ABRAHAM–THE WICKED GENERATIONS–THE BIRTH OF ABRAHAM–THE BABE PROCLAIMS GOD–ABRAHAM S FIRST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC–THE PREACHER OF THE TRUE FAITH–IN THE FIERY FURNACE–ABRAHAM EMIGRATES TO HARAN–THE STAR IN THE EAST–THE TRUE BELIEVER–THE ICONOCLAST–ABRAHAM IN CANAAN–HIS SOJOURN IN EGYPT–THE FIRST PHARAOH–THE WAR OF THE KINGS–THE COVENANT OF THE PIECES–THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL–THE VISIT OF THE ANGELS–THE CITIES OF SIN–ABRAHAM PLEADS FOR THE SINNERS–THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SINFUL CITIES–AMONG THE PHILISTINES–THE BIRTH OF ISAAC–ISHMAEL CAST OFF–THE TWO WIVES OF ISHMAEL–THE COVENANT WITH ABIMELECH–SATAN ACCUSES ABRAHAM–THE JOURNEY TO MORIAH–THE AKEDAH–THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH–ELIEZER’S MISSION–THE WOOING OF REBEKAH–THE LAST YEARS OF ABRAHAM–A HERALD OF DEATH–ABRAHAM VIEWS EARTH AND HEAVEN–THE PATRON OF HEBRON
ABRAHAM–THE WICKED GENERATIONS
Ten generations there were from Noah to Abraham, to show how great is the clemency of God, for all the generations provoked His wrath, until Abraham our father came and received the reward of all of them. For the sake of Abraham God had shown himself long-suffering and patient during the lives of these ten generations. Yea, more, the world itself had been created for the sake of his merits. His advent had been made manifest to his ancestor Reu, who uttered the following prophecy at the birth of his son Serug: ”From this child he shall be born in the fourth generation that shall set his dwelling over the highest, and he shall be called perfect and spotless, and shall be the father of nations, and his covenant shall not be dissolved, and his seed shall be multiplied forever.”
It was, indeed, high time that the ”friend of God” should make his appearance upon earth. The descendants of Noah were sinking from depravity to lower and lower depths of depravity. They were beginning to quarrel and slay, eat blood, build fortified cities and walls and towers, and set one man over the whole nation as king, and wage wars, people against people, and nations against nations, and cities against cities, and do all manner of evil, and acquire weapons, and teach warfare unto their children. And they began also to take captives and sell them as slaves. And they made unto themselves molten images, which they worshipped, each one the idol he had molten for himself, for the evil spirits under their leader Mastema led them astray into sin and uncleanness. For this reason Reu called his son Serug, because all mankind had turned aside unto sin and transgression. When he grew to manhood, the name was seen to have been chosen fittingly, for he, too, worshipped idols, and when he himself had a son, Nahor by name, he taught him the arts of the Chaldees, how to be a soothsayer and practice magic according to signs in the heavens. When, in time, a son was born to Nahor, Mastema sent ravens and other birds to despoil the earth and rob men of the proceeds of their work. As soon as they had dropped the seed in the furrows, and before they could cover it over with earth, the birds picked it up from the surface of the ground, and Nahor called his son Terah, because the ravens and the other birds plagued men, devoured their seed, and reduced them to destitution.
THE BIRTH OF ABRAHAM
Terah married Emtelai, the daughter of Karnabo, and the offspring of their union was Abraham. His birth had been read in the stars by Nimrod, for this impious king was a cunning astrologer, and it was manifest to him that a man would be born in his day who would rise up against him and triumphantly give the lie to his religion. In his terror at the fate foretold him in the stars, he sent for his princes and governors, and asked them to advise him in the matter. They answered, and said: ”Our unanimous advice is that thou shouldst build a great house, station a guard at the entrance thereof, and make known in the whole of thy realm that all pregnant women shall repair thither together with their midwives, who are to remain with them when they are delivered. When the days of a woman to be delivered are fulfilled, and the child is born, it shall be the duty of the midwife to kill it, if it be a boy. But if the child be a girl, it shall be kept alive, and the mother shall receive gifts and costly garments, and a herald shall proclaim, ‘Thus is done unto the woman who bears a daughter!’ ”
The king was pleased with this counsel, and he had a proclamation published throughout his whole kingdom, summoning all the architects to build a great house for him, sixty ells high and eighty wide. After it was completed, he issued a second proclamation, summoning all pregnant women thither, and there they were to remain until their confinement. Officers were appointed to take the women to the house, and guards were stationed in it and about it, to prevent the women from escaping thence. He furthermore sent midwives to the house, and commanded them to slay the men children at their mothers’ breasts. But if a woman bore a girl, she was to be arrayed in byssus, silk, and embroidered garments, and led forth from the house of detention amid great honors. No less than seventy thousand children were slaughtered thus. Then the angels appeared before God, and spoke, ”Seest Thou not what he doth, yon sinner and blasphemer, Nimrod son of Canaarl, who slays so many innocent babes that have done no harm?” God answered, and said: ”Ye holy angels, I know it and I see it, for I neither slumber nor sleep. I behold and I know the secret things and the things that are revealed, and ye shall witness what I will do unto this sinner and blasphemer, for I will turn My hand against him to chastise him.”
It was about this time that Terah espoused the mother of Abraham, and she was with child. When her body grew large at the end of three months of pregnancy, and her countenance became pale, Terah said unto her, ”What ails thee, my wife, that thy countenance is so pale and thy body so swollen?” She answered, and said, ”Every year I suffer with this malady.” But Terah would not be put off thus. He insisted: ”Show me thy body. It seems to me thou art big with child. If that be so, it behooves us not to violate the command of our god Nimrod.” When he passed his hand over her body, there happened a miracle. The child rose until it lay beneath her breasts, and Terah could feel nothing with his hands. He said to his wife, ”Thou didst speak truly,” and naught became visible until the day of her delivery.
When her time approached, she left the city in great terror and wandered toward the desert, walking along the edge of a valley, until she happened across a cave. She entered this refuge, and on the next day she was seized with throes, and she gave birth to a son. The whole cave was filled with the light of the child’s countenance as with the splendor of the sun, and the mother rejoiced exceedingly. The babe she bore was our father Abraham.
His mother lamented, and said to her son: ”Alas that I bore thee at a time when Nimrod is king. For thy sake seventy thousand men children were slaughtered, and I am seized with terror on account of thee, that he hear of thy existence, and slay thee. Better thou shouldst perish here in this cave than my eye should behold thee dead at my breast.” She took the garment in which she was clothed, and wrapped it about the boy. Then she abandoned him in the cave, saying, ”May the Lord be with thee, may He not fail thee nor forsake thee.”
THE BABE PROCLAIMS GOD
Thus Abraham was deserted in the cave, without a nurse, and he began to wail. God sent Gabriel down to give him milk to drink, and the angel made it to flow from the little finger of the baby’s right hand, and he sucked at it until he was ten days old. Then he arose and walked about, and he left the cave, and went along the edge of the valley. When the sun sank, and the stars came forth, he said, ”These are the gods!” But the dawn came, and the stars could be seen no longer, and then he said, ”I will not pay worship to these, for they are no gods.” Thereupon the sun came forth, and he spoke, ”This is my god, him will I extol.” But again the sun set, and he said, ”He is no god,” and beholding the moon, he called her his god to whom he would pay Divine homage. Then the moon was obscured, and he cried out: ”This, too, is no god! There is One who sets them all in motion.”
He was still communing with himself when the angel Gabriel approached him and met him with the greeting, ”Peace be with thee,” and Abraham returned, ”With thee be peace,” and asked, ”Who art thou?” And Gabriel answered, and said, ”I am the angel Gabriel, the messenger of God,” and he led Abraham to a spring of water near by, and Abraham washed his face and his hands and feet, and he prayed to God, bowing down and prostrating himself.
Meantime the mother of Abraham thought of him in sorrow and tears, and she went forth from the city to seek him in the cave in which she had abandoned him. Not finding her son, she wept bitterly, and said, ”Woe unto me that I bore thee but to become a prey of wild beasts, the bears and the lions and the wolves!” She went to the edge of the valley, and there she found her son. But she did not recognize him, for he had grown very large. She addressed the lad, ”Peace be with thee!” and he returned, ”With thee be peace!” and he continued, ”Unto what purpose didst thou come to the desert?” She replied, ”I went forth from the city to seek my son.” Abraham questioned further, ”Who brought thy son hither?” and the mother replied thereto: ”I had become pregnant from my husband Terah, and when the days of my delivery were fulfilled, I was in anxiety about my son in my womb, lest our king come, the son of Canaan, and slay him as he had slain the seventy thousand other men children. Scarcely had I reached the cave in this valley when the throes of travailing seized me, and I bore a son, whom I left behind in the cave, and I went home again. Now am I come to seek him, but I find him not.”
Abraham then spoke, ”As to this child thou tellest of, how old was it?”
The mother: ”It was about twenty days old.”
Abraham: ”Is there a woman in the world who would forsake her new-born son in the desert, and come to seek him after twenty days?”
The mother: ”Peradventure God will show Himself a merciful God!”
Abraham: ”I am the son whom thou hast come to seek in this valley!”
The mother: ”My son, how thou art grown! But twenty days old, and thou canst already walk, and talk with thy mouth!”
Abraham: ”So it is, and thus, O my mother, it is made known unto thee that there is in the world a great, terrible, living, and ever-existing God, who doth see, but who cannot be seen. He is in the heavens above, and the whole earth is full of His glory.”
The mother: ”My son, is there a God beside Nimrod?”
Abraham: ”Yes, mother, the God of the heavens and the God of the earth, He is also the God of Nimrod son of Canaan. Go, therefore, and carry this message unto Nimrod.”
The mother of Abraham returned to the city and told her husband Terah how she had found their son. Terah, who was a prince and a magnate in the house of the king, betook himself to the royal palace, and cast himself down before the king upon his face. It was the rule that one who prostrated himself before the king was not permitted to lift up his head until the king bade him lift it up. Nimrod gave permission to Terah to rise and state his request. Thereupon Terah related all that had happened with his wife and his son. When Nimrod heard his tale, abject fear seized upon him, and he asked his counsellors and princes what to do with the lad. They answered, and said: ”Our king and our god! Wherefore art thou in fear by reason of a little child? There are myriads upon myriads of princes in thy realm, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, and overseers without number. Let the pettiest of the princes go and fetch the boy and put him in prison.” But the king interposed, ”Have ye ever seen a baby of twenty days walking with his feet, speaking with his mouth, and proclaiming with his tongue that there is a God in heaven, who is One, and none beside Him, who sees and is not seen?” All the assembled princes were horror struck at these words.
At this time Satan in human form appeared, clad in black silk garb, and he cast himself down before the king. Nimrod said, ”Raise thy head and state thy request.” Satan asked the king: ”Why art thou terrified, and why are ye all in fear on account of a little lad? I will counsel thee what thou shalt do: Open thy arsenal and give weapons unto all the princes, chiefs, and governors, and unto all the warriors, and send them to fetch him unto thy service and to be under thy dominion.”
This advice given by Satan the king accepted and followed. He sent a great armed host to bring Abraham to him. When the boy saw the army approach him, he was sore afraid, and amid tears he implored God for help. In answer to his prayer, God sent the angel Gabriel to him, and he said: ”Be not afraid and disquieted, for God is with thee. He will rescue thee out of the hands of all thine adversaries.” God commanded Gabriel to put thick, dark clouds between Abraham and his assailants. Dismayed by the heavy clouds, they fled, returning to Nimrod, their king, and they said to him, ”Let us depart and leave this realm,” and the king gave money unto all his princes and his servants, and together with the king they departed and journeyed to Babylon.
ABRAHAM’S FIRST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC
Now Abraham, at the command of God, was ordered by the angel Gabriel to follow Nimrod to Babylon. He objected that he was in no wise equipped to undertake a campaign against the king, but Gabriel calmed him with the words: ”Thou needest no provision for the way, no horse to ride upon, no warriors to carry on war with Nimrod, no chariots, nor riders. Do thou but sit thyself upon my shoulder, and I shall bear thee to Babylon.”
Abraham did as he was bidden, and in the twinkling of an eye he found himself before the gates of the city of Babylon. At the behest of the angel, he entered the city, and he called unto the dwellers therein with a loud voice: ”The Eternal, He is the One Only God, and there is none beside. He is the God of the heavens, and the God of the gods, and the God of Nimrod. Acknowledge this as the truth, all ye men, women, and children. Acknowledge also that I am Abraham His servant, the trusted steward of His house.”
Abraham met his parents in Babylon, and also he saw the angel Gabriel, who bade him proclaim the true faith to his father and his mother. Therefore Abraham spake to them, and said: ”Ye serve a man of your own kind, and you pay worship to an image of Nimrod. Know ye not that it has a mouth, but it speaks not; an eye, but it sees not; an ear, but it hears not; nor does it walk upon its feet, and there is no profit in it, either unto itself or unto others?”
When Terah heard these words, he persuaded Abraham to follow him into the house, where his son told him all that had happened–how in one day he had completed a forty days’ journey. Terah thereupon went to Nimrod and reported to him that his son Abraham had suddenly appeared in Babylon. The king sent for Abraham, and he came before him with his father. Abraham passed the magnates and the dignitaries until he reached the royal throne, upon which he seized hold, shaking it and crying out with a loud voice: ”O Nimrod, thou contemptible wretch, that deniest the essence of faith, that deniest the living and immutable God, and Abraham His servant, the trusted steward of His house. Acknowledge Him, and repeat after me the words: The Eternal is God, the Only One, and there is none beside; He is incorporeal, living, ever-existing; He slumbers not and sleeps not, who hath created the world that men might believe in Him. And confess also concerning me, and say that I am the servant of God and the trusted steward of His house.”
While Abraham proclaimed this with a loud voice, the idols fell upon their faces, and with them also King Nimrod. For a space of two hours and a half the king lay lifeless, and when his soul returned upon him, he spoke and said, ”Is it thy voice, O Abraham, or the voice of thy God?” And Abraham answered, and said, ”This voice is the voice of the least of all creatures called into existence by God.” Thereupon Nimrod said, ”Verily, the God of Abraham is a great and powerful God, the King of all kings,” and he commanded Terah to take his son and remove him, and return again unto his own city, and father and son did as the king had ordered.
THE PREACHER OF THE TRUE FAITH
When Abraham attained the age of twenty years, his father Terah fell ill. He spoke as follows to his sons Haran and Abraham, ”I adjure you by your lives, my sons, sell these two idols for me, for I have not enough money to meet our expenses.” Haran executed the wish of his father, but if any one accosted Abraham, to buy an idol from him, and asked him the price, he would answer, ”Three manehs,” and then question in turn, ”How old art thou?” ”Thirty years,” the reply would be. ”Thou art thirty years of age, and yet thou wouldst worship this idol which I made but to-day?” The man would depart and go his way, and another would approach Abraham, and ask, ”How much is this idol?” and ”Five manehs” would be the reply, and again Abraham would put the question, ”How old art thou?”–”Fifty years.”–”And dost thou who art fifty years of age bow down before this idol which was made but to-day?” Thereupon the man would depart and go his way. Abraham then took two idols, put a rope about their necks, and, with their faces turned downward, he dragged them along the ground, crying aloud all the time: ”Who will buy an idol wherein there is no profit, either unto itself or unto him that buys it in order to worship it? It has a mouth, but it speaketh not; eyes, but it seeth not; feet, but it walketh not; ears, but it heareth not.”
The people who heard Abraham were amazed exceedingly at his words. As he went through the streets, he met an old woman who approached him with the purpose of buying an idol, good and big, to be worshipped and loved. ”Old woman, old woman,” said Abraham, ”I know no profit therein, either in the big ones or in the little ones, either unto themselves or unto others. And,” he continued to speak to her, ”what has become of the big image thou didst buy from my brother Haran, to worship it?” ”Thieves,” she replied, ”came in the night and stole it, while I was still at the bath.” ”If it be thus,” Abraham went on questioning her, ”how canst thou pay homage to an idol that cannot save itself from thieves, let alone save others, like thyself, thou silly old woman, out of misfortune? How is it possible for thee to say that the image thou worshippest is a god? If it be a god, why did it not save itself out of the hands of those thieves? Nay, in the idol there is no profit, either unto itself or unto him that adores it.”
The old woman rejoined, ”If what thou sayest be true, whom shall I serve?” ”Serve the God of all gods,” returned Abraham, ”the Lord of lords, who hath created heaven and earth, the sea and all therein–the God of Nimrod and the God of Terah, the God of the east, the west, the south, and the north. Who is Nimrod, the dog, who calleth himself a god, that worship be offered unto him?”
Abraham succeeded in opening the eyes of the old woman, and she became a zealous missionary for the true God. When she discovered the thieves who had carried off her idol, and they restored it to her, she broke it in pieces with a stone, and as she wended her way through the streets, she cried aloud, ”Who would save his soul from destruction, and be prosperous in all his doings, let him serve the God of Abraham.” Thus she converted many men and women to the true belief.
Rumors of the words and deeds of the old woman reached the king, and he sent for her. When she appeared before him, he rebuked her harshly, asking her how she dared serve any god but himself. The old woman replied: ”Thou art a liar, thou deniest the essence of faith, the One Only God, beside whom there is no other god. Thou livest upon His bounty, but thou payest worship to another, and thou dost repudiate Him, and His teachings, and Abraham His servant.”
The old woman had to pay for her zeal for the faith with her life. Nevertheless great fear and terror took possession of Nimrod, because the people became more and more attached to the teachings of Abraham, and he knew not how to deal with the man who was undermining the old faith. At the advice of his princes, he arranged a seven days’ festival, at which all the people were bidden to appear in their robes of state, their gold and silver apparel. By such display of wealth and power he expected to intimidate Abraham and bring him back to the faith of the king. Through his father Terah, Nimrod invited Abraham to come before him, that he might have the opportunity of seeing his greatness and wealth, and the glory of his dominion, and the multitude of his princes and attendants. But Abraham refused to appear before the king. On the other hand, he granted his father’s request that in his absence he sit by his idols and the king’s, and take care of them.
Alone with the idols, and while he repeated the words, ”The Eternal He is God, the Eternal He is God!” he struck the king’s idols from their thrones, and began to belabor them with an axe. With the biggest he started, and with the smallest he ended. He hacked off the feet of one, and the other he beheaded. This one had his eyes struck out, the other had his hands crushed. After all were mutilated, he went away, having first put the axe into the hand of the largest idol.
The feast ended, the king returned, and when he saw all his idols shivered in pieces, he inquired who had perpetrated the mischief. Abraham was named as the one who had been guilty of the outrage, and the king summoned him and questioned him as to his motive for the deed. Abraham replied: ”I did not do it; it was the largest of the idols who shattered all the rest. Seest thou not that he still has the axe in his hand? And if thou wilt not believe my words, ask him and he will tell thee.”
IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Now the king was exceedingly wroth at Abraham, and ordered him to be cast into prison, where he commanded the warden not to give him bread or water. But God hearkened unto the prayer of Abraham, and sent Gabriel to him in his dungeon. For a year the angel dwelt with him, and provided him with all sorts of food, and a spring of fresh water welled up before him, and he drank of it. At the end of a year, the magnates of the realm presented themselves before the king, and advised him to cast Abraham into the fire, that the people might believe in Nimrod forever. Thereupon the king issued a decree that all the subjects of the king in all his provinces, men and women, young and old, should bring wood within forty days, and he caused it to be thrown into a great furnace and set afire. The flames shot up to the skies, and the people were sore afraid of the fire. Now the warden of the prison was ordered to bring Abraham forth and cast him in the flames. The warden reminded the king that Abraham had not had food or drink a whole year, and therefore must be dead, but Nimrod nevertheless desired him to step in front of the prison and call his name. If he made reply, he was to be hauled out to the pyre. If he had perished, his remains were to receive burial, and his memory was to be wiped out henceforth.
Greatly amazed the warden was when his cry, ”Abraham, art thou alive?” was answered with ”I am living.” He questioned further, ”Who has been bringing thee food and drink all these many days?” and Abraham replied: ”Food and drink have been bestowed upon me by Him who is over all things, the God of all gods and the Lord of all lords, who alone doeth wonders, He who is the God of Nimrod and the God of Terah and the God of the whole world. He dispenseth food and drink unto all beings. He sees, but He cannot be seen, He is in the heavens above, and He is present in all places, for He Himself superviseth all things and provideth for all.”
