Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 24
I. HIS YOUTH AND EARLY STRUGGLES.
ABRAHAM or Abram, as he was first called, was the son of Terah, general of Nimrod's army, and Amtelai, daughter of Carnebo. He was born at Ur of the Chaldees, in the year 1948 after the Creation.
On the night on which Abraham was born, Terah's friends, amongst whom were many councillors and soothsayers of Nimrod, were feasting in the house. On leaving, late at night, they observed an unusual star in the east; it seemed to run from one quarter of the heavens to another, and to devour four stars which were there. All gazed in astonishment on this wondrous sight. "Truly," said they, "this can signify nothing else but that Terah's new-born son will become great and powerful, will conquer the whole realm, and dethrone great princes, and seize on their possessions."
Next morning they hastened to the king, to announce to him what they had seen, and what was their interpretation of the vision, and to advise the slaughter of the young child, and that Terah should be compensated with a liberal sum of money.
Nimrod accordingly sent gold and silver to Terah, and asked his son in exchange, but Terah refused. Then the king sent and threatened to burn down and utterly destroy the whole house of Terah, unless the child were surrendered. In the meantime one of the female slaves had born a son; this Terah gave to the royal officers, who, supposing it to be the son of the householder, brought it before Nimrod and slew it.
Then, to secure Abraham, Terah concealed him and his mother and nurse in a cave.
But there is another version of the story, and it is as follows:—
Nimrod had long read in the stars that a child would be born who would oppose his power and his religion, and would finally overcome both.
Acting on the advice of his wise men, he built a house, sixty ells high and eighty ells broad, into which all pregnant women were brought to be delivered, and the nurses were instructed to put to death all the boys that were born, but to make handsome presents to the mothers who were brought to bed of daughters.
After seventy thousand male children had thus perished, the angels of heaven turned to the All Mighty, and besought Him with tears to stay this cruel murder of innocents.
"I slumber not, I sleep not," God answered. "Ye shall see that this atrocity shall not pass unpunished."
Shortly after, Terah's wife was pregnant; she concealed her situation as long as was possible, pretending that she was ill; but when she could conceal it no more, the infant crept behind her breasts, so that she appeared to every eye as if nothing were about to take place.
When the time came for her delivery, she went in fear out of the city, and wandered in the desert till she lighted on a cave, into which she entered. Next morning she was delivered of a son, Abraham, whose face shone, so that the grotto was as light as though the sun were casting a golden beam into it. She wrapped the child in a mantle, and left it there to the custody of God and His angels, and returned home. God heard the cry of the weeping infant, and He sent His angel Gabriel to the cave, who let the child suck milk out of his fore-finger. But according to another account he opened two holes in the cave, from which dropped oil and flour to nourish Abraham. Others, however, say that Terah visited the cave every day, and nursed and fed the child.
According to the Arab tradition, which follows the Jewish in most particulars, the mother, on visiting the cave, found the infant sucking its two thumbs. Now out of one of its thumbs flowed milk, and out of the other, honey, and thus the babe nourished itself: or, say others, from one finger flowed water when he sucked it; from a second, milk; from a third, honey from a fourth, the juice of dates; and from the little finger, butter.
When Abraham had been in the cave, according to some, three years, according to others ten, and according to others thirteen, he left the cavern and stood on the face of the desert. And when he saw the sun shining in all its glory, he was filled with wonder, and he thought, "Surely the sun is God the Creator!" and he knelt down and worshipped the sun. But when evening came, the sun went down in the west, and Abraham said, "No! the Author of creation cannot set." Now the moon arose in the east, and the stars looked out of the firmament. Then said Abraham, "This moon must indeed be God, and all the stars are His host!" And kneeling down he adored the moon.
But after some hours of darkness the moon set, and from the east appeared once more the bright face of the sun. Then said Abraham, "Verily these heavenly bodies are no gods, for they obey law: I will worship Him who imposed the law upon them."
The Arab story is this. When Abraham came out of the cave, he saw a number of flocks and herds, and he said to his mother, "Who is lord of these?" She answered, "Your father Azar (Terah)." "And who is the lord of Azar?" he further asked. She replied, "Nimrod." "And who is the lord of Nimrod?" "Oh, hush, my son," said she, striking him on the mouth; "you must not push your questions so far." But it was by following this train of thought that Abraham arrived at the knowledge of the one true God.
Another Rabbinical story is, that Abraham was only ten days in the cave after his birth, and then he was able to walk, and he left it. But his mother, who visited the grotto, finding him gone, was a prey to anguish and fear.
Wandering along the bank of the river, searching for her child, she met Abraham, but did not recognize him, as he had grown tall; and she asked him if he had seen a little baby anywhere.
"I am he whom you seek," answered Abraham.
"Is this possible!" exclaimed the mother. "Could you grow to such a height, and be able to walk and talk, in ten days?"
"Yes, mother," answered the youthful prodigy; "all this has taken place that you might know that there is but one living and true God who made heaven and earth, who dwells in heaven and fills the earth with His goodness."
"What!" asked Amtelai, "is there another god besides Nimrod?"
"By all means," replied the infant son; "there is a God in heaven, who is also the God who made Nimrod. Now go to Nimrod and announce this to him."
Abraham's mother related all this to her husband, who bore the message to the king. Nimrod, greatly alarmed, consulted his council what was to be done with the boy.
The council replied that he had nothing to fear from an infant of ten days,—he, the king and god of the world! But Nimrod was not satisfied. Then Satan, putting on a black robe, mingled with the advisers of the monarch and said, "Let the king open his arsenal, arm all his troops, and march against this precocious infant." This advice fell in completely with Nimrod's own personal fears, and his army was marched against the baby. But when Abraham saw the host drawn up in battle array, he cried to heaven with many tears, and Gabriel came to his succour, enveloped the infant in clouds, and snatched him from the sight of those who came against him; and they, frightened at the cloud and darkness, fled precipitately to Babylon.
Abraham followed them on the shoulders of Gabriel, and reaching the gates of the city in an instant of time, he cried, "The Eternal One is the true and only God, and none other is like Him! He is the God of heaven, God of gods and Lord of Nimrod! Be convinced of this, all ye men, women and children who dwell here, even as I am Abraham, his servant." Then he sought his parents, and bade Terah go and fulfil his command to Nimrod.
Terah went accordingly, and announced to the king that his son, whom the army had been unable to capture, had, in a brief space of time, traversed a country across which was forty days' journey.
Nimrod quaked, and consulted his princes, who advised him to institute a festival of seven days, during which every subject and dweller on the face of the earth was to make a pilgrimage to his palace, and there to worship and adore him.
In the meantime Nimrod, being very curious to see Abraham, ordered Terah to bring him into his royal presence. The child entered the throne-room boldly, and going to the foot of the steps which led to the throne, he exclaimed: "Woe to thee, accursed Nimrod, blasphemer of God! Acknowledge, O Nimrod, that the true God is without body, evelasting, never slumbering nor sleeping; acknowledge that He created the world, that all men may believe in Him likewise!"
At the same moment all the idols in the palace fell, and the king rolled from his throne in convulsions, and remained in a fit for two hours.
When he came to himself again, he said to Abraham, "Was that thy voice, or was it the voice of God?"
Abraham answered, "It was the voice of the meanest of His creatures."
"Then your God must be great and mighty, and a King of kings."
Nimrod now suffered Abraham to depart, and as his anger was abated, the child remained in his father's house, and no attempts were made against his life.
Here must be inserted a legend of the childhood of Abraham, which I have ventured to render into verse.
THE GIFT OF THE KING.
Nimrod the Cushite sat upon a throne
Of gold, encrusted with the sapphire stone,
And round the monarch stood, in triple rank,
Three hundred ruddy pages, like a bank
Of roses all a-blow.
Two gentle boys, with blue eyes clear as glass,
And locks as light as tufted cotton grass,
And faces as the snow
That lies on Ararat, and flushes pink
On summer evenings, as the sun doth sink,
Were stationed by the royal golden chair
With fillets of carnation in their hair,
And clothed in silken vesture, candid, clean,
To flutter fans of burnished blue and green,
Fashioned of peacock's plume.
A little lower, on a second stage
On either side, was placed a graceful page,
To raise a fragrant fume—
With costly woods and gums on burning coals
That glowed on tripods, in bright silver bowls;
And at the basement of the marble stair,
Sweet singing choirs and harping minstrels were,
In amber kirtles purple gilt and sashed.
The throbbing strings in silver ripples flashed,
Where slaves the choral song
Accompanied with psaltery and lyre,
In red and saffron, like to men of fire,
Whilst hoarsely boomed the gong:
Or silver cymbals clashed, or, waxing shrill,
Danced up the scale a flute's melodious thrill.
Now at the monarch's signal, pages twain,
With sunny hair as ripened autumn grain,
And robed in lustrous silver tissue, shot
With changing hues of blue forget-me-not,
Start nimbly forth, and bend
Before the monarch, at his gilded stool,
And crystal goblets brimming, sweet and cool,
But Nimrod, slightly stirring, stately, calm,
Towards the right-hand beaker thrusts his arm,
And, languid, raises it towards his lips;
Yet ere he of the ruby liquor sips,
He notices upon the surface lie—
Fallen in and fluttering—a feeble fly,
With draggled wings outspread.
Then shot from Nimrod's eyes an angry flare,
And passionately down the marble stair
The costly draught he shed.
He spoke no word, but with a finger wave,
Made signal to a scarlet-vested slave;
And as the lad before him, quaking, kneels,
Above him swift the gleaming falchion wheels,
Then flashes down, and, with one leap, his head
Bounds from his shoulders, and bespirts with red
The alabaster floor.
And, mingled with the outpoured Persian wine,
Descends the steps a sliding purple line
Of smoking, dribbled gore;
And floats the little midge upon a flood
Of fragrant grape-juice, and of roseate blood.
Then Nimrod said: "I would yon ugly stain
Were wiped away; and thou, my chamberlain,
Obtain for me a stripling, to replace
This petty fool. Let him have comely face,
And be of slender mould:
Be lithely built, of noble birth; a youth,
The choicest thou canst find. His cost, in sooth!
I heed not. Stint no gold,
But buy a goodly slave: for I, a king,
Will have the best, the best of everything—
Of gems, of slaves, of fabrics, meats, or wine;
The best, the very best on earth be mine."
Then, prostrate flung before his master's throne,
The servant said, "Sire! Terah hath a son
Whose equal in the whole round world is none,
Beloved as himself.
But, Sire! I fear the father will not deign
To yield his son as slave through love of gain,
For great is he in wealth."
"Go!" said the monarch, "I must have the child:
Be sure the father can be reconciled,
If you expend of gold a goodly store,
And, if he haggles at your price, bid more;
I will it, chamberlain!
I care not what the cost. I'll have the lad!"
And then, he leaned him idly back, and bade
The slaves to fan again.
"Now on the morrow, to the royal court,
Terah Ben-Nahor from old Ur was brought—
Protesting loud he would not yield his son
As slave, at any price, to any one.
"My flesh and blood be sold!
Fie on you! Do you reckon that I prize
My first-begotten as mere merchandise,
To barter him for gold!
A curse on him who would the old man's stay,
That bears him up, with money buy away!
Require me not to offer child of mine
To serve and brim a tyrant's cup with wine;
To waste a life from morning to its grave,
Branded in mind and soul and body 'Slave!'
How could I be repaid?
His artless fondlings, all his childish ways:
The reminiscences of olden days,
That sudden flash and fade,
Of her who bore him—her, my boyhood's choice—
Resemblances in feature, figure, voice,
In gesture, manner, ay! in very tone
Of pealing laugh, of that dear partner gone?
Thou, Nimrod, to an old man condescend
To hear his story; your attention lend,
And judge if acted well.
Last year to me thou gav'st a goodly steed,
From thine own stud, of purest Yemen breed:
And thus it me befel.
A stranger offered me a price so fair
That I accepted it, and sold the mare."
"My gift disposed of!" with an angry start,
King Nimrod thundered: "Thou, old man, shalt smart
For this thy avarice. A royal gift,
Thou knowest well, must never owners shift,
As thing of little worth."
Then Terah raised his trembling hands, and said,
"From thine own mouth, O King, has judgment sped.
The Lord of Heaven and Earth,
The King of Kings to me my offspring gave,
And shall I sell His gift to be a slave?
Nimrod! that child, which is His royal gift,—
Thy mouth hath said it,—may not owners shift."
One day, when Terah was absent, and Abraham was left to manage the shop, he thought the time had come when he must make his protest against idolatry. This he did as follows. Every purchaser who came, was asked by Abraham his age; if he answered fifty or sixty years old, Abraham exclaimed, "Woe to a man of such an age who adores the work of one day!" and the purchaser withdrew in shame.
