DAILY SCRIPTURE READINGS
GENESIS 22: 1-14. - God did tempt Abraham, tried him, made an experiment on the strength of his faith. His only son Isaac, (v. 2.) Yet he had another son Ishmael. But perhaps the only son whom he loved. Yet the previous story gives no presumption, but the contrary, of his not loving Ishmael. Isaac, however, was the only son, as far as we know, at that time under his roof; and was probably the object of his most special and distinguishing affection. This feature in the case strengthens the typical application which has been made of this narrative to the sacrifice of Christ - the only beloved Son of God the Father who gave Him up for us all. But on the whole subject of types I am yet too unripe to say anything, though I trust that these Biblical exercises may bring me at length to a nearer acquaintance with them. But apart from the typical use that has been made of it, this is one of the most illustrious narratives of faith and obedience in Holy Writ, even of that faith which the patriarch exhibited previous to the birth of Isaac, when against hope he believed in hope. It would appear from verse fourteen that the mountain had been identified in later times. It was in the land of Moriah that the transaction took place; and it was on Mount Moriah that the temple was built. The verse would have been more clear had Jehovah-jireh been repeated instead of translated when it occurred the second time. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh; as it is said to this day "In the mount of Jehovah-jireh." 15-24. The approval and the reward which Abraham met with from God for his obedience, should relax the antipathies of that ultra-rigorous orthodoxy which looks frowningly on works, and would almost seem to forbid the performance of them. I fear that the effect of controversy and system in Theology has been to work a maladjustment between our minds and the representations of Scripture, which will not be compelled into an accommodation with the artificial compends or creeds of any denomination. A remarkable example is the jealousy wherewith the disciples of the Evangelical School look on service, lest faith should suffer derogation thereby. In what perfect harmony do these two elements meet in the character of Abraham, who may be said to have personified the composition of the two, and is accordingly claimed and appealed to alike by two Apostles - by one when he is setting forth the part which faith, and by the other when he is setting forth the part which works have in our salvation. Let us proceed on the harmony of both; and for our encouragement to labour, let us know that our labour is not in vain. The news of Abraham's distant kinsfolk give us a certain domestic feeling in him and in his concerns. There are fine materials for biography and a sketch of character in the records of this patriarch.
GENESIS 23: 1-12. Altogether, the interest of this narrative of Abraham's life grows upon us as we proceed in it - ennobled as it is by the sublimities of the most exalted, and at the same time softened and made attractive by the implication therewith of all that is touching and familiar in the dearest of human affections. It attaches to him another claim upon our sympathies, when we behold him moved by the death of Sarah, and coming forth to mourn and to weep for her. I have long been impressed with the dignified politeness of the patriarch as laid before us in this passage - with the discourses he made to the people of the land, and the repetition of which, as given in verse twelfth, falls on my ear with, the cadence and effect of high poetry. There is nothing in the etiquette of Courts and Parliaments, or in any of our forms of highest breeding, which so powerfully expresses the respect of man for his fellows. This, too, would make an admirable subject for the pencil. The reception he met with from the children of Heth tells us, and impressively, of the might and consequence to which Abraham had arisen in this the prescribed land of his pilgrimage. 13-20. He insisted on giving its price for the land; and this is of a piece with what is recorded of his disinterestedness in the fourteenth chapter, where he would receive from the King of Sodom none of the spoil which he had recovered for him. The various particulars of this transaction evince very considerable progress at that early period in economics, in commerce, in law. There is money, and of a given denomination or coin - balances for weighing it - a standard thereof, such as was current with the merchant - a superiority therefore in the methods of trade above the way of barter - forms in the conveyance and exchange of property before witnesses, as here in the audience of the people of Heth - the terms and specifications of a bargain, by which its several particulars were made sure to Abraham in the presence of and before many witnesses; - all serving to confirm the doctrine that the progress in these days was from an original civilization down to barbarism - the civilization being coeval with the first and earliest revelations, or with Adam himself. A thorough attention to these early chapters of Genesis confirms our belief in this tenet - supported as it is by this very strong negative argument, that a nation was never known to emerge simultaneously and unaided from the savage state - the civilization thereof having always, as far as is known, originated in or been aided by a movement or influence from without.
