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II. THE HISTORY OF THE HEBREW
7. THE WANDERINGS OF ABRAM AND LOT.
[Gexes. XII. XIII.]
ABRAM lived to his seventy-fifth year in his old Mesopotamian home; but he was to spend the remaining and most eventful portion of his life in distant lands. The first patriarch, the father of the chosen people, descended from an idolatrous family and born in a heathen country, was to leave all the old associations and give up all the old ties which might weaken his faith and courage, and was to wander forth to unknown tribes there to establish a new domicile.
Go out of thy country,' said God to him, and from the place of thy birth, and from thy father's house, into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless thee, and curse him that curses thee; and in thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed. It was a great and glorious promise, full of glad tidings to unborn generations, the first revelation which God vouchsafed to man since the days of Noah. When Abram, full of faith and
obedience, heard the Divine word, he instantly prepared to go-whither he knew not; it was enough for him that he left a land of superstition and idolatry. With him went Sarai his wife, Lot his nephew, and all the members of his household. They journeyed forth, like all nomadic herdsmen, driving their flocks and their herds before them, with their tents slung on poles.
Arriving in Canaan, Abram passed through the land, till he halted for the first time in the vale of Shechem. It may have been the remarkable beauty of the spot which induced the patriarch there to pitch his tents, and to rest for a while beneath the oaks of Moreh. “Here,' so tells is the traveller Van de Velde, here is no wilderness, no wild thicket, but always verdure, always shade, not of the oak, the terebinth, and the coral tree, but of the olive grove so soft in colour, so picturesque in form, that for its sake we can willingly dispense with all other wood. Here is no impetuous mountain torrent, yet water in more copious supplies than anywhere else in the land ; and it is just to its many fountains, rills, and watercourses that the valley, which in some places does not exceed a hundred feet, owes its exquisite beauty. But apart from the attractions of the scene, the fact of the plain of Shechem lying in the very centre of that country which was finally to belong to the descendants of the patriarch, may have suggested to him the propriety of pitching his tents within its groves ; and there, where idolatry prevailed, he built an altar to the one true, eternal God. And there the Lord appeared to him, with the renewal of the old promises.
Again the patriarch wandered on, taking the direct southern high-road of Palestine, and rested near the town of Bethel. Here also he built an altar, invoked the name of the Lord, and thus consecrated to Him an idolatrous city before called Luz. But he soon left
Bethel to travel again southwards ; for as yet he had fixed upon no permanent resting-place. Whilst on this journey, a famine broke out in the land, one of the terrible scourges and trials by which eastern countries are so frequently visited. Egypt, that rich and fruitful land, long known as the store-house of the world, was now the aim of the patriarch's wandering.
He had arrived with his caravan on the confines of Egypt, when he was troubled by a strange fear. Sarai his wife was of remarkable beauty; might not one of the nobles of Egypt, nay the king himself, with oriental despotism, kill him in order to obtain her? A deception, considered harmless by Abram, and deemed necessary to avoid that calamity, presented itself to his mind. He said to Sarai : "Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul may live because of thee.' As Abram had foreseen, the Egyptians were struck by his wife's beauty, which was probably of a much higher order than that of their own countrywomen. Her praise reached the ears of Pharaoh. Eager to see the stranger, he ordered her to be brought before him. She must have found favour in his eyes; for Abram was kindly treated for her sake, and received rich presents of men- and maid-servants, of sheep and oxen, asses and camels. But the displeasure of God fell upon Pharaoh, who by terrible plagues was warned of the sin he was tempted to commit. In just anger, the heathen king, feeling that he had been ensnared by untruth, summoned Abram before him, and indignantly exclaimed: “Why didst thou say, she is my sister, so I might have taken her to me to wife: and now behold thy wife, take her and go thy way. Abram heard in silence this merited rebuke, and humiliated by the generosity of the heathen king, he took his wife, his house
hold, and his vast possessions, left Egypt, and returned to the south of Canaan.
Perhaps impelled by gratitude, and stimulated by growing faith, he went once more to Bethel, to the place where he had before built an altar to God, and there he worshipped again. At this consecrated spot, the tents were again unfurled, and the numerous herds and flocks of Abram and Lot grazed around, spreading over miles of country.
But the patriarchs had not long encamped, when a strife arose between their herdsmen. The district did not yield sufficient pasture for the cattle of both, for it was occupied by Canaanite tribes also. Abram's peaceful spirit was saddened by these dissensions, and forgetful of his own higher claims, he said to his nephew Lot: • Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I shall go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.'
Abram and Lot were standing on the height near Bethel, and from this point they gazed over a wide extent of country. To the east, they saw before them the range of hills above Jericho, the wide valley of the Jordan, and the distant plains of Moab; to the west and south, their eyes were met by the bleak hills of Judah, and the future site of the city of Jerusalem, while to the north was the luxuriant land of Samaria.
They looked down into the fruitful and blooming valley of the Jordan teeming with vegetation and rippling with delicious streams: it was indeed like the garden of Eden, or like the rich land of Egypt they had just left; but the people of these lovely districts were wicked and sinners
before the Lord exceedingly.' Lot made his choice unhesitatingly; and separating himself from his generous and unselfish kinsman, he journeyed eastward, and finally pitched his tents near Sodom.
Abram, left alone in his encampment near Bethel, received from God another of those promises so full of hope and gladness. He was bidden to lift his eyes to the north and south, the east and west ; for all that land should belong to him and to his descendants for everfrom the valley of the Jordan in the east to the shores of the Mediterranean in the west, from the Arabian tracts in the south northwards to the heights crowned by the cedars of Lebanon. And great and numerous should his progeny be, for thus sounded the Divine pledge: 'I shall make thy seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then thy seed shall also be numbered. Arise, pass through the land, in its length and in its breadth ; for to thee I shall give it.'
Thus commanded by the Lord, Abram journeyed southwards, and dwelt in the oak-groves of Mamre, in the fertile plain of Hebron. This town is surrounded by elevations which include the highest peaks in the mountain ranges of Judah ; and its vicinity is even now rich in vineyards and orchards, wells and blooming pastures, numerous herds and flocks. Here among the beautiful groves, Abram consecrated another altar to the Lord who so mercifully guided him.
8. THE INVASION OF THE EASTERN KINGS.
The peaceful life of the patriarchs was to be interrupted by the din of warfare and the dangers of battle. In the plain of the Jordan there were five cities, probably