Another version of the incident is more full.
A strong lusty fellow came one day to buy an idol, the strongest that there was. As he was going away with it, Abraham called after him, "How old are you?"
"Seventy years," he answered.
"Oh, you fool!" said Abraham, "to adore a god younger than yourself."
"What do you mean?" asked the purchaser.
"Why, you were born seventy years ago, and this god was made only yesterday."
Hearing this, the buyer threw the idol away.
Shortly after, an old woman brought a dish of meal to set before the idols. Abraham took it, and then with a stick smashed all the gods except the biggest, into whose hands he placed the stick.
Terah, who was returning home, heard the noise of blows, and quickened his pace. When he entered, his gods were in pieces.
He accused Abraham angrily; but Abraham said, "My father, a woman brought this dish of meal for the gods: they all wanted to have it, and the strongest knocked the heads off the rest, lest they should eat it all." And this, say the Mussulmans, was the first lie that Abraham told, but it was not a lie, but a justifiable falsehood.
Terah said this could not be true, for the images were of wood and stone.
"Let thine ear hear what thy mouth hath spoken," said Abraham, and then he exhorted his father against idolatry.
Terah complained to Nimrod, who sent for Abraham, and he said to him, "Wilt thou not worship these idols? Well then, adore fire."
"Why not water which quenches fire?" asked Abraham.
Nimrod.—"Very well; then worship water."
Abraham.—"Why not the clouds which swallow the water?"
Nimrod.—"So be it; adore the clouds."
Abraham.—"Rather let me adore wind which blows the clouds about."
Nimrod.—"So be it; pray to the wind."
Abraham.—"But man can stand up against the wind, and build it out of his house."
Then Nimrod in a fury exclaimed, "Fire is my god, and that shall consume you."
According to another version, a woman came to Abraham to buy a god, because thieves had stolen her former god; this gave the patriarch a text for his homily against idolatry. The woman was convinced.
"Believe in the true God," said he, "and you will recover the things the thieves stole from your house."
A few days after, the woman recovered all her lost goods, amongst them her image. Then she took a stone, and smashed its head, saying, "Oh, thou blockhead, not to be able to preserve my property and thyself from thieves!"
The report of what she had said and done reached the king, who ordered her to be executed. But Nimrod was uneasy, and he announced a grand ceremony to last for seven days, during which every one was to produce his gods and carry them about the streets, which were to be hung with gold and silks. His object was to dazzle Abraham's eyes by the splendour of idol worship. He sent for Terah and Abraham, but the latter refused to attend. The Mussulmans say that Abraham excused himself thus: "I see in the stars that I am going to be very sick to-day." This was the second lie Abraham told, but it was not a lie, it was a justifiable falsehood. Then the king sent his guard, who arrested him and cast him into a dungeon.
He lay in the dungeon ten days. The angel Gabriel brought him food, and a crystal fountain bubbled up through the soil of his cell.
Nimrod called his council together, and it was unanimously decided that Abraham should be burnt alive. The king therefore published a decree ordering every man to bring wood or other fuel for the heating of the kiln. The wood was piled about the furnace to the height of five ells, for a circle of five ells diameter, and for three days and three nights the fire was kept up, and the flames licked the heavens, so that the oven as at a white heat. Then Nimrod ordered his jailer to produce Abraham. The prison-keeper humbly answered, that it was impossible that Abraham could be alive, for he had been given neither meat nor drink. But Nimrod answered, "Produce him alive or dead."
Then the jailer went to the prison door and cried, "Abraham, livest thou?"
"I live," answered the prisoner, "and am hearty."
"How is that possible?" asked the jailer, astonished.
"Because the Almighty has wrought a miracle on my behalf. He is sole God, invisible, the Creator of the world, and the Lord of Nimrod."
The jailer believed.
The news was conveyed to Nimrod, who ordered the immediate execution of the jailer; but as the executioner was about to smite off his head, he cried, "The Eternal One is alone the true God of the world, and the God of Nimrod who denies him." And lo! the sword was blunted, and shivered into a thousand fragments.
Here we must add a few particulars from Mussulman sources.
"Who is your God?" asked Nimrod of Abraham, when brought before him.
"He who kills and makes alive again," said Abraham.
"I can do that," exclaimed Nimrod, and he ordered two prisoners before him; one he slew, the other he spared.
But Abraham said, "Behold the power of my God!" and he bade a dead man who had been four years in his grave, rise and bring him a white cock, a black raven, a green pigeon, and a gaily-coloured peacock. The dead man rose and obeyed. Then Abraham cut up the birds, but preserved their heads; and lo! from the heads new bodies sprouted.
"Now," said Abraham, "do the same."
But Nimrod could not.
"If thou art a God," said Abraham again, "command the sun to rise to-morrow in the west and set in the east."
But this he could not do.
Nimrod was highly incensed, and ordered that Abraham should be at once precipitated into the fire. When he was brought before the king, say the Rabbis, the soothsayers recognized him as the boy at whose birth they had warned the king that one was come into the world who would be the father of a great nation which would subdue that of Nimrod, and would possess the whole earth and heaven.
"This is the man against whom we cautioned you," they said; "his father Terah must have deceived you, O king, and not have given you up the right child."
Terah, on being questioned, owned the truth.
"Who gave you this advice?" asked the king; "confess it, and your life shall be spared."
Out of fear Terah told a lie, and said that Haran, his other son, had suggested the deception.
"For having given this advice," said Nimrod, "Haran shall perish along with Abraham. Cast them both into the flames." Abraham and Haran were now to be stripped and their hands and feet bound by ropes, and then they were to be thrown into the fire. But the servants of Nimrod who approached the brothers were caught by the flames which, like the tongues of serpents, shot out, curled round them, drew them into the fire, and consumed them.
Then Satan appeared to Nimrod, and instructed him how to make a catapult which would throw stones to a distance, and by means of which Abraham and Haran could be projected into the midst of the fire.
Haran was undecided in his mind whether to worship Gcd or idols; sometimes he sided with Abraham, and sometimes with Terah. Now, the moment Haran was shot into the flames, his heart failed him, and he cried out that he would worship idols if his life were spared. But it was too late, he was burnt to ashes. But Abraham was unharmed. The cords which bound him were consumed, but for three days and nights he walked about in the flames, and felt no inconvenience.
Then the king cried aloud, "Abraham, servant of the God of Heaven, come forth from the furnace to me."
And Abraham came forth. Then the king said to him, "How is it that thou art not consumed?" And Abraham answered, "The Lord God of Heaven and Earth, whom I serve, hath delivered me."
Instantly the flames were extinguished, and the wood burst forth into flower and fruit; and the pile was like a grove of flowering shrubs to look upon, and Angels descended and took Abraham and seated him in the midst.
The Arabic version of this part of the story is something different.
Nimrod could not see into the fire, so he ascended a high tower in his palace, and from the top looked down into the furnace, and saw that in the midst was a garden with flowers and a fountain of sparkling water, and Abraham seated on the grass beside the spring, conversing with an angel.
Nimrod now loaded Abraham with presents, amongst which were two slaves named Oni and Eliezer; according to some, the latter was a son of the tyrant. Many followed Abraham home, and brought their children to him and said, "Now we see that the God in whom thou trustest, is the only true God; teach our children the truth, that they may serve Him in righteousness." Thus three hundred persons accompanied Abraham home, most of whom were servants of the king, and of noble race.
Here follows in the Mussulman account the story of Nimrod's attempt to reach heaven in a box, to which were attached four vultures. His object was, says Tabari, to kill the God of Abraham. He went up along with his vizir. After a night and day in the air, the king said to his vizir, "Open the window of the box towards the earth and tell me what you see." He did so, and replied, "I see the earth." After another day and night, he again looked out and saw the earth still; on the third day, at the king's command he looked out and saw nothing. Then said Nimrod, "Open the window towards heaven and look out." He did so and saw nothing. Then Nimrod shot three arrows into the sky, and they fell back with blood on them. So Nimrod said, "I have killed the God of Abraham." But whence the blood came is unsettled. Some say that the arrows hit a bird which flew higher than the vultures; but others, with more probability, say they struck a fish, which was being carried by the wind, that had caught it up with the rain out of the sea.
Abraham now married the daughter of his brother Haran, named Sarai or Jisha, "the seeress," because she was endowed with the spirit of prophecy, say some, or, say others, because she was so beautiful that every one wanted to see her. At the time of his marriage, Abraham was aged fifty; others, however, suggest twenty-five.
Two years later, Nimrod was visited with a dream. He saw himself and all his army in a valley, near the furnace into which he had cast Abraham. A man resembling the latter stepped out of the furnace and approached the king, holding a naked sword. When Nimrod recoiled, the man cast an egg at his head; the egg broke and became a mighty river, which swept all his host away, saving only three men; and on looking at them, the king saw that they wore royal robes, and exactly resembled himself. Then the stream retreated into the egg, and when all the water was gathered into it, from the egg hopped out a chicken, which seated itself on Nimrod's head, and pecked out one of his eyes.
Next morning the king sent for his soothsayers to explain the dream, and this was their interpretation: "Hear, O king! this dream presages to thee great misfortune, which Abraham and his posterity shall bring upon thee. The time will come when he will war with his forces against thee and thy forces, and will overcome them and put them to the sword. Thou alone wilt escape with three of thy confederates; but a messenger of Abraham will cause thy death. Therefore, O king! remember that thy council of wise men foretold this fifty-two years ago, in the stars at Abraham's birth. As long as Abraham lives thou art in jeopardy. Wherefore should he be suffered to live any longer?"
Nimrod believing what was said, sent a servant to assassinate Abraham. But Eliezer, the slave, whom Nimrod had given to the patriarch, had been with the councillors when this advice was given, and he fled and told Abraham before the emissary of the tyrant arrived; and Abraham left his house and took refuge with Noah and Shem, and remained hidden with them for the space of one month.
Here Terah sought him in secret; and Abraham addressed him a long discourse on the vanity of idol-worship, and the evil of serving the godless tyrant Nimrod. And Noah and Shern supported him.
Then Terah, who grieved over the death of his son Haran, consented to all that Abraham had said, and he went forth with Abraham and his wife Sarah, and Lot his grandson, the son of Haran, and all his household, and they settled at Charan, where the land was fruitful and well watered. The dwellers in Charan associated themselves with Abraham, who instructed them in the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
2. THE CALL OF ABRAHAM, AND THE VISIT TO EGYPT.
For three years Abraham dwelt in Charan, till God called him to go further with his wife Sarah, and to take up his abode in Canaan; but Terah and Lot remained at Charan. Abraham reached Canaan and pitched his tent among the inhabitants of that land; and on the spot where God promised that He would give him all that pleasant country for his inheritance, he erected an altar to the Eternal One.
For fifteen years he had dwelt in Canaan, and Abraham was now aged 70, when, on the 15th day of the first month (Nisan), on the self-same day on which, in after years, the children of Israel went out of Egypt, the voice of God came to him saying, "I am the Lord that brought thee out of the furnace of Chaldæa; to thee will I give this land to inherit it." And he said, "Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Shall my descendants be faithful and true, and serve Thee the living God, or will they rebel against God, against Thee, as did the men before the Flood, and as did the men of Shinar who builded the tower?"
Then God bade him take an heifer of three years old, or a she-goat of three years old, and a ram, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. And he took all these and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another; but the birds divided he not. And God said to him, "When, in after days, thy descendants shall build me a temple, in it shall these five kinds of victims be offered to me."
"But," said Abraham, "should the temple be destroyed, what then shall they do?"
"Then," answered the Most Holy, "they shall offer to me in spirit, and I will pardon their sins." The beasts and birds also signified the races over which his seed was to reign; the beasts he divided, and they betokened the Gentile races, from which they were to purge away their idolatry: but the birds divided he not; for the birds signified the elect nation.
Then came ravens and vultures down upon the carcases, but Abraham drove them away (ver. 11); a symbol of the protection which God would accord to the people, for His promise sake, and the sake of their father Abraham, when the powers of evil, or mighty princes, menaced them.
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham (ver. 12), and he saw the four realms,—the horror-awakening Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Syro-Grecian, and Roman empires. And God said to Abraham (ver. 13), "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. But in the fourth generation thy seed shall come hither again, after I have plagued the nation that has held them in bondage with 250 plagues."
"Is this decree spoken to punish me for my crimes?" asked Abraham.
"No," answered the Almighty: "Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age (ver. 15); and Terah, who now bewails his former idolatry, has a share in the eternal happiness; also Ishmael, thy son, who shall be born to thee, will, in thy lifetime, repent and return to good, and the profanity of thy grandson Esau shalt thou not see."
