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in our own hamlets, so are the gates of the city the usual place of assembly among eastern tribes, where the people meet for business or pleasure. For there is usually the court of justice, there the vendor sells his goods, the news of the day are discussed, the law is read, and there, in the towns of Judah and Israel, might often have been heard the warning voice of the prophet. Lot resembled his kinsman Abraham in genuine hospitality. At the approach of the strangers, he rose, bowed his face to the ground, and pressingly entreated them to be his guests, till they yielded and repaired with him to his house. The stranger was considered sacred in the eyes of the host; the duty of hospitality had, in the east, grown into a law. But the people of Sodom, steeped in sin, determined to make Lot suffer for his display of benevolence. They gathered before his door, audaciously demanding the strangers to be given up to them. With much of the courage of the great patriarch, Lot went forth from his house, and faced the incensed multitude. Those who had accepted the shelter of his house he could on no account permit to be harmed. But the crowd was more enraged against him than against his guests : they taxed and taunted him with an insolent assumption of superiority, and pressing round him, attempted to break open the door of the house. But the angels, who had come to rescue Lot and to try the Sodomites, put forth their hands, brought Lot in safety back to the house, and struck the multitude with blindness, so that they groped in confusion about the door.
It had thus, alas, been proved that the wickedness of Sodom was indeed very great, and that there were not even ten righteous men in the city. The destruction of the people was, therefore, decreed by God. Lot alone, belonging to the family of Abraham, and having shown generosity, fearlessness, and charity, was to be saved, and with
him his wife, his two daughters, and the two men of Sodom to whom his daughters were betrothed. But the frivolous and depraved minds of his intended sons-in-law were unable to comprehend the danger; they wantonly and mockingly refused the only means of their deliverance. It was the last morning that was ever to dawn upon
the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot was urged by the angels to depart with his family; but still they lingered, till the angels, seizing them by their hands, led them out of the walls of the doomed city. Here they were enjoined to pursue their way steadily and without looking back, eastward beyond the district of the Jordan. But Lot trembled, and entreated of the Lord to let him take refuge in the small town of Zoar, which was near Sodom, a poor and insignificant place. His request was granted, and the town of Zoar escaped destruction. The sun rose in his full glory over the earth, when the wanderers arrived at their place of refuge; at the same moment brimstone and fire descended from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah and upon the surrounding plain of the Jordan. Lot's wife, curious to see the fate of the cities she had left, disobeyed the Divine command, and looked behind her. The punishment followed instantaneously ; she was changed into a pillar of salt. Lot ultimately left Zoar, and he and his descendants inhabited the provinces of Moab and Ammon.
Abraham, remembering God's gracious promise, hastened early in the morning to the spot where he had prayed to the Lord on the previous day. The blooming valley was hidden by smoke; giant furnaces rose from earth to heaven where the proud cities of the Jordan had stood; and the wild flames were rapidly consuming the land. When the devastation was complete, when the labour of man, the vegetation of the once fruitful soil, and man
himself had been destroyed, a vast lake of salt and asphalt or bitumen lay in the east of the desert of Judah.
The Dead Sea is one of the marvels of the earth. All eastern travellers who visit its shores, gaze with a sad curiosity upon this lifeless and dreary region. The soil has a burnt appearance, the gravel is almost black, and the trees in the neighbourhood are encrusted with salt. No flocks or herds can pasture in those desolate tracts, birds fly anxiously over the surface of the lake, but hardly ever find a resting-place in its neighbourhood. Mysterious in its origin, the Dead Sea will always retain that fascination over man which the wonderful and inexplicable never fail to exercise, and it would be strange indeed if a deep feeling of religious awe did not strike into the pilgrim's heart when he stands beside the tombs of the cities buried by the Lord because of their exceeding wickedness.
After this fearful catastrophe, Abraham left Mamre, where his tents had been pitched for so long a time, and wandered southwards, staying at different places between Kadesh and Shur, until he came at last to Gerar in the territory of the Philistines. Here the same strange scene was enacted as before in the land of Egypt. Abraham, doubting the protection of God, represented Sarah as his sister, and not as his wife. Abimelech, like Pharaoh of Egypt, sent for the stranger, and was on the point of taking her for his wife, when he was saved from committing that sin by God's merciful interposition. Abimelech, the heathen king, was a virtuous and pious man ; he restored Sarah to Abraham, justly reprimanding him for his deception, and enquiring into the motive of his conduct. The patriarch excused himself by saying, that he thought he was travelling in a wicked and godless country, where he might be slain for his wife's sake; and that
Sarah, although his wife, was indeed by birth his halfsister. Generous like the Egyptian king, Abimelech loaded Abraham with presents, even inviting him to dwell in whatever part of his land he might choose. But he strongly recommended him in future to take precautions that Sarah should be known and recognised as his wife.
11. BIRTH OF ISAAC AND EXPULSION OF
The hundredth year of Abraham's life had commenced, when the fulfilment of God's promise came as it had been predicted. A son, who received the name of Isaac, was born to Abraham, the heir to his rich possessions, the heir to the blessings vouchsafed by God to the race of the patriarch : he was to transmit the worship of the true God to future generations. Sarah, who had shown so little faith, had a glorious old age; God had indeed blessed her; she now felt that she was justly called Sarah, the mother of nations. And the infant Isaac grew, and Abraham gave a great feast on the day he was weaned.
Ishmael, the son of Hagar, now a youth about sixteen years old, felt bitterly towards his brother Isaac, the chosen heir of his father, and he openly mocked him. Sarah's spirit was roused; she had never loved the child of the bondwoman, though she had tolerated him within her tent. Now, full of pride and jealousy, she resolved upon expelling Hagar and her son from the home which had sheltered them so long. Just as sixteen years ago she had pleaded her cause before Abraham, so she pleaded it again. The patriarch's gentle spirit felt the injustice of Sarah ; he loved his son Ishmael, although he knew
that to Isaac belonged the privileges of the firstborn. But God commanded Abraham to listen to the voice of Sarah ; while He promised His Divine protection to Ishmael also, who was to be, like Isaac, the father of a great nation. Abraham, obedient as usual to the behest of the Lord, rose early in the morning and sent Hagar and her son from his tent. His heart must have smitten him as he gave her bread for the journey, and slung the skin of water over her shoulder. The bondwoman, leading her son by the hand, set forth upon her weary way, and came to the desert region near Beer-sheba, evidently taking the direction of her native Egypt. Here the trials of the wanderers commenced. The water in the skin was spent, and thirst began to torment them. Thirst in the parched and sandy desert, where the heat is oppressive, and the foot aches with the burning soil, is indeed the height of agony. Ishmael, fainting from weariness and exhaustion, seems to have felt this fearful torture more strongly than his mother. Hagar, taking her son in her arms, placed him beneath a shrub, and, in woful despair, sat down at some distance from him, for she said: 'I will not see my child die.' What a scene of sadness—mother and son lying down to die in the wilderness! And Hagar lifted up her voice and wept. God heard that cry of anguish, and He called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her : • What aileth thee, Hagar ?' Then followed words of reassurance and comfort, sweet words to the bleeding heart of the poor fugitive: Rise, take the boy, and hold him by thy hand, for I shall make of him a great nation. God opened Hagar's eyes, and she saw before her the cool and delicious waters of a fountain ; she hurried to it, and filling the skin
her son to drink. Ishmael grew strong and powerful, and lived in the district of Paran: the wild desert was his home, the bow his weapon, and liberty the soul of his existence. His