« AnteriorContinuar »
belonging to the earliest settlements of the CanaanitesSodom and Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela or Zoar. These cities had been conquered by Chedorlaomer, the powerful king of Elam, in the east of the Tigris. For twelve years they paid tribute to him, but in the thirteenth they rebelled. Incensed at the growing independence of the subdued cities, the great king of Elam resolved upon speedy chastisement; and summoning the aid of three neighbouring kings, he marched forth from his territory, intent upon conquest and destruction. Crossing the Tigris and Euphrates, and sweeping along on the great military road south-westward, the allied monarchs subjected in their impetuous march cities and nations ; they seemed invincible. They gained their first victories in the land of the Ammonites; then passing the river Arnon, they continued their conquests in the province of Moab, in the land of the Idumeans, and even in the impregnable mountain fortresses of Sin, the strongholds of the ancient Horites. Further still they pressed onward to the very border of the wilderness which divides Arabia from Egypt, devastating and slaughtering as far as the Oasis of Paran. The victors then turned in their course, and descended upon the valley of the Jordan, the proper object of their expedition. The five cities trembled with terror at the approach of the relentless conquerors. Yet anxious to resist the invaders to the last, the five kings marched out at the head of their armies, and met the enemy in the valley of Siddim, near the dangerous bitumen pits, which they hoped would entrap the unwary and restless strangers. A desperate battle was fought. The four eastern kings, stimulated by success and supported by superior strength, overpowered their unfortunate opponents, and partially ensnared them in the very bitumen pits which were to have become their own graves. The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled in trembling haste
towards the mountainous tracts of Jericho, leaving their rich possessions in the hands of the conquerors. And great as the spoil, was the number of the wailing captives of war who followed the triumphant march of the returning kings.
Amongst these captives was Lot, Abram's nephew, who had remained in Sodom, his chosen place of residence. Abram was in his oak-groves of Mamre, far away from these turbulent scenes of ambition and bloodshed, when a messenger, who had escaped from the battlefield, arrived with the tidings that his kinsman was a prisoner, a slave of the great king of Elam. The patriarch instantly resolved upon
his rescue. He did not stay to consider the overwhelming numbers and the superior skill, against which he would have to contend ; but summoning Mamre and his two brothers, and the men of his household consisting of 318 tried and faithful servants, he led them on to the pursuit. It was a daring act, but it proved Abram's firm belief in God's help and justice.
The kings were marching northward, and had already arrived at Dan, the extreme northern boundary of the land. At nightfall, the patriarch descried the foreign hosts; he divided his men into three bands, and rushed upon the enemy.
We are told no details of this memorable encounter ; but as in after-ages, the heathens were defeated by the worshippers of the true God. They fled, pursued by Abram as far as Hobah, to the north of Damascus. The booty must have been large indeed; for it consisted of all the plunder which the four kings had extorted from the numerous cities they had subdued.
Laden with this wealth, and accompanied by Lot and his released fellow-captives, the conquering patriarch returned towards his home. In the valley of Shaveh he was met by one of the princes of Sodom, who came forth with Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most
High God. This is the first mention we have of Jerusalem; for doubtless Salem was the germ of the future holy city, and Melchizedek, its ruler, impressed by the example of Abram's pure life, had probably renounced idolatry. In accordance with his priestly office, he brought bread and wine, the symbols of worldly success and religious purity, and gave them to Abram, adding to this typical offering a blessing so true and so simple that it might have come from the lips of the patriarch himself : • Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth, and blessed be the Most High God who has delivered thy enemies into thy hand.' To Melchizedek were presented the tithes of all the booty-a foreshadowing of the law which assigned the tenth part of all produce to the Levites. The prince of Sodom then gratefully offered to Abram the whole of the spoil he had brought back : but the patriarch, unwilling to be enriched by the wealth of idolators, refused everything from a thread to a shoe-latchet;' but he permitted his faithful allies Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre to take their due portions.
The great eastern kings and their armies, like the five tributary cities and their princes, now disappear from the scene, and we are again led back to the oak-groves of Mamre, whither Abram at once returned, and to the revelations of God to His faithful servant.
9. GOD'S COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM AND THE
BIRTH OF ISHMAEL.
[GENES. XV.-XVII.] It was night when the word of the Lord came in a vision to Abram; it came as it had come before, to strengthen his faith and his hope by glorious promises : · Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield ; thy reward will be
But Abram answered the Lord despondingly and with a bitter outburst of sorrow. Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I go childless, and the proprietor of my house will be Dammesek Eliezer ?' What could that great reward be, if a stranger were to succeed him as the master of his household ? It was the first word of complaint that had fallen from Abram's lips, the first doubt in God's unfailing truth. The answer full of comfort came to him forthwith, that no stranger should be his heir, but his own child. To enhance the force of these words, the Lord called Abram from his tent, and bid him look upwards to the heavens. Brilliantly beautiful, more beautiful than we in our western lands can imagine, is an eastern night; the sky is of a deeper blue; the air lighter and purer, and laden with fragrance; the stars shine with a more resplendent, and yet a softer light. We see the figure of the patriarch standing at the door of his tent, gazing upwards and listening to the Divine words: Look now towards heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them; so shall thy seed be. Thus encouraged, Abram grew stronger in faith, and he believed in God. But lest he be uncertain to whom he was to look for the fulfilment of the great promise, God spoke again: 'I am the Lord who brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.' Yet Abram relapsed into his doubts, and forgetting that nothing is impossible to the Divine will, he asked for a sign to assure him of the certainty of the promise. Full of mercy for human weakness, God granted the prayer.
It was, as it is still, an eastern custom to ratify treaties and compacts by killing animals and dividing them in pieces, through which the contracting parties pass. In accordance with that custom, God commanded Abram to slay a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, each three years old, together with a turtle-dove and a young pigeon,
to divide the quadrupeds, and to place the halves opposite each other. Birds of prey came down upon the flesh, but Abram scared them anxiously away. Yet, at nightfall, a profound sleep came upon Abram, and again a vision was vouchsafed to him, but this time one not altogether of a comforting nature. • Know of a surety,' said the Lord, that thy seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs—and will serve them, and they will afflict themfour hundred years. But that nation also which they will serve, I will judge, and afterwards they shall return hither, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. As the voice of the Lord ceased in the midst of the dense darkness, a flame of fire descended upon the sacrifice; and while the animals were consumed, the Lord repeated solemnly: "To thy seed have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates--the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaim, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.'
But Abram was still childless, and saw no heir to his house but his servant Eliezer. Now Sarai had a handmaid, called Hagar, an Egyptian woman; this maid she gave as a second wife to the patriarch, and at last his long-cherished wish seemed about to be realised. But Hagar, so favoured by God, despised her mistress, and distrust and jealousy sprang up in Abram's peaceful household. Sarai appealed at last, in terms of angry reproof, to her husband, who would not step between his wife and her servant, but relying upon Sarai's sense of justice, merely said, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand, do to her as it pleases thee.' But the unfortunate Hagar was illtreated by her mistress, and fled from Mamre, determinep to return to her own country. She wandered on southwards from Hebron to the desert of Shur, and stayed, to