And when the sun was set, it was dark, and the various periods of futurity passed before the eyes of the seer. He beheld a smoking furnace (ver. 17); this was the flaming Gehinom, Hell, where sinners shall expiate their iniquities. Then he saw a burning lamp: that was the Law given on Sinai, and it passed between those pieces; that is, he saw Israel go through the Red Sea.
Then said the voice of God to the patriarch, "I have showed thee the Temple-worship, Law, Bondage, and Hell. I must tell thee that in the times to come, through the sins of thy children, the Temple will be destroyed, and the Law will be disregarded.
Choose now, whether thou wilt have for their punishment, Bondage or Hell."
And Abraham after long hesitation answered, "I choose Hell;" for he thought, "It is better to fall into the hands of God, than into the hands of men."
But the Lord answered and said, "Not so; thou hast chosen wrongly, for from Bondage there will come deliverance, but from Gehinom, never."
After that, Abraham returned to the land of Charan, and dwelt there many years; and he instructed the men, and Sarah the women, in the true religion. And when his father Terah was dead, God called him again, and bade him go forth to the land which God had promised him; and he went obediently, and Lot his brother's son accompanied him. And he reached the land of Canaan, and pitched first his wife's tent, and then his own, on the plain between Gerizim and Ebal; and he erected three altars in thanks to God for His call, for His having brought him into the promised land, and for having cast down his enemies before him. Then he went south, and pitched on the spot where stands Jerusalem.
And now a famine came upon the land; this was the third famine since the world was formed, and it was sent to prove Abraham. He murmured not, but went down with Sarah his wife, and his servants.
When he reached the River of Egypt (Wadi el Arisen), Abraham rested some days. As Abraham and Sarah walked together by the water-side, Abraham saw for the first time, reflected in the water, the beauty of Sarah; for he was so modest that he had never lifted his eyes to her face, and knew not what she was like, till he saw her in the water. Then, when he saw how beautiful she was, he persuaded her to pass as his sister in Egypt, for he feared lest he should be slain for her sake; but as a further precaution he shut her up in a chest.
On the frontier, the Custom-house officers insisted on his paying the customs due for the box, and required that it should be opened. Abraham offered to pay for the box as if it contained gold dust or gems, if only they would not enforce their right of search.
"Does it contain silk?" asked the officers.
"I will pay the tenth, as of silk," he answered.
"Does it contain silver?" they further asked.
"I will pay for it as silver."
"Nay, then it must contain gold."
"I will pay for it as gold."
"Maybe it contains the most rare and costly gems."
"I will pay for it as for gems."
In the altercation the chest was violently broken open, and lo! in it was seated a beautiful woman, so beautiful that her countenance illumined all Egypt; and the news reached the ears of Pharaoh. All this occurred in the night of the 15th of the month Nisan.
Abraham and Sarah were sorely troubled, and prayed to God to protect them. Then the angel of the Lord was sent to watch over Sarah, and the angel comforted her with these words, "Fear not; God has heard thy petitions!"
Pharaoh asked Sarah who that man was who accompanied her, and when she answered "My brother," Pharaoh bade him to be brought before him, and he gave him rich gifts. And Pharaoh asked Abraham, "Who is this woman?" He answered, "She is my sister." This, say the Mussulmans, is the third lie that Abraham told; but it was not a lie, but a justifiable falsehood.
Pharaoh was filled with love for Sarah, and he offered her as his present for her hand, all his possessions of gold and silver and slaves, and the land of Goshen. And when he pressed his suit upon her with great vehemence, she cried to God and told him she was already married; then he was smitten with paralysis, and great plagues afflicted all his servants. But Pharaoh sent for Abraham, and returned him Sarah, his wife, and dismissed him with costly presents, and he gave to Sarah also his daughter, Hagar, to be her servant.
"Truly, my daughter, it is better," said Pharaoh, "to be servant in a house which God has taken under His protection, than to command elsewhere."
After a three months' sojourn in Egypt, Abraham returned to Canaan.
According to Tabari, Hagar loved Sarah greatly. On their way back to Canaan, the provisions failed, and Abraham went out one day to get food, with a sack on his back; but the day was hot, so that he laid down and went to sleep. He did not awake till evening, and then he returned, but was ashamed to appear with the sack empty before his wife, so he filled it with sand. On reaching the tent he put the sack under his head and went to sleep again. Very early in the morning Sarah said to Hagar, "What has Abraham in his sack? open it and look." So Hagar untied it, put in her hand and drew out flour. She and Sarah baked cakes of the flour, and woke Abraham and bade him eat. Then, full of wonder, he asked where they had obtained meal. They told him, and he understood that God had wrought a miracle.
Now Abraham's flocks and herds, and those of Lot, pastured together. Abraham's cattle were muzzled that they should not feed in the lands of the neighbouring people; but Lot's cattle were not muzzled. And when Abraham's shepherds complained of this to those of Lot, the latter answered, "Your master is old, and has no children; soon he will die, and then all will belong to our master Lot."
But Abraham spake to Lot and said, "Thy ways and my ways do not agree: we must part; do thou go to the left, and I will go to the right." So they separated; and Lot departed from Abraham, and from the way of righteousness, and from the living God; but Abraham camped in Mamre.
3. THE WAR WITH THE KINGS.
After the failure of the Tower of Babel, and the people had been scattered over the whole earth, Chedorlaomer, one of Nimrod's chief captains, had left his service, and had established a kingdom of his own in Elam. He speedily brought into subjection all the Canaanitish peoples that dwelt in the fertile valley of Jordan,—Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zebojim, and Zoar, and made them tributary to himself. These cities bore his yoke for twelve years, and then they rebelled. Five years after did Nimrod, who is also called Amraphel in the sacred text, march against Chedorlaomer, but Nimrod was defeated, along with his allies, Arioch, king of Ellasar, and Tidal, king of many confederate nations; and obliged to enter into alliance with his former general, Chedorlaomer, and agree to assist him in bringing back the revolted cities—Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zebojim, and Zoar—to their allegiance.
Consequently a huge army of confederates, under Chedorlaomer, Nimrod or Amraphel, Arioch, and Tidal, overran the plain and valley of Jordan, and slew all the giants that were there. The country before them was a garden, and behind them it was a desert.
They resolved also to defeat, and utterly to destroy, Abraham, the servant of the Most High; for Nimrod (Amraphel) remembered the perils to which his soothsayers had assured him he was exposed so long as Abraham lived.
The rulers of the five cities—Bera (Ruffian), king of Sodom; Birsha (Evil-doer), king of Gomorrah; Shirrab (Covetous one), king of Admah; Shemeber (the Strong one), king of Zebojim; and the king (a nameless one) of Bela (the engulfing city)— went forth in battle array, and met the host of Chedorlaomer in the great plain of Siddim, from whose canals and fountains the Salt Sea, or Dead Sea, was afterwards formed; and there they were utterly routed, and fled in precipitate haste to the mountains and to the desert.
The king of Sodom alone escaped unharmed of all the five kings, by a miracle which God wrought, to exhibit His power to the dwellers in the plain, who had begun to doubt the truth of Abraham's deliverance out of the burning, fiery furnace.
The conquerors took the spoils of Sodom, and carried away Lot, who was like Abraham in face, thinking that they had taken Abraham captive; and they placed him in chains.
Abraham was, in prophetic spirit, performing all the sacred rites, and preparing the unleavened cakes for the Paschal feast, for it was the Eve of the Passover, when the only giant who escaped the overthrow of the Rephaim by Chedorlaomer and his confederate kings,—Og, who was afterwards king of Basan, and who had been saved alive in the Flood of Noah,—came in haste to announce to the Patriarch the captivity of Lot.
Now Og had long cast his lustful eyes on Sarah, and he thought in his heart, "This Abraham is full of fire and zeal, like a sportsman; that I know well. He will rush into battle to deliver his kinsman Lot, and will perish; and then Sarah, his beautiful wife, will be mine."
But, according to another version, it was the angel Michael who brought the news to Abraham; and to another, it was Oni, one of the slaves Nimrod had given him, and who had been sent to observe the progress of the war.
No sooner had Abraham heard the tidings than, filled with anxiety on Lot's behalf, and with sympathy for the Sodomites, his neighbours, he called all his neighbours together, and all those who had followed him, and in earnest words exhorted them to prepare to fight and rescue Lot. But they, knowing the disparity of numbers, would make no promise; then he threatened them, but could not persuade them to join in what they regarded as an infatuated course certain to lead to destruction. Consequently Abraham was obliged to go against the enemy with only his own servants. But as they neared the plain, and saw the devastation wrought by the host of Chedorlaomer, they also slipped away in the night, and Abraham was left alone with Eliezer, his trusty slave, and his three friends Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. And he followed after the foe, as they retired with their spoil, till he reached one of the fountains of Jordan, which is named Paneas, or Dan.
Here his three friends forsook him, along with their wives, who had accompanied them thus far. It was the night of the 15th Nisan, the self-same night in which in after-years the firstborn of Egypt would be slain; and Abraham's heart fainted as he overtook the mighty host, and saw that they were countless as the sands of the sea-shore, and as grasshoppers for number.
But lo! God fought for Abraham. The grass-blades changed into swords, and the stubble into spears, and battled all that night; and in the morning, when he looked upon the host, they were all dead corpses. Thus he delivered Lot and all the captives, men, women, and children, and the spoil that had been carried away; and none stayed them, for all their foes lay dead upon the ground.
The King of Sodom came forth to meet Abraham, full of pride of heart because he had been miraculously delivered, and attributing all the glory of the victory to Divine interposition on his own behalf. But all the people knew that Abraham was the favoured of God, and their deliverer, and they built a throne of the trees that covered the plain, and which had been burnt in the war, and set Abraham as their prince and king thereon; therefore is that place called to this day, "The king's dale." But Abraham was little pleased with this exhibition of honour, and he thought upon what he had learnt of old from that aged man, Shem, consecrated by God to be His priest, when he fled to him in his cave from the tyranny of Nimrod.
Shem reigned now in the city of Salem, which was in later years called Jerusalem, and from his righteous government he was named Melchizedek (king of righteousness). And Abraham thought, "Will Shem ever forgive me for having drawn the sword against his grandsons, the sons of Elam?"
But Shem was of no less noble and considerate temper than Abraham; and he mused within himself, and said, "What sort of opinion can Abraham have formed of me, that such godless and violent hosts should have sprung from my loins, and have devastated the fair plain of Jordan, and carried away captive even his near kinsman!"
Then Shem, full of noble resolution to reconcile himself with Abraham, rose up and went forth, bearing bread and wine as tokens of friendship.
The words of God flowed from his mouth; he instructed Abraham in all that appertained to the high priest's office, which was in future times to belong to his family; and before he left, he blessed Abraham with these words, "Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand."
But in so saying, Melchizedek erred grievously, for he blessed Abraham before he blessed God, and the Creator should be blessed first, and the creature blessed afterwards; therefore the high priesthood was taken from him, and was given to Aaron in after-times.
Of all the spoil which Abraham had taken, he separated a tenth part, and he gave it to Melchizedek, as the offering due to the priest, and this was the first tithe paid in the history of the world. All the booty of Sodom Abraham returned to the king thereof, and he took an oath, "I will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, and I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou should say, I have made Abraham rich, save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion."
On account of this unselfishness, the remembrance of which was to be continued through all generations, God gave the descendants of Abraham maxims to be written on their phylacteries and shoe-latchets; and the promise was made, "Over Edom will I cast out my shoe;" that is, Edom, the most cruel oppressor of the chosen people, should fall under the condemnation of the Most High.
The end of Nimrod and his confederate kings is related with greater fulness by the Mussulman historians.
According to Tabari, God sent an army of flies against the host of Chedorlaomer and Nimrod, and these flies attacked the soldiers in their faces; and the flies were so numerous that the soldiers could not see one another; and the horses stung by them went mad, and leaped, and fell; so that, what with the horses and the flies, the army was entirely dispersed. Nimrod escaped to Babylon, but he was pursued by the meanest of the gnats of that host; it was blind of one eye and lame of one leg. When Nimrod sat down on his throne, the gnat settled upon his knee. Then the tyrant smote at it; and it rose, flew up one of his nostrils and entered his brain, which it began to devour.
Nimrod beat his face and his head, and when he did so the fly ceased gnawing at his brain, but he had no repose from his agonies, save when struck upon the head. Consequently there was, after that, always some one stationed by him to strike his head. The king had a large blacksmith's hammer brought into his throne-room, and with that his princes and nobles smote him on the head; and the more violent the blow, the greater was the relief afforded. Nimrod reigned a thousand years before he felt the torment of the gnat; up to that moment he had suffered no pains. He lived for five hundred years with the fly eating at his brain; and all that while, night and day, there were relays of men to strike his head with the hammer.