GENESIS 24: 1-9 The Lord blessed Abraham in all things. He
sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things
were added. He had the promise of the life that now is as well as of that which
is to come. Though he sought for an ulterior country, and was but a stranger
and pilgrim in the one that he traversed, yet did God bestow upon him a goodly
heritage even on this side of the grave. In return for his self-denying faith
he received a hundred-fold even in this life. The Canaanites were odious and
formidable to Abraham - an alien race, against which all the antipathies of
caste were felt - yet was Abraham now willing that Isaac should remain amongst
them, where the cherished and confirmed repugnance proved a greater safeguard
against the contamination of their manners than would the fascinations of home
and kindred against a like contamination by the idolatries of the east country
from which Abraham had been called. And accordingly, Abraham strictly
discharged his servant from taking Isaac to that country, in the event of the
woman not being willing to go to him now in Canaan. He felt that by so doing he
should contravene the purposes of God, who had called him away from his
fatherland ; and in obedience to whose voice he had left, and left conclusively
both for himself and his elect family, the country that gave him birth. From
verse seventh it would appear that Abraham had a strong faith in the ministry
of angels - a faith strengthened in. all probability by his own familiar
experience. It is interesting to remark how the theology that came to Abraham
by direct revelation spreads and descends with a secondary influence to those
of his own house and those among the people with whom he or his might hold
10-20. I feel great respect for this chief and confidential servant of Abraham, to whom he committed the charge of all his goods, and on whom also devolved the important mission of this chapter, of which he acquitted himself so admirably. Altogether, it is a most picturesque narrative ; and the camels add greatly to the effect of the successive visions here placed before us. The representation it gives of primitive manners is quite beautiful. But, theologically, the most important thing here is the prayer of the servant, in that it solicits an interposition from God, which was given, and had all the effect of a miracle - the servant seeking a sign and receiving it - God meeting, as it were, the prayer of an humble worshipper with manifestations of equivalent power to that of the credentials exhibited by a prophet or an inspired man. This might have been one of the ways in which God at sundry times and in divers manners kept alive a faith in himself at this early period of the world.
December. 21-28. - The man wondered and observed in silence. He recognised by this time a likely fulfilment to his prayer. Enough had transpired to fasten his attention on the damsel as her whom Providence had destined for his master's son. He held his peace, to wit, or to see and observe whether the Lord had prospered his way or not. So distinct a counterpart as was now going on, to the utterance he had made a short time before, must have not only given him the comfortable assurance of a successful result, but must have greatly confirmed his faith in the Providence of God. He recognised the hand of God in having thus conducted him to the kindred of Abraham, whither his master had directed him to go. What he had just prayed to God for, he now blessed and thanked God for. It is a notable peculiarity of his addresses to God, and occurs four times in this chapter, that he should designate Him as the God of his master Abraham. We can easily imagine how this might serve as the special mark or characteristic by which to distinguish the true God from the other gods that were worshipped in the country whence Abraham was called. It was through the call of Abraham that He became at all known to Abraham's household ; and Abraham was the main object of all the providential dealings which God had with his family throughout the eventful history of their fortunes and their wanderings.
29-33. One should look for a dramatic consistency in every true narrative of life or character; and perhaps if one were to prosecute Scripture biography for the purpose of testing the Bible by this criterion, one might find such artless and undesigned coincidences, such a harmony among all the traits even of a slighter kind that occur in the various passages which relate to one and the same individual, as might constitute a pleasing and additional evidence for the general authenticity of the sacred volume. We look on respect for wealth and station as a right and wholesome feeling ; and how much or how little of this may have been in the head of Laban, it were impossible to say. But certain it is, that though in him it had been a sordid affection, which inspired the attentions he showed to Abraham's servant after he had seen the ear-rings and bracelets which he had given to Rebekah, this would have been only in keeping with the unjust and mercenary and avaricious transactions which are recorded of him in after life. It is impossible, notwithstanding, to resist the impression, that Laban was not merely following the impulse of a feeling in the style of reception and entertainment observed by him to this stranger, but that he was acting in the spirit and manner of the prevalent hospitality of these times.