The miraculous rescue of Abraham from death by starvation and thirst convinced the prison-keeper of the truth of God and His prophet Abraham, and he acknowledged his belief in both publicly. The king’s threat of death unless he recanted could not turn him away from his new and true faith. When the hangman raised his sword and set it at his throat to kill him, he exclaimed, ”The Eternal He is God, the God of the whole world as well as of the blasphemer Nimrod.” But the sword could not cut his flesh. The harder it was pressed against his throat, the more it broke into pieces.
Nimrod, however, was not to be turned aside from his purpose, to make Abraham suffer death by fire. One of the princes was dispatched to fetch him forth. But scarcely did the messenger set about the task of throwing him into the fire, when the flame leapt forth from the furnace and consumed him. Many more attempts were made to cast Abraham into the furnace, but always with the same success- whoever seized him to pitch him in was himself burnt, and a large number lost their lives. Satan appeared in human shape, and advised the king to place Abraham in a catapult and sling him into the fire. Thus no one would be required to come near the flame. Satan himself constructed the catapult. Having proved it fit three times by means of stones put in the machine, they bound Abraham, hand and foot, and were about to consign him to the flames. At that moment Satan, still disguised in human shape, approached Abraham, and said, ”If thou desirest to deliver thyself from the fire of Nimrod, bow down before him and believe in him.” But Abraham rejected the tempter with the words, ”May the Eternal rebuke thee, thou vile, contemptible, accursed blasphemer!” and Satan departed from him.
Then the mother of Abraham came to him and implored him to pay homage to Nimrod and escape the impending misfortune. But he said to her: ”O mother, water can extinguish Nimrod’s fire, but the fire of God will not die out for evermore. Water cannot quench it.” When his mother heard these words, she spake, ”May the God whom thou servest rescue thee from the fire of Nimrod!”
Abraham was finally placed in the catapult, and he raised his eyes heavenward, and spoke, ”O Lord my God, Thou seest what this sinner purposes to do unto me!” His confidence in God was unshakable. When the angels received the Divine permission to save him, and Gabriel approached him, and asked, ”Abraham, shall I save thee from the fire?” he replied, ”God in whom I trust, the God of heaven and earth, will rescue me,” and God, seeing the submissive spirit of Abraham, commanded the fire, ”Cool off and bring tranquillity to my servant Abraham.”
No water was needed to extinguish the fire. The logs burst into buds, and all the different kinds of wood put forth fruit, each tree bearing its own kind. The furnace was transformed into a royal pleasance, and the angels sat therein with Abraham. When the king saw the miracle, he said: ”Great witchcraft! Thou makest it known that fire hath no power over thee, and at the same time thou showest thyself unto the people sitting in a pleasure garden.” But the princes of Nimrod interposed all with one voice, ”Nay, our lord, this is not witchcraft, it is the power of the great God, the God of Abraham, beside whom there is no other god, and we acknowledge that He is God, and Abraham is His servant.” All the princes and all the people believed in God at this hour, in the Eternal, the God of Abraham, and they all cried out, ”The Lord He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.”
Abraham was the superior, not only of the impious king Nimrod and his attendants, but also of the pious men of his time, Noah, Shem, Eber, and Asshur. Noah gave himself no concern whatsoever in the matter of spreading the pure faith in God. He took an interest in planting his vineyard, and was immersed in material pleasures. Shem and Eber kept in hiding, and as for Asshur, he said, ”How can I live among such sinners?” and departed out of the land. The only one who remained unshaken was Abraham. ”I will not forsake God,” he said, and therefore God did not forsake him, who had hearkened neither unto his father nor unto his mother.
The miraculous deliverance of Abraham from the fiery furnace, together with his later fortunes, was the fulfilment and explanation of what his father Terah had read in the stars. He had seen the star of Haran consumed by fire, and at the same time fill and rule the whole world. The meaning was plain now. Haran was irresolute in his faith, he could not decide whether to adhere to Abraham or the idolaters. When it befell that those who would not serve idols were cast into the fiery furnace, Haran reasoned in this manner: ”Abraham, being my elder, will be called upon before me. If he comes forth out of the fiery trial triumphant, I will declare my allegiance to him; otherwise I will take sides against him.” After God Himself had rescued Abraham from death, and Haran’s turn came to make his confession of faith, he announced his adherence to Abraham. But scarcely had he come near the furnace, when he was seized by the flames and consumed, because he was lacking in firm faith in God. Terah had read the stars well, it now appeared: Haran was burnt, and his daughter Sarah became the wife of Abraham, whose descendants fill the earth. In another way the death of Haran was noteworthy. It was the first instance, since the creation of the world, of a son’s dying while his father was still alive.
The king, the princes, and all the people, who had been witnesses of the wonders done for Abraham, came to him, and prostrated themselves before him. But Abraham said: ”Do not bow down before me, but before God, the Master of the universe, who hath created you. Serve Him and walk in His ways, for He it was who delivered me from the flames, and He it is who hath created the soul and the spirit of every human being, who formeth man in the womb of his mother, and bringeth him into the world. He saveth from all sickness those who put their trust in Him.”
The king then dismissed Abraham, after loading him down with an abundance of precious gifts, among them two slaves who had been raised in the royal palace. ‘Ogi was the name of the one, Eliezer the name of the other. The princes followed the example of the king, and they gave him silver, and gold, and gems. But all these gifts did not rejoice the heart of Abraham so much as the three hundred followers that joined him and became adherents of his religion.
ABRAHAM EMIGRATES TO HARAN
For a period of two years Abraham could devote himself undisturbed to his chosen task of turning the hearts of men to God and His teachings. In his pious undertaking he was aided by his wife Sarah, whom he had married in the meantime. While he exhorted the men and sought to convert them, Sarah addressed herself to the women. She was a helpmeet worthy of Abraham. Indeed, in prophetical powers she ranked higher than her husband. She was sometimes called Iscah, ”the seer,” on that account.
At the expiration of two years it happened that Nimrod dreamed a dream. In his dream he found himself with his army near the fiery furnace in the valley into which Abraham had been cast. A man resembling Abraham stepped out of the furnace, and he ran after the king with drawn sword, the king fleeing before him in terror. While running, the pursuer threw an egg at Nimrod’s head, and a mighty stream issued therefrom, wherein the king’s whole host was drowned. The king alone survived, with three men. When Nimrod examined his companions, he observed that they wore royal attire, and in form and stature they resembled himself. The stream changed back into an egg again, and a little chick broke forth from it, and it flew up, settled upon the head of the king, and put out one of his eyes.
The king was confounded in his sleep, and when he awoke, his heart beat like a trip-hammer, and his fear was exceeding great. In the morning, when he arose, he sent and called for his wise men and his magicians, and told them his dream. One of his wise men, Anoko by name, stood up, and said: ”Know, O king, this dream points to the misfortune which Abraham and his descendants will bring upon thee. A time will come when he and his followers will make war upon thy army, and they will annihilate it. Thou and the three kings, thy allies, will be the only ones to escape death. But later thou wilt lose thy life at the hands of one of the descendants of Abraham. Consider, O king, that thy wise men read this fate of thine in the stars, fifty-two years ago, at the birth of Abraham. As long as Abraham liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be stablished, nor thy kingdom.” Nimrod took Anoko’s words to heart, and dispatched some of his servants to seize Abraham and kill him. It happened that Eliezer, the slave whom Abraham had received as a present from Nimrod, was at that time at the royal court. With great haste he sped to Abraham to induce him to flee before the king’s bailiffs. His master accepted his advice, and took refuge in the house of Noah and Shem, where he lay in hiding a whole month. The king’s officers reported that despite zealous efforts Abraham was nowhere to be found. Thenceforth the king did not concern himself about Abraham.
When Terah visited his son in his hiding-place, Abraham proposed that they leave the land and take up their abode in Canaan, in order to escape the pursuit of Nimrod. He said: ”Consider that it was not for thy sake that Nimrod overloaded thee with honors, but for his own profit. Though he continue to confer the greatest of benefactions upon thee, what are they but earthly vanity? for riches and possessions profit not in the day of wrath and fury. Hearken unto my voice, O my father, let us depart for the land of Canaan, and serve the God that hath created thee, that it may be well with thee.”
Noah and Shem aided and abetted the efforts of Abraham to persuade Terah, whereupon Terah consented to leave his country, and he, and Abraham, and Lot, the son of Haran, departed for Haran with their households. They found the land pleasant, and also the inhabitants thereof, who readily yielded to the influence of Abraham’s humane spirit and his piety. Many of them obeyed his precepts and became God-fearing and good.
Terah’s resolve to quit his native land for the sake of Abraham and take up his abode in strange parts, and his impulse to do it before even the Divine call visited Abraham himself–this the Lord accounted a great merit unto Terah, and he was permitted to see his son Abraham rule as king over the whole world. For when the miracle happened, and Isaac was born unto his aged parents, the whole world repaired to Abraham and Sarah, and demanded to know what they had done that so great a thing should be accomplished for them. Abraham told them all that had happened between Nimrod and himself, how he had been ready to be burnt for the glory of God, and how the Lord had rescued him from the flames. In token of their admiration for Abraham and his teachings, they appointed him to be their king, and in commemoration of Isaac’s wondrous birth, the money coined by Abraham bore the figures of an aged husband and wife on the obverse side, and of a young man and his wife on the reverse side, for Abraham and Sarah both were rejuvenated at the birth of Isaac, Abraham’s white hair turned black, and the lines in Sarah’s face were smoothed out.
For many years Terah continued to live a witness of his son’s glory, for his death did not occur until Isaac was a youth of thirty-five. And a still greater reward waited upon his good deed. God accepted his repentance, and when he departed this life, he entered into Paradise, and not into hell, though he had passed the larger number of his days in sin. Indeed, it had been his fault that Abraham came near losing his life at the hands of Nimrod.
THE STAR IN THE EAST
Terah had been a high official at the court of Nimrod, and he was held in great consideration by the king and his suite. A son was born unto him whom he called Abram, because the king had raised him to an exalted place. In the night of Abraham’s birth, the astrologers and the wise men of Nimrod came to the house of Terah, and ate and drank, and rejoiced with him that night. When they left the house, they lifted up their eyes toward heaven to look at the stars, and they saw, and, behold, one great star came from the east and ran athwart the heavens and swallowed up the four stars at the four corners. They all were astonished at the sight, but they understood this matter, and knew its import. They said to one another: ”This only betokens that the child that hath been born unto Terah this night will grow up and be fruitful, and he will multiply and possess all the earth, he and his children forever, and he and his seed will slay great kings and inherit their lands.”
They went home that night, and in the morning they rose up early, and assembled in their meeting-house. They spake, and said to one another: ”Lo, the sight that we saw last night is hidden from the king, it has not been made known to him, and should this thing become known to him in the latter days, he will say to us, Why did you conceal this matter from me? and then we shall all suffer death. Now, let us go and tell the king the sight which we saw, and the interpretation thereof, and we shall be clear from this thing.” And they went to the king and told him the sight they had seen, and their interpretation thereof, and they added the advice that he pay the value of the child to Terah, and slay the babe.
Accordingly, the king sent for Terah, and when he came, he spake to him: ”It hath been told unto me that a son was born to thee yesternight, and a wondrous sign was observed in the heavens at his birth. Now give me the boy, that we may slay him before evil comes upon us from him, and I will give thee thy house full of silver and gold in exchange for him.” Terah answered: ”This thing which thou promisest unto me is like the words which a man spoke to a mule, saying, ‘I will give thee a great heap of barley, a houseful thereof, on condition that I cut off thy head!’ The mule replied, ‘Of what use will all the barley be to me, if thou cuttest off my head? Who will eat it when thou givest it to me?’ Thus also do I say: What shall I do with silver and gold after the death of my son? Who shall inherit me?” But when Terah saw how the king’s anger burned within him at these words, he added, ”Whatever the king desireth to do unto his servant, that let him do, even my son is at the king’s disposal, without value or exchange, he and his two older brethren.”
The king spake, however, saying, ”I will purchase thy youngest son for a price.” And Terah made answer, ”Let my king give me three days’ time to consider the matter and consult about it with my family.” The king agreed to this condition, and on the third day he sent to Terah, saying, ”Give me thy son for a price, as I spoke unto thee, and if thou wilt not do this, I will send and slay all thou hast in thy house, there shall not be a dog left unto thee.”
Then Terah took a child which his handmaid had borne unto him that day, and he brought the babe to the king, and received value for him, and the king took the child and dashed his head against the ground, for he thought it was Abraham. But Terah took his son Abraham, together with the child’s mother and his nurse, and concealed them in a cave, and thither he carried provisions to them once a month, and the Lord was with Abraham in the cave, and he grew up, but the king and all his servants thought that Abraham was dead.
And when Abraham was ten years old, he and his mother and his nurse went out from the cave, for the king and his servants had forgotten the affair of Abraham.
In that time all the inhabitants of the earth, with the exception of Noah and his household, transgressed against the Lord, and they made unto themselves every man his god, gods of wood and stone, which could neither speak, nor hear, nor deliver from distress. The king and all his servants, and Terah with his. household, were the first to worship images of wood and stone. Terah made twelve gods of large size, of wood and of stone, corresponding to the twelve months of the year, and he paid homage to them monthly in turn.
THE TRUE BELIEVER
Once Abraham went into the temple of the idols in his father’s house, to bring sacrifices to them, and he found one of them, Marumath by name, hewn out of stone, lying prostrate on his face before the iron god of Nahor. The idol was too heavy for him to raise it alone, and he called his father to help him put Marumath back in his place. While they were handling the image, its head dropped off, and Terah took a stone, and chiselled another Marumath, setting the head of the first upon the new body. Then Terah continued and made five more gods, and all these he delivered to Abraham, and bade him sell them in the streets of the city.
Abraham saddled his mule, and went to the inn where merchants from Fandana in Syria put up on their way to Egypt. He hoped to dispose of his wares there. When he reached the inn, one of the camels belonging to the merchants belched, and the sound frightened his mule so that it ran off pell-mell and broke three of the idols. The merchants not only bought the two sound idols from him, they also gave him the price of the broken ones, for Abraham had told them how distressed he was to appear before his father with less money than he had expected to receive for his handiwork.
This incident made Abraham reflect upon the worthlessness of idols, and he said to himself: ”What are these evil things done by my father? Is not he the god of his gods, for do they not come into being by reason of his carving and chiselling and contriving? Were it not more seemly that they should pay worship to him than he to them, seeing they are the work of his hands?” Meditating thus, he reached his father’s house, and he entered and handed his father the money for the five images, and Terah rejoiced, and said, ”Blessed art thou unto my gods, because thou didst bring me the price of the idols, and my labor was not in vain.” But Abraham made reply: ”Hear, my father Terah, blessed are thy gods through thee, for thou art their god, since thou didst fashion them, and their blessing is destruction and their help is vanity. They that help not themselves, how can they help thee or bless me?”
Terah grew very wrathful at Abraham, that he uttered such speech against his gods, and Abraham, thinking upon his father’s anger, left him and went from the house. But Terah called him back, and said, ”Gather together the chips of the oak wood from which I made images before thou didst return, and prepare my dinner for me.” Abraham made ready to do his father’s bidding, and as he took up the chips he found a little god among them, whose forehead bore the inscription ”God Barisat.” He threw the chips upon the fire, and set Barisat up next to it, saying: ”Attention! Take care, Barisat, that the fire go not out until I come back. If it burns low, blow into it, and make it flame up again.” Speaking thus, he went out. When he came in again, he found Barisat lying prone upon his back, badly burnt. Smiling, he said to himself, ”In truth, Barisat, thou canst keep the fire alive and prepare food,” and while he spoke, the idol was consumed to ashes. Then he took the dishes to his father, and he ate and drank and was glad and blessed his god Marumath. But Abraham said to his father, ”Bless not thy god Marumath, but rather thy god Barisat, for he it was who, out of his great love for thee, threw himself into the fire that thy meal might be cooked.” ”Where is he now?” exclaimed Terah, and Abraham answered, ”He hath become ashes in the fierceness of the fire.” Terah said, ”Great is the power of Barisat! I will make me another this day, and to-morrow he will prepare my food for me.”
These words of his father made Abraham laugh in his mind, but his soul was grieved at his obduracy, and he proceeded to make clear his views upon the idols, saying: ”Father, no matter which of the two idols thou blessest, thy behavior is senseless, for the images that stand in the holy temple are more to be worshipped than thine. Zucheus, the god of my brother Nahor, is more venerable than Marumath, because he is made cunningly of gold, and when he grows old, he will be worked over again. But when thy Marumath becomes dim, or is shivered in pieces, he will not be renewed, for he is of stone. And the god Joauv, who stands above the other gods with Zucheus, is more venerable than Barisat, made of wood, because he is hammered out of silver, and ornamented by men, to show his magnificence. But thy Barisat, before thou didst fashion him into a god with thy axe, was rooted in the earth, standing there great and wonderful, with the glory of branches and blossoms. Now he is dry, and gone is his sap. From his height he has fallen to the earth, from grandeur he came to pettiness, and the appearance of his face has paled away, and he himself was burnt in the fire, and he was consumed unto ashes, and he is no more. And thou didst then say, ‘I will make me another this day, and to-morrow he will prepare my food for me.’ Father,” Abraham continued, and said, ”the fire is more to be worshipped than thy gods of gold and silver and wood and stone, because it consumes them. But also the fire I call not god, because it is subject to the water, which quenches it. But also the water I call not god, because it is sucked up by the earth, and I call the earth more venerable, because it conquers the water. But also the earth I call not god, because it is dried out by the sun, and I call the sun more venerable than the earth, because he illumines the whole world with his rays. But also the sun I call not god, because his light is obscured when darkness cometh up. Nor do I call the moon and the stars gods, because their light, too, is extinguished when their time to shine is past. But hearken unto this, my father Terah, which I will declare unto thee, The God who hath created all things, He is the true God, He hath empurpled the heavens, and gilded the sun, and given radiance to the moon and also the stars, and He drieth out the earth in the midst of many waters, and also thee hath He put upon the earth, and me hath He sought out in the confusion of my thoughts.”
But Terah could not be convinced, and in reply to Abraham’s question, who the God was that had created heaven and earth and the children of men, he took him to the hall wherein stood twelve great idols and a large number of little idols, and pointing to them he said, ”Here are they who have made all thou seest on earth, they who have created also me and thee and all men on the earth,” and he bowed down before his gods, and left the hall with his son.
Abraham went thence to his mother, and he spoke to her, saying: ”Behold, my father has shown those unto me who made heaven and earth and all the sons of men. Now, therefore, hasten and fetch a kid from the flock, and make of it savory meat, that I may bring it to my father’s gods, perhaps I may thereby become acceptable to them.” His mother did according to his request, but when Abraham brought the offering to the gods, he saw that they had no voice, no hearing, no motion, and not one of them stretched forth his hand to eat. Abraham mocked them, and said, ”Surely, the savory meat that I prepared doth not please you, or perhaps it is too little for you! Therefore I will prepare fresh savory meat to-morrow, better and more plentiful than this, that I may see what cometh therefrom.” But the gods remained mute and without motion before the second offering of excellent savory meat as before the first offering, and the spirit of God came over Abraham, and he cried out, and said: ”Woe unto my father and his wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone, which cannot eat, nor smell, nor hear, nor speak, which have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs without motion!”
Abraham then took a hatchet in his hand, and broke all his father’s gods, and when he had done breaking them he placed the hatchet in the hand of the biggest god among them all, and he went out. Terah, having heard the crash of the hatchet on the stone, ran to the room of the idols, and he reached it at the moment when Abraham was leaving it, and when he saw what had happened, he hastened after Abraham, and he said to him, ”What is this mischief thou hast done to my gods?” Abraham answered: ”I set savory meat before them, and when I came nigh unto them, that they might eat, they all stretched out their hands to take of the meat, before the big one had put forth his hand to eat. This one, enraged against them on account of their behavior, took the hatchet and broke them all, and, behold, the hatchet is yet in his hands, as thou mayest see.”