Precisely the same story is told by the Jewish Rabbis of Titus.
There is, however, another version of the tradition; which is, that the gnat fattening on the brain grew in size till it swelled to the dimensions of a pigeon, and then the skull of Nimrod burst, and the gnat flew away; and this was fifteen days after it had entered by his nose.
More shall be told of Melchizedek in a separate article.
4. THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL.
Ten years passed, and yet Sarah was barren. Abraham, in sore distress, prayed to God, and reminded Him of His promises. Sarah then said to Abraham, "God has refused me children, therefore take Hagar to wife, the daughter of Pharaoh, who was given to be my servant; I give her thee in all goodwill, that my reproach may be taken away, and to her I give her freedom."
Abraham consented; but Hagar, who had been virtuously brought up by Sarah, objected modestly, till Sarah pointed out to her how great an honour it would be to be the concubine of such a holy man.
But no sooner was Hagar installed as second wife, and felt in herself that she was about to become a mother, than her character changed; she assumed the pre-eminence, and cast bitter words in the teeth of her mistress. "What," said she, "can Sarah be so holy and beloved of God, and He has never given her her heart's desire?"
Sarah was stung to the quick by these words of her former slave. She turned to her husband and said, "I demand of thee my rights. For thee I forsook my father's house, and followed thee into a strange land; for thee I passed myself off in Egypt as thy sister. And now what hast thou done? Thou hast suffered my slave to assume the chief place in the house, and to take upon herself airs, and thou holdest thy peace. Depend upon it, if she bear thee a son there will be no peace in the house, for she is a daughter of Pharaoh, who is of the race of Nimrod, who cast thee into the furnace of fire."
"Hagar is in thy power," answered Abraham; "but do her no harm. After thou gavest her her freedom, she may not again be brought into bondage."
But Sarah paid no attention to these words of gentleness, and treated Hagar with such cruelty, beat her, and cast an evil eye on her, so that she was delivered before her time of a dead child, and she fled for her life from the house.
The All-Righteous, for this offence, shortened Sarah's life, and made her die thirty-eight years before her husband.
Angels appeared to Hagar in the desert by the well of water whither she had fled, and bade her return to Abraham. So she went back, and was again pregnant, and bore a son, and called his name Ishmael.
5. THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH.
At noon on the 15th Nisan, the third day after the circumcision of Abraham, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, the heat of the sun was so great that Gehinom (Hell) was penetrated by it. And Abraham had not recovered the administration of the rite, which had been performed by the hands of Shem, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God.
Abraham was wont every day to go forth and invite any travellers he might see to feast with him. But this day, owing to the heat and to his being in pain, he sent Eliezer, his servant, forth, who looked and returned and said that there was no one to be seen.
But Abraham thought, "Can I trust the words of this slave, and neglect for one day the performance of my accustomed hospitality?"
Then, notwithstanding the heat and his suffering, he went and sat in the shade of the door, and he beheld in the plain of Mamre the glory of the Lord that appeared. Abraham would have risen, but the voice of God called to him, saying, "Remain where thou art, and let thy pious, sitting posture teach future generations in their prayer and instruction to be seated; and let judges, in delivering judgment, occupy the same position."
Then Abraham lifted his eyes, and beheld three men, who seemed to approach and then to withdraw. These were the angels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, sent to him with messages, whereof each bore one. They now stood before Abraham's tent, and they came to satisfy his desire to show hospitality: but when they observed the predicament in which he was, they attempted to withdraw, but Abraham supposed them to be travellers of the three neighbouring races of Saracens, Nabathæans, and Arabians; and as two of the angels were smaller of stature than the third, who stood in the middle—this was Michael—Abraham supposed him to be their chief; and he rose and bowed himself before him, and said to the Majesty of God which still shone, "If I have found favour in Thy sight, O Lord, may Thy majesty not depart from me whilst I receive hospitably these wanderers." And the Lord granted his request.
Then said Abraham to the men, "Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant."
Now the reason why he said "Let a little water be fetched and wash your feet," was, that he supposed the men were idolaters, and he would not have the dust from the feet of idolaters to pollute the floor of his tent.
And they said, "Do so."
Then Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth." And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
Abraham placed butter and milk on the table first, then calves' tongues, then the other dishes, and lastly Sarah's cakes; but some commentators doubt whether the men ate the cakes. It is asserted by some that the angels only appeared to eat, but by others we are assured that to reward Abraham's hospitality they really did eat, and this was the only occasion on which angels tasted the food of earth.
The angels, knowing that Sarah was within the tent, asked after her. And this betokens her great modesty, that she did not thrust herself forward to be seen of strange visitors. Abraham replied that she was within, engaged in women's household work. Then said Michael, the chief of the angels, "Truly shall such pious and seemly habits not pass unrewarded; but Sarah shall bloom again as fair as in her youth, and shall bear a son in her old age."
Sarah heard these words at the entrance of the tent; so did Ishmael, who stood near. Sarah stepped behind the angel, but the beauty of her countenance shone before her, and the angel turned to look at her, and then he saw she was laughing to herself, and saying, "I am good-looking, and smart dresses become me; I could perfectly well produce a son, but then my husband is old."
Then the word of God came to Abraham, and said, "Wherefore did Sarah laugh? Am I, the all-powerful God, too old to create miracles? At the appointed time Sarah shall have a son." To Sarah, who, out of fear, denied having laughed, the word came, "Fear not, but thou didst laugh."
Then Michael withdrew, for his mission was accomplished; and left the other two, Gabriel and Raphael, with Abraham. Then God revealed to Abraham, by Gabriel, that He was about to destroy the cities of the plain; and by Raphael, that He would deliver Lot and his family in the overthrow.
These cities were very guilty before God. Eliezer, having been sent by Sarah to her brother Lot with a message, some years before, arrived in Sodom. An acquaintance invited him to a meal. But hospitality was a virtue abhorred in Sodom, and the news of the invitation having got wind, Eliezer's friend was driven out of the city. Now it was a custom in Sodom to make every stranger arriving within the walls rest in a certain bed; and if the bed proved too long for him, his legs were pulled out to fit it; and if it proved too short, his legs were pared down to its dimensions. Eliezer saw with horror what it was that they purposed to do with him, and he had recourse to a lie of necessity; he declined to sleep in the bed, because he had taken an oath upon the death of his mother never to lie on a bed again; and thus he escaped. Shortly after, having seen a Sodomite rob a poor stranger of his garment, Eliezer attempted to interfere, but the robber struck him over the head and made a gash, from which he lost much blood. Both being brought before the judge, this was the magnate's decision:—That Eliezer was indebted to the Sodomite robber for having bled him. The servant of Abraham thereupon took up a large stone, flung it at the judge's head, which he cut open, and said, "Now, pay me for having bled thee!" and then he fled out of the city.
From these incidents it may be seen how wicked the city was.
Now Abraham had interceded with God to spare the cities of the plain, for the intercession of His saints is mighty with God. And Abraham had obtained of God that if in Zoar, the smallest of the cities, five righteous could be found, and forty-five in all the rest of the country, God would spare them. Then God ceased talking with Abraham. Next morning early, Abraham arose and took his staff, and went to the place where God had met him, to make further intercession for the cities of the plain, but the smoke of them rose as from a furnace, for brimstone and fire had been rained upon them out of heaven, and they had been consumed along with their inhabitants. Only Zoar was spared, as a place of refuge for Lot, and Lot was kept alive and his daughters; for God remembered how he had been true to Abraham in Egypt, and had not betrayed the truth about Sarah when questioned by Pharaoh.
The Mussulman tradition is as follows:—
Lot, whom the Arabs call Loth, was sent by God as a prophet to convince the inhabitants of the cities of the plain of their ungodly deeds. But, though he preached for twenty years, he could not convince them. And whenever he visited Abraham he complained to him of the iniquity of the people. But Abraham urged him to patience.
At length the long-suffering of God was exhausted, and He sent the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Azrael, armed with the sword of destruction, against these cities. They came to Abraham, who received them, and slaughtered a calf, and prepared meat and set it before them. But they would not eat. And he pressed them, and ate himself; but they would not eat, being angels. Then Abraham's colour went, and he was afraid, for to refuse to eat with a man is a token that you seek his life.
Seeing him discouraged, the angels announced their mission. But Sarah, observing her husband's loss of colour, laughed and said in her heart, "Why is he fearful, being surrounded with many servants and faithful friends?"
Now the angels promised to Abraham a son in his old age, and that they would rescue Lot in the overthrow of Sodom. Then they rose up and went on their way, and entered into Sodom; and they met a young maiden in the street, and asked her the way to Lot's house.
She answered, "He is my father, and I dwell with him; but know you not, O strangers, that it is against the laws of this city to show hospitality?"
But they answered her, "Fear not; lead us to thy father."
So she led them, and ran before and told Lot, "Behold three men come seeking thee and asking shelter, and they are beautiful as the angels of God."
Then Lot went out to them, and told them that the city was full of wickedness, and that hospitality was not permitted.
But they answered, "We must tarry this night in thy house." Then he admitted them, and he hid them. But Lot's wife was an infidel, a native of Sodom; and finding that he lodged these strangers, she hastened to the chief men of the city and said, "My husband has violated your laws, and the customs of this people; he has housed travellers, and will feed them and show them all courtesy."
Therefore the men of the city came tumultuously to the door of Lot's house, to bring forth the men that were come to him, and to cast them out of the city, having shamefully entreated them. They would not listen to the remonstrances of Lot, but went near to break in his door.
Then the three angels stepped forth and passed their hands over the faces of all who drew near, and they were struck blind, and fled from their presence.
Now, long before the day began to break, the angels rose up and called Lot, his wife and daughters, and bade them take their clothes and all that they had that was most precious, and escape out of the city. Therefore Lot and his family went forth.
And when they were escaped, the angel Gabriel went through the cities, and passed his wing over the soil on which they were built, and the cities were carried up into heaven; and they came so near thereto that those on the confines of heaven could hear the crowing of the cocks in Sodom, and the barking of the dogs in Gomorrah. And then they were overthrown, so that their foundations were towards the sky and their roofs towards the earth. And God rained on them stones heated in the fire of Hell; and on each stone was written the name of him whom it was destined to slay. Now there were many natives of these accursed cities in other parts of the land, and where they were, there they were sought out by the red-hot stones, and were struck down. But some were within the sacred enclosure of the temple at Mecca, and the stones waited for them in the air; and at the expiration of forty days they came forth, and as they came forth the stones whistled through the air, and smote them, and they were slain.
Now Lot's wife turned, as she went forth, to look back upon the city, and a stone fell on her, and she died.
It is related further of Lot that, after he had escaped, he committed in ignorance a very great sin; and Abraham sent him to expiate his crime to the sources of the Nile, to fetch thence three sorts of wood, which he named to him. Abraham thought, "He will be slain by ravenous beasts, and so will he atone for the sin that he has committed."
But Lot after a while returned, bringing with him the woods which Abraham had demanded—a cypress plant, a young cedar, and a young pine.
Abraham planted the three trees in the shape of a triangle, on a mountain, and charged Lot with watering them every day from Jordan. Now the mountain was twenty-four thousand paces from Jordan, and this penance was laid on Lot to expiate his sin.
At the end of three months the trees blossomed; Lot announced this to Abraham, who visited the spot, and saw to his surprise that the three trees had grown together to form one trunk, but with three distinct roots of different natures.
At the sight of this miracle he bowed his face to the ground and said, "This tree will abolish sin."
And by that he knew that God had pardoned Lot.
The tree grew and subsisted till the reign of Solomon, when it was cut down, and this was the tree which the Jews employed to form the Cross of Christ.
This tradition is, of course, Christian; though Jewish in origin, it has been adapted to the Gospel story.
6. THE BIRTH OF ISAAC.
The country was wasted; travellers were few; those who passed by, and accepted Abraham's hospitality, spoke with scorn of the sin of Lot, his nephew; and the neighbourhood became intolerable to the patriarch, who resolved to change his place of residence for a while.
He therefore went south, between Kadesh and Sur, and dwelt in Gerar.
Now Sarah had bloomed again as fair as in her youth, as the angel Michael had foretold; and Abraham persuaded her to pretend again to be his sister, though Sarah, remembering the ill-success of this deceit before, hesitated to comply.
Abimelech, king of Gerar, hearing of Sarah's beauty, sent for her to his palace. He asked Abraham, "Who is this woman?" and he answered, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech inquired of the camels and of the asses, and they answered the same, "She is his sister." But that same evening, as it grew towards dusk, as he sat on his throne, he fell asleep; and in dream saw an angel of God approach him with a drawn sword in his hand to slay him. The king in his dream cried out to know why he was doomed to death; and the angel answered, "Because thou hast received into thy house the wife of another man, the mistress of a house."