34-49. The special reference, both in verse seventh and verse fortieth, by Abraham to an angel, to His angel, as if there was one that should be singled out from all the rest, is in keeping at least with the supposition that he may have been the Angel of the Covenant, to whose appearance and help Abraham himself was no stranger. This narrative was fitted to leave on the minds of. those who heard it, the same effect that a revelation from the mouth of a prophet with the credentials of a divine mission should have on those whom he addressed - in as far as the confirmation of their faith in a great unseen presiding Spirit was concerned. They could not believe the narrative without believing in the reality of a Divine intervention ; and from the way in which such a manifestation was given in the present instance may we perceive how that God could keep alive the faith and piety of these early ages in a thousand other ways than by an express messenger charged with an embassy and inspired with light from Heaven. It would be diluting the impression of this beautiful chapter, did we specify all the interesting traits which enter into the description that it sets before us.
50-67. Laban and Bethuel recognised the thing as proceeding from the Lord, convinced thereof by the man's narrative of his prayer and its fulfilment. They saw that the Lord had spoken it, and this their recognition of the divinity would be strengthened by the devout obeisance of the servant when he bowed himself and worshipped the Lord. It is pleasing to note these manifestations of God to men, and their influence, at that period of the world. In this passage Isaac is introduced for the first time, so as to make the reader in part acquainted with him. There is a most observable dramatic variety between him and Abraham - the father evidently a larger man in every respect, and of higher grade, so as to qualify him for the more arduous fortunes which he was called to encounter. Yet in Isaac there is something inexpressibly attractive. To him belonged the mild majesty of private life, and we figure his to be more a life of peaceful and domestic piety. It was probably in the spirit of religion that he went out to meditate at the eventide - a fine picture this for the imagination to dwell upon - a good and holy man of old walking forth among the beauties of nature, and engaged in the contemplation of Nature's God. The interview is altogether beautiful; and before the chapter closes, we have certain other traits which should be collected and kept up for the purpose of completing our sketch of Isaac - the love he bore to Rebekah, and the grief he had felt for the loss of his mother - an abiding grief, and only dissipated by the transference of his heart to a new object - the wound inflicted on one domestic affection healed by the replacement thereof with another - proving how much he was a family man.
GENESIS 25: 1-11. - Abraham gave the bulk of his property
to Isaac; and indeed probably all that he had at his death came to his son, as
the gifts which he conferred on his other sons were bestowed on them while he
lived, upon his sending them away to separate them from Isaac, in whom and
through whom the greatest purpose of his own separation from the world was to
be accomplished. The policy of keeping the Jews a distinct people was beginning
to operate now, and perhaps earlier in the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from
the household of Abraham. The death of this truly magnificent personage - whose
biography is altogether worthy of the Father of the Faithful - is recorded in
suitable terms of venerable simplicity, quite in keeping with his character as
the greatest of the Patriarchs. He gave up the ghost, died in a good old age,
an old man full of years, and, most touching of all, both in simplicity and
force - was gathered to his people. I feel convinced from the effect of my now
more special attention, in sections and piecemeal, to the Bible, that I become
far more intimate than before with the character of its recorded personages ;
and have no doubt that the biography of Scripture, if more fully studied, would
be found not only replete with moral instruction, but would contribute to build
up a distinct evidence for the truth of Scripture. I am not so acquainted with
the wilderness of Paran as to know its distance from the residence of Isaac.
Ishmael, however, of whom we read last that he was an archer there, was near
enough to have been present at the funeral. The blessing of Isaac by God after
Abraham's death may design a special visitation and renewal of the promise, or
the general prosperity which he enjoyed under the Divine favour.
12-18. I repeat that much might be gathered from a diligent study of these Scriptural names of persons, and comparing them with the names of places, whether presented to us in history, or still adhering to given towns or districts in the present day. We believe that much of evidence is still in reserve for us, and the extreme tenacity of Eastern habits is all the more favourable to the preservation of such evidence, which is beginning now indeed to be explored and set forth by our recent travellers. And in like manner, Scripture geography is a study of great importance, and for which there exist abundant materials. It is a pleasing discovery when one is warranted to identify the localities which can be pointed to now, with those which are referred to in the Bible. How I love the cadence of such descriptions as are given in the instances both of Abraham and Ishmael of their respective latter ends - gathered unto his people! There are various interpretations of his dying in the presence of all his brethren. In ch. xvi. v. 12, it is said of him, that he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. Did he live so near them, that he could easily join Isaac on the occasion of their father's funeral, and that Isaac could go to him and be present at his death ?
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