Then Terah turned in wrath upon Abraham, and he said: ”Thou speakest lies unto me! Is there spirit, soul, or power in these gods to do all thou hast told me? Are they not wood and stone? and have I not myself made them? It is thou that didst place the hatchet in the hand of the big god, and thou sayest he smote them all.” Abraham answered his father, and said: ”How, then, canst thou serve these idols in whom there is no power to do anything? Can these idols in which thou trustest deliver thee? Can they hear thy prayers when thou callest upon them?” After having spoken these and similar words, admonishing his father to mend his ways and refrain from worshipping idols, he leapt up before Terah, took the hatchet from the big idol, broke it therewith, and ran away.
Terah hastened to Nimrod, bowed down before him, and besought him to hear his story, about his son who had been born to him fifty years back, and how he had done to his gods, and how he had spoken. ”Now, therefore, my lord and king,” he said, ”send for him that he may come before thee, and do thou judge him according to the law, that we may be delivered from his evil.” When Abraham was brought before the king, he told him the same story as he had told Terah, about the big god who broke the smaller ones, but the king replied, ”Idols do neither speak, nor eat, nor move.” Then Abraham reproached him for worshipping gods that can do nothing, and admonished him to serve the God of the universe. His last words were, ”If thy wicked heart will not hearken to my words, to cause thee to forsake thy evil ways and serve the Eternal God, then wilt thou die in shame in the latter days, thou, thy people, and all that are connected with thee, who hear thy words, and walk in thy evil ways.”
The king ordered Abraham to be put into prison, and at the end of ten days he caused all the princes and great men of the realm to appear before him, and to them he put the case of Abraham. Their verdict was that he should be burnt, and, accordingly, the king had a fire prepared for three days and three nights, in his furnace at Kasdim, and Abraham was to be carried thither from prison to be burnt.
All the inhabitants of the land, about nine hundred thousand men, and the women and the children besides, came to see what would be done with Abraham. And when he was brought forth, the astrologers recognized him, and they said to the king, ”Surely, this is the man whom we knew as a child, at whose birth the great star swallowed the four stars. Behold, his father did transgress thy command, and he made a mockery of thee, for he did bring thee another child, and him didst thou kill.”
Terah was greatly terrified, for he was afraid of the king’s wrath, and he admitted that he had deceived the king, and when the king said, ”Tell me who advised thee to do this. Hide naught, and thou shalt not die,” he falsely accused Haran, who had been thirty-two years old at the time of Abraham’s birth, of having advised him to deceive the king. At the command of the king, Abraham and Haran, stripped of all their clothes except their hosen, and their hands and feet bound with linen cords, were cast into the furnace. Haran, because his heart was not perfect with the Lord, perished in the fire, and also the men who cast them into the furnace were burnt by the flames which leapt out over them, and Abraham alone was saved by the Lord, and he was not burnt, though the cords with which he was bound were consumed. For three days and three nights Abraham walked in the midst of the fire, and all the servants of the king came and told him, ”Behold, we have seen Abraham walking about in the midst of the fire.”
At first the king would not believe them, but when some of his faithful princes corroborated the words of his servants, he rose up and went to see for himself. He then commanded his servants to take Abraham from the fire, but they could not, because the flames leapt toward them from the furnace, and when they tried again, at the king’s command, to approach the furnace, the flames shot out and burnt their faces, so that eight of their number died. The king then called unto Abraham, and said: ”O servant of the God who is in heaven, go forth from the midst of the fire, and come hither and stand before me,” and Abraham came and stood before the king. And the king spoke to Abraham, and said, ”How cometh it that thou wast not burnt in the fire?” And Abraham made answer, ”The God of heaven and earth in whom I trust, and who hath all things in His power, He did deliver me from the fire into which thou didst cast me.”
ABRAHAM IN CANAAN
With ten temptations Abraham was tempted, and he withstood them all, showing how great was the love of Abraham. The first test to which he was subjected was the departure from his native land. The hardships were many and severe which he encountered, and he was loth to leave his home, besides. He spoke to God, and said, ”Will not the people talk about me, and say, ‘He is endeavoring to bring the nations under the wings of the Shekinah, yet he leaves his old father in Haran, and he goes away.’ ” But God answered him, and said: ”Dismiss all care concerning thy father and thy kinsmen from thy thoughts. Though they speak words of kindness to thee, yet are they all of one mind, to ruin thee.”
Then Abraham forsook his father in Haran, and journeyed to Canaan, accompanied by the blessing of God, who said unto him, ”I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great.” These three blessings were to counteract the evil consequences which, he feared, would follow emigration, for travelling from place to place interferes with the growth of the family, it lessens one’s substance, and it diminishes the consideration one enjoys. The greatest of all blessings, however, was the word of God, ”And be thou a blessing.” The meaning of this was that whoever came in contact with Abraham was blessed. Even the mariners on the sea were indebted to him for prosperous voyages. Besides, God held out the promise to him that in time to come his name would be mentioned in the Benedictions, God would be praised as the Shield of Abraham, a distinction accorded to no other mortal except David. But the words, ”And be thou a blessing,” will be fulfilled only in the future world, when the seed of Abraham shall be known among the nations and his offspring among the peoples as ”the seed which the Lord hath blessed.”
When Abraham first was bidden to leave his home, he was not told to what land he was to journey–all the greater would be his reward for executing the command of God. And Abraham showed his trust in God, for he said, ”I am ready to go whithersoever Thou sendest me.” The Lord then bade him go to a land wherein He would reveal Himself, and when he went to Canaan later, God appeared to him, and he knew that it was the promised land.
On entering Canaan, Abraham did not yet know that it was the land appointed as his inheritance. Nevertheless he rejoiced when he reached it. In Mesopotamia and in Aramnaharaim, the inhabitants of which he had seen eating, drinking, and acting wantonly, he had always wished, ”O that my portion may not be in this land,” but when he came to Canaan, he observed that the people devoted themselves industriously to the cultivation of the land, and he said, ”O that my portion may be in this land!” God then spoke to him, and said, ”Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Happy in these joyous tidings, Abraham erected an altar to the Lord to give thanks unto Him for the promise, and then he journeyed on, southward, in the direction of the spot whereon the Temple was once to stand. In Hebron he again erected an altar, thus taking possession of the land in a measure. And likewise he raised an altar in Ai, because he foresaw that a misfortune would befall his offspring there, at the conquest of the land under Joshua. The altar, he hoped, would obviate the evil results that might follow.
Each altar raised by him was a centre for his activities as a missionary. As soon as he came to a place in which he desired to sojourn, he would stretch a tent first for Sarah, and next for himself, and then he would proceed at once to make proselytes and bring them under the wings of the Shekinah. Thus he accomplished his purpose of inducing all men to proclaim the Name of God.
For the present Abraham was but a stranger in his promised land. After the partition of the earth among the sons of Noah, when all had gone to their allotted portions, it happened that Canaan son of Ham saw that the land extending from the Lebanon to the River of Egypt was fair to look upon, and he refused to go to his own allotment, westward by the sea. He settled in the land upon Lebanon, eastward and westward from the border of the Jordan and the border of the sea. And Ham, his father, and his brothers Cush and Mizraim spoke to him, and said: ”Thou livest in a land that is not thine, for it was not assigned unto us when the lots were drawn. Do not thus! But if thou persistest, ye, thou and thy children, will fall, accursed, in the land, in a rebellion. Thy settling here was rebellion, and through rebellion thy children will be felled down, and thy seed will be destroyed unto all eternity. Sojourn not in the land of Shem, for unto Shem and unto the children of Shem was it apportioned by lot. Accursed art thou, and accursed wilt thou be before all the children of Noah on account of the curse, for we took an oath before the holy Judge and before our father Noah.”
But Canaan hearkened not unto the words of his father and his brothers. He dwelt in the land of the Lebanon from Hamath even unto the entrance of Egypt, he and his sons. Though the Canaanites had taken unlawful possession of the land, yet Abraham respected their rights; he provided his camels with muzzles, to prevent them from pasturing upon the property of others.
HIS SOJOURN IN EGYPT
Scarcely had Abraham established himself in Canaan, when a devastating famine broke out–one of the ten God appointed famines for the chastisement of men. The first of them came in the time of Adam, when God cursed the ground for his sake; the second was this one in the time of Abraham; the third compelled Isaac to take up his abode among the Philistines; the ravages of the fourth drove the sons of Jacob into Egypt to buy grain for food; the fifth came in the time of the Judges, when Elimelech and his family had to seek refuge in the land of Moab; the sixth occurred during the reign of David, and it lasted three years; the seventh happened in the day of Elijah, who had sworn that neither rain nor dew should fall upon the earth; the eighth was the one in the time of Elisha, when an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver; the ninth is the famine that comes upon men piecemeal, from time to time; and the tenth will scourge men before the advent of Messiah, and this last will be ”not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”
The famine in the time of Abraham prevailed only in Canaan, and it had been inflicted upon the land in order to test his faith. He stood this second temptation as he had the first. He murmured not, and he showed no sign of impatience toward God, who had bidden him shortly before to abandon his native land for a land of starvation. The famine compelled him to leave Canaan for a time, and he repaired to Egypt, to become acquainted there with the wisdom of the priests and, if necessary, give them instruction in the truth.
On this journey from Canaan to Egypt, Abraham first observed the beauty of Sarah. Chaste as he was, he had never before looked at her, but now, when they were wading through a stream, he saw the reflection of her beauty in the water like the brilliance of the sun. Wherefore he spoke to her thus, ”The Egyptians are very sensual, and I will put thee in a casket that no harm befall me on account of thee.” At the Egyptian boundary, the tax collectors asked him about the contents of the casket, and Abraham told them he had barley in it. ”No,” they said, ”it contains wheat.” ”Very well,” replied Abraham, ”I am prepared to pay the tax on wheat.” The officers then hazarded the guess, ”It contains pepper!” Abraham agreed to pay the tax on pepper, and when they charged him with concealing gold in the casket, he did not refuse to pay the tax on gold, and finally on precious stones. Seeing that he demurred to no charge, however high, the tax collectors, made thoroughly suspicious, insisted upon his unfastening the casket and letting them examine the contents. When it was forced open, the whole of Egypt was resplendent with the beauty of Sarah. In comparison with her, all other beauties were like apes compared with men. She excelled Eve herself. The servants of Pharaoh outbid one another in seeking to obtain possession of her, though they were of opinion that so radiant a beauty ought not to remain the property of a private individual. They reported the matter to the king, and Pharaoh sent a powerful armed force to bring Sarah to the palace, and so bewitched was he by her charms that those who had brought him the news of her coming into Egypt were loaded down with bountiful gifts.
Amid tears, Abraham offered up a prayer. He entreated God in these words: ”Is this the reward for my confidence in Thee? For the sake of Thy grace and Thy lovingkindness, let not my hope be put to shame.” Sarah also implored God, saying: ”O God, Thou didst bid my lord Abraham leave his home, the land of his fathers, and journey to Canaan, and Thou didst promise him to do good unto him if he fulfilled Thy commands. And now we have done as Thou didst command us to do. We left our country and our kindred, and we journeyed to a strange land, unto a people which we knew not heretofore. We came hither to save our people from starvation, and now hath this terrible misfortune befallen. O Lord, help me and save me from the hand of this enemy, and for the sake of Thy grace show me good.”
An angel appeared unto Sarah while she was in the presence of the king, to whom he was not visible, and he bade her take courage, saying, ”Fear naught, Sarah, for God hath heard thy prayer.” The king questioned Sarah as to the man in the company of whom she had come to Egypt, and Sarah called Abraham her brother. Pharaoh pledged himself to make Abraham great and powerful, to do for him whatever she wished. He sent much gold and silver to Abraham, and diamonds and pearls, sheep and oxen, and men slaves and women slaves, and he assigned a residence to him within the precincts of the royal palace. In the love he bore Sarah, he wrote out a marriage contract, deeding to her all he owned in the way of gold and silver, and men slaves and women slaves, and the province of Goshen besides, the province occupied in later days by the descendants of Sarah, because it was their property. Most remarkable of all, he gave her his own daughter Hagar as slave, for he preferred to see his daughter the servant of Sarah to reigning as mistress in another harem.
His free-handed generosity availed naught. During the night, when he was about to approach Sarah, an angel appeared armed with a stick, and if Pharaoh but touched Sarah’s shoe to remove it from her foot, the angel planted a blow upon his hand, and when he grasped her dress, a second blow followed. At each blow he was about to deal, the angel asked Sarah whether he was to let it descend, and if she bade him give Pharaoh a moment to recover himself, he waited and did as she desired. And another great miracle came to pass. Pharaoh, and his nobles, and his servants, the very walls of his house and his bed were afflicted with leprosy, and he could not indulge his carnal desires. This night in which Pharaoh and his court suffered their well deserved punishment was the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, the same night wherein God visited the Egyptians in a later time in order to redeem Israel, the descendants of Sarah.
Horrified by the plague sent upon him, Pharaoh inquired how he could rid himself thereof. He applied to the priests, from whom he found out the true cause of his affliction, which was corroborated by Sarah. He then sent for Abraham and returned his wife to him, pure and untouched, and excused himself for what had happened, saying that he had had the intention of connecting himself in marriage with him, whom he had thought to be the brother of Sarah. He bestowed rich gifts upon the husband and the wife, and they departed for Canaan, after a three months’ sojourn in Egypt.
Arrived in Canaan they sought the same night-shelters at which they had rested before, in order to pay their accounts, and also to teach by their example that it is not proper to seek new quarters unless one is forced to it.
Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt was of great service to the inhabitants of the country, because he demonstrated to the wise men of the land how empty and vain their views were, and also he taught them astronomy and astrology, unknown in Egypt before his time.
THE FIRST PHARAOH
The Egyptian ruler, whose meeting with Abraham had proved so untoward an event, was the first to bear the name Pharaoh. The succeeding kings were named thus after him. The origin of the name is connected with the life and adventures of Rakyon, Have-naught, a man wise, handsome, and poor, who lived in the land of Shinar. Finding himself unable to support himself in Shinar, he resolved to depart for Egypt, where he expected to display his wisdom before the king, Ashwerosh, the son of ‘Anam. Perhaps he would find grace in the eyes of the king, who would give Rakyon the opportunity of supporting himself and rising to be a great man. When he reached Egypt, he learnt that it was the custom of the country for the king to remain in retirement in his palace, removed from the sight of the people. Only on one day of the year he showed himself in public, and received all who had a petition to submit to him. Richer by a disappointment, Rakyon knew not how he was to earn a livelihood in the strange country. He was forced to spend the night in a ruin, hungry as he was. The next day he decided to try to earn something by selling vegetables. By a lucky chance he fell in with some dealers in vegetables, but as he did not know the customs of the country, his new undertaking was not favored with good fortune. Ruffians assaulted him, snatched his wares from him, and made a laughing-stock of him. The second night, which he was compelled to spend in the ruin again, a sly plan ripened in his mind. He arose and gathered together a crew of thirty lusty fellows. He took them to the graveyard, and bade them, in the name of the king, charge two hundred pieces of silver for every body they buried. Otherwise interment was to be prevented. In this way he succeeded in amassing great wealth within eight months. Not only did he acquire silver, gold, and precious gems, but also he attached a considerable force, armed and mounted, to his person.
On the day on which the king appeared among the people, they began to complain of this tax upon the dead. They said: ”What is this thou art inflicting upon thy servants- permitting none to be buried unless they pay thee silver and gold! Has a thing like this come to pass in the world since the days of Adam, that the dead should not be interred unless money be paid therefor! We know well that it is the privilege of the king to take an annual tax from the living. But thou takest tribute from the dead, too, and thou exactest it day by day. O king, we cannot endure this any longer, for the whole of the city is ruined thereby.”
The king, who had had no suspicion of Rakyon’s doings, fell into a great rage when the people gave him information about them. He ordered him and his armed force to appear before him. Rakyon did not come empty-handed. He was preceded by a thousand youths and maidens, mounted upon steeds and arrayed in state apparel. These were a present to the king. When he himself stepped before the king, he delivered gold, silver, and diamonds to him in great abundance, and a magnificent charger. These gifts and the display of splendor did not fail of taking effect upon the king, and when Rakyon, in well-considered words and with a pliant tongue, described the undertaking, he won not only the king to his side, but also the whole court, and the king said to him, ”No longer shalt thou be called Rakyon, Have-naught, but Pharaoh, Paymaster, for thou didst collect taxes from the dead.”
So profound was the impression made by Rakyon that the king, the grandees, and the people, all together resolved to put the guidance of the realm in the hands of Pharaoh. Under the suzerainty of Ashwerosh he administered law and justice throughout the year; only on the one day when he showed himself to the people did the king himself give judgment and decide cases. Through the power thus conferred upon him and through cunning practices, Pharaoh succeeded in usurping royal authority, and he collected taxes from all the inhabitants of Egypt. Nevertheless he was beloved of the people, and it was decreed that every ruler of Egypt should thenceforth bear the name Pharaoh.
THE WAR OF THE KINGS
On his return from Egypt Abraham’s relations to his own family were disturbed by annoying circumstances. Strife developed between the herdmen of his cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle. Abraham furnished his herds with muzzles, but Lot made no such provision, and when the shepherds that pastured Abraham’s flocks took Lot’s shepherds to task on account of the omission, the latter replied: ”It is known of a surety that God said unto Abraham, ‘To thy seed will I give the land.’ But Abraham is a sterile mule. Never will he have children. On the morrow he will die, and Lot will be his heir. Thus the flocks of Lot are but consuming what belongs to them or their master.” But God spoke: ”Verily, I said unto Abraham I would give the land unto his seed, but only after the seven nations shall have been destroyed from out of the land. To-day the Canaanites are therein, and the Perizzites. They still have the right of habitation.”
Now, when the strife extended from the servants to the masters, and Abraham vainly called his nephew Lot to account for his unbecoming behavior, Abraham decided he would have to part from his kinsman, though he should have to compel Lot thereto by force. Lot thereupon separated himself not from Abraham alone, but from the God of Abraham also, and he betook himself to a district in which immorality and sin reigned supreme, wherefore punishment overtook him, for his own flesh seduced him later unto sin.
God was displeased with Abraham for not living in peace and harmony with his own kindred, as he lived with all the world beside. On the other hand, God also took it in ill part that Abraham was accepting Lot tacitly as his heir, though He had promised him, in clear, unmistakable words, ”To thy seed will I give the land.” After Abraham had separated himself from Lot, he received the assurance again that Canaan should once belong to his seed, which God would multiply as the sand which is upon the sea-shore. As the sand fills the whole earth, so the offspring of Abraham would be scattered over the whole earth, from end to end; and as the earth is blessed only when it is moistened with water, so his offspring would be blessed through the Torah, which is likened unto water; and as the earth endures longer than metal, so his offspring would endure forever, while the heathen would vanish; and as the earth is trodden upon, so his offspring would be trodden upon by the four kingdoms.
The departure of Lot had a serious consequence, for the war waged by Abraham against the four kings is intimately connected with it. Lot desired to settle in the well-watered circle of the Jordan, but the only city of the plain that would receive him was Sodom, the king of which admitted the nephew of Abraham out of consideration for the latter. The five impious kings planned first to make war upon Sodom on account of Lot and then advance upon Abraham. For one of the five, Amraphel, was none other than Nimrod, Abraham’s enemy from of old. The immediate occasion for the war was this: Chedorlaomer, one of Nimrod’s generals, rebelled against him after the builders of the tower were dispersed, and he set himself up as king of Elam. Then he subjugated the Hamitic tribes living in the five cities of the plain of the Jordan, and made them tributary. For twelve years they were faithful to their sovereign ruler Chedorlaomer, but then they refused to pay the tribute, and they persisted in their insubordination for thirteen years. Making the most of Chedorlaomer’s embarrassment, Nimrod led a host of seven thousand warriors against his former general. In the battle fought between Elam and Shinar, Nimrod suffered a disastrous defeat, he lost six hundred of his army, and among the slain was the king’s son Mardon. Humiliated and abased, he returned to his country, and he was forced to acknowledge the suzerainty of Chedorlaomer, who now proceeded to form an alliance with Arioch king of Ellasar, and Tidal, the king of several nations, the purpose of which was to crush the cities of the circle of the Jordan. The united forces of these kings, numbering eight hundred thousand, marched upon the five cities, subduing whatever they encountered in their course, and annihilating the descendants of the giants. Fortified places, unwalled cities, and flat, open country, all fell in their hands. They pushed on through the desert as far as the spring issuing from the rock at Kadesh, the spot appointed by God as the place of pronouncing judgment against Moses and Aaron on account of the waters of strife. Thence they turned toward the central portion of Palestine, the country of dates, where they encountered the five godless kings, Bera, the villain, king of Sodom; Birsha, the sinner, king of Gomorrah; Shinab, the father-hater, king of Admah; Shemeber, the voluptuary, king of Zeboiim; and the king of Bela, the city that devours its inhabitants. The five were routed in the fruitful Vale of Siddim, the canals of which later formed the Dead Sea. They that remained of the rank and file fled to the mountains, but the kings fell into the slime pits and stuck there. Only the king of Sodom was rescued, miraculously, for the purpose that he might convert those heathen to faith in God that had not believed in the wonderful deliverance of Abraham from the fiery furnace.