Abimelech excused himself, saying that Abraham had concealed the truth from him, and had said Sarah was his sister.
"The All-Holy knows that thou hast sinned in ignorance," said the angel; "but is it seemly, when strangers enter thy land, to be questioning closely into their connexions? Know that Abraham is a prophet, and foreseeing that thy people would entreat his wife ill, he resolved to call her his sister, and he knew, being a prophet, that thou couldst not harm her."
That night—it was the Paschal eve,—the angel with the drawn sword traversed all the streets of the city, and closed the wombs of those about to bear.
Next morning early, while it was yet dark, Abimelech sent for Abraham and Sarah, and gave Sarah back to her husband, and paid him a thousand ounces of silver, and to Sarah he gave a costly robe, which might conceal her from her eyes to her feet, that none might henceforth be bewitched by her beauty. "But," said Abimelech to Abraham, "because thou didst deceive me, and blind my eyes with a lie, therefore thou shalt bear a son, whose eyes shall be dim so that he shall be deceived." And Abraham prayed to the Lord, and all the women that were with child in Gerar were delivered of men-children, without the pangs of maternity, and those who were barren felt themselves with child. The angel hosts besought the Lord to look upon Sarah, and to remember His covenant. "O Lord of the whole world! Thou didst hear the cry of Abraham, and grant his petitions when he prayed for the barren women of Gerar; and his own wife, from whom Thou didst promise him a son, is unfruitful and despised. Does it beseem a Lord, when he prepares a fleet, to free his subjects from pirates, but to leave the vessel of his best friend in bondage?"
Now it was the first day of the seventh month, Tischri, the day on which, at the close of the world's history, the Lord will come to judge the quick and the dead, that the Lord God remembered Sarah, and the promise He had made, and looked upon her, and she conceived a son in her old age, one year and four months after her sojourn in Gerar; and nine months after, say some, but, say others, six months and two days after; at mid-day say some, others say in the evening of the fifteenth of Nisan; or, as others affirm, on the first of Nisan she was delivered of a son, without suffering any pains in the bringing forth. And the same time that Sarah's womb was blessed, God looked upon many other barren women and blessed them also; and on the day that the child was born they were delivered likewise; and the blind saw, the dumb spake, the deaf heard, and the lame walked, and the crazed recovered their senses. Also, the sun shone forty-eight times brighter than he shines at Midsummer, even with the splendour that he had on the day of his creation.
And when eight days were accomplished, Abraham circumcised his son, and called him Isaac.
But many thought it was an incredible thing that Abraham and Sarah should have a son in their old age, and they said, "This is a foundling, or it is the child of one of the slaves, which they pass off as their own." Now Abraham held a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned, and he invited thereto all the princes and great men of the country. And there came Abimelech, king of Gerar, and Og, king of Basan, and all the princes of Ganaan, sixty-two princes in all. Such an assembly was not seen before, yet all these princes fell in after-years by the hands of Joshua.
Of this feast it is related that Og's companions said to him, "Do you believe that that old mule, Abraham, can be the father of this child?"
Og replied with scorn, "I could crack this imp with the nail of my little finger."
Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, "Thou despisest this little child, but know thou that tens of thousands shall spring from his loins, and that before them thy pride shall be humbled."
Also, Abraham's ancestors, Shem and Eber, and his father, Terah—though some say he was dead—and Nahor, Abraham's brother, attended the feast, and the Shekinah, the glory of the Lord, appeared to grace it.
But Satan also appeared in the form of a poor beggar-man, and he stood at the door and asked an alms. Now Abraham and Sarah were busy attending to their guests, so they perceived him not, but the servants thrust him away, and Satan received nothing; therefore he presented himself before the Most High, and laid an accusation of inhospitality and churlishness against the Friend of God.
In the meantime Sarah had assembled, and was entertaining all the wives of the guests of Abraham. And it happened that the women found that they had no milk in their bosoms to give their infants, and the babes screamed that no one could hear the voice of another. The mothers were in despair, for the children were hungry, and they were all dry. Then Sarah uncovered her breasts, and there spirted from them jets of milk, and all the babes were nourished at her bosom, and yet there was more.
Now when they saw this, the women, who had doubted that the child was really the offspring of Sarah, doubted no more, and cried, "We are not worthy that our little ones should be nourished at thy bosom!" And the story goes that all those who afterwards joined themselves to the people of Israel, and all those in every nation who in after-times became proselytes, were descended from those who sucked the breasts of Sarah. In allusion to this incident it is said in the Book of Psalms: "Thou makest the barren woman to keep house, and to be the joyful mother of (i.e. giving suck to) children."
The child Isaac was shown to every visitor, and all were astonished at his resemblance to Abraham. Both the babe and his father were so much alike that it was impossible to distinguish one from the other, and all doubt as to whose it was vanished before such evidence of likeness to the father, and before the fulness of Sarah's breasts. But as confusion was likely to arise through the striking similarity between father and son, Abraham besought God to give him wrinkles and white hair, that he might not be mistaken for the babe Isaac, or the babe Isaac be mistaken for him.
7. THE EXPULSION OF HAGAR AND ISHMAEL.
Ishmael grew up, and became skilful with his bow; he was rough and undisciplined, and he occasionally lapsed into idolatry, but without his father knowing it. But Sarah was aware of his sin, and was grieved thereat.
Ishmael often boasted, "I am the eldest son, and I shall have a double portion of my father's inheritance." These words were reported to Sarah, and she hated Ishmael for them in her heart.
One day when Isaac was five years old, but others say fifteen, Ishmael said to him, "Come forth into the field and let us shoot." Isaac was well pleased. And when they were in the field, Ishmael turned his bow against his brother, but he did it in jest. Sarah saw him from the tent door, and she ran out, and caught away her son Isaac, and she went to Abraham and told him all the evil she knew of Ishmael; how he had gone after idols and had learnt the ways of the Canaanites that were in the land, how he had boasted of his majority, and how he had sought Isaac's life. And she said, "Give the maid-servant a writing of divorcement, and send her away. 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. Then she will no more vex Isaac. Do thou leave to Isaac all thy possessions. Never shall Ishmael inherit anything from thee, for he is not my son."
Abraham was grieved at heart, for he loved Ishmael his son, but nothing that he said could alter Sarah's determination. She insisted on the expulsion of Hagar and her son, and she stirred up the wrath of Abraham against Ishmael, because he had fallen into idolatry.
Sarah, say the Mussulmans, was so fierce in her jealousy, that she would not be satisfied till she had washed her hands in the blood of Hagar. Then Abraham quickly pierced Hagar's ears, and drew a ring through them, so that Sarah could fulfil her oath, without endangering the life of Hagar.
It was long before Abraham could be brought to consent to Sarah's desire, but God appeared to him in a dream and said, "Fear not to obey the voice of Sarah, for she is the wife of thy youth, and was chosen for thee from her mother's womb. But Hagar is not thy wife; she is but a bond-woman. Sarah also is a prophetess, and sees into things that shall be in the latter days, further than thou. Unto Isaac and those of his seed who believe in the Two Worlds are the promises made; and they alone shall be accounted as thy seed."
Abraham now did what he was commanded. Next morning he gave Hagar a writing of dismissal, and took twelve loaves of bread and a pitcher of water, and laid them upon Hagar, for Sarah had cast an evil eye upon Ishmael, so that he was ill, and unable to carry any burden. And Abraham attached the pitcher by a cord to the hips of Hagar, that all might know she was a slave, and the pitcher hung down and trailed on the sand. Ishmael was sent away without garments; he went forth naked as he came into the world: thus it may be seen how implacable was the anger of Sarah, because he had boasted of his birthright, and the wrath of Abraham, because he had fallen into idolatry.
But when they went along their way, Abraham looked after them for long, standing in the door of his tent, for his bowels yearned after his son, and he saw the trail in the sand of the water pitcher which Hagar had dragged sadly along, and thereby Abraham knew the direction which they had taken.
Now God forsook not the outcast in her affliction, but filled the pitcher with water as fast as she and her son drank out of it, and the water was always sweet and cold. Thus they penetrated the wilderness, and there they lost their way, and Hagar forgot the God of Abraham, and in her distress turned to the false gods of her father Pharaoh, and besought their protection, for she said, "Where are the promises of the God of Abraham, that of Ishmael would He make a great nation?"
Now Ishmael was sick of a burning fever, and the water in the pitcher failed when Hagar forsook the God of Abraham. So she cast him under a thorn bush, and went from him the space of two thousand ells, that she might not hear his cries. But Ishmael prayed to the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, and said, "O Lord God of my father Abraham! thou canst send death in so many forms; take my life speedily or give me a drop of water, that I suffer this agony no longer."
And the Lord in His compassion heard the prayer of the weeping child, and He sent His angel and showed Hagar that fountain which He had created on the sixth day at dusk, and of which the children of Israel were destined to drink when they came forth out of Egypt.
But the accusing angel murmured against this judgment of God, and said, "O Lord of the whole earth! shall this one, of whom a nation of robbers shall arise, who will war upon thine elect people, and be a scourge upon the face of the earth, shall he be delivered now, and given to drink of a fountain destined for thine elect?"
The Lord answered, "Is the youth guilty, or is he not guilty?"
The angel answered, "He is not himself guilty, but his posterity will sin."
Then God said, "I punish men for what they have done, and not for what their children will do. Ishmael hath not merited a death of suffering, therefore shall he not die." And God opened the eyes of Hagar, and she saw the spring of water, and filled her pitcher, and took it to Ishmael to drink. She filled the pitcher before she gave her son a draught of water, for she had little faith, and thought that the fountain would be withdrawn before she could return to it again.
Then Ishmael was strengthened and could go, and he and his mother went further, and were fed by the shepherds; and they reached Paran, and there they found springs of water, and they settled there. Ishmael took a wife, a daughter of Moab, named Aischa, or Aifa, or Asiah; but others say she was an Egyptian woman, and was named Meriba (the quarrelsome), and by her he had four sons and one daughter.
Ishmael lived a wandering life in tents with his wife and cattle; and the Lord blessed his flocks, and he had great possessions. But his heart remained the same; and he was a master of archery, and instructed his neighbours in making bows.
After three years, Abraham, whose heart longed after his son, said to Sarah, "I must see how my son Ishmael fares." And she answered, "Thou shalt go if thou wilt swear to me not to alight from off thy camel," for she hated Hagar, and feared to suffer her husband to meet her once more. So Abraham swore. Then he went to Paran, over the desert, seeking Ishmael's tent; and he reached it at noon, but neither Hagar nor her son were at home. Only Ishmael's wife was within, and she was scolding and beating the children.
So Abraham halted on his camel before the tent door, and the sun was hot in the blue sky above, and the sand was white and glaring beneath. And he called to her, "Is thy husband within?"
She answered, without rising from her seat, "He is hunting." Or, say others, she said without looking at him or rising, "He is gathering dates."
Then Abraham said, "I am faint and hungry; bring me a little bread and a drop of water."
But the woman answered, "I have none for such as thee."
So Abraham said to her, "Say to thy husband, even to Ishmael, these words: 'An old man hath come to see thee out of the land of the Philistines, and he says, The nail that fastens thy tent is bad; cast it away or thy tent will fall, and get thee a better nail.'" Then he departed, and went home.
Now when Ishmael returned, his wife told him all these words, and he knew that his father had been there, and he understood the tenor of his words, so he sent away his wife, and he took another, with his mother's advice, out of Egypt, and her name was Fatima.
And after three years, Abraham's bowels yearned once more after his son, and he said to Sarah, "I must see how Ishmael fares." And she answered, "Thou shalt go, if thou wilt swear to me not to alight from off thy camel." So Abraham swore.
Then he went to Paran, over the desert, seeking Ishmael's tent, and he reached it at noon; but neither Hagar nor her son was at home. Only Ishmael's wife, Fatima, was within, and she was singing to the children.
So Abraham halted on his camel before the tent door, and the sun was hot in the blue sky above, and the sand was white and glaring beneath. And when Fatima saw a stranger at the door, she rose from her seat, and veiled her face, and came out and greeted him.
Then said Abraham, "Is thy husband within?"
She answered, "My lord, he is pasturing the camels in the desert;" and she added, "Enter, my lord, into the cool of the tent and rest, and suffer me to bring thee a little meat."
But Abraham said, "I may not alight from off my camel, for my journey is hasty; but bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread and a drop of water, for I am hungry and faint."
