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mother chose for him an Egyptian wife, one of her own country women.
Abraham continued to dwell in the land of Gerar, and concluded a covenant of peace with king Abimelech. The latter was soon called upon to prove his peaceful intentions towards Abraham. Among nomad chiefs, whose wealth consists mainly of flocks and herds, the possession of a well is of the utmost importance. Abimelech's servants had violently taken away the well of water which the patriarch had dug for his own use; as soon as the king heard of this act of injustice, he ordered his men at once to restore the well. To ratify the covenant, Abraham offered up a sacrifice, and called the place where the vows of friendship had been exchanged, Beer-sheba. He moreover marked the spot by planting a tamarisk, and he there worshipped the Lord, the everlasting God.
12. INTENDED SACRIFICE OF ISAAC.
Faith in God and obedience to His commands were the two noblest and brightest qualities in Abraham's character. From the early days of his wanderings he had evinced, with few exceptions, a steady and unflinching reliance and trust. He had left his own house, he had given up his family ties, to journey into a strange land. He had pitched his tents in the south and the north, in Egypt, in Hebron, and in Gerar, and wherever he went he invoked the name of the Lord. He had proved himself a warrior, and had defeated mighty armies. He had pleaded on behalf of the doomed cities ; he had seen the anger and experienced the mercy of the Divine Judge. He had delighted in the youthful Ishmael, and had yet without murmuring sent him forth with his mother. But greater
than all previous struggles was the final trial imposed upon him whilst dwelling in peace and prosperity, the friend of the king, and honoured as a nomad chief in the land of the Philistines. Had the Bible only recorded this one act of faith, Abraham would be transcendently great in his obedience; but relating it as the last and the severest of his tests, it gloriously crowns a long and virtuous life; it gives the finishing stroke to the picture of sublime and childlike trust. The event is narrated in the Bible with inimitable beauty and simplicity.
. And it was after these things that God tried Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, Behold here I am. And He said, Take now thy son, thy only one, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah ; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell thee. And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clove the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose, and went to the place which God had told him. On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.'
We must pause a moment to refer to that place seen on the third day by Abraham. The land of Moriah was doubtless the district round about the city of Jerusalem, and the hill was that one later hallowed by the Ark of the Covenant deposited there by David, and by the Temple which was erected there by Solomon. The spot destined to be the dwelling-place of God's glory was consecrated by the grandest act of piety and faith.
When Abraham saw the mountain from afar, he felt that the time for the sacrifice was at hand; so he said to his young men, Remain here with the ass, and I and the youth will go thither, and we will worship and return to you.
And Abraham took the wood of the burntoffering and laid it upon Isaac his son ; and he took the
fire in his hand, and the knife ; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, My father; and he said, Behold here I am, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering ?? To that question, so terrible to the father's tortured heart, the simple answer was given, breathing faith alone : My son, God will look out for Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering.' The text continues: "And they went both of them together; and they came to the place which God had told him; and Abraham built there an altar, and arranged the wood, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to kill his son.'
It was enough; Abraham had been tried, and had shown himself worthy indeed of the great and holy mission God had entrusted to him. The sacrifice, although not offered in reality, had been accepted by the Lord, and the horror of shedding the blood of his dearly beloved son was spared to the patriarch. Thus it was proved that God detests human sacrifices, even if meant to testify the most ardent piety; and the Law is inexorable in denouncing them as an abomination. Abraham had been ready to sacrifice his dearest hopes, his paternal love, his brightest promises, when he raised the knife to kill his son. Could God require more? The angel of the Lord stayed his uplifted hand, and called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And He said, Lay not thy hand upon the youth, nor do to him anything; for now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not withheld thy son, thy only one, from Me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked ; and behold, in the back-ground, a ram was entangled in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering instead of
his son. The place was now sacred to the Lord; Abraham gave it the name of Jehovah-jireh (the Lord will see or select), which also implied that on this mount the Lord's nation would be seen, worshipping on the spot where their great ancestor had so nobly fought and conquered. After this marvellous act of faith, and when Isaac was restored to his father, the Lord called again from heaven and repeated those promises and hopes which had so often been given to the patriarch, the promise of numberless descendants, of great possessions, of conquest over the enemy, and of blessings that would come to all the nations of the earth through his seed.
Exalted and comforted by these assurances, Abraham returned with Isaac, and they went together to Beersheba.
13. DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH.
Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years old when she died, not at Beer-sheba, but at Hebron where the patriarch had once more pitched his tents, and where he mourned and wept for her. Although he had dwelt so long in Canaan, he owned no foot of ground; but he was anxious to purchase from the Hittites a burial-place which was to belong to his descendants for ever. The people of the land, however, who venerated and loved the patriarch, entreated of him to bury his dead in any one of their own sepulchres, for none would refuse him this privilege. But Abraham declined their offer; he went to the gates of the city where the people were assembled, and begged of Ephron, the son of Zohar, to sell him the cave of Machpelah for a burial ground. Ephron desired Abraham to accept the cave together with the whole field of which
it formed a part as a gift, but artfully intimated that he valued it at four hundred shekels, probably an exorbitant price. Abraham, without pausing to consider the sum, weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named, and took rightful possession of the field and the cave which lay before Mamre. The piece of land bought of the heathen by Abraham in the presence of all the children of Heth, was thenceforth considered a hallowed spot; there Sarah was buried, and afterwards Abraham and the later patriarchs.
14. REBEKA H.
Abraham was advanced in years, and his strength was declining. But he had been greatly blessed by God in all things. When his son Isaac was forty years old, he longed to find a wife for him, fit to become the mother of nations, the mother of God's elected people. No woman of Canaan was worthy of such a destiny. Therefore, Abraham called Eliezer, the faithful servant of his house, and pledged him, by a solemn oath, not to take a wife for his son from among the daughters of the Canaanites, but to choose one from his own family in his Mesopotamian home, whither he was at once to proceed. Eliezer, conscious of the great importance of his mission, asked what he should do if the maiden refused to follow him: should he take Isaac to the land of the Euphrates ? But this Abraham positively forbade; he knew that Canaan was the land of Divine promise, and he implicitly believed that the angel of the Lord would lead Eliezer's steps; yet should the maiden not consent to follow him, then he was freed from the obligations of his oath. So Eliezer set out upon his errand of trust in such a manner as became the mes