearful calm behind; and particularly the master's heart was saddened at the thought that the child that might be born to him would be an outcast on the world. Passion gives speed to motion; and the woman, with no wish to linger around such a tent, had gone into the wide desert on the south, where in soli

tude she would be able to vent her griefs. She had travelled about two days' journey to the southeastward, and had sat down by a fountain, yet brooding over her troubles, but with her wrath now mollified or dissipated by fatigue and suffering; her dark Egyptian face showing the gloomy feelings in her heart. Suddenly she heard her name called, and with an impressive adjunctive signifying her true position in life. “Hagar, Sarai's maid," the voice said, “whence camest thou ? and whither wilt thou go ?” It was from an angel now made evident to her sight; and after hearing her reply, he bade her return and be submissive to her mistress. He added that the child who should be born must be called Ishmael, God hears, as a remembrance to her and others that God had heard her in her affliction ; moreover, that he should be a wild man,—“his hand against every man and every man's hand against him ;" but that he would maintain his own against all enemies, and that his descendants would be too numerous for computation.

She returned to her mistress, and her child in due time was named according to the direction of the angel.

From Ishmael have come the Arabs. The record of this prophecy here made of them dates back thirty-eight hundred and thirty-nine years; and how true the prophecy has been, and still continues to be before our own eyes! “Many potentates among the Abyssinians, Persians, Egyptians and Turks have endeavored to subjugate the wandering and wild Arabs; but though they have had temporary triumphs, they have been ultimately unsuccessful. Sesostris, Cyrus, Pompey and Trajan all endeavored to conquer Arabia, but in vain. From the beginning to the present day they have maintained their independence.”

Thirteen additional years passed over Abram's family, still remaining in the fertile region in the neighborhood of Hebron. The child had grown into an active lad, making the tent more cheerful by his boyish glee, into which, however, his mother had insinuated some of the spirit from her own sufferings, and over all which the jealousy of Sarai kept watch, especially as she saw the boy twining himself thoroughly among the affections of the father.

The surroundings of Abram in this country, where he stood alone amid the wide sweep of idolatry,-indeed we may say alone in the world, in which his single heart had scarcely any human aid in its fidelity to God,-made it necessary that the heavenly visitations to him should come again and again, in order to impress and to strengthen him, and to make him feel continuously that he was divinely sustained. We must again recall the great difference between his position in the world from that of believers now. Knowledge of God was far different then from what it is at present. Of general enlightenment there was but little. Men’s reasoning faculties had not the acuteness and the grasp which they have reached in these times. There were fewer premises from which to start for any right conclusions. Most of what to us now is vastly lengthened history, with its markings of God's over-ruling hand, and his punitive or rewarding decisions, was to them an unknown future. Upon their past that almighty Power had been indeed most strongly and visibly impressed, but the power on the mind even from such impressions fades in time, and when transmitted only by oral narratives becomes vague and uncertain. Egypt, the most highly cultivated nation of that period, was grossly idolatrous, in an idolatry which even now confounds the intellects of scholars. Canaan was idolatrous. One little spot, we may say in all the world, remained as a testimony for God, and only one man in that spot, for we may well believe that he had little sympathy in his fidelity either within his tent or without.

God came to him now again with sustaining words. The heavenly message was adapted to the time, the man and the circumstances in which he was placed. His name, according to the direction, was to be no longer Abram, which means "high father,” but Abraham, signifying, as far as we can understand it, father of a multitude.His wife Sarai, “my princess," was to be named Sarah, simply "princess ;" for the promise was now given that in a year she should bear him a son, from whom should come nations and kings and many people. The old man's heart, even in the gladness and glory of this announcement, turned immediately with the jealousy of strong and true affection toward the stripling in his tent; as if frightened, lest, in the glory of the promised heir, the other should be quite lost ; and he exclaimed, “Oh that Ishmael might live before thee !" He was reassured, by promises that twelve princes and a great nation should proceed from Ishmael.

In this visitation a rite symbolical of purity of heart' was enjoined upon him and every male in his family, to be observed as a continued token of the covenant between heaven and himself and his descendants. The injunction was obeyed, and the rite has continued to be one of the characteristics of the Arabs and Jews to the present time.

Soon after this, as he was sitting one day, during the heat of noontide, at the opening of his tent, he saw three strangers approaching. Immediately, in a manner as if it might indeed be an Arab's invitation to hospitality of the present day, he rose and urged them to enter and partake of refreshments. They did so, and the entertainment following seems as if it might have been but yesterday, so clearly is the scene defined before us, and so greatly resembling what a traveller may now witness on similar occasions in that land. He “hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, and knead it and bake cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd and fetched a calf, and gave it unto a young man;

1 See in connection with Gen. xvii., also Deut. xxx. 6; Jer. iv. 4; Rom. iv. 11 ; Col. ii. 11.

« PreviousContinue »