Then she ran and brought him of the best of all that she had in the tent, and he ate and drank, and was glad.
So he said to her, "Say to thy husband, even to Ishmael, that an old man out of the land of the Philistines hath been here, and he says, The nail that fastens thy tent is very good; let it not be stirred out of its place, and thy tent will stand."
And he returned. And when Ishmael came home, Fatima related to him all the words that the old man had spoken, and he understood the tenor of the words.
Ishmael was glad that his father had visited him, for he knew thereby that his love to him was not extinguished.
Shortly after, he left his wife and children, and went across the desert to see his father in the land of the Philistines. And Abraham related to him all that had taken place with the first wife, and why he had exhorted him to put her away.
8. THE STRIFE BETWEEN THE SHEPHERDS.
Abraham lived twenty-six years in the land of the Philistines; then he went to Hebron, and there his servants dug wells, and there they encamped.
When Abimelech's servants heard of these wells that they had dug, they came with their flocks, and desired to use them also, and the largest of the wells they claimed as their own. But Abraham's shepherds said, "Let the well belong to those to whom it gives water. The Lord shall decide between us!"
To this the servants of Abimelech agreed. And when the flocks of Abraham came to drink, the well sprang up and overflowed; but when the flocks of Abimelech drew near, the water sank and disappeared.
Now when Abimelech heard of the strife, he came with Phicol, his chief captain, to seek Abraham, and to be reconciled with him. "God is with all that thou doest," said Abimelech; "He protected thee when Sodom was destroyed. He has given thee a son in thine old age. He rescued thy first-born when perishing in the desert. Swear to me, as I have offered thee my whole land, my own palace not excepted, in which to dwell, that thou wilt show equal love and liberality to my descendants to the third generation."
Abraham swore to him, and they made a covenant together.
And Abraham set apart seven lambs as a witness and token, that just as the well had sprung up when his flocks had come to water at it, so, in after days should it spring up to water the descendants of Abraham; as it is said, "From thence they went to Beer, that is, the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it."
But such condescension and courtesy ill became Abraham in his dealings with a rude and savage people, and therefore there came to him a voice from heaven which said: "Because thou hast given these seven innocent lambs into the hands of a barbarous nation, therefore seven of thy descendants shall be slain by their hands (Samson, Hophni and Phinehas, Saul and his three sons); also seven dwellings that thy people shall raise to my Name shall they destroy (the Tabernacle, Gilgal, Nob, Gibeon, Shiloh, and twice the Temple at Jerusalem), and seven months shall the ark of my covenant remain in the land of the Philistines."
9. THE GROVE IN BEER-SHEBA.
"And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord." The reason was as follows:—
Once Abraham asked Shem the son of Noah, otherwise called Melchizedek, king of Salem, what service he and his father and brethren rendered to the Lord in the ark, which was so acceptable to God that He preserved them alive and brought them in safety to Ararat; and Shern answered, "The service we rendered to God, all the time of our sojourn in the ark, was charity."
And when Abraham wondered and asked how that could possibly be, as there were none in the ark save themselves and the beasts, Shem answered,—
"Even so; we showed charity and forethought and hospitality to the animals. We fed them regularly, and we slept not at night; so busy were we with them in making them comfortable. Once, when we had delayed somewhat, the lion was hungry and bit Noah, my father."
Then said Abraham to himself, "In very truth, if it was reckoned to Noah and his sons as so great righteousness, that they fed and tended the dumb and senseless beasts, how much more pleasing must it be to the Most High, to be kind and generous to men who are made in His image, after His likeness!"
Filled with this thought, Abraham settled at Beer-sheba, where was an abundant spring of fresh water, and there he resolved to do service acceptable to the living God, and to honour His name, as Noah and his sons had done Him service and honoured Him in the ark.
So Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, one hundred ells long and one hundred ells broad, and he planted it with vines and figs, pomegranates and other fruit trees; and he built a guest-house adjoining this garden, and he made in it four doors, one towards each quarter of the heavens; and when a hungry man came by, Abraham gave him food; if there came a man who was thirsty, he gave him drink; if one who was naked, he clothed him; if one who was sick, he took him in and nursed him; and he gave to every man who passed by what he most needed for his journey.
He would receive neither thanks nor payment; and when any one thanked him, he said hastily, "Give thanks, not to me the servant, but to the Master of this house, who openeth His hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness."
Then when the traveller asked, "Who, and where is this Master?"
Abraham answered, "He is the God who rules over heaven and earth; He is Lord of all; He kills and makes alive; He wounds and heals; He forms the fruit in the mother's womb, and gives it life; He makes the plants and trees to grow; He brings man to destruction, and raises him from his grave again."
Thus Abraham instructed those whom he relieved. And if a traveller asked further, how he was to worship the great God, Abraham answered, "Say only these words, Praised be the Eternal One who reigns over heaven and earth! Praised be the Lord of the whole world, who filleth all things living with plenteousness." And no traveller went on his way without thanking God.
Thus that guest-house was a great school, in which men were taught the true religion, and gratitude to the Almighty God.
10. THE OFFERING OF ISAAC.
Abraham loved the son of his old age, and Isaac grew up in the fear of God, and his good conduct heightened the love Abraham bore him; but the Patriarch thought in his heart, "I prepare gifts to give of my abundance to every man that asks of me, and to every passer-by; but to my Lord and God, the Giver of all good things, have I given nothing!"
There was a day when the sons of God (the angels) stood before the Eternal One, and amongst them was the accusing angel, Satan or Sammael. The Lord asked him, "Whence comest thou?"
"From walking to and fro upon the face of the earth," he replied.
"And what hast thou beheld there of the doings of the sons of men?"
The Accuser answered, "I saw that the sons of earth no longer praise Thee, and adore Thee; when they have obtained their petition, then they forget to give Thee thanks. I saw that Abraham, the son of Terah, as long as he was childless, built altars and proclaimed Thy name to all the world: now he has been given a son at the age of a hundred, and he forgets Thee. I went to his door as a beggar, on the day that Isaac was weaned, and I was turned away without an alms. I have seen him strike alliance with the King of the Philistines, a nation that knows Thee not, and to him has he given seven lambs. He has built a large house and he gives to strangers, but to Thee he gives no sacrifice of value. Ask of him any sacrifice that is costly, and he will refuse it."
"What shall I ask?" inquired the Almighty.
"Ask of him now his son, and he will refuse him to Thy face."
"I will do so, and thou shalt be confounded," answered the Holy One.
The self-same night God appeared to Abraham, and addressed him gently so as not to alarm him, and He said to him, "Abraham!"
The patriarch in deep humility answered, "Here am I, Lord; what willest Thou of Thy servant?"
The Lord answered, "I have come to ask of thee something. I have saved thee in all dangers; I delivered thee out of the furnace of Babylon; I rescued thee from the army of Nimrod; I brought thee into this land, and gave thee men-servants and maid-servants and cattle and sheep and horses, and I have given thee a son in thine old age, and victory over all thine enemies, and new temptations await thee, for I must prove thee, and see if thou art grateful in thy heart, and that thy righteousness may be manifest unto all, and that thy obedience may be perfected. Take therefore thy son——"
Abraham answered trembling, "Which son? I have two."
The voice of God.—"That son which alone counteth with thee."
Abraham.—"Each is the only son of his mother."
The voice of God.—"The one you love."
Abraham.—"I love both."
The voice of God.—"The one you love best."
Abraham.—"I love both alike."
The voice of God.—"Then I demand Isaac."
Abraham.—"And what shall I do with him, O Lord?"
The voice of God.—"Go to the place that I shall tell thee, where, unexpectedly, hills shall arise in sight out of the valley bottom. Go to that place whence once My Light, My Teaching issued, which My eye watches over untiringly, and where the smoke of incense shall arise to Me, to the place where prayer is heard and sacrifice shall be offered, where at the end of time I shall judge the nations, and cast the ungodly into the pit of Gehinom;— to the land of Moriah that I shall show thee, there shalt thou take thy son Isaac as a whole burnt offering."
Abraham.—"Shall I bring Thee such an offering as this, O Lord? Where is the priest to prepare the sacrifice?"
The voice of God.—"I have taken from Shem his priesthood, and thou art clothed therewith."
Abraham.—"But in that country there are many hills; which shall I ascend?"
The voice of God.—"A mountain on which shall rest my Glory; there shall it be told thee further what thou must do."
Abraham prepared to fulfil the command of God, but he dreaded the separation between Sarah and her son. If he took Isaac away secretly, then he feared that, in the excess of her distress, she would do herself harm. At last he decided on this course; he went to Sarah's tent, and he said to her, "My dearest, prepare this day a little banquet, that in our old days we may rejoice our hearts."
Sarah answered, "Wherefore this day, my husband? Are you about to lose anything this day?"
Abraham said, "Think, my wife, Sarah! how good God has been to us; therefore it behoves us to thank Him all the days of our life."
Sarah did as Abraham had commanded.
As they sat and ate, Abraham said, "Thou knowest well, dear wife, that I knew the One true God from the time that I was three years old. Isaac is older, and it behoves him to know more of the law of God. Therefore I design to take him with me to Shem and Eber, our ancestors, who live not far from here, that they may instruct him. Hast thou anything to object to this, Sarah?"
She answered, "No; do that which is pleasing in thine eyes; only let not Isaac be away too long, for thou knowest how precious the sight of him is to me."
Then Sarah put her arms round her son, and kissed him, and they parted with many tears; and she exhorted Abraham to have great care of the youth, that the journey might not be too great for him."
Next morning, very early, Abraham rose, and he saddled the ass himself, though he had many slaves, for he was eager to be gone, and to go where the Lord called him. This was the ass, born of the she-ass created by God on the eve of the sixth day, upon which Moses afterwards rode when he went to Egypt; it is the ass which spake to Balaam, and it is the ass of which the prophet Zechariah has spoken, that on it Messiah shall ride.
This ass was of a hundred colours.
Sarah clothed Isaac in the garment that Abimelech had given her, and placed a jewel-studded fillet about his head. She provided the travellers with food for their journey, and accompanied them with her maids, till Abraham bade them return. Then she clasped Isaac once more to her breast, and said with tears, "God be gracious to thee, my son; how know I that I shall see thee again?"
Abraham had two to accompany him, Eliezer and Ishmael; he had cut fig and palm wood and made a faggot. On the way this discourse took place between Eliezer and Ishmael.
Ishmael said, "I perceive clearly that my father is about to offer Isaac as a whole burnt offering; therefore I, his eldest son, will inherit his possessions."
But Eliezer said, "That is false: I am his trusty servant! Did not thy father drive thee away from home? He will leave all to me."
Whilst they thus spake, there came a voice from heaven, "O ye fools! neither of you knows the truth."
Abraham in the meantime walked forward. Then came Satan to him in the form of an old man bowed upon a staff, and said to him, "Whither goest thou?"
He answered, "I go to offer up my prayers."
"Wherefore this knife, and fuel, and fire?" asked Satan.
"I take them in case we have to spend much time on the mountain, that we may bake bread and slay beasts."
"Old man, thou deceivest me," said Satan. "Was I not by when a voice bade thee slay thy son, thine only son; and now, what art thou about to do? Thinkest thou that thou shalt have another son, now that thou art a hundred years old? Art thou then about to cut down with thine own hands the main pillar of thy tent, the staff on which thou mayest lean in thine old age? Knowest thou not the proverb, 'He who destroys his own goods, how shall he get more?' That was not the voice of God, it was the voice of the Tempter, and thou didst listen to it. Dost thou think that God, who promised to make of thee a great nation, and to bless all generations through Isaac, would thus persuade thee to make void His own promises?"
Abraham answered, "No, it was not the Tempter who spake, it was the voice of God; therefore I will not hearken to thy words, but walk on still in mine uprightness."
"But if God were to ask of thee some further sacrifice, wouldst thou grant it?"
"Of a truth would I," answered Abraham.
"Thy piety is folly," said Satan impatiently. "To-morrow God will punish thee for this murder thou art about to commit, since thou wilt shed the blood of thine own son."
But when Satan saw that Abraham was not to be moved from his purpose, then he took the form of a blooming youth, and joined himself to Isaac, and asked him the object of his journey.
Isaac replied that he was going to receive instruction in the law of the Most High.
"Art thou going to receive this instruction living or dead?" asked Satan, scornfully.
Isaac.—"Can a man receive instruction after he is dead?"
Satan.—"O thou son of a mother much to be pitied, knowest thou not that thy father is leading thee to death?"
Isaac.—"Nevertheless I shall follow him."
Satan.—"Then all the tears and prayers of thy mother, beseeching Heaven to grant her a son, end in this! All the pains and grief in childbearing! All the afflictions she laid on Hagar and Ishmael! All the care she has taken of thy youth! All the love she has expended upon thee! All these things for nothing!"