The victors despoiled Sodom of all its goods and victuals, and took Lot, boasting, ”We have taken the son of Abraham’s brother captive,” so betraying the real object of their undertaking; their innermost desire was to strike at Abraham.
It was on the first evening of the Passover, and Abraham was eating of the unleavened bread, when the archangel Michael brought him the report of Lot’s captivity. This angel bears another name besides, Palit, the escaped, because when God threw Samael and his host from their holy place in heaven, the rebellious leader held on to Michael and tried to drag him along downward, and Michael escaped falling from heaven only through the help of God.
When the report of his nephew’s evil state reached Abraham, he straightway dismissed all thought of his dissensions with Lot from his mind, and only considered ways and means of deliverance. He convoked his disciples to whom he had taught the true faith, and who all called themselves by the name Abraham. He gave them gold and silver, saying at the same time: ”Know that we go to war for the purpose of saving human lives. Therefore, do ye not direct your eyes upon money, here lie gold and silver before you.” Furthermore he admonished them in these words: ”We are preparing to go to war. Let none join us who hath committed a trespass, and fears that Divine punishment will descend upon him.” Alarmed by his warning, not one would obey his call to arms, they were fearful on account of their sins. Eliezer alone remained with him, wherefore God spake, and said: ”All forsook thee save only Eliezer. Verily, I shall invest him with the strength of the three hundred and eighteen men whose aid thou didst seek in vain.”
The battle fought with the mighty hosts of the kings, from which Abraham emerged victorious, happened on the fifteenth of Nisan, the night appointed for miraculous deeds. The arrows and stones hurled at him effected naught, but the dust of the ground, the chaff, and the stubble which he threw at the enemy were transformed into death-dealing javelins and swords. Abraham, as tall as seventy men set on end, and requiring as much food and drink as seventy men, marched forward with giant strides, each of his steps measuring four miles, until he overtook the kings, and annihilated their troops. Further he could not go, for he had reached Dan, where Jeroboam would once raise the golden calves, and on this ominous spot Abraham’s strength diminished.
His victory was possible only because the celestial powers espoused his side. The planet Jupiter made the night bright for him, and an angel, Lailah by name, fought for him. In a true sense, it was a victory of God. All the nations acknowledged his more than human achievement, and they fashioned a throne for Abraham, and erected it on the field of battle. When they attempted to seat him upon it, amid exclamations of ”Thou art our king! Thou art our prince! Thou art our god!” Abraham warded them off, and said, ”The universe has its King, and it has its God!” He declined all honors, and returned his property unto each man. Only the little children he kept by himself. He reared them in the knowledge of God, and later they atoned for the disgrace of their parents.
Somewhat arrogantly the king of Sodom set out to meet Abraham. He was proud that a great miracle, his rescue from the slime pit, had been performed for him, too. He made Abraham the proposition that he keep the despoiled goods for himself. But Abraham refused them, and said: ”I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, God Most High, who hath created the world for the sake of the pious, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine. I have no right upon any goods taken as spoils, save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who tarried by the stuff, though they went not down to the battle itself.” The example of Abraham in giving a share in the spoils even unto the men not concerned directly in the battle, was followed later by David, who heeded not the protest of the wicked men and the base fellows with him, that the watchers who staid by the stuff were not entitled to share alike with the warriors that had gone down to the battle.
In spite of his great success, Abraham nevertheless was concerned about the issue of the war. He feared that the prohibition against shedding the blood of man had been transgressed, and he also dreaded the resentment of Shem, whose descendants had perished in the encounter. But God reassured him, and said: ”Be not afraid! Thou hast but extirpated the thorns, and as to Shem, he will bless thee rather than curse thee.” So it was. When Abraham returned from the war, Shem, or, as he is sometimes called, Melchizedek, the king of righteousness, priest of God Most High, and king of Jerusalem, came forth to meet him with bread and wine. And this high priest instructed Abraham in the laws of the priesthood and in the Torah, and to prove his friendship for him he blessed him, and called him the partner of God in the possession of the world, seeing that through him the Name of God had first been made known among men. But Melchizedek arranged the words of his blessing in an unseemly way. He named Abraham first and then God. As a punishment, he was deposed by God from the priestly dignity, and instead it was passed over to Abraham, with whose descendants it remained forever.
As a reward for the sanctification of the Holy Name, which Abraham had brought about when he refused to keep aught of the goods taken in battle, his descendants received two commands, the command of the threads in the borders of their garments, and the command of the latchets to be bound upon their hands and to be used as frontlets between their eyes. Thus they commemorate that their ancestor refused to take so much as a thread or a latchet. And because he would not touch a shoe-latchet of the spoils, his descendants cast their shoe upon Edom.
THE COVENANT OF THE PIECES
Shortly after the war, God revealed Himself unto Abraham, to soothe his conscience as to the spilling of innocent blood, for it was a scruple that gave him much anguish of spirit. God assured him at the same time that He would cause pious men to arise among his descendants, who, like himself, would be a shield unto their generation. As a further distinction, God gave him leave to ask what he would have, rare grace accorded to none beside, except Jacob, Solomon, Ahaz, and the Messiah. Abraham spoke, and said: ”O Lord of the world, if in time to come my descendants should provoke Thy wrath, it were better I remained childless. Lot, for the sake of whom I journeyed as far as Damascus, where God was my protection, would be well pleased to be my heir. Moreover, I have read in the stars, ‘Abraham, thou wilt beget no children.’ ” Thereupon God raised Abraham above the vault of the skies, and He said, ”Thou art a prophet, not an astrologer!” Now Abraham demanded no sign that he would be blessed with offspring. Without losing another word, he believed in the Lord, and he was rewarded for his simple faith by a share in this world and a share in the world to come as well, and, besides, the redemption of Israel from the exile will take place as a recompense for his firm trust.
But though he believed the promise made him with a full and abiding faith, he yet desired to know by what merit of theirs his descendants would maintain themselves. Therefore God bade him bring Him a sacrifice of three heifers, three she-goats, three rams, a turtle dove, and a young pigeon, thus indicating to Abraham the various sacrifices that should once be brought in the Temple, to atone for the sins of Israel and further his welfare. ”But what will become of my descendants,” asked Abraham, ”after the Temple is destroyed?” God replied, and said, ”If they read the order of sacrifices as they will be set down in the Scriptures, I will account it unto them as though they had offered the sacrifices, and I will forgive all their sins.” And God continued and revealed to Abraham the course of Israel’s history and the history of the whole world: The heifer of three years indicates the dominion of Babylon, the she-goat of three years stands for the empire of the Greeks, the ram of three years for the Medo-Persian power, the rule of Ishmael is represented by the ram, and Israel is the innocent dove.
Abraham took him these animals and divided them in the midst. Had he not done so, Israel would not have been able to resist the power of the four kingdoms. But the birds he divided not, to indicate that Israel will remain whole. And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abraham drove them away. Thus was announced the advent of the Messiah, who will cut the heathen in pieces, but Abraham bade Messiah wait until the time appointed unto him. And as the Messianic time was made known unto Abraham, so also the time of the resurrection of the dead. When he laid the halves of the pieces over against each other, the animals became alive again, as the bird flew over them.
While he was preparing these sacrifices, a vision of great import was granted to Abraham. The sun sank, and a deep sleep fell upon him, and he beheld a smoking furnace, Gehenna, the furnace that God prepares for the sinner; and he beheld a flaming torch, the revelation on Sinai, where all the people saw flaming torches; and he beheld the sacrifices to be brought by Israel; and an horror of great darkness fell upon him, the dominion of the four kingdoms. And God spake to him: ”Abraham, as long as thy children fulfil the two duties of studying the Torah and performing the service in the Temple, the two visitations, Gehenna and alien rule, will be spared them. But if they neglect the two duties, they will have to suffer the two chastisements; only thou mayest choose whether they shall be punished by means of Gehenna or by means of the dominion of the stranger.” All the day long Abraham wavered, until God called unto him: ”How long wilt thou halt between two opinions? Decide for one of the two, and let it be for the dominion of the stranger!” Then God made known to him the four hundred years’ bondage of Israel in Egypt, reckoning from the birth of Isaac, for unto Abraham himself was the promise given that he should go to his fathers in peace, and feel naught of the arrogance of the stranger oppressor. At the same time, it was made known to Abraham that his father Terah would have a share in the world to come, for he had done penance for his sinful deeds. Furthermore it was revealed to him that his son Ishmael would turn into the path of righteousness while yet his father was alive, and his grandson Esau would not begin his impious way of life until he himself had passed away. And as he received the promise of their deliverance together with the announcement of the slavery of his seed, in a land not theirs, so it was made known to him that God would judge the four kingdoms and destroy them.
THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL
The covenant of the pieces, whereby the fortunes of his descendants were revealed to Abraham, was made at a time when he was still childless. As long as Abraham and Sarah dwelt outside of the Holy Land, they looked upon their childlessness as a punishment for not abiding within it. But when a ten years’ sojourn in Palestine found her barren as before, Sarah perceived that the fault lay with her. Without a trace of jealousy she was ready to give her slave Hagar to Abraham as wife, first making her a freed woman. For Hagar was Sarah’s property, not her husband’s. She had received her from Pharaoh, the father of Hagar. Taught and bred by Sarah, she walked in the same path of righteousness as her mistress, and thus was a suitable companion for Abraham, and, instructed by the holy spirit, he acceded to Sarah’s proposal.
No sooner had Hagar’s union with Abraham been consummated, and she felt that she was with child, than she began to treat her former mistress contemptuously, though Sarah was particularly tender toward her in the state in which she was. When noble matrons came to see Sarah, she was in the habit of urging them to pay a visit to ”poor Hagar,” too. The dames would comply with her suggestion, but Hagar would use the opportunity to disparage Sarah. ”My lady Sarah,” she would say, ”is not inwardly what she appears to be outwardly. She makes the impression of a righteous, pious woman, but she is not, for if she were, how could her childlessness be explained after so many years of marriage, while I became pregnant at once?”
Sarah scorned to bicker with her slave, yet the rage she felt found vent in these words to Abraham: ”It is thou who art doing me wrong. Thou hearest the words of Hagar, and thou sayest naught to oppose them, and I hoped that thou wouldst take my part. For thy sake did I leave my native land and the house of my father, and I followed thee into a strange land with trust in God. In Egypt I pretended to be thy sister, that no harm might befall thee. When I saw that I should bear no children, I took the Egyptian woman, my slave Hagar, and gave her unto thee for wife, contenting myself with the thought that I would rear the children she would bear. Now she treats me disdainfully in thy presence. O that God might look upon the injustice which hath been done unto me, to judge between thee and me, and have mercy upon us, restore peace to our home, and grant us offspring, that we have no need of children from Hagar, the Egyptian bondwoman of the generation of the heathen that cast thee in the fiery furnace!”
Abraham, modest and unassuming as he was, was ready to do justice to Sarah, and he conferred full power upon her to dispose of Hagar according to her pleasure. He added but one caution, ”Having once made her a mistress, we cannot again reduce her to the state of a bondwoman.” Unmindful of this warning, Sarah exacted the services of a slave from Hagar. Not alone this, she tormented her, and finally she cast an evil eye upon her, so that the unborn child dropped from her, and she ran away. On her flight she was met by several angels, and they bade her return, at the same time making known to her that she would bear a son who should be called Ishmael–one of the six men who have been given a name by God before their birth, the others being Isaac, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and the Messiah.
Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael the command was issued to Abraham that he put the sign of the covenant upon his body and upon the bodies of the male members of his household. Abraham was reluctant at first to do the bidding of God, for he feared that the circumcision of his flesh would raise a barrier between himself and the rest of mankind. But God said unto him, ”Let it suffice thee that I am thy God and thy Lord, as it sufficeth the world that I am its God and its Lord.”
Abraham then consulted with his three true friends, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, regarding the command of the circumcision. The first one spoke, and said, ”Thou art nigh unto a hundred years old, and thou considerest inflicting such pain upon thyself?” The advice of the second was also against it. ”What,” said Eshcol, ”thou choosest to mark thyself so that thy enemies may recognize thee without fail?” Mamre, the third, was the only one to advise obedience to the command of God. ”God succored thee from the fiery furnace,” he said, ”He helped thee in the combat with the kings, He provided for thee during the famine, and thou dost hesitate to execute His behest concerning the circumcision? Accordingly, Abraham did as God had commanded, in bright daylight, bidding defiance to all, that none might say, ”Had we seen him attempt it, we should have prevented him.”
The circumcision was performed on the tenth day of Tishri, the Day of Atonement, and upon the spot on which the altar was later to be erected in the Temple, for the act of Abraham remains a never-ceasing atonement for Israel.
THE VISIT OF THE ANGELS
On the third day after his circumcision, when Abraham was suffering dire pain, God spoke to the angels, saying, ”Go to, let us pay a visit to the sick.” The angels refused, and said: ”What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him? And Thou desirest to betake Thyself to a place of uncleanness, a place of blood and filth?” But God replied unto them, ”Thus do ye speak. As ye live, the savor of this blood is sweeter to me than myrrh and incense, and if you do not desire to visit Abraham, I will go alone.”
The day whereon God visited him was exceedingly hot, for He had bored a hole in hell, so that its heat might reach as far as the earth, and no wayfarer venture abroad on the highways, and Abraham be left undisturbed in his pain. But the absence of strangers caused Abraham great vexation, and he sent his servant Eliezer forth to keep a lookout for travellers. When the servant returned from his fruitless search, Abraham himself, in spite of his illness and the scorching heat, prepared to go forth on the highway and see whether he would not succeed where failure had attended Eliezer, whom he did not wholly trust at any rate, bearing in mind the well-known saying, ”No truth among slaves.” At this moment God appeared to him, surrounded by the angels. Quickly Abraham attempted to rise from his seat, but God checked every demonstration of respect, and when Abraham protested that it was unbecoming to sit in the presence of the Lord, God said, ”As thou livest, thy descendants at the age of four and five will sit in days to come in the schools and in the synagogues while I reside therein.”
Meantime Abraham beheld three men. They were the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. They had assumed the form of human beings to fulfil his wish for guests toward whom to exercise hospitality. Each of them had been charged by God with a special mission, besides, to be executed on earth. Raphael was to heal the wound of Abraham, Michael was to bring Sarah the glad tidings that she would bear a son, and Gabriel was to deal destruction to Sodom and Gomorrah. Arrived at the tent of Abraham, the three angels noticed that he was occupied in nursing himself, and they withdrew. Abraham, however, hastened after them through another door of the tent, which had wide open entrances on all sides. He considered the duty of hospitality more important than the duty of receiving the Shekinah. Turning to God, he said, ”O Lord, may it please Thee not to leave Thy servant while he provides for the entertainment of his guests.” Then he addressed himself to the stranger walking in the middle between the other two, whom by this token he considered the most distinguished,- it was the archangel Michael–and he bade him and his companions turn aside into his tent. The manner of his guests, who treated one another politely, made a good impression upon Abraham. He was assured that they were men of worth whom he was entertaining. But as they appeared outwardly like Arabs, and the people worshipped the dust of their feet, he bade them first wash their feet, that they might not defile his tent.
He did not depend upon his own judgment in reading the character of his guests. By his tent a tree was planted, which spread its branches out over all who believed in God, and afforded them shade. But if idolaters went under the tree, the branches turned upward, and cast no shade upon the ground. Whenever Abraham saw this sign, he would at once set about the task of converting the worshippers of the false gods. And as the tree made a distinction between the pious and the impious, so also between the clean and the unclean. Its shade was denied them as long as they refrained from taking the prescribed ritual bath in the spring that flowed out from its roots, the waters of which rose at once for those whose uncleanness was of a venial character and could be removed forthwith, while others had to wait seven days for the water to come up. Accordingly, Abraham bade the three men lean against the trunk of the tree. Thus he would soon learn their worth or their unworthiness.
Being of the truly pious, ”who promise little, but perform much,” Abraham said only: ”I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your heart, seeing that ye chanced to pass my tent at dinner time. Then, after ye have given thanks to God, ye may pass on.” But when the meal was served to the guests, it was a royal banquet, exceeding Solomon’s at the time of his most splendid magnificence. Abraham himself ran unto the herd, to fetch cattle for meat. He slaughtered three calves, that he might be able to set a ”tongue with mustard” before each of his guests. In order to accustom Ishmael to God-pleasing deeds, he had him dress the calves, and he bade Sarah bake the bread. But as he knew that women are apt to treat guests niggardly, he was explicit in his request to her. He said, ”Make ready quickly three measures of meal, yea, fine meal.” As it happened, the bread was not brought to the table, because it had accidentally become unclean, and our father Abraham was accustomed to eat his daily bread only in a clean state. Abraham himself served his guests, and it appeared to him that the three men ate. But this was an illusion. In reality the angels did not eat, only Abraham, his three friends, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, and his son Ishmael partook of the banquet, and the portions set before the angels were devoured by a heavenly fire.
Although the angels remained angels even in their human disguise, nevertheless the personality of Abraham was so exalted that in his presence the archangels felt insignificant.
After the meal the angels asked after Sarah, though they knew that she was in retirement in her tent, but it was proper for them to pay their respects to the lady of the house and send her the cup of wine over which the blessing had been said. Michael, the greatest of the angels, thereupon announced the birth of Isaac. He drew a line upon the wall, saying, ”When the sun crosses this point, Sarah will be with child, and when he crosses the next point, she will give birth to a child.” This communication, which was intended for Sarah and not for Abraham, to whom the promise had been revealed long before, the angels made at the entrance to her tent, but Ishmael stood between the angel and Sarah, for it would not have been seemly to deliver the message in secret, with none other by. Yet, so radiant was the beauty of Sarah that a beam of it struck the angel, and made him look up. In the act of turning toward her, he heard her laugh within herself: ”Is it possible that these bowels can yet bring forth a child, these shrivelled breasts give suck? And though I should be able to bear, yet is not my lord Abraham old?
And the Lord said unto Abraham: ”Am I too old to do wonders? And wherefore doth Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?” The reproach made by God was directed against Abraham as well as against Sarah, for he, too, had showed himself of little faith when he was told that a son would be born unto him. But God mentioned only Sarah’s incredulity, leaving Abraham to become conscious of his defect himself.
Regardful of the peace of their family life, God had not repeated Sarah’s words accurately to Abraham. Abraham might have taken amiss what his wife had said about his advanced years, and so precious is the peace between hus band and wife that even the Holy One, blessed be He, preserved it at the expense of truth.
After Abraham had entertained his guests, he went with them to bring them on their way, for, important as the duty of hospitality is, the duty of speeding the parting guest is even more important. Their way lay in the direction of Sodom, whither two of the angels were going, the one to destroy it, and the second to save Lot, while the third, his errand to Abraham fulfilled, returned to heaven.
THE CITIES OF SIN
The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the three other cities of the plain were sinful and godless. In their country there was an extensive vale, where they foregathered annually with their wives and their children and all belonging to them, to celebrate a feast lasting several days and consisting of the most revolting orgies. If a stranger merchant passed through their territory, he was besieged by them all, big and little alike, and robbed of whatever he possessed. Each one appropriated a bagatelle, until the traveller was stripped bare. If the victim ventured to remonstrate with one or another, he would show him that he had taken a mere trifle, not worth talking about. And the end was that they hounded him from the city.
