« PreviousContinue »
and he hastened to dress it. And he took butter and milk, and the calf which he had dressed and set it before them ; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” They were three heavenly visitants, and they repeated now the promise of an heir by Sarah his wife. As they were departing he accompanied them part of the way, which was toward the east; and they revealed to him the purpose of heaven to destroy the cities where Lot was staying, in consequence of the abominable wickedness of their inhabitants. He pleaded that the righteous would in that case perish with the wicked; and was finally promised that if only ten righteous men could be found there, the cities should be spared for their sakes. So the angels proceeded on their way.
But there were not even that redeeming number. On the morrow, as at a very early hour he stood by his tent and looked eastward, he saw a dense smoke rise up and overcloud all the heavens: the cities were consumed except a small one called Zoar, for which Lot had interceded as a place of refuge for himself and family. The ground in this region, as already noticed, was full of pits of bitumen, which, aided by fire from heaven and sulphurous vapor, consumed all but the one city. This appears to have stood on the promontory which now juts out at the southeast side of the Dead Sea, and where foundations of buildings are still said to exist. This terrible catastrophe was no doubt a miraculous visitation as a punishment for the sins of these people; but was probably aided by natural means, which may have been an earthquake, such as has lately shattered Tiberias and quite destroyed Safed, two cities not far north of this; and also by the bitumen and sulphur for which this spot is still remarkable, as already described. The shoal part, nineteen miles long, at the southern end of the sea, doubtless shows where the four destroyed cities stood.
1 The Hebrew says abn, Halab, doubtless the leaven or sour curds, as we see now in constant use among the Arabs and Turks.
Lot and his two daughters, through the guidance of the angels, escaped to Zoar. His wife “ looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt:" the hill of salt, still existing there, bears witness to this catastrophe.
Abraham himself soon after this moved his tents and flocks from Hebron to a region farther to the west. A district of country lying along the Mediterranean and extending some distance inland, was occupied by the Philistines, doubtless an offshoot of the Pali or Shepherd-race which we have already noticed as occupying Egypt after their migration from the distant East. Abimelech was sheikh or king of the Philistines, and had his chief residence at Gerar, near to where Gaza is at present, from which his tribe were scattered about as their flocks had need of pasturage. South of them was the sandy region, extending to the borders of Egypt. Abraham and Abimelech were on friendly terms, but the former, for the same reason as in Egypt, repeated the mean wickedness that he had been guilty of in that country, and lied to Abimelech respecting his wife Sarah, declaring that she was his sister. The result was the same as in the former case: the woman was protected by heavenly interference most undeserved, as respects both herself and husband. Abimelech, on learning the connexion between the two, upbraided him with his deception; to which he gave the same lame response as before, that she was his half-sister as well as wife. The king of Gerar presented him with sheep and oxen and servants, and a thousand pieces of silver, and said to Sarah, respecting her husband: “Behold he is to thee a covering of the eyes unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.”
AN HEIR GIVEN. “I AUGHTER!” That was the meaning of the word
Isaac, the name given by heavenly direction to the child which Sarah, soon after the above event, presented to Abraham. Her own son! and as the two parents contemplated the heir so long hoped for, and now the child of their old age, what visions of future brightness and glory must have risen before their minds in consequence of the many promises from God with which it had been heralded. Both father and mother had laughed inwardly in glee when the announcement of such a coming event had been made to them; and now the mother exclaimed, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me." The child was therefore rightly named Isaac, “ Laughter;" and a brightness of joy was diffused throughout the tent and amid the numerous retainers of the aged chief. There was only one drawback to it all, and that was from the jealousy and envy of Hagar and her boy, who was now fourteen years of age. He was an active lad, with glittering eyes such as belong to his country, the great pet of his mother, and heretofore of his father also; but he now saw himself suddenly supplanted both in affections and in material expectations by the new heir. The mother would feel it more keenly than he would in the frank, open nature of boyhood. Doubtless, however, she instilled into him her jealousy and envy; and doubtless also the mutual spleen which he had often witnessed between mistress and the servant-woman, his mother, had sharpened his observation and sensibilities.
When the new heir was weaned, there was a great feast, with rejoicings both in the tent and among the retainers without. But two hearts did not share in it; and of these two, the little Ishmael in his undisguisedness of youth made demonstration of his feelings by mockings and ridicule.
Severely were both child and mother punished for this. The mocking fell under the observation of Sarah,– perhaps was intended for her notice; and all her motherly indignation was fired at the sight. She came to her husband with the cry,
“ Cast out this bond-woman, and her son; for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac."
There was a painful domestic scene in that tent; the father's heart clinging with great fondness to the little boy, his firstborn ; Sarah passionately persistent; Hagar full of indignation and unavailing grief; the new infant looking with wide, wondering eyes on a tumult of which he was the innocent cause; the lad, frightened at the storm he had raised, but resolute for his mother, and turning appealing looks toward his father. Abraham was relieved from his dilemma hy a heavenly warning, which announced to him that the lad was, and would continue to be, under divine protection ; and that a nation would come from him, for his father's sake; but that it would now be best to separate the women and their sons.
On the morrow in the early light, the father sent Hagar and Ishmael away, after having given them provision of bread and water for their immediate necessities. There seems to have been a heartlessness in the act, which was so different from his former general strength of affection and deep interest in the lad, even when the new child was promised ; and we can account for his conduct only by the irritations within the tent, and the rancorous haste of his wife to have both persons out of her sight. He knew also that God had pronounced a blessing on Ishmael, and had promised to “multiply him exceedingly and make him a great
nation ;” and he believed therefore that they would be watched over and preserved.
His own residence was now at Beersheba, the place described in our first chapter, to which he had removed from Gerar, and where he had, by digging wells, secured a good supply of water for his flocks.
Hagar and her son wandered down south wardly toward the desert. Perhaps she hoped to be able to reach Egypt; more probably she went on in the sullen doggedness of passion deepening more and more into despair. The country, as she travelled on, soon began to change into the dreariness of those great stretches of baked earth and gravel forming the desert. It suited well to her abandonment and utter dreariness of feeling; herself and son outcasts, she felt a hatred for the world and all its brighter aspects. The region here was dreary enough, for they were leaving all signs of verdure behind, except the retem' bushes, a species of Scotch broom, which here and there dot the desert, and when the sun's rays come more slantingly afford some shade on the oven-like wastes. The water in their skin-bottle became exhausted; and as she wandered on she saw no signs of wells for a further supply. “Return ?”—was that her son asking her to return! What! to that tent of rejoicing for her son's rival, and the place of her own shame and humiliation ? Better, she probably thought, that they both should perish here in the wilderness, where no triumphant
1 Robinson, speaking of the shrubs of the desert, says: “One, the principal of them, is Retem, a species of the broom-plant, Genista ractam of Forsake. This is the largest and most conspicuous shrub of these deserts, growing thickly in water-courses and valleys. Our Arabs always selected the place of their encampment (if possible) in a spot where it grew, in order to be sheltered at night from the wind; and during the day, when they often went in advance of the camels, we found them not unfrequently sitting or sleeping under a bush of retem, to protect them from the sun. It was in this very desert, a day's journey from Beersheba, that the prophet Elijah lay down and slept beneath the same bush."