Isaac.—"As my father wills."
Satan.—"Then the inheritance passes to Ishmael. How he will glory in being the first-born, and his mother Hagar will despise Sarah, and maybe will drive her out!"
Isaac.—"I obey the command of my father and the will of God, be they what they may."
But these words were not without some effect on Isaac. With piteous voice he urged his father to suspend or delay what he had undertaken. But Abraham exhorted his son not to listen or give credence to the words he had heard, for they were the temptations of Satan, to draw him from the path of obedience and the fear of God.
They went a little further and came to a broad stream. Abraham, Isaac, and their followers sought to wade it; the water at first reached their knees, but when they were in the middle, it rose to their necks.
Abraham, who knew well the spot, and that there was neither brook nor river there by nature, recognized this as a deception of Satan, to divert them from the right way. He told Isaac that this was his opinion, and raising his eyes to heaven he prayed: "Thou, O Lord, didst declare to me Thy will, that I should take Isaac my son and offer him to Thee in pledge of my obedience. I did not hesitate, I did not refuse, and now the water overwhelms us and we sink; how then can I perform that which Thou badest me do?"
The Lord answered, "Fear not, through thee shall My Name be known."
Then the stream vanished away, and they stood upon dry land.
But now Satan made another attempt to turn Abraham from his purpose. He drew him aside and said, "The object of thy journey has failed. I caught a whisper in heaven, and it was this—God will prepare a lamb for the sacrifice, and not thy son."
Abraham answered, "Even if thy words be true, it matters not; for this is the penalty of liars, that when they speak the truth they are not believed."
Abraham journeyed on the rest of that day, without seeing his appointed place. Next day he retraced his steps, but could find no signs of the place. The Almighty had so ordered it, that men might not say Abraham was hasty and acted precipitately, but might see that he had leisure and time for reflection on what he was about to do.
On the morning of the third day, they reached the height of Zophim, and thence Abraham saw a beautiful mountain-land, and on the top of one of the mountains was a fiery pillar, which reached from earth to heaven,—it was the Glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
When Abraham asked Isaac if he beheld this sight, he answered that he did so; but when he asked his other companions, they replied that they saw nothing save the brown hills and purple valleys. Some say they answered that one hill was to them like every other hill.
From this, Abraham concluded that God was well pleased with Isaac as a victim. Then he said to Eliezer and Ishmael:
"Tarry ye here with the ass, for you are not worthy to behold the Shekinah nearer. But I and the youth will go on, so many only shall go."
Now, as he said these words, it suddenly came to his mind that God had promised him a great people descended from Isaac, so many as the stars for multitude, and with prophetic voice he said, "If the Lord will, so many as go on, so many shall return."
Then Abraham laid the wood of the sacrifice on his son Isaac, and took the fire and the knife in his hand; and they went on both together, Abraham joyous, and Isaac without fear or thought.
But after they had gone some way, Isaac turned to his father and said, "Father, whither are we going alone?"
Abraham.—"My son, we go to offer a sacrifice."
Isaac.—"But art thou a priest to execute this undertaking?"
Abraham.—"Shem, the High Priest, will prepare the victim."
A great fear fell upon Isaac when he saw that they had no animal with them to offer, and he said, "Here are the fire and the wood, but where is a lamb for the whole offering?"
Abraham.—"The lamb which is to be offered is foreknown to the Almighty. He will provide the lamb; and if none other is here, then must thou be the offering, my son."
Isaac was silent, for the fear of death came over him. But presently he recovered himself and said, "If God chooses me, I place my soul in His hands."
Abraham.—"My son! Is there any blemish in thee within? For the offering must be without blemish of any sort."
Isaac.—"My father! There is none. I swear by God and by thy life, that in my heart there is not the least resistance to the Divine will. My limbs do not tremble, and there is no quaking at my heart. With gladness do I say, The Lord be praised, who has chosen me for a whole sacrifice."
Abraham.—"O my son, with many a wish wast thou brought into this world. Since thou hast been in it, every care has been lavished on thee. I hoped to have had thee to follow me and make a great nation. But now I must, myself, offer thee. Wondrous was thy coming into this world, and wondrous will be thy going out of it! Not by sickness, not by war, but as a sacrifice. I had designed thee to be my comfort and stay in old age; now God himself must take thy place."
Isaac.—"It were unworthy of thee were I to think to withstand the decree of God, and of thee. Had the decision been thine alone, I would have obeyed."
When they reached the top of Moriah, God said to Abraham,—
"This is the place where once Adam, when driven out of Paradise, built an altar to My name. Here also Cain and Abel offered their sacrifice. Then came the Flood, and when it was passed away, Noah offered victims to Me here. When the people were scattered from the tower at Babel, then this altar was overthrown. Now it is for thee, friend of God, to set it up again!"
Abraham built the altar, and Isaac brought him the stones. But, according to some authors, this was not so. Abraham hid his son in a cave, lest Satan should take advantage of the opportunity, with a stone or clod of earth, to blemish him.
And when all was ready and the wood laid in order, then Isaac said to his father, "Bind me hand and foot, lest in the fear of death I start and thou wound me, and so I be blemished. Fold thy garments together, and gird thy loins, and bare thine arm, and strike me with the knife and then burn me to ashes, and lay up my ashes in a coffer, and let this coffer be preserved as a memorial of me in thy house, before my mother; and when thou passest by it, bid her remember me. But remind her not of it near a well, or on the edge of a precipice, lest she cast herself down in her grief."
And he continued, "When thou returnest home, how wilt thou console my mother?"
Abraham answered, "Well I know that He who comforted us before thou camest, will comfort us after thou art gone from us."
Abraham now stood over his son, who was bound with his hands to his feet, upon the wood laid in order; and the eyes of Abraham rested on the eyes of his son. But Isaac looked up into heaven, and saw the angel hosts crowded about God's throne. Abraham saw not this, and he lifted the knife; but he trembled and the knife fell from his hand, and he cried aloud, "O my son! Would that another offering were found instead of thee! But my help cometh only from the Lord who hath made heaven and earth!"
Then he gathered up his resolution, and took the knife and held it once more to strike; and Isaac's spirit left him, and he swooned away.
But the angels of God, who stood round about His throne, announced to the Most High all that took place, and they cried and wept, and even the fiery seraphim exclaimed, "Woe! He slays his son." And the tears of the angels fell upon the face of Isaac, and made him ever after sad of countenance.
Then God said, "Behold, and see how great is the faith of My servant Abraham, how on earth a man can hallow My great name, and devote his best and dearest to My service; see that, ye, who at the creation exclaimed, What is man, that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou so regardest him?"
Then He ordered Michael to fly swiftly, and stay the hand of Abraham.
And the archangel, when he came near, cried aloud, "Abraham! Abraham! what doest thou?"
Abraham looked in the direction of the voice, in doubt, and said, "Here am I."
Then said the angel, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him."
And Abraham said, "Who art thou?"
Michael told him who he was. Then said Abraham, "The Most High appeared to me in a vision, and bade me take my son as a whole offering to the place which He should say, and I may take no command from a servant of God, against that which God Himself hath laid upon me."
Then heaven opened, and he saw the glory of God, and God said to him, "Touch not the lad to do him harm, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me."
And Abraham said, "How is this, O Lord! that Thou changest Thy purpose, and sayest one day, Do this, and the next, Do it not?"
And the Lord answered, and said, "I said not unto thee, Slay the lad as a burnt offering, but I said, Take thy son to the place that I shall tell thee, as a whole burnt offering. This hast thou done; thou hast fulfilled My command, I exact no more of thee. I change not My purpose, but I did suffer thee to misunderstand the purport of My command, and to think that I exacted more of thee; and this I did to prove thee. And now, by Myself have I sworn; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies."
Then Isaac revived, and Abraham cut his cords, and he stood up and said, "Praised be the Eternal One, who quickeneth those that be dead."
And Abraham turned to the Shekinah and said, "Lord! how shall I depart hence without having offered to Thee a sacrifice?" The Lord answered, "Lift thine eyes, and thou shalt see a beast for sacrifice behind thee."
In the thicket of the wood was that ram which God created at dusk on the sixth day, that it might serve this purpose. An angel had brought it out of Paradise, where it had lived since its creation, and had fed under the shadow of the Tree of Life, and had drunk of the River that there flows. And when the ram was brought into this earth, all the earth was filled with the fragrance from its fleece, on which hung the odours of the flowers on which it had lain in Paradise.
But by Satan's fraud, the animal was frightened and strayed away, and Abraham tracked it by its foot-prints. Then Satan decoyed the beast behind some bushes and entangled its horns in the thicket; and Abraham would have passed by, and not seen it, but the ram caught him by his cloak. So Abraham slew it, and offered it in sacrifice, and sprinkled with its blood the altar he had made.
Now the Last Trumpets that shall sound, the one to call the just, the other the unjust, are made of the horns of this wondrous ram.
II. THE DEATH OF SARAH.
Sarah,—who, as we have seen, accompanied Abraham and Isaac part of the way to Moriah,—on her return to the tent, found an old man awaiting her. It was Satan.
He greeted her with profound respect, and asked after her husband and son.
She answered that they had gone forth on a journey.
"Whither have they gone?" asked Satan.
"My lord has gone to visit the school of Shem and Eber, our grandsires, there to leave my son Isaac to be instructed in the law of God."
"Alas! alas!" exclaimed the Apostate Angel; "thou art greatly deceived."
Sarah was alarmed; and she asked wherefore he spake thus.
"Know then," said Satan, "that Abraham has gone forth with Isaac to sacrifice him, upon a mountain, to the Most High."
When she heard this, Sarah laid her head on the bosom of a slave, and fainted. When she came to herself she hurried with her maidens to the school of Shem and Eber, and inquired after her husband and son, but they had neither seen nor heard anything of them. So Sarah was convinced that what had been told her was true, and there was no spirit left in her.
Now when Satan knew that Abraham was bringing back his son, and that God had accepted the will for the deed, he was moved with envy and spite, and he could not rest to think of the joy that this would cause; so he went hastily to Sarah, and she was weeping in her tent, and sorely cast down and broken in spirit. Then he said suddenly to her, "Thy son liveth and is returning. God hath spared him!"
And she rose up and uttered a cry, and fell, and was dead; for the joy had killed her.
Abraham and Isaac in the meantime had returned from Moriah, and they sought Sarah at Beer-sheba, but she was not there; therefore they went to Hebron, and there they found her corpse. Isaac fell weeping upon the face of his mother, and he cried, "Mother, mother! why hast thou forsaken me? why hast thou gone away?"
Abraham wept aloud, and all the dwellers in Hebron wept and lamented over Sarah, and ceased from their labours, that they might mourn with Abraham and Isaac. Sarah's age was one hundred and seven-and-twenty years, and she was as fair to look upon when she died as in the bloom of her youth.
And as Abraham was bowed over the body of his wife, he heard the laugh of the Angel of Death, and his words, "Wherefore weepest thou? Thou bearest the blame of her death. Hadst thou not taken her son from her, she would have been alive now."
Abraham sought a place where to bury her; and he went to the Hittites and asked them to suffer him to buy for his possession a parcel of land, where he might bury one dead body. But they said, "Nay, we will give thee land;" but he would not. So they said, "Choose now a place where thou wouldst have thy sepulchre, and we will entreat the owner for thee."
Then Abraham said, "I desire the double cave of Ephron the son of Zohar. If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath; for as much money as is worth he shall give it me, for a possession of a burying-place amongst you."
And this was the reason why Abraham desired that cave. When he had gone after the calf, to slay it for the three angels that came to him before the destruction of Sodom, the calf had fled from him, and he had pursued it into this cave; and on entering it, he found that it was roomy, and in the inner recesses he saw the bodies of Adam and Eve laid out with burning tapers around them, and the air was fragrant with incense.
The Hittites elected Emor their chief that he might deal with Abraham, for it did not become a chief and prince, like Abraham, to deal with an inferior; and Emor said in the audience of the people of the land, "My Lord, hear me; the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee; bury thy dead."
But this he said with craft, for he sought to take an advantage of Abraham.
Then Ephron said, "Put thine own price upon the land;" but this Abraham would not do.
Then Ephron said to Abraham, "My lord, hearken unto me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead."
Now the land was not worth half that sum, but Emor said in his heart, "Abraham can afford to pay it, and he is in haste to bury his dead out of his sight."
Nevertheless, Abraham paid him in the sight of all his people. And the transfer of the land and cave was signed by Amigal, son of Abischna the Hittite; Elichoran, son of Essunass, the Hivite; Abdon, son of Ahirah, the Gomorrhite; and Akdil, son of Abdis, the Sidonian.