Once upon a time it happened that a man journeying from Elam arrived in Sodom toward evening. No one could be found to grant him shelter for the night. Finally a sly fox named Hedor invited him cordially to follow him to his house. The Sodomite had been attracted by a rarely magnificent carpet, strapped to the stranger’s ass by means of a rope. He meant to secure it for himself. The friendly persuasions of Hedor induced the stranger to remain with him two days, though he had expected to stay only overnight. When the time came for him to continue on his journey, he asked his host for the carpet and the rope. Hedor said: ”Thou hast dreamed a dream, and this is the interpretation of thy dream: the rope signifies that thou wilt have a long life, as long as a rope; the varicolored carpet indicates that thou wilt own an orchard wherein thou wilt plant all sorts of fruit trees.” The stranger insisted that his carpet was a reality, not a dream fancy, and he continued to demand its return. Not only did Hedor deny having taken anything from his guest, he even insisted upon pay for having interpreted his dream to him. His usual price for such services, he said, was four silver pieces, but in view of the fact that he was his guest, he would, as a favor to him, content himself with three pieces of silver.
After much wrangling, they put their case before one of the judges of Sodom, Sherek by name, and he said to the plaintiff, ”Hedor is known in this city as a trustworthy interpreter of dreams, and what he tells thee is true.” The stranger declared himself not satisfied with the verdict, and continued to urge his side of the case. Then Sherek drove both the plaintiff and the defendant from the court room. Seeing this, the inhabitants gathered together and chased the stranger from the city, and lamenting the loss of his carpet, he had to pursue his way.
As Sodom had a judge worthy of itself, so also had the other cities–Sharkar in Gomorrah, Zabnak in Admah, and Manon in Zeboiim. Eliezer, the bondman of Abraham, made slight changes in the names of these judges, in accordance with the nature of what they did: the first he called Shakkara, Liar; the second Shakrura, Arch-deceiver; the third Kazban, Falsifier; and the fourth, Mazle-Din, Perverter of Judgment. At the suggestion of these judges, the cities set up beds on their commons. When a stranger arrived, three men seized him by his head, and three by his feet, and they forced him upon one of the beds. If he was too short to fit into it exactly, his six attendants pulled and wrenched his limbs until he filled it out; if he was too long for; it, they tried to jam him in with all their combined strength, until the victim was on the verge of death. Hit outcrles were met with the words, ”Thus will be done to any man that comes into our land.”
After a while travellers avoided these cities, but if some poor devil was betrayed occasionally into entering them, they would give him gold and silver, but never any bread, so that he was bound to die of starvation. Once he was dead, the residents of the city came and took back the marked gold and silver which they had given him, and they would quarrel about the distribution of his clothes, for they would bury him naked.
Once Eliezer, the bondman of Abraham, went to Sodom, at the bidding of Sarah, to inquire after the welfare of Lot. He happened to enter the city at the moment when the people were robbing a stranger of his garments. Eliezer espoused the cause of the poor wretch, and the Sodomites turned against him; one threw a stone at his forehead and caused considerable loss of blood. Instantly, the assailant, seeing the blood gush forth, demanded payment for having performed the operation of cupping. Eliezer refused to pay for the infliction of a wound upon him, and he was haled before the judge Shakkara. The decision went against him, for the law of the land gave the assailant the right to demand payment. Eliezer quickly picked up a stone and threw it at the judge’s forehead. When he saw that the blood was flowing profusely, he said to the judge, ”Pay my debt to the man and give me the balance.”
The cause of their cruelty was their exceeding great wealth. Their soil was gold, and in their miserliness and their greed for more and more gold, they wanted to prevent strangers from enjoying aught of their riches. Accordingly, they flooded the highways with streams of water, so that the roads to their city were obliterated, and none could find the way thither. They were as heartless toward beasts as toward men. They begrudged the birds what they ate, and therefore extirpated them. They behaved impiously toward one another, too, not shrinking back from murder to gain possession of more gold. If they observed that a man owned great riches, two of them would conspire against him. They would beguile him to the vicinity of ruins, and while the one kept him on the spot by pleasant converse, the other would undermine the wall near which he stood, until it suddenly crashed down upon him and killed him. Then the two plotters would divide his wealth between them.
Another method of enriching themselves with the property of others was in vogue among them. They were adroit thieves. When they made up their minds to commit theft, they would first ask their victim to take care of a sum of money for them, which they smeared with strongly scented oil before handing it over to him. The following night they would break into his house, and rob him of his secret treasures, led to the place of concealment by the smell of the oil.
Their laws were calculated to do injury to the poor. The richer a man, the more was he favored before the law. The owner of two oxen was obliged to render one day’s shepherd service, but if he had but one ox, he had to give two days’ service. A poor orphan, who was thus forced to tend the flocks a longer time than those who were blessed with large herds, killed all the cattle entrusted to him in order to take revenge upon his oppressors, and he insisted, when the skins were assigned, that the owner of two head of cattle should have but one skin, but the owner of one head should receive two skins, in correspondence to the method pursued in assigning the work. For the use of the ferry, a traveller had to pay four zuz, but if he waded through the water, he had to pay eight zuz.
The cruelty of the Sodomites went still further. Lot had a daughter, Paltit, so named because she had been born to him shortly after he escaped captivity through the help of Abraham. Paltit lived in Sodom, where she had married. Once a beggar came to town, and the court issued a proclamation that none should give him anything to eat, in order that he might die of starvation. But Paltit had pity upon the unfortunate wretch, and every day when she went to the well to draw water, she supplied him with a piece of bread, which she hid in her water pitcher. The inhabitants of the two sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, could not understand why the beggar did not perish, and they suspected that some one was giving him food in secret. Three men concealed themselves near the beggar, and caught Paltit in the act of giving him something to eat. She had to pay for her humanity with death; she was burnt upon a pyre.
The people of Admah were no better than those of Sodom. Once a stranger came to Admah, intending to stay overnight and continue his journey the next morning. The daughter of a rich man met the stranger, and gave him water to drink and bread to eat at his request. When the people of Admah heard of this infraction of the law of the land, they seized the girl and arraigned her before the judge, who condemned her to death. The people smeared her with honey from top to toe, and exposed her where bees would be attracted to her. The insects stung her to death, and the callous people paid no heed to her heartrending cries. Then it was that God resolved upon the destruction of these sinners.
ABRAHAM PLEADS FOR THE SINNERS
When God saw that there was no righteous man among the inhabitants of the sinful cities, and there would be none among their descendants, for the sake of whose merits the rest might be treated with lenient consideration, He resolved to annihilate them one and all. But before judgment was executed, the Lord made known unto Abraham what He would do to Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain, for they formed a part of Canaan, the land promised unto Abraham, and therefore did God say, ”I will not destroy them without the consent of Abraham.”
Like a compassionate father, Abraham importuned the grace of God in behalf of the sinners. He spoke to God, and said: ”Thou didst take an oath that no more should all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood. Is it meet that Thou shouldst evade Thy oath and destroy cities by fire? Shall the Judge of all the earth not do right Himself? Verily, if Thou desirest to maintain the world, Thou must give up the strict line of justice. If Thou insistest upon the right alone, there can be no world.” Whereupon God said to Abraham: ”Thou takest delight in defending My creatures, and thou wouldst not call them guilty. Therefore I spoke with none but thee during the ten generations since Noah.” Abraham ventured to use still stronger words in order to secure the safety of the godless. ”That be far from Thee,” he said, ”to slay the righteous with the wicked, that the dwellers on the earth say not, ‘It is His trade to destroy the generations of men in a cruel manner; for He destroyed the generation of Enosh, then the generation of the flood, and then He sent the confusion of tongues. He sticks ever to His trade.’ ”
God made reply: ”I will let all the generations I have destroyed pass before thee, that thou mayest see they have not suffered the extreme punishment they deserved. But if thou thinkest that I did not act justly, then instruct thou Me in what I must do, and I will endeavor to act in accordance with thy words.” And Abraham had to admit that God had not diminished in aught the justice due to every creature in this world or the other world. Nevertheless he continued to speak, and he said: ”Wilt Thou consume the cities, if there be ten righteous men in each?” And God said, ”No, if I find fifty righteous therein, I will not destroy the cities.”
Abraham: ”I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, I who would have been turned long since into dust of the ground by Amraphel and into ashes by Nimrod, had it not been for Thy grace. Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous for Zoar, the smallest of the five cities. Wilt Thou destroy all the city for lack of five?”
God: ”I will not destroy it, if I find there forty and five.”
Abraham: ”Peradventure there be ten pious in each of the four cities, then forgive Zoar in Thy grace, for its sins are not so great in number as the sins of the others.”
God granted his petition, yet Abraham continued to plead, and he asked whether God would not be satisfied if there were but thirty righteous, ten in each of the three larger cities, and would pardon the two smaller ones, even though there were no righteous therein, whose merits would intercede for them. This, too, the Lord granted, and furthermore He promised not to destroy the cities if but twenty righteous were found therein; yes, God conceded that He would preserve the five cities for the sake of ten righteous therein. More than this Abraham did not ask, for he knew that eight righteous ones, Noah and his wife, and his three sons and their wives, had not sufficed to avert the doom of the generation of the flood, and furthermore he hoped that Lot, his wife, and their four daughters, together with the husbands of their daughters, would make up the number ten. What he did not know was that even the righteous in these sin-laden cities, though better than the rest, were far from good.
Abraham did not cease to pray for the deliverance of the sinners even after the Shekinah had removed from him. But his supplications and his intercessions were in vain. For fifty-two years God had warned the godless; He had made mountains to quake and tremble. But they hearkened not unto the voice of admonition. They persisted in their sins, and their well-merited punishment overtook them. God forgives all sins, only not an immoral life. And as all these sinners led a life of debauchery, they were burnt with fire.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SINFUL CITIES
The angels left Abraham at noon time, and they reached Sodom at the approach of evening. As a rule, angels proclaim their errand with the swiftness of lightning, but these were angels of mercy, and they hesitated to execute their work of destruction, ever hoping that the evil would be turned aside from Sodom. With nightfall, the fate of Sodom was sealed irrevocably, and the angels arrived there.
Bred in the house of Abraham, Lot had learnt from him the beautiful custom of extending hospitality, and when he saw the angels before him in human form, thinking they were wayfarers, he bade them turn aside and tarry all night in his house. But as the entertainment of strangers was forbidden in Sodom on penalty of death, he dared invite them only under cover of the darkness of night, and even then he had to use every manner of precaution, bidding the angels to follow him by devious ways.
The angels, who had accepted Abraham’s hospitality without delay, first refused to comply with Lot’s request, for it is a rule of good breeding to show reluctance when an ordinary man invites one, but to accept the invitation of a great man at once. Lot, however, was insistent, and carried them into his house by main force. At home he had to overcome the opposition of his wife, for she said, ”If the inhabitants of Sodom hear of this, they will slay thee.”
Lot divided his dwelling in two parts, one for himself and his guests, the other for his wife, so that, if aught happened, his wife would be spared. Nevertheless it was she who betrayed him. She went to a neighbor and borrowed some salt, and to the question, whether she could not have supplied herself with salt during daylight hours, she replied, ”We had enough salt, until some guests came to us; for them we needed more.” In this way the presence of strangers was bruited abroad in the city.
In the beginning the angels were inclined to hearken to the petition of Lot in behalf of the sinners, but when all the people of the city, big and little, crowded around the house of Lot with the purpose of committing a monstrous crime, the angels warded off his prayers, saying, ”Hitherto thou couldst intercede for them, but now no longer.” It was not the first time that the inhabitants of Sodom wanted to perpetrate a crime of this sort. They had made a law some time before that all strangers were to be treated in this horrible way. Lot, who was appointed chief judge on the very day of the angels’ coming, tried to induce the people to desist from their purpose, saying to them, ”My brethren, the generation of the deluge was extirpated in consequence of such sins as you desire to commit, and you would revert to them?” But they replied: ”Back! And though Abraham himself came hither, we should have no consideration for him. Is it possible that thou wouldst set aside a law which thy predecessors administered?”
Even Lot’s moral sense was no better than it should have been. It is the duty of a man to venture his life for the honor of his wife and his daughters, but Lot was ready to sacrifice the honor of his daughters, wherefor he was punished severely later on.
The angels told Lot who they were, and what the mission that had brought them to Sodom, and they charged him to flee from the city with his wife and his four daughters, two of them married, and two betrothed. Lot communicated their bidding to his sons-in-law, and they mocked at him, and said: ”O thou fool! Violins, cymbals, and flutes resound in the city, and thou sayest Sodom will be destroyed!” Such scoffing but hastened the execution of the doom of Sodom. The angel Michael laid hold upon the hand of Lot, and his wife and his daughters, while with his little finger the angel Gabriel touched the rock whereon the sinful cities were built, and overturned them. At the same time the rain that was streaming down upon the two cities was changed into brimstone.
When the angels had brought forth Lot and his family and set them without the city, he bade them run for their lives, and not look behind, lest they behold the Shekinah, which had descended to work the destruction of the cities. The wife of Lot could not control herself. Her mother love made her look behind to see if her married daughters were following. She beheld the Shekinah, and she became a pillar of salt. This pillar exists unto this day. The cattle lick it all day long, and in the evening it seems to have disappeared, but when morning comes it stands there as large as before.
The savior angel had urged Lot himself to take refuge with Abraham. But he refused, and said: ”As long as I dwelt apart from Abraham, God compared my deeds with the deeds of my fellow-citizens, and among them I appeared as a righteous man. If I should return to Abraham, God will see that his good deeds outweigh mine by far.” The angel then granted his plea that Zoar be left undestroyed. This city had been founded a year later than the other four; it was only fifty-one years old, and therefore the measure of its sins was not so full as the measure of the sins of the neighboring cities.
The destruction of the cities of the plain took place at dawn of the sixteenth day of Nisan, for the reason that there were moon and sun worshippers among the inhabitants. God said: ”If I destroy them by day, the moon worshippers will say, Were the moon here, she would prove herself our savior; and if I destroy them by night, the sun worshippers will say, Were the sun here, he would prove himself our savior. I will therefore let their chastisement overtake them on the sixteenth day of Nisan at an hour at which the moon and the sun are both in the skies.”
The sinful inhabitants of the cities of the plain not only lost their life in this world, but also their share in the future world. As for the cities themselves, however, they will be restored in the Messianic time.
The destruction of Sodom happened at the time at which Abraham was performing his morning devotions, and for his sake it was established as the proper hour for the morning prayer unto all times. When he turned his eyes toward Sodom and beheld the rising smoke, he prayed for the deliverance of Lot, and God granted his petition–the fourth time that Lot became deeply indebted to Abraham. Abraham had taken him with him to Palestine, he had made him rich in flocks, herds, and tents, he had rescued him from captivity, and by his prayer he saved him from the destruction of Sodom. The descendants of Lot, the Ammonites and the Moabites, instead of showing gratitude to the Israelites, the posterity of Abraham, committed four acts of hostility against them. They sought to compass the destruction of Israel by means of Balaam’s curses, they waged open war against him at the time of Jephthah, and also at the time of Jehoshaphat, and finally they manifested their hatred against Israel at the destruction of the Temple. Hence it is that God appointed four prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah, to proclaim punishment unto the descendants of Lot, and four times their sin is recorded in Holy Writ.
Though Lot owed his deliverance to the petition of Abraham, yet it was at the same time his reward for not having betrayed Abraham in Egypt, when he pretended to be the brother of Sarah. But a greater reward still awaits him. The Messiah will be a descendant of his, for the Moabitess Ruth is the great-grandmother of David, and the Ammonitess Naamah is the mother of Rehoboam, and the Messiah is of the line of these two kings.
AMONG THE PHILISTINES
The destruction of Sodom induced Abraham to journey to Gerar. Accustomed to extend hospitality to travellers and wayfarers, he no longer felt comfortable in a district in which all traffic had ceased by reason of the ruined cities. There was another reason for Abraham’s leaving his place; the people spoke too much about the ugly incident with Lot’s daughters.
Arrived in the land of the Philistines, he again, as aforetime in Egypt, came to an understanding with Sarah, that she was to call herself his sister. When the report of her beauty reached the king, he ordered her to be brought before him, and he asked her who her companion was, and she told him that Abraham was her brother. Entranced by her beauty, Abimelech the king took Sarah to wife, and heaped marks of honor upon Abraham in accordance with the just claims of a brother of the queen. Toward evening, before retiring, while he was still seated upon his throne, Abimelech fell into a sleep, and he slept until the morning, and in the dream he dreamed he saw an angel of the Lord raising his sword to deal him a death blow. Sore frightened, he asked the cause, and the angel replied, and said: ”Thou wilt die on account of the woman thou didst take into thy house this day, for she is the wife of Abraham, the man whom thou didst cite before thee. Return his wife unto him! But if thou restore her not, thou shalt surely die, thou and all that are thine.”
In that night the voice of a great crying was heard in the whole land of the Philistines, for they saw the figure of a man walking about, with sword in hand, slaying all that came in his way. At the same time it happened that in men and beasts alike all the apertures of the body closed up, and the land was seized with indescribable excitement. In the morning, when the king awoke, in agony and terror, he called all his servants and told his dream in their ears. One of their number said: ”O lord and king! Restore this woman unto the man, for he is her husband. It is but his way in a strange land to pretend that she is his sister. Thus did he with the king of Egypt, too, and God sent heavy afflictions upon Pharaoh when he took the woman unto himself. Consider, also, O lord and king, what hath befallen this night in the land; great pain, wailing, and confusion there was, and we know that it came upon us only because of this woman.”
There were some among his servants who spake: ”Be not afraid of dreams! What dreams make known to man is but falsehood.” Then God appeared unto Abimelech again and commanded him to let Sarah go free, otherwise he would be a dead man. Abimelech replied: ”Is this Thy way? Then, I ween, the generation of the flood and the generation of the confusion of tongues were innocent, too! The man himself did say unto me, She is my sister, and she, even she herself said, He is my brother, and all the people of their household said the same words.” And God said unto him: ”Yea, I know that thou hast not yet committed a trespass, for I withheld thee from sinning. Thou didst not know that Sarah was a man’s wife. But is it becoming to question a stranger, no sooner does he set foot upon thy territory, about the woman accompanying him, whether she be his wife or his sister? Abraham, who is a prophet, knew beforehand the danger to himself if he revealed the whole truth. But, being a prophet, he also knows that thou didst not touch his wife, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live.”
The smoke was still rising from the ruins of Sodom, and Abimelech and his people, seeing it, feared that a like fate might overtake them. The king called Abraham and reproached him for having caused such great misfortune through his false statements concerning Sarah. Abraham excused his conduct by his apprehension that, the fear of God not being in the place, the inhabitants of the land slay him for his wife. Abraham went on and told the history of his whole life, and he said: ”When I dwelt in the house of my father, the nations of the world sought to do me harm, but God proved Himself my Redeemer. When the nations of the world tried to lead me astray to idolatry, God revealed Himself to me, and He said, ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.’ And when the nations of the world were about to go astray, God sent two prophets, my kinsmen Shem and Eber, to admonish them.”
Abimelech gave rich gifts to Abraham, wherein he acted otherwise than Pharaoh in similar circumstances. The Egyptian king gave gifts to Sarah, but Abimelech was God fearing, and desired that Abraham pray for him. To Sarah he gave a costly robe that covered her whole person, hiding her seductive charms from the view of beholders. At the same time it was a reproach to Abraham, that he had not fitted Sarah out with the splendor due to his wife.
Though Abimelech had done him great injury, Abraham not only granted him the forgiveness he craved, but also he prayed for him to God. Thus he is an exemplar unto all. ”Man should be pliant as a reed, not hard like the cedar.” He should be easily appeased, and slow to anger, and as soon as he who has sinned against him asks for pardon, he should forgive him with all his heart. Even if deep and serious injury has been done to him, he should not be vengeful, nor bear his brother a grudge in his heart.
