Page images

times, and it still prevails in the countries of the East in which it originated. It was of human growth, under the permission (as all human actions and institutions are) of Divine Providence. But "in the beginning it was not so.” And though it prevailed among the fathers of the Jewish race, the Jewish law restrained it by many salutary enactments (as it also regulated and restrained the custom of divorce), till, in the “fulness of time," Christianity altogether discountenanced and disowned it. The histories of the patriarchs and their families are sadly instructive, indeed, in the instances they supply of jealousy and intrigue springing from this source; but they are so far illustrations of the laws of Providence in human history, and so viewed they echo with the voice of past experience the wisdom of the Christian Lawgiver.

A simple phrase occurs in connection with the death of Abraham, which seems beautifully illustrative of the patriarchal faith. We are told that, when he died, “he was gathered to his people" (xxv. 8). Sometimes the phrase is varied in the Jewish Scriptures by "gathered to his fathers." What does this mean? Is it, as some would have us understand, allusive merely to the usage of family burial-places? Can it mean only, that his body was buried in the tomb of his own people ? That was not the case with Abraham; for he had come out from the land of his fathers-he had separated from his own people, and bought a new burial-place in a strange land, where he had buried Sarah, and where he was buried too. It must have been the spirit of the man that was meant when it was said, “He was gathered to his people,” or “to his fathers.” Surely the phrase bespeaks the tacit conviction of human immortality in those who used it. The earliest race of men had the common human hope; and it was the brighter in them for their knowledge of the true God. They died in hope. They believed their fathers lived, and that they should pass through death into life. They would hardly, except with this implied feeling, have described the recently dead as “gathered to his people."


The rest of the book of Genesis, from and including the history of Abraham, is intensely interesting, as furnishing the most ancient picture of that kind of nomad pastoral life which is still presented among the Arab and Tartar tribes. The unchangingness of Eastern habits and manners is remarkable. Modern travellers in Syria and the Arabian desert find continual illustrations applicable to the Scripture history of the patriarchs.

Having enlarged on the life and character of Abraham, it is unnecessary for our purpose, in the case of the remaining patriarchs, to do more than allude to such points of character, or such incidents of the history, as present palpable difficulties to the intelligent and devout reader. One grand principle of interpretation let such readers ever bear in mind—to distinguish between the Revealed and the Natural. While tracing the profession of the great revealed faith in One God among the descendants of Abraham, let us not gratuitously expect that their general conduct will be exempted from the usual infirmities of our nature, or bear to be tried by a standard raised above that of their times, except to such a degree as the natural influence of their monotheism warrants us in demanding.

We shall also notice some interesting features of the great theological idea destined to be developed in the history of the Jewish nation,-not uniformly brightening, but sometimes clouded, in their varying history downward.


(Gen. xviii. xix.) The personal and family history of Lot is almost intirely repulsive. “From all that

appears in the history,” says Dr. Kitto, in his Daily Bible Illustrations, “there was nothing very lovely in his character; for even his being eventually saved was more for Abraham's sake than for his own. He appears, from his history, to present to our view a very weak and selfish character. On the return from Egypt, he seems to have taken part with his herdsmen in their quarrels with those of Abraham ; and when at length the latter proposes a separation, for the sake of peace, and leaves him the choice of situation, he has not the grace to decline the generous offer of his elder and uncle, but takes it eagerly, and adopts for his home the fat pastures of Sodom, although he well knows that the men in that quarter were the most wicked in the land. At first he did not intend, however, to mix with the citizens, but to live in his tent. But it is dangerous to palter with duty, or to venture too near the strongholds of sin. * * * Ere long he has left his tent, and has got a house in Sodom. There he forms family ties; there his daughters marry, and he gradually gets more and more entangled. * * * If Lot had been altogether right-minded, not the finest pastures in the world, not all the conveniences and apparent advantages for the settlement of his daughters which a residence in the town presented, would have induced him to go or to stay there. Rather would he have fled the place—rather would he have plunged at once into the desert."

It were well if theologians always maintained an equally healthy judgment in commenting on Scripture characters. Dr. Kitto pursues :

“But St. Peter calls him a just man, and says that, while in Sodom, 'he vexed his righteous soul, from day to day, with the filthy conversation of the wicked.' This relieves us, by showing that his character was still substantially true. But it does not altogether clear him from these imputations. It shows that he had good feelings and perceptions, but was a feeblespirited man, lacking the strength to act on his own convictions. He was content to mourn over the guilt he saw; and would rather passively sit down amid the certainties of danger and the probabilities of judgment, than rouse himself to one great and energetic effort to be free, and, at whatever sacrifice, depart from the abominable and tainted place.” (Vol. I. pp. 246– 248.)

One of Lot's suggestions, when the angels were with him, has, however, been interpreted needlessly to his disparagement as a father, and weakly apologized for on the score of hospitality. That suggestion was, on the part of Lot, a mere invention, a lie, to gain time. His two daughters were married women,* and probably not even in his house at the time.

The lie was a very venial offence, if judged by the moral standard of his day. Whether it was likely to serve his purpose may be indeed questioned, and we may think it a weak as well as a wicked lie. But his sin, in that matter, was simply and solely a lie, addressed to the vile passions of the men of Sodom. We need not make Lot worse than

he was.

The appearance of the angels to Abraham and to Lot suggests, though without satisfying, much obvious thought and inquiry as to the nature of such communications when recorded, as they often are, in the Jewish Scriptures, here and elsewhere. They seem to be plainly represented as supernatural visitants, though the narrative mixes up various allusions and expressions which, in themselves considered, would bespeak them simply human beings. They are "three men” when first mentioned ; and Abraham accosts the principal of them as “my lord.” They eat of the food presented by him. Then one of them promises the birth of a son; and when Sarah laughs at the thought, the narrative pursues“And the LORD (Jehovah) said,” &c. Then “the men (seemingly two of them) rose up and looked toward Sodom;" and “ the men went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before the Lord (Jehovah);” and he interceded with this LORD (Jehovah) on behalf of Sodom. And, meanwhile, “two angels came to Sodom;" and they are called alternately “men” and “angels" in the history of Lot.

* “Lot went out and spake unto his sons-in-law which married his daughters." The English version here represents the Hebrew quite literally. The Septuagint says, " which had married,” étanpóraç. Luther has, " die seine Töchter nehmen sollten,” who were to marry. The Septuagint interpretation seems most suitable, both to the ori. ginal and to the history.

How is it possible to decide whether they were really men commissioned to announce the Divine will, or superhuman beings, but in human form, of whose nature and residence we know nothing? It is curious to notice that Mahomet's Koran, in relating this history, supplies a touch of the supernatural which is quite inconsistent with the scriptural account. It makes Abraham set meat before them as strangers, and find out that they were angels by their not eating. But in Genesis “they did eat." Still more extravagant than the Mahometan gloss upon this simple incident of the patriarch's hospitality to his guests, is the fancy of some Christian divines that the three angels were the three persons of the Trinity. Abraham at least seems not to have discovered it at the time, nor have any of his descendants since.

The history of the destruction of Sodom stands connected with very curious geographical and geological facts as regards the Dead Sea, which must guide our interpretation of that history to a certain extent, though they may leave many points obscure and unexplained.

« PreviousContinue »