Machpelah (double cave) was so called, because, say some, it contained two chambers; or, say others, because Abraham paid double its value; or, say others, because it became doubly holy; but others again observe, with the highest probability, because Adam's body had to be doubled up to get it into the cave.
Because the Hittites dealt honourably, and sought to procure a place for Abraham, where he might lay Sarah, their name is written ten times in the Holy Scriptures.
They took also an oath of Abraham, that he and his seed should never attack their city Jebus with violence; and they wrote his promise on brazen pillars, and set them up in the market-place of Jebus. Therefore, when the Israelites conquered Canaan, they left the Jebusites unmolested. But when David sought to take the stronghold of Jebus, its inhabitants said to him, "Thou canst not storm our city, because of the covenant of Abraham, which is engraven on these pillars of brass."
David removed these brazen pillars, for they were in time honoured as idols; therefore the inhabitants of Jebus were hated of David's soul; but he did not break the covenant of Abraham, for he obtained the city of Jebus, not by force of arms, but by purchase.
Sarah was buried with the utmost honour; Shem (Melchizedek), his grandson Eber, Abimelech, Aner, Eshcol and Mamre, together with all the great men of the land, followed the bier. Abraham caused a great mourning throughout the country to be made for seven days. After that, Abraham returned to Beer-sheba, and Isaac went to be instructed in the law by Melchizedek. A year after, died Abimelech, king of Gerar, and Abraham attended his funeral. Soon after, also, died Nahor, Abraham's brother.
12. THE MARRIAGE OF ISAAC.
After the death of Sarah, say some, Abraham had a daughter named Bakila, by Hagar, who returned to him now that her enemy was dead; but, according to others, the great blessing of Abraham consisted in this, that he had no daughters. Ishmael abandoned his disorderly ways, and loved and respected his brother.
Isaac mourned his mother three years. When this time was elapsed, Abraham called to him his faithful servant Eliezer, and said to him, "I am old, and I know not the day of my death; therefore must I no longer delay the marriage of my son Isaac. Lay thine hand upon my thigh, and swear to me by God Almighty to fulfil my commission. Do not take for my son a wife of the daughters of the Canaanites, but go to Haran, to the place whence I came, and bring thence a wife for my son Isaac." And he added the proverb, "When you have wheat of your own, do not sow your field with your neighbour's corn."
Eliezer asked, "But how, if a woman of that place will not accompany me hither?"
But Abraham said, "Fear not; go, and the Lord be with thee."
So the servant of Abraham went with ten camels, and he reached Haran in three hours, for the earth fled under the feet of his camels, and Michael, the angel, protected him on his way.
When he reached Haran, he besought the Lord to give him a sign, by which he might know the maiden who was to be the wife of Isaac. "Let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and 1 will give thy camels drink also; let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac."
And there were many damsels by the fountain. And the servant said to them, "Let down the pitcher that I may drink." But they all said, "We may not tarry, for we must take the water home."
Then came Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, out to the well, and she chid the maidens for their churlishness; and lo! the water in the well leaped to the margin, and she let down her pitcher and offered it to the man, and said, "Drink; and I will give thy camels drink also." Then Eliezer leaped from his camel, and he brought forth his gifts, and he gave her a nose ring with a jewel of half a shekel weight, and bracelets of ten shekels weight. And he asked if he might lodge in her house one night.
She answered, "Not one night only, but many."
Now Rebekah's brother, Laban, so called from the paleness of his face,—or, say some, from the cowardice of his breast, which made him pale,—coveted the man's gold, and resolved to kill him. Therefore he put poison in the bowl of meat which was offered him. But the bowl was changed by accident, and it fell to the portion of Bethuel, and he ate, and died that same night.
And Laban would have fallen upon Eliezer with his own hand, but that he saw him lead the two camels at once over the brook, and he knew thereby that he was stronger than he.
After the engagement had been drawn up, as is written in the first book of Moses, Eliezer urged for a speedy departure. Mother and brother consented, but on the following day they asked that, besides the seven days of mourning for Bethuel, they should tarry a year, or at least ten months, according to the usual custom. But Rebekah opposed them, and said that she would go at once.
It was noon when Eliezer and his retinue, together with Rebekah and her nurse Deborah, left Haran, and in three hours they were at Hebron.
At the self-same time Isaac was abroad in the fields, returning from the school of Seth, lamenting over his mother, and saying his evening prayer. Rebekah saw him with his hands outspread, and his angel walking behind him, and she said, "Who is that with a shining countenance, with another walking behind him?"
At the same moment she knew who it was, and with prophetic vision she saw that she would become the mother of Esau, and she trembled and fell from the camel.
Isaac took Rebekah to wife and led her into the tent of Sarah, and the door was once more open, and the perpetual lamp was again kindled, and it seemed to Isaac as if all the happiness that had gone with Sarah, had returned with Rebekah, so he was comforted for his mother.
Eliezer was rewarded for his faithful service, for Abraham gave him his freedom, and he was taken into Paradise without having tasted of death.
13. THE DEATH OF ABRAHAM.
Abraham, after the death of Sarah, had brought back Hagar, and she was called Keturah, which signifies "the Bond-woman," and this she was called because she had ever regarded herself as bound to Abraham, though he had cast her away. But others say that Keturah was not Hagar, but was a daughter of one of Abraham's slaves. She bare him six sons, all strong, and men of clear understandings.
According to Mussulman traditions, she was the daughter of Jokdan, and was a Canaanitish woman.
Abraham said to the Most High, in gratitude of heart, "Thou didst promise me one son, Isaac, and thou hast given me many!"
All his substance he gave to Isaac; but some say he gave him a double portion only, and the rest he made over to his other sons. And to Isaac only he gave the right to be buried in the cave of Machpelah, and along with that, his blessing. But others say that he did not give his blessing to Isaac, lest it should cause jealousy to spring up between him and his brothers. He said, "I am a mortal man; to-day here, and to-morrow in the grave; I have done all I can do for my children, and now I will depart when it pleases my heavenly Father."
He sent the sons of Keturah away, that they might not dwell near Isaac, lest his greatness should swallow them up; and he built them a city of iron, with walls of iron. But the walls were so high that the light of the sun could not penetrate the streets, therefore he set in them diamonds and pearls to illumine the iron city.
Epher, a grandson of Abraham and Keturah, went with an army into Libya and conquered it, and founded there a kingdom, and the land he called after his own name, Africa.
Abraham was alive when Rebekah, after twenty years of barrenness, bare to Isaac his sons, Esau and Jacob; and he saw them grow up before him till their fifteenth year, and he died on the day that Esau sold his birthright.
The days of his life had been 175 years; he reached not the age of 180, to which Isaac attained, because God shortened his life by five years, lest he should know the evil deeds of Esau.
The Angel of Death did not smite him, but God kissed him, and he died by that kiss; and because the sword of the angel touched him not, but his soul parted to the kiss of God, his body saw no corruption.
This is the Mussulman story of his death. The Angel of Death, when bidden to take the soul of the prophet, hesitated about doing so without his consent. So he took upon him the form of a very old man, and came to Abraham's door. The patriarch invited him in and gave him to eat, but he noted with surprise the great infirmity of the old man, how his limbs tottered, how dull was his sight, and how incapable he was of feeding himself, for his hands shook, and how little he could eat, for his teeth were gone. And he asked him how old he was. Then the angel answered, "I am aged 202." Now Abraham was then 200 years old. So he said, "What! in two years shall I be as feeble and helpless as this? O Lord, suffer me to depart; now send the Angel of Death to me, to remove my soul." Then the angel took him, having first watched till he was on his knees in prayer.
Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the double cave by the side of Sarah; and he was followed to his grave by all the inhabitants of Canaan, and Shem and Eber went before the bier. And all the people wailed and said, "Woe to the vessel when the pilot is gone! woe to the pilgrims when their guide is lost!"
A whole year was Abraham lamented by the inhabitants of the land; men, and women, and young children joined in bewailing him.
Never was there a man like Abraham in perfect righteousness, serving God, and walking in His way from the earliest youth to the day of his death.
Abraham was the first, say the Mussulmans, whose beard became white. He asked God when it became so, "What is this?" The Lord replied, "It is a token of gentleness, my son."
- For the Rabbinic traditions relating to Abraham I am indebted to the exhaustive monograph of Dr. B. Beer, "Leben Abraham's nach Auffassung der jüdischen Sage," Leipzig, 1859, to which I must refer my readers for references to Jewish books, which are given with an exactitude which leaves nothing to be desired.
- Weil, p. 69.
- The Mussulman history of the patriarch relates that Azar brought Abraham before Nimrod and said, "This is thy God who made all things." "Then why did he not make himself less ugly?" asked Abraham, for Nimrod had bad features.
- The Mussulman story, which is precisely the same as the Jewish, adds that the camels refused to bear wood to form the pyre, but cast it on the ground; therefore Abraham blessed the camels. But the mules had no compunction, therefore he cursed them that they should be sterile. The birds who flew over the fire were killed, the city was enveloped in its smoke, and the crackling of its flames could be heard a day's journey off.
- Weil, p. 73.
- Both the Rabbinic commentators and the Mussulman historians tell a long story about the discussion carried on between Gabriel and Abraham in the air, as he was being shot into the flames. It is hardly worth repeating.
- Tabari, i. p. 147.
- Weil, p. 78.
- Gen. xv.
- Tabari, i. p. 156.
- Gen. xiv. 19. The book Jasher also says that Amraphel and Nimrod are the same.
- Gen. xiv. 17.
- Gen. xiv. 19, 20.
- Gen. xiv. 23, 24.
- Ps. ix. 8.
- Tabari, i. c. xlviii.
- Gittin, fol. 56 b; Pirke of R. Eliezer, fol. 49.
- Weil, p. 80.
- Tabari, i. c. lii.; Abulfeda, p. 25.
- Apocrypha de Loto, apud Fabricium, t. i. pp. 428-431.
- Solomon Jarschi, Comm. on Moses, xx. 5.
- Josh. xii. 24.
- Psalm cxiii. 9.
- This climax of absurdity is found also in the Mussulman histories of the Patriarch.
- Weil, p. 83.
- It seems probable that S. Paul alludes to this traditional speech more than once, as for instance Gal. iii. 9.
- The same story is told by the Mohammedans: Weil, p. 90.
- Gen. xxi. 24-27.
- Numbers xxi. 16, 17.
- Gen. xxi. 33.
- The Mussulmans tell the story of Ishmael almost in every particular the same as that given below.
- Exod. iv. 20.
- Zech. ix. 9.
- When King Sapor heard the R. Samuel explain that Messiah would come riding on an ass, the king said, "I will give him a horse; it is not seemly that he should ride an ass." "What," answered the Rabbi, "hast thou a horse with a hundred colours?" (Talmud, Tract. Sanhedrim, fol. 98, col. 1.)
- The day is uncertain. Some say it was the 3rd Nisan; others, it was the first of the seventh month, Tischri, New Year's day; others, that it was the Day of Atonement. Some say Isaac's age was 37; others say 36; others 26; others 25; others 16; others 13; others, again, say 5; and others say only 2 years.
- In the Rabbinic tradition, the type of Christ comes out more distinctly than in Genesis, for here we see Isaac not merely offered by his father, but also giving himself as a free-will offering, immaculate without in his body, and within in his soul.
- Might not these words be spoken mystically of Christ?
- And these prophetic. Abraham means that God must take care of him in his old age. But they may also be taken by us thus, God must take thy place as the victim.
- Here again—it may be fanciful—but I cannot help thinking we have the type continued of Christ's presence perpetuated in the Church, in the Tabernacle in which the Host is reserved, that all passing by may look thereupon and worship, and "Remember Me" in the adorable Sacrament. With a vast amount of utterly unfounded fable, the Rabbinic traditions may, and probably do, contain much truth.
- "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." (John xvi. 7.)
- This is one instance out of several in which the honourable and generous conduct of a Gentile is distorted by Rabbinical tradition; the later Rabbis being unwilling to give any but their own nation credit for liberal and just dealing. It may have been observed in the account of Abimelech, how the frank exchange of promises between Abraham and the Philistine prince was regarded by them as sinful.
- Joshua i. 21.
- 2 Sam. v. 6; 1 Chron. xi. 4.
- 2 Sam. v. 8.
- 2 Sam. xxiv. 24; 1 Chron. xxi. 24. This is, however, in direct contravention of the account in the fifth chapter of the 2nd Samuel.
- Gen. xxiv. 34-49.
- Gen. xxv. 2.
- Gen. xxv. 4.
- Tabari, i. c. lvii.
- Weil, p. 98.