Abraham prayed thus for Abimelech: ”O Lord of the world! Thou hast created man that he may increase and propagate his kind. Grant that Abimelech and his house may multiply and increase!” God fulfilled Abraham’s petition in behalf of Abimelech and his people, and it was the first time it happened in the history of mankind that God fulfilled the prayer of one human being for the benefit of another. Abimelech and his subjects were healed of all their diseases, and so efficacious was the prayer offered by Abraham that the wife of Abimelech, barren hitherto, bore a child.
THE BIRTH OF ISAAC
When the prayer of Abraham for Abimelech was heard, and the king of the Philistines recovered, the angels raised a loud cry, and spoke to God thus: ”O Lord of the world! All these years hath Sarah been barren, as the wife of Abimelech was. Now Abraham prayed to Thee, and the wife of Abimelech hath been granted a child. It is just and fair that Sarah should be remembered and granted a child.” These words of the angels, spoken on the New Year’s Day, when the fortunes of men are determined in heaven for the whole year, bore a result. Barely seven months later, on the first day of the Passover, Isaac was born.
The birth of Isaac was a happy event, and not in the house of Abraham alone. The whole world rejoiced, for God remembered all barren women at the same time with Sarah. They all bore children. And all the blind were made to see, all the lame were made whole, the dumb were made to speak, and the mad were restored to reason. And a still greater miracle happened: on the day of Isaac’s birth the sun shone with such splendor as had not been seen since the fall of man, and as he will shine again only in the future world.
To silence those who asked significantly, ”Can one a hundred years old beget a son?” God commanded the angel who has charge over the embryos, to give them form and shape, that he fashion Isaac precisely according to the model of Abraham, so that all seeing Isaac might exclaim, ”Abraham begot Isaac.”
That Abraham and Sarah were blessed with offspring only after they had attained so great an age, had an important reason. It was necessary that Abraham should bear the sign of the covenant upon his body before he begot the son who was appointed to be the father of Israel. And as Isaac was the first child born to Abraham after he was marked with the sign, he did not fail to celebrate his circumcision with much pomp and ceremony on the eighth day. Shem, Eber, Abimelech king of the Philistines, and his whole retinue, Phicol the captain of his host in it–they all were present, and also Terah and his son Nahor, in a word, all the great ones round about. On this occasion Abraham could at last put a stop to the talk of the people, who said, ”Look at this old couple! They picked up a foundling on the highway, and they pretend he is their own son, and to make their statement seem credible, they arrange a feast in his honor.” Abraham had invited not only men to the celebration, but also the wives of the magnates with their infants, and God permitted a miracle to be done. Sarah had enough milk in her breasts to suckle all the babes there, and they who drew from her breasts had much to thank her for. Those whose mothers had harbored only pious thoughts in their minds when they let them drink the milk that flowed from the breasts of the pious Sarah, they became proselytes when they grew up; and those whose mothers let Sarah nurse them only in order to test her, they grew up to be powerful rulers, losing their dominion only at the revelation on Mount Sinai, because they would not accept the Torah. All proselytes and pious heathen are the descendants of these infants.
Among the guests of Abraham were the thirty-one kings and thirty-one viceroys of Palestine who were vanquished by Joshua at the conquest of the Holy Land. Even Og king of Bashan was present, and he had to suffer the teasing of the other guests, who rallied him upon having called Abraham a sterile mule, who would never have offspring. Og, on his part, pointed at the little boy with contempt, and said, ”Were I to lay my finger upon him, he would be crushed.” Whereupon God said to him: ”Thou makest mock of the gift given to Abraham! As thou livest, thou shalt look upon millions and myriads of his descendants, and in the end thou shalt fall into their hands.”
ISHMAEL CAST OFF
When Isaac grew up, quarrels broke out between him and Ishmael, on account of the rights of the first-born. Ishmael insisted he should receive a double portion of the inheritance after the death of Abraham, and Isaac should receive only one portion. Ishmael, who had been accustomed from his youth to use the bow and arrow, was in the habit of aiming his missiles in the direction of Isaac, saying at the same time that he was but jesting. Sarah, however, insisted that Abraham make over to Isaac all he owned, that no disputes might arise after his death, ”for,” she said, ”Ishmael is not worthy of being heir with my son, nor with a man like Isaac, and certainly not with my son Isaac.” Furthermore, Sarah insisted that Abraham divorce himself from Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, and send away the woman and her son, so that there be naught in common between them and her own son, either in this world or in the future world.
Of all the trials Abraham had to undergo, none was so hard to bear as this, for it grieved him sorely to separate himself from his son. God appeared to him in the following night, and said to him: ”Abraham, knowest thou not that Sarah was appointed to be thy wife from her mother’s womb? She is thy companion and the wife of thy youth, and I named not Hagar as thy wife, nor Sarah as thy bondwoman. What Sarah spoke unto thee was naught but truth, and let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman.” The next morning Abraham rose up early, gave Hagar her bill of divorcement, and sent her away with her son, first binding a rope about her loins that all might see she was a bondwoman.
The evil glance cast upon her stepson by Sarah made him sick and feverish, so that Hagar had to carry him, grown-up as he was. In his fever he drank often of the water in the bottle given her by Abraham as she left his house, and the water was quickly spent. That she might not look upon the death of her child, Hagar cast Ishmael under the willow shrubs growing on the selfsame spot whereon the angels had once spoken with her and made known to her that she would bear a son. In the bitterness of her heart, she spoke to God, and said, ”Yesterday Thou didst say to me, I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude, and to-day my son dies of thirst.” Ishmael himself cried unto God, and his prayer and the merits of Abraham brought them help in their need, though the angels appeared against Ishmael before God. They said, ”Wilt Thou cause a well of water to spring up for him whose descendants will let Thy children of Israel perish with thirst?” But God replied, and said, ”What is Ishmael at this moment–righteous or wicked?” and when the angels called him righteous, God continued, ”I treat man according to his deserts at each moment.”
At that moment Ishmael was pious indeed, for he was praying to God in the following words: ”O Lord of the world! If it be Thy will that I shall perish, then let me die in some other way, not by thirst, for the tortures of thirst are great beyond all others.” Hagar, instead of praying to God, addressed her supplications to the idols of her youth. The prayer of Ishmael was acceptable before God, and He bade Miriam’s well spring up, the well created in the twilight of the sixth day of creation. Even after this miracle Hagar’s faith was no stronger than before. She filled the bottle with water, because she feared it might again be spent, and no other would be nigh. Thereupon she journeyed to Egypt with her son, for ”Throw the stick into the air as thou wilt, it will always land on its point.” Hagar had come from Egypt, and to Egypt she returned, to choose a wife for her son.
THE TWO WIVES OF ISHMAEL
The wife of Ishmael bore four sons and a daughter, and afterward Ishmael, his mother, and his wife and children went and returned to the wilderness. They made themselves tents in the wilderness in which they dwelt, and they continued to encamp and journey, month by month and year by year. And God gave Ishmael flocks, and herds, and tents, on account of Abraham his father, and the man increased in cattle. And some time after, Abraham said to Sarah, his wife, ”I will go and see my son Ishmael; I yearn to look upon him, for I have not seen him for a long time.” And Abraham rode upon one of his camels to the wilderness, to seek his son Ishmael, for he heard that he was dwelling in a tent in the wilderness with all belonging to him. And Abraham went to the wilderness, and he reached the tent of Ishmael about noon, and he asked after him. He found the wife of Ishmael sitting in the tent with her children, and her husband and his mother were not with them. And Abraham asked the wife of Ishmael, saying, ”Where has Ishmael gone?” And she said, ”He has gone to the field to hunt game.” And Abraham was still mounted upon the camel, for he would not alight upon the ground, as he had sworn to his wife Sarah that he would not get off from the camel. And Abraham said to Ishmael’s wife, ”My daughter, give me a little water, that I may drink, for I am fatigued and tired from the journey.” And Ishmael’s wife answered, and said to Abraham, ”We have neither water nor bread,” and she was sitting in the tent, and did not take any notice of Abraham. She did not even ask him who he was. But all the while she was beating her children in the tent, and she was cursing them, and she also cursed her husband Ishmael, and spoke evil of him, and Abraham heard the words of Ishmael’s wife to her children, and it was an evil thing in his eyes. And Abraham called to the woman to come out to him from the tent, and the woman came out, and stood face to face with Abraham, while Abraham was still mounted upon the camel. And Abraham said to Ishmael’s wife, ”When thy husband Ishmael returns home, say these words to him: A very old man from the land of the Philistines came hither to seek thee, and his appearance was thus and so, and thus was his figure. I did not ask him who he was, and seeing thou wast not here, he spoke unto me, and said, When Ishmael thy husband returns, tell him, Thus did the man say, When thou comest home, put away this tentpin which thou hast placed here, and place another tent-pin in its stead.” And Abraham finished his instructions to the woman, and he turned and went off on the camel homeward. And when Ishmael returned to the tent, he heard the words of his wife, and he knew that it was his father, and that his wife had not honored him. And Ishmael understood his father’s words that he had spoken to his wife, and he hearkened to the voice of his father, and he divorced his wife, and she went away. And Ishmael afterward went to the land of Canaan, and he took another wife, and he brought her to his tent, to the place where he dwelt.
And at the end of three years, Abraham said, ”I will go again and see Ishmael my son, for I have not seen him for a long time.” And he rode upon his camel, and went to the wilderness, and he reached the tent of Ishmael about noon. And he asked after Ishmael, and his wife came out of the tent, and she said, ”He is not here, my lord, for he has gone to hunt in the fields and feed the camels,” and the woman said to Abraham, ”Turn in, my lord, into the tent, and eat a morsel of bread, for thy soul must be wearied on account of the journey.” And Abraham said to her, ”I will not stop, for I am in haste to continue my journey, but give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty,” and the woman hastened and ran into the tent, and she brought out water and bread to Abraham, which she placed before him, urging him to eat and drink, and he ate and drank, and his heart was merry, and he blessed his son Ishmael. And he finished his meal, and he blessed the Lord, and he said to Ishmael’s wife: ”When Ishmael comes home, say these words to him: A very old man from the land of the Philistines came hither, and asked after thee, and thou wast not here, and I brought him out bread and water, and he ate and drank, and his heart was merry. And he spoke these words to me, When Ishmael thy husband comes home, say unto him, The tent-pin which thou hast is very good, do not put it away from the tent.” And Abraham finished commanding the woman, and he rode off to his home, to the land of the Philistines, and when Ishmael came to his tent, his wife went forth to meet him with joy and a cheerful heart, and she told him the words of the old man. Ishmael knew that it was his father, and that his wife had honored him, and he praised the Lord. And Ishmael then took his wife and his children and his cattle and all belonging to him, and he journeyed from there, and he went to his father in the land of the Philistines. And Abraham related to Ishmael all that had happened between him and the first wife that Ishmael had taken, according to what she had done. And Ishmael and his children dwelt with Abraham many days in that land, and Abraham dwelt in the land of the Philistines a long time.
THE COVENANT WITH ABIMELECH
After a sojourn of twenty-six years in the land of the Philistines, Abraham departed thence, and he settled in the neighborhood of Hebron. There he was visited by Abimelech with twenty of his grandees, who requested him to make an alliance with the Philistines.
As long as Abraham was childless, the heathen did not believe in his piety, but when Isaac was born, they said to him, ”God is with thee.” But again they entertained doubt of his piety when he cast off Ishmael. They said, ”Were he a righteous man, he would not drive his first-born forth from his house.” But when they observed the impious deeds of Ishmael, they said, ”God is with thee in all thou doest.” That Abraham was the favorite of God, they saw in this, too, that although Sodom was destroyed and all traffic had come to a standstill in that region, yet Abraham’s treasure chambers were filled. For these reasons, the Philistines sought to form an alliance with him, to remain in force for three generations to come, for it is to the third generation that the love of a father extends.
Before Abraham concluded the covenant with Abimelech, king of the Philistines, he reproved him on account of a well, for ”Correction leads to love,” and ”There is no peace without correction.” The herdmen of Abraham and those of Abimelech had left their dispute about the well to decision by ordeal: the well was to belong to the party for whose sheep the waters would rise so that they could drink of them. But the shepherds of Abimelech disregarded the agreement, and they wrested the well for their own use. As a witness and a perpetual sign that the well belonged to him, Abraham set aside seven sheep, corresponding to the seven Noachian laws binding upon all men alike. But God said, ”Thou didst give him seven sheep. As thou livest, the Philistines shall one day slay seven righteous men, Samson, Hophni, Phinehas, and Saul with his three sons, and they will destroy seven holy places, and they will keep the holy Ark in their country as booty of war for a period of seven months, and furthermore only the seventh generation of thy descendants will be able to rejoice in the possession of the land promised to them.” After concluding the alliance with Abimelech, who acknowledged Abraham’s right upon the well, Abraham called the place Beer-sheba, because there they swore both of them unto a covenant of friendship.
In Beer-sheba Abraham dwelt many years, and thence he endeavored to spread the law of God. He planted a large grove there, and he made four gates for it, facing the four sides of the earth, east, west, north, and south, and he planted a vineyard therein. If a traveller came that way, he entered by the gate that faced him, and he sat in the grove, and ate, and drank, until he was satisfied, and then he departed. For the house of Abraham was always open for all passers-by, and they came daily to eat and drink there. If one was hungry, and he came to Abraham, he would give him what he needed, so that he might eat and drink and be satisfied; and if one was naked, and he came to Abraham, he would clothe him with the garments of the poor man’s choice, and give him silver and gold, and make known to him the Lord, who had created him and set him on earth. After the wayfarers had eaten, they were in the habit of thanking Abraham for his kind entertainment of them, whereto he would reply: ”What, ye give thanks unto me! Rather return thanks to your host, He who alone provides food and drink for all creatures.” Then the people would ask, ”Where is He?” and Abraham would answer them, and say: ”He is the Ruler of heaven and earth. He woundeth and He healeth, He formeth the embryo in the womb of the mother and bringeth it forth into the world, He causeth the plants and the trees to grow, He killeth and He maketh alive, He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up.” When the people heard such words, they would ask, ”How shall we return thanks to God and manifest our gratitude unto Him?” And Abraham would instruct them in these words: ”Say, Blessed be the Lord who is blessed! Blessed be He that giveth bread and food unto all flesh!” In this manner did Abraham teach those who had enjoyed his hospitality how to praise and thank God. Abraham’s house thus became not only a lodging-place for the hungry and thirsty, but also a place of instruction where the knowledge of God and His law were taught.
SATAN ACCUSES ABRAHAM
In spite of the lavish hospitality practiced in the house of Abraham, it happened once that a poor man, or rather an alleged poor man, was turned away empty-handed, and this was the immediate reason for the last of Abraham’s temptations, the sacrifice of his favorite son Isaac. It was the day on which Abraham celebrated the birth of Isaac with a great banquet, to which all the magnates of the time were bidden with their wives. Satan, who always appears at a feast in which no poor people participate, and keeps aloof from those to which poor guests are invited, turned up at Abraham’s banquet in the guise of a beggar asking alms at the door. He had noticed that Abraham had invited no poor man, and he knew that his house was the right place for him.
Abraham was occupied with the entertainment of his distinguished guests, and Sarah was endeavoring to convince their wives, the matrons, that Isaac was her child in very truth, and not a spurious child. No one concerned himself about the beggar at the door, who thereupon accused Abraham before God.
Now, there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, ”From whence comest thou?” and Satan answered the Lord, and said, ”From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” And the Lord said unto Satan, ”What hast thou to say concerning all the children of the earth?” and Satan answered the Lord, and said: ”I have seen all the children of the earth serving Thee and remembering Thee, when they require aught from Thee. And when Thou givest them what they require from Thee, then they forsake Thee, and they remember Thee no more. Hast Thou seen Abraham, the son of Terah, who at first had no children, and he served Thee and erected altars to Thee wherever he came, and he brought offerings upon them, and he proclaimed Thy name continually to all the children of the earth? And now his son Isaac is born to him, he has forsaken Thee. He made a great feast for all the inhabitants of the land, and the Lord he has forgotten. For amidst all that he has done, he brought Thee no offering, neither burnt offering nor peace offering, neither one lamb nor goat of all that he had killed in the day that his son was weaned. Even from the time of his son’s birth till now, being thirty-seven years, he built no altar before Thee, nor brought up any offering to Thee, for he saw that Thou didst give what he requested before Thee, and he therefore forsook Thee.” And the Lord said to Satan: ”Hast thou considered My servant Abraham? For there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man before Me for a burnt offering, and that feareth God and escheweth evil. As I live, were I to say unto him, Bring up Isaac thy son before Me, he would not withhold him from Me, much less if I told him to bring up a burnt offering before Me from his flocks or herds.” And Satan answered the Lord, and said, ”Speak now unto Abraham as Thou hast said, and Thou wilt see whether he will not transgress and cast aside Thy words this day.”
God wished to try Isaac also. Ishmael once boasted to Isaac, saying, ”I was thirteen years old when the Lord spoke to my father to circumcise us, and I did not transgress His word, which He commanded my father.” And Isaac answered Ishmael, saying, ”What dost thou boast to me about this, about a little bit of thy flesh which thou didst take from thy body, concerning which the Lord commanded thee? As the Lord liveth, the God of my father Abraham, if the Lord should say unto my father, Take now thy son Isaac and bring him up as an offering before Me, I would not refrain, but I would joyfully accede to it.”
THE JOURNEY TO MORIAH
And the Lord thought to try Abraham and Isaac in this matter. And He said to Abraham, ”Take now thy son.”
Abraham: ”I have two sons, and I do not know which of them Thou commandest me to take.”
God: ”Thine only son.”
Abraham: ”The one is the only son of his mother, and the other is the only son of his mother.”
God: ”Whom thou lovest.”
Abraham: ”I love this one and I love that one.”
God: ”Even Isaac.”
Abraham: ”And where shall I go?”
God: ”To the land I will show thee, and offer Isaac there for a burnt offering.”
Abraham: ”Am I fit to perform the sacrifice, am I a priest? Ought not rather the high priest Shem to do it?”
God: ”When thou wilt arrive at that place, I will consecrate thee and make thee a priest.”
And Abraham said within himself, ”How shall I separate my son Isaac from Sarah his mother?” And he came into the tent, and he sate before Sarah his wife, and he spake these words to her: ”My son Isaac is grown up, and he has not yet studied the service of God. Now, to-morrow I will go and bring him to Shem and Eber his son, and there he will learn the ways of the Lord, for they will teach him to know the Lord, and to know how to pray unto the Lord that He may answer him, and to know the way of serving the Lord his God.” And Sarah said, ”Thou hast spoken well. Go, my lord, and do unto him as thou hast said, but remove him not far from me, neither let him remain there too long, for my soul is bound within his soul.” And Abraham said unto Sarah, ”My daughter, let us pray to the Lord our God that He may do good with us.” And Sarah took her son Isaac, and he abode with her all that night, and she kissed and embraced him, and she laid injunctions upon him till morning, and she said to Abraham: ”O my lord, I pray thee, take heed of thy son, and place thine eyes over him, for I have no other son nor daughter but him. O neglect him not. If he be hungry, give him bread, and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink; do not let him go on foot, neither let him sit in the sun, neither let him go by himself on the road, neither turn him from whatever he may desire, but do unto him as he may say to thee.”
After spending the whole night in weeping on account of Isaac, she got up in the morning and selected a very fine and beautiful garment from those that Abimelech had given to her. And she dressed Isaac therewith, and she put a turban upon his head, and she fastened a precious stone in the top of the turban, and she gave them provisions for the road. And Sarah went out with them, and she accompanied them upon the road to see them off, and they said to her, ”Return to the tent.” And when Sarah heard the words of her son Isaac, she wept bitterly, and Abraham wept with her, and their son wept with them, a great weeping, also those of their servants who went with them wept greatly. And Sarah caught hold of Isaac, and she held him in her arms, and she embraced him, and continued to weep with him, and Sarah said, ”Who knoweth if I shall ever see thee again after this day?”
Abraham departed with Isaac amid great weeping, while Sarah and the servants returned to the tent. He took two of his young men with him, Ishmael and Eliezer, and while they were walking in the road, the young men spoke these words to each other. Said Ishmael to Eliezer: ”Now my father Abraham is going with Isaac to bring him up for a burnt offering to the Lord, and when he returneth, he will give unto me all that he possesses, to inherit after him, for I am his first-born.” Eliezer answered: ”Surely, Abraham did cast thee off with thy mother, and swear that thou shouldst not inherit anything of all he possesses. And to whom will he give all that he has, all his precious things, but unto his servant, who has been faithful in his house, to me, who have served him night and day, and have done all that he desired me?” The holy spirit answered, ”Neither this one nor that one will inherit Abraham.”
And while Abraham and Isaac were proceeding along the road, Satan came and appeared to Abraham in the figure of a very aged man, humble and of contrite spirit, and said to him: ”Art thou silly or foolish, that thou goest to do this thing to thine only son? God gave thee a son in thy latter days, in thine old age, and wilt thou go and slaughter him, who did not commit any violence, and wilt thou cause the soul of thine only son to perish from the earth? Dost thou not know and understand that this thing cannot be from the Lord? For the Lord would not do unto man such evil, to command him, Go and slaughter thy son.” Abraham, hearing these words, knew that it was Satan, who endeavored to turn him astray from the way of the Lord, and he rebuked him that he went away. And Satan returned and came to Isaac, and he appeared unto him in the figure of a young man, comely and well-favored, saying unto him: ”Dost thou not know that thy silly old father bringeth thee to the slaughter this day for naught? Now, my son, do not listen to him, for he is a silly old man, and let not thy precious soul and beautiful figure be lost from the earth.” And Isaac told these words to his father, but Abraham said to him, ”Take heed of him, and do not listen to his words, for he is Satan endeavoring to lead us astray from the commands of our God.” And Abraham rebuked Satan again, and Satan went from them, and, seeing he could not prevail over them, he transformed himself into a large brook of water in the road, and when Abraham, Isaac, and the two young men reached that place, they saw a brook large and powerful as the mighty waters. And they entered the brook, trying to pass it, but the further they went, the deeper the brook, so that the water reached up to their necks, and they were all terrified on account of the water. But Abraham recognized the place, and he knew that there had been no water there before, and he said to his son: ”I know this place, on which there was no brook nor water. Now, surely, it is Satan who doth all this to us, to draw us aside this day from the commands of God.” And Abraham rebuked Satan, saying unto him: ”The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. Begone from us, for we go by the command of God.” And Satan was terri fied at the voice of Abraham, and he went away from them, and the place became dry land again as it was at first. And Abraham went with Isaac toward the place that God had told him.
Satan then appeared unto Sarah in the figure of an old man, and said unto her, ”Where did thine husband go?” She said, ”To his work.” ”And where did thy son Isaac go?” he inquired further, and she answered, ”He went with his father to a place of study of the Torah.” Satan said: ”O thou poor old woman, thy teeth will be set on edge on account of thy son, as thou knowest not that Abraham took his son with him on the road to sacrifice him.” In this hour Sarah’s loins trembled, and all her limbs shook. She was no more of this world. Nevertheless she aroused herself, and said, ”All that God hath told Abraham, may he do it unto life and unto peace.”
On the third day of his journey, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place at a distance, which God had told him. He noticed upon the mountain a pillar of fire reaching from the earth to heaven, and a heavy cloud in which the glory of God was seen. Abraham said to Isaac, ”My son, dost thou see on that mountain which we perceive at a distance that which I see upon it?” And Isaac answered, and said unto his father, ”I see, and, lo, a pillar of fire and a cloud, and the glory of the Lord is seen upon the cloud.” Abraham knew then that Isaac was accepted before the Lord for an offering. He asked Ishmael and Eliezer, ”Do you also see that which we see upon the mountain?” They answered, ”We see nothing more than like the other mountains,” and Abraham knew that they were not accepted before the Lord to go with them. Abraham said to them, ”Abide ye here with the ass, you are like the ass–as little as it sees, so little do you see. I and Isaac my son go to yonder mount, and worship there before the Lord, and this eve we will return to you.” An unconscious prophecy had come to Abraham, for he prophesied that he and Isaac would both return from the mountain. Eliezer and Ishmael remained in that place, as Abraham had commanded, while he and Isaac went further.
And while they were walking along, Isaac spake unto his father, ”Behold, the fire and the wood, but where then is the lamb for a burnt offering before the Lord?” And Abraham answered Isaac, saying, ”The Lord hath chosen thee, my son, for a perfect burnt offering, instead of the lamb.” And Isaac said unto his father, ”I will do all that the Lord hath spoken to thee with joy and cheerfulness of heart.” And Abraham again said unto Isaac his son, ”Is there in thy heart any thought or counsel concerning this which is not proper? Tell me, my son, I pray thee! O my son, conceal it not from me.” And Isaac answered, ”As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is nothing in my heart to cause me to deviate either to the right or the left from the word that He hath spoken unto thee. Neither limb nor muscle hath moved or stirred on account of this, nor is there in my heart any thought or evil counsel concerning this. But I am joyful and cheerful of heart in this matter, and I say, Blessed is the Lord who has this day chosen me to be a burnt offering before Him.”
Abraham greatly rejoiced at the words of Isaac, and they went on and came together to that place that the Lord had spoken of. And Abraham approached to build the altar in that place, and Abraham did build, while Isaac handed him stones and mortar, until they finished erecting the altar. And Abraham took the wood and arranged it upon the altar, and he bound Isaac, to place him upon the wood which was upon the altar, to slay him for a burnt offering before the Lord. Isaac spake hereupon: ”Father, make haste, bare thine arm, and bind my hands and feet securely, for I am a young man, but thirty-seven years of age, and thou art an old man. When I behold the slaughtering knife in thy hand, I may perchance begin to tremble at the sight and push against thee, for the desire unto life is bold. Also I may do myself an injury and make myself unfit to be sacrificed. I adjure thee, therefore, my father, make haste, execute the will of thy Creator, delay not. Turn up thy garment, gird thy loins, and after that thou hast slaughtered me, burn me unto fine ashes. Then gather the ashes, and bring them to Sarah, my mother, and place them in a casket in her chamber. At all hours, whenever she enters her chamber, she will remember her son Isaac and weep for him.”
And again Isaac spoke: ”As soon as thou hast slaughtered me, and hast separated thyself from me, and returnest to Sarah my mother, and she asketh thee, Where is my son Isaac? what wilt thou answer her, and what will you two do in your old age?” Abraham answered, and said, ”We know we can survive thee by a few days only. He who was our Comfort before thou wast born, will comfort us now and henceforth.”
After he had laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac on the altar, upon the wood, Abraham braced his arms, rolled up his garments, and leaned his knees upon Isaac with all his strength. And God, sitting upon His throne, high and exalted, saw how the hearts of the two were the same, and tears were rolling down from the eyes of Abraham upon Isaac, and from Isaac down upon the wood, so that it was submerged in tears. When Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son, God spoke to the angels: ”Do you see how Abraham my friend proclaims the unity of My Name in the world? Had I hearkened unto you at the time of the creation of the world, when ye spake, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him? who would there have been to make known the unity of My Name in this world?” The angels then broke into loud weeping, and they exclaimed: ”The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth, he hath broken the covenant. Where is the reward of Abraham, he who took the wayfarers into his house, gave them food and drink, and went with them to bring them on the way? The covenant is broken, whereof Thou didst speak to him, saying, ‘For in Isaac shall thy seed be called,’ and saying, ‘My covenant will I establish with Isaac,’ for the slaughtering knife is set upon his throat.”
The tears of the angels fell upon the knife, so that it could not cut Isaac’s throat, but from terror his soul escaped from him. Then God spoke to the archangel Michael, and said: ”Why standest thou here? Let him not be slaughtered.” Without delay, Michael, anguish in his voice, cried out: ”Abraham! Abraham! Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him!” Abraham made answer, and he said: ”God did command me to slaughter Isaac, and thou dost command me not to slaughter him! The words of the Teacher and the words of the disciple- unto whose words doth one hearken?” Then Abraham heard it said: ”By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
At once Abraham left off from Isaac, who returned to life, revived by the heavenly voice admonishing Abraham not to slaughter his son. Abraham loosed his bonds, and Isaac stood upon his feet, and spoke the benediction, ”Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who quickenest the dead.”
Then spake Abraham to God, ”Shall I go hence without having offered up a sacrifice?” Whereunto God replied, and said, ”Lift up thine eyes, and behold the sacrifice behind thee.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and, behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket, which God had created in the twilight of Sabbath eve in the week of creation, and prepared since then as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. And the ram had been running toward Abraham, when Satan caught hold of him and entangled his horns in the thicket, that he might not advance to Abraham. And Abraham, seeing this, fetched him from the thicket, and brought him upon the altar as an offering in the place of his son Isaac. And Abraham sprinkled the blood of the ram upon the altar, and he exclaimed, and said, ”This is instead of my son, and may this be considered as the blood of my son before the Lord.” And whatsoever Abraham did by the altar, he exclaimed, and said, ”This is instead of my son, and may it be considered before the Lord in place of my son.” And God accepted the sacrifice of the ram, and it was accounted as though it had been Isaac.
As the creation of this ram had been extraordinary, so also was the use to which all parts of his carcass were put. Not one thing went to waste. The ashes of the parts burnt upon the altar formed the foundation of the inner altar, whereon the expiatory sacrifice was brought once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the day on which the offering of Isaac took place. Of the sinews of the ram, David made ten strings for his harp upon which he played. The skin served Elijah for his girdle, and of his two horns, the one was blown at the end of the revelation on Mount Sinai, and the other will be used to proclaim the end of the Exile, when the ”great horn shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and they that were outcasts in the land of Egypt, and they shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.”
When God commanded the father to desist from sacrificing Isaac, Abraham said: ”One man tempts another, because he knoweth not what is in the heart of his neighbor. But Thou surely didst know that I was ready to sacrifice my son!”
God: ”It was manifest to Me, and I foreknew it, that thou wouldst withhold not even thy soul from Me.”
Abraham: ”And why, then, didst Thou afflict me thus?”
God: ”It was My wish that the world should become acquainted with thee, and should know that it is not without good reason that I have chosen thee from all the nations. Now it hath been witnessed unto men that thou fearest God.”
Hereupon God opened the heavens, and Abraham heard the words, ”By Myself I swear!”
Abraham: ”Thou swearest, and also I swear, I will not leave this altar until I have said what I have to say.”
God: ”Speak whatsoever thou hast to speak!”
Abraham: ”Didst Thou not promise me Thou wouldst let one come forth out of mine own bowels, whose seed should fill the whole world?”
Abraham: ”Whom didst Thou mean?”
Abraham: ”Didst Thou not promise me to make my seed as numerous as the sand of the sea-shore?”
Abraham: ”Through which one of my children?”
God: ”Through Isaac.”
Abraham: ”I might have reproached Thee, and said, O Lord of the world, yesterday Thou didst tell me, In Isaac shall Thy seed be called, and now Thou sayest, Take thy son, thine only son, even Isaac, and offer him for a burnt offering. But I refrained myself, and I said nothing. Thus mayest Thou, when the children of Isaac commit trespasses and because of them fall upon evil times, be mindful of the offering of their father Isaac, and forgive their sins and deliver them from their suffering.”
God: ”Thou hast said what thou hadst to say, and I will now say what I have to say. Thy children will sin before me in time to come, and I will sit in judgment upon them on the New Year’s Day. If they desire that I should grant them pardon, they shall blow the ram’s horn on that day, and I, mindful of the ram that was substituted for Isaac as a sacrifice, will forgive them for their sins.”
Furthermore, the Lord revealed unto Abraham that the Temple, to be erected on the spot of Isaac’s offering, would be destroyed, and as the ram substituted for Isaac extricated himself from one tree but to be caught in another, so his children would pass from kingdom to kingdom–delivered from Babylonia they would be subjugated by Media, rescued from Media they would be enslaved by Greece, escaped from Greece they would serve Rome–yet in the end they would be redeemed in a final redemption, at the sound of the ram’s horn, when ”the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.”
The place on which Abraham had erected the altar was the same whereon Adam had brought the first sacrifice, and Cain and Abel had offered their gifts to God–the same whereon Noah raised an altar to God after he left the ark; and Abraham, who knew that it was the place appointed for the Temple, called it Yireh, for it would be the abiding place of the fear and the service of God. But as Shem had given it the name Shalem, Place of Peace, and God would not give offence to either Abraham or Shem, He united the two names, and called the city by the name Jerusalem.
After the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, Abraham returned to Beer-sheba, the scene of so many of his joys. Isaac was carried to Paradise by angels, and there he sojourned for three years. Thus Abraham returned home alone, and when Sarah beheld him, she exclaimed, ”Satan spoke truth when he said that Isaac was sacrificed,” and so grieved was her soul that it fled from her body.
THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH
While Abraham was engaged in the sacrifice, Satan went to Sarah, and appeared to her in the figure of an old man, very humble and meek, and said to her: ”Dost thou not know all that Abraham has done unto thine only son this day? He took Isaac, and built an altar, slaughtered him, and brought him up as a sacrifice. Isaac cried and wept before his father, but he looked not at him, neither did he have compassion upon him.” After saying these words to Sarah, Satan went away from her, and she thought him to be an old man from amongst the sons of men who had been with her son. Sarah lifted up her voice, and cried bitterly, saying: ”O my son, Isaac, my son, O that I had this day died instead of thee I It grieves me for thee! After that I have reared thee and have brought thee up, my joy is turned into mourning over thee. In my longing for a child, I cried and prayed, till I bore thee at ninety. Now hast thou served this day for the knife and the fire. But I console myself, it being the word of God, and thou didst perform the command of thy God, for who can transgress the word of our God, in whose hands is the soul of every living creature? Thou art just, O Lord our God, for all Thy works are good and righteous, for I also rejoice with the word which Thou didst command, and while mine eye weepeth bitterly, my heart rejoiceth.” And Sarah laid her head upon the bosom of one of her handmaids, and she became as still as a stone.
She rose up afterward and went about making inquiries concerning her son, till she came to Hebron, and no one could tell her what had happened to her son. Her servants went to seek him in the house of Shem and Eber, and they could not find him, and they sought throughout the land, and he was not there. And, behold, Satan came to Sarah in the shape of an old man, and said unto her, ”I spoke falsely unto thee, for Abraham did not kill his son, and he is not dead,” and when she heard the word, her joy was so exceedingly violent that her soul went out through joy.
When Abraham with Isaac returned to Beer-sheba, they sought for Sarah and could not find her, and when they made inquiries concerning her, they were told that she had gone as far as Hebron to seek them. Abraham and Isaac went to her to Hebron, and when they found that she was dead, they cried bitterly over her, and Isaac said: ”O my mother, my mother, how hast thou left me, and whither hast thou gone? O whither hast thou gone, and how hast thou left me?” And Abraham and all his servants wept and mourned over her a great and heavy mourning,” even that Abraham did not pray, but spent his time in mourning and weeping over Sarah. And, indeed, he had great reason to mourn his loss, for even in her old age Sarah had retained the beauty of her youth and the innocence of her childhood.
The death of Sarah was a loss not only for Abraham and his family, but for the whole country. So long as she was alive, all went well in the land. After her death confusion ensued. The weeping, lamenting, and wailing over her going hence was universal, and Abraham, instead of receiving consolation, had to offer consolation to others. He spoke to the mourning people, and said: ”My children, take not the going hence of Sarah too much to heart. There is one event unto all, to the pious and the impious alike. I pray you now, give me a burying-place with you, not as a gift, but for money.”
In these last few words Abraham’s unassuming modesty was expressed. God had promised him the whole land, yet when he came to bury his dead, he had to pay for the grave, and it did not enter his heart to cast aspersions upon the ways of God. In all humility he spake to the people of Hebron, saying, ”I am a stranger and a sojourner with you.” Therefore spake God to him, and said, ”Thou didst bear thyself modestly. As thou livest, I will appoint thee lord and prince over them.”
To the people themselves he appeared an angel, and they answered his words, saying: ”Thou art a prince of God among us. In the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead, among the rich if thou wilt, or among the poor if thou wilt.”
Abraham first of all gave thanks to God for the friendly feeling shown to him by the children of Heth, and then he continued his negotiations for the Cave of Machpelah. He had long known the peculiar value of this spot. Adam had chosen it as a burial-place for himself. He had feared his body might be used for idolatrous purposes after his death; he therefore designated the Cave of Machpelah as the place of his burial, and in the depths his corpse was laid, so that none might find it. When he interred Eve there, he wanted to dig deeper, because he scented the sweet fragrance of Paradise, near the entrance to which it lay, but a heavenly voice called to him, Enough! Adam himself was buried there by Seth, and until the time of Abraham the place was guarded by angels, who kept a fire burning near it perpetually, so that none dared approach it and bury his dead therein. Now, it happened on the day when Abraham received the angels in his house, and he wanted to slaughter an ox for their entertainment, that the ox ran away, and in his pursuit of him Abraham entered the Cave of Machpelah. There he saw Adam and Eve stretched out upon couches, candles burning at the head of their resting-places, while a sweet scent pervaded the cave.
Therefore Abraham wished to acquire the Cave of Machpelah from the children of Heth, the inhabitants of the city of Jebus. They said to him. ”We know that in time to come God will give these lands unto thy seed, and now do thou swear a covenant with us that Israel shall not wrest the city of Jebus from its inhabitants without their consent.” Abraham agreed to the condition, and he acquired the field from Ephron, in whose possession it lay.
This happened the very day on which Ephron had been made the chief of the children of Heth, and he had been raised to the position so that Abraham might not have to have dealings with a man of low rank. It was of advantage to Abraham, too, for Ephron at first refused to sell his field, and only the threat of the children of Heth to depose him from his office, unless he fulfilled the desire of Abraham, could induce him to change his disposition.
Dissembling deceitfully, Ephron then offered to give Abraham the field without compensation, but when Abraham insisted upon paying for it, Ephron said: ”My lord, hearken unto me. A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that betwixt me and thee?” showing only too well that the money was of the greatest consequence to him. Abraham understood his words, and when he came to pay for the field, he weighed out the sum agreed upon between them in the best of current coin. A deed, signed by four witnesses, was drawn up, and the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, the field, and the cave which was therein, were made sure unto Abraham and his descendants for all times.
The burial of Sarah then took place, amid great magnificence and the sympathy of all. Shem and his son Eber, Abimelech king of the Philistines, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, as well as all the great of the land, followed her bier. A seven days’ mourning was kept for her, and all the inhabitants of the land came to condole with Abraham and Isaac.
When Abraham entered the cave to place the body of Sarah within, Adam and Eve refused to remain there, ”because,” they said, ”as it is, we are ashamed in the presence of God on account of the sin we committed, and now we shall be even more ashamed on account of your good deeds.” Abraham soothed Adam. He promised to pray to God for him, that the need for shame be removed from him. Adam resumed his place, and Abraham entombed Sarah, and at the same time he carried Eve, resisting, back to her place.
One year after the death of Sarah, Abimelech king of the Philistines died, too, at the age of one hundred and ninety-three years. His successor upon the throne was his twelve-year old son Benmelek, who took the name of his father after his accession. Abraham did not fail to pay a visit of condolence at the court of Abimelech.
Lot also died about this time, at the age of one hundred and forty-two. His sons, Moab and Ammon, both married Canaanitish wives. Moab begot a son, and Ammon had six sons, and the descendants of both were numerous exceedingly.
Abraham suffered a severe loss at the same time in the death of his brother Nahor, whose days ended at Haran, when he had reached the age of one hundred and seventy two years.
The death of Sarah dealt Abraham a blow from which he did not recover. So long as she was alive, he felt himself young and vigorous, but after she had passed away, old age suddenly overtook him. It was he himself who made the plea that age be betrayed by suitable signs and tokens. Before the time of Abraham an old man was not distinguishable externally from a young man, and as Isaac was the image of his father, it happened frequently that father and son were mistaken for each other, and a request meant for the one was preferred to the other. Abraham prayed therefore that old age might have marks to distinguish it from youth, and God granted his petition, and since the time of Abraham the appearance of men changes in old age. This is one of the seven great wonders that have occurred in the course of history.
The blessing of God did not forsake Abraham in old age, either. That it might not be said it had been granted to him only for the sake of Sarah, God prospered him after her death, too. Hagar bore him a daughter, and Ishmael repented of his evil ways and subordinated himself to Isaac. And as Abraham enjoyed undisturbed happiness in his family, so also outside, in the world. The kings of the east and the west eagerly besieged the door of his house in order to derive benefit from his wisdom. From his neck a precious stone was suspended, which possessed the power of healing the sick who looked upon it. On the death of Abraham, God attached it to the wheel of the sun. The greatest blessing enjoyed by him, and by none beside except his son Isaac and Jacob the son of Isaac, was that the evil inclination had no power over him, so that in this life he had a foretaste of the future world.
But all these Divine blessings showered upon Abraham were not undeserved. He was clean of hand, and pure of heart, one that did not lift up his soul unto vanity.
He fulfilled all the commands that were revealed later, even the Rabbinical injunctions, as, for instance, the one relating to the limits of a Sabbath day’s journey, wherefor his reward was that God disclosed to him the new teachings which He expounded daily in the heavenly academy.
But one thing lacked to complete the happiness of Abraham, the marriage of Isaac. He therefore called his old servant Eliezer unto himself. Eliezer resembled his master not only externally, in his appearance, but also spiritually. Like Abraham he possessed full power over the evil inclination, and like the master, the servant was an adept in the law. Abraham spake the following words to Eliezer: ”I am stricken in age, and I know not the day of my death. Therefore prepare thyself, and go unto my country, and to my kindred, and fetch hither a wife for my son.” Thus he spake by reason of the resolution he had taken immediately after the sacrifice of Isaac on Moriah, for he had there said within himself, that if the sacrifice had been executed, Isaac would have gone hence childless. He was even ready to choose a wife for his son from among the daughters of his three friends, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, because he knew them to be pious, and he did not attach much importance to aristocratic stock. Then spake God to him, and said: ”Concern thyself not about a wife for Isaac. One has already been provided for him,” and it was made known to Abraham that Milcah, the wife of his brother Nahor, childless until the birth of Isaac, had then been remembered by God and made fruitful. She bore Bethuel, and he in turn, at the time of Isaac’s sacrifice, begot the daughter destined to be the wife of Isaac.
Mindful of the proverb, ”Even if the wheat of thine own place be darnel, use it for seed,” Abraham determined to take a wife for Isaac from his own family. He argued that as any wife he chose would have to become a proselyte, it would be best to use his own stock, which had the first claim upon him.
Eliezer now said to his master: ”Peradventure no woman will be willing to follow me unto this land. May I then marry my own daughter to Isaac?” ”No,” replied Abraham, ”thou art of the accursed race, and my son is of the blessed race, and curse and blessing cannot be united. But beware thou that thou bring not my son again unto the land from whence I came, for if thou broughtest him thither again, it were as though thou tookest him to hell. God who sets the heavens in motion, He will set this matter right, too, and He that took me from my father’s house, and that spake unto me, and that swore unto me in Haran, and at the covenant of the pieces, that He would give this land unto my seed, He shall send His excellent angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.” Eliezer then swore to his master concerning the matter, and Abraham made him take the oath by the sign of the covenant.
THE WOOING OF REBEKAH
Attended by ten men, mounted upon ten camels laden with jewels and trinkets, Eliezer betook himself to Haran under the convoy of two angels, the one appointed to keep guard over Eliezer, the other over Rebekah.
The journey to Haran took but a few hours, at evening of the same day he reached there, because the earth hastened to meet him in a wonderful way. He made a halt at the well of water, and he prayed to God to permit him to distinguish the wife appointed for Isaac among the damsels that came to draw water, by this token, that she alone, and not the others, would give him drink. Strictly speaking, this wish of his was unseemly, for suppose a bondwoman had given him water to drink! But God granted his request. All the damsels said they could not give him of their water, because they had to take it home. Then appeared Rebekah, coming to the well contrary to her wont, for she was the daughter of a king, Bethuel her father being king of Haran. When Eliezer addressed his request for water to drink to this young innocent child, not only was she ready to do his bidding, but she rebuked the other maidens on account of their discourtesy to a stranger. Eliezer noticed, too, how the water rose up to her of its own accord from the bottom of the well, so that she needed not to exert herself to draw it. Having scrutinized her carefully, he felt certain that she was the wife chosen for Isaac. He gave her a nose ring, wherein was set a precious stone, half a shekel in weight, foreshadowing the half-shekel which her descendants would once bring to the sanctuary year by year. He gave her also two bracelets for her hands, of ten shekels weight in gold, in token of the two tables of stone and the Ten Commandments upon them.
When Rebekah, bearing the jewels, came to her mother and to her brother Laban, this one hastened to Eliezer in order to slay him and take possession of his goods. Laban soon learnt that he would not be able to do much harm to a giant like Eliezer. He met him at the moment when Eliezer seized two camels and bore them across the stream. Besides, on account of Eliezer’s close resemblance to Abraham, Laban thought he saw Abraham before him, and he said: ”Come in, thou blessed of the Lord! It is not becoming that thou shouldst stand without, I have cleansed my house of idols.”
But when Eliezer arrived at the house of Bethuel, they tried to kill him with cunning. They set poisoned food before him. Luckily, he refused to eat before he had discharged himself of his errand. While he was telling his story, it was ordained by God that the dish intended for him should come to stand in front of Bethuel, who ate of it and died.
Eliezer showed the document he had in which Abraham deeded all his possessions to Isaac, and he made it known to the kindred of Abraham, how deeply attached to them his master was, in spite of the long years of separation. Yet he let them know at the same time that Abraham was not dependent wholly upon them. He might seek a wife for his son among the daughters of Ishmael or Lot. At first the kindred of Abraham consented to let Rebekah go with Eliezer, but as Bethuel had died in the meantime, they did not want to give Rebekah in marriage without consulting her. Besides, they deemed it proper that she should remain at home at least during the week of mourning for her father. But Eliezer, seeing the angel wait for him, would brook no delay, and he said, ”The man who came with me and prospered my way, waits for me without,” and as Rebekah professed herself ready to go at once with Eliezer, her mother and brother granted her wish and dismissed her with their blessings. But their blessings did not come from the bottom of their hearts. Indeed, as a rule, the blessing of the impious is a curse, wherefore Rebekah remained barren for years.
Eliezer’s return to Canaan was as wonderful as his going to Haran had been. A seventeen days’ journey he accomplished in three hours. He left Haran at noon, and he arrived at Hebron at three o’clock in the afternoon, the time for the Minhah Prayer, which had been introduced by Isaac. He was in the posture of praying when Rebekah first laid eyes upon him, wherefore she asked Eliezer what man this was. She saw he was not an ordinary individual. She noticed the unusual beauty of Isaac, and also that an angel accompanied him. Thus her question was not dictated by mere curiosity. At this moment she learnt through the holy spirit, that she was destined to be the mother of the godless Esau. Terror seized her at the knowledge, and, trembling, she fell from the camel and inflicted an injury upon herself.
After Isaac had heard the wonderful adventures of Eliezer, he took Rebekah to the tent of his mother Sarah, and she showed herself worthy to be her successor. The cloud appeared again that had been visible over the tent during the life of Sarah, and had vanished at her death; the light shone again in the tent of Rebekah that Sarah had kindled at the coming in of the Sabbath, and that had burnt miraculously throughout the week; the blessing returned with Rebekah that had hovered over the dough kneaded by Sarah; and the gates of the tent were opened for the needy, wide and spacious, as they had been during the lifetime of Sarah.
For three years Isaac had mourned for his mother, and he could find no consolation in the academy of Shem and Eber, his abiding-place during that period. But Rebekah comforted him after his mother’s death, for she was the counterpart of Sarah in person and in spirit.
As a reward for having executed to his full satisfaction the mission with which he had charged him, Abraham set his bondman free. The curse resting upon Eliezer, as upon all the descendants of Canaan, was transformed into a blessing, because he ministered unto Abraham loyally. Greatest reward of all, God found him worthy of entering Paradise alive, a distinction that fell to the lot of very few.
THE LAST YEARS OF ABRAHAM
Rebekah first saw Isaac as he was coming from the way of Beer-lahai-roi, the dwelling-place of Hagar, whither he had gone after the death of his mother, for the purpose of reuniting his father with Hagar, or, as she is also called, Keturah.
Hagar bore him six sons, who, however, did scant honor to their father, for they all were idolaters. Abraham, therefore, during his own lifetime, sent them away from the presence of Isaac, that they might not be singed by Isaac’s flame, and gave them the instruction to journey eastward as far as possible. There he built a city for them, surrounded by an iron wall, so high that the sun could not shine into the city. But Abraham provided them with huge gems and pearls, their lustre more brilliant than the light of the sun, which will be used in the Messianic time when ”the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed.” Also Abraham taught them the black art, wherewith they held sway over demons and spirits. It is from this city in the east that Laban, Balaam, and Balaam’s father Beor derived their sorceries.
Epher, one of the grandsons of Abraham and Keturah, invaded Lybia with an armed force, and took possession of the country. From this Epher the whole land of Africa has its name. Aram is also a country made habitable by a kinsman of Abraham. In his old age Terah contracted a new marriage with Pelilah, and from this union sprang a son Zoba, who was the father in turn of three sons. The oldest of these, Aram, was exceedingly rich and powerful, and the old home in Haran sufficed not for him and his kinsmen, the sons of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. Aram and his brethren and all that belonged to him therefore departed from Haran, and they settled in a vale, and they built themselves a city there which they called Aram-Zoba, to perpetuate the name of the father and his first-born son. Another Aram, Aram-naharaim, on the Euphrates, was built by Aram son of Kemuel, a nephew of Abraham. Its real name was Petor, after the son of Aram, but it is better known as Aram-naharaim. The descendants of Kesed, another nephew of Abraham, a son of his brother Nahor, established themselves opposite to Shinar, where they founded the city of Kesed, the city whence the Chaldees are called Kasdim.
Though Abraham knew full well that Isaac deserved his paternal blessing beyond all his sons, yet he withheld it from him, that no hostile feelings be aroused among his descendants. He spake, and said: ”I am but flesh and blood, here to-day, to-morrow in the grave. What I was able to do for my children I have done. Henceforth let come what God desires to do in His world,” and it happened that immediately after the death of Abraham God Himself appeared unto Isaac, and gave him His blessing.
A HERALD OF DEATH
When the day of the death of Abraham drew near, the Lord said to Michael, ”Arise and go to Abraham and say to him, Thou shalt depart from life!” so that he might set his house in order before he died. And Michael went and came to Abraham and found him sitting before his oxen for ploughing. Abraham, seeing Michael, but not knowing who he was, saluted him and said to him, ”Sit down a little while, and I will order a beast to be brought, and we will go to my house, that thou mayest rest with me, for it is toward evening, and arise in the morning and go whithersoever thou wilt.” And Abraham called one of his servants, and said to him: ”Go and bring me a beast, that the stranger may sit upon it, for he is wearied with his journey.” But Michael said, ”I abstain from ever sitting upon any fourfooted beast, let us walk therefore, till we reach the house.”
On their way to the house they passed a huge tree, and Abraham heard a voice from its branches, singing, ”Holy art thou, because thou hast kept the purpose for which thou wast sent.” Abraham hid the mystery in his heart, thinking that the stranger did not hear it. Arrived at his house, he ordered the servants to prepare a meal, and while they were busy with their work, he called his son Isaac, and said to him, ”Arise and put water in the vessel, that we may wash the feet of the stranger.” And he brought it as he was commanded, and Abraham said, ”I perceive that in this basin I shall never again wash the feet of any man coming to us as a guest.” Hearing this, Isaac began to weep, and Abraham, seeing his son weep, also wept, and Michael, seeing them weep, wept also, and the tears of Michael fell into the water, and became precious stones.
Before sitting down to the table, Michael arose, went out for a moment, as if to ease nature, and ascended to heaven in the twinkling of an eye, and stood before the Lord, and said to Him: ”Lord and Master, let Thy power know that I am unable to remind that righteous man of his death, for I have not seen upon the earth a man like him, compassionate, hospitable, righteous, truthful, devout, refraining from every evil deed.” Then the Lord said to Michael, ”Go down to My friend Abraham, and whatever he may say to thee, that do thou also, and whatever he may eat, eat thou also with him, and I will cast the thought of the death of Abraham into the heart of Isaac, his son, in a dream, and Isaac will relate the dream, and thou shalt interpret it, and he himself will know his end.” And Michael said, ”Lord, all the heavenly spirits are incorporeal, and neither eat nor drink, and this man has set before me a table with an abundance of all good things earthly and corruptible. Now, Lord, what shall I do?” The Lord answered him, ”Go down to him and take no thought for this, for when thou sittest down with him, I will send upon thee a devouring spirit, and it will consume out of thy hands and through thy mouth all that is on the table.”
Then Michael went into the house of Abraham, and they ate and drank and were merry. And when the supper was ended, Abraham prayed after his custom, and Michael prayed with him, and each lay down to sleep upon his couch in one room, while Isaac went to his chamber, lest he be troublesome to the guest. About the seventh hour of the night, Isaac awoke and came to the door of his father’s chamber, crying out and saying, ”Open, father, that I may touch thee before they take thee away from me.” And Abraham wept together with his son, and when Michael saw them weep, he wept likewise. And Sarah, hearing the weeping, called forth from her bedchamber, saying: ”My lord Abraham, why this weeping? Has the stranger told thee of thy brother’s son Lot, that he is dead? or has aught befallen us?” Michael answered, and said to her, ”Nay, my sister Sarah, it is not as thou sayest, but thy son Isaac, methinks, beheld a dream, and came to us weeping, and we, seeing him, were moved in our hearts and wept.” Sarah, hearing Michael speak, knew straightway that it was an angel of the Lord, one of the three angels whom they had entertained in their house once before, and therefore she made a sign to Abraham to come out toward the door, to inform him of what she knew. Abraham said: ”Thou hast perceived well, for I, too, when I washed his feet, knew in my heart that they were the feet that I had washed at the oak of Mamre, and that went to save Lot.” Abraham, returning to his chamber, made Isaac relate his dream, which Michael interpreted to them, saying: ”Thy son Isaac has spoken truth, for thou shalt go and be taken up into the heavens, but thy body shall remain on earth, until seven thousand ages are fulfilled, for then all flesh shall arise. Now, therefore, Abraham, set thy house in order, for thou wast heard what is decreed concerning thee.” Abraham answered, ”Now I know thou art an angel of the Lord, and wast sent to take my soul, but I will not go with thee, but do thou whatever thou art commanded.” Michael returned to heaven and told God of Abraham’s refusal to obey his summons, and he was again commanded to go down and admonish Abraham not to rebel against God, who had bestowed many blessings upon him, and he reminded him that no one who has come from Adam and Eve can escape death, and that God in His great kindness toward him did not permit the sickle of death to meet him, but sent His chief captain, Michael, to him. ”Wherefore, then,” he ended, ”hast thou said to the chief captain, I will not go with thee?” When Michael delivered these exhortations to Abraham, he saw that it was futile to oppose the will of God, and he consented to die, but wished to have one desire of his fulfilled while still alive. He said to Michael: ”I beseech thee, lord, if I must depart from my body, I desire to be taken up in my body, that I may see the creatures that the Lord has created in heaven and on earth.” Michael went up into heaven, and spake before the Lord concerning Abraham, and the Lord answered Michael, ”Go and take up Abraham in the body and show him all things, and whatever he shall say to thee, do to him as to My friend.”
ABRAHAM VIEWS EARTH AND HEAVEN
The archangel Michael went down, and took Abraham upon a chariot of the cherubim, and lifted him up into the air of heaven, and led him upon the cloud, together with sixty angels, and Abraham ascended upon the chariot over all the earth, and saw all things that are below on the earth, both good and bad. Looking down upon the earth, he saw a man committing adultery with a wedded woman, and turning to Michael he said, ”Send fire from heaven to consume them.” Straightway there came down fire and consumed them, for God had commanded Michael to do whatsoever Abraham should ask him to do. He looked again, and he saw thieves digging through a house, and Abraham said, ”Let wild beasts come out of the desert, and tear them in pieces,” and immediately wild beasts came out of the desert and devoured them. Again he looked down, and he saw people preparing to commit murder, and he said, ”Let the earth open and swallow them,” and, as he spoke, the earth swallowed them alive. Then God spoke to Michael: ”Turn away Abraham to his own house and let him not go round the whole earth, because he has no compassion on sinners, but I have compassion on sinners, that they may turn and live and repent of their sins, and be saved.”
So Michael turned the chariot, and brought Abraham to the place of judgment of all souls. Here he saw two gates, the one broad and the other narrow, the narrow gate that of the just, which leads to life, they that enter through it go into Paradise. The broad gate is that of sinners, which leads to destruction and eternal punishment. Then Abraham wept, saying, ”Woe is me, what shall I do? for I am a man big of body, and how shall I be able to enter by the narrow gate?” Michael answered, and said to Abraham, ”Fear not, nor grieve, for thou shalt enter by it unhindered, and all they who are like thee.” Abraham, perceiving that a soul was adjudged to be set in the midst, asked Michael the reason for it, and Michael answered, ”Because the judge found its sins and its righteousness equal, he neither committed it to judgment nor to be saved.” Abraham said to Michael, ”Let us pray for this soul, and see whether God will hear us,” and when they rose up from their prayer, Michael informed Abraham that the soul was saved by the prayer, and was taken by an angel and carried up to Paradise. Abraham said to Michael, ”Let us yet call upon the Lord and supplicate His compassion and entreat His mercy for the souls of the sinners whom I formerly, in my anger, cursed and destroyed, whom the earth devoured, and the wild beasts tore in pieces, and the fire consumed, through my words. Now I know that I have sinned before the Lord our God.”
After the joint prayer of the archangel and Abraham, there came a voice from heaven, saying, ”Abraham, Abraham, I have hearkened to thy voice and thy prayer, and I forgive thee thy sin, and those whom thou thinkest that I destroyed, I have called up and brought them into life by My exceeding kindness, because for a season I have requited them in judgment, and those whom I destroy living upon earth, I will not requite in death.”
When Michael brought Abraham back to his house, they found Sarah dead. Not seeing what had become of Abraham, she was consumed with grief and gave up her soul. Though Michael had fulfilled Abraham’s wish, and had shown him all the earth and the judgment and recompense, he still refused to surrender his soul to Michael, and the archangel again ascended to heaven, and said unto the Lord: ”Thus speaks Abraham, I will not go with thee, and I refrain from laying my hands on him, because from the beginning he was Thy friend, and he has done all things pleasing in Thy sight. There is no man like him on earth, not even Job, the wondrous man.” But when the day of the death of Abraham drew nigh, God commanded Michael to adorn Death with great beauty and send him thus to Abraham, that he might see him with his eyes.
While sitting under the oak of Mamre, Abraham perceived a flashing of light and a smell of sweet odor, and turning around he saw Death coming toward him in great glory and beauty. And Death said unto Abraham: ”Think not, Abraham, that this beauty is mine, or that I come thus to every man. Nay, but if any one is righteous like thee, I thus take a crown and come to him, but if he is a sinner, I come in great corruption, and out of their sins I make a crown for my head, and I shake them with great fear, so that they are dismayed.” Abraham said to him, ”And art thou, indeed, he that is called Death?” He answered, and said, ”I am the bitter name,” but Abraham answered, ”I will not go with thee.” And Abraham said to Death, ”Show us thy corruption.” And Death revealed his corruption, showing two heads, the one had the face of a serpent, the other head was like a sword. All the servants of Abraham, looking at the fierce mien of Death, died, but Abraham prayed to the Lord, and he raised them up. As the looks of Death were not able to cause Abraham’s soul to depart from him, God removed the soul of Abraham as in a dream, and the archangel Michael took it up into heaven. After great praise and glory had been given to the Lord by the angels who brought Abraham’s soul, and after Abraham bowed down to worship, then came the voice of God, saying thus: ”Take My friend Abraham into Paradise, where are the tabernacles of My righteous ones and the abodes of My saints Isaac and Jacob in his bosom, where there is no trouble, nor grief, nor sighing, but peace and rejoicing and life unending.”
Abraham’s activity did not cease with his death, and as he interceded in this world for the sinners, so will he intercede for them in the world to come. On the day of judgment he will sit at the gate of hell, and he will not suffer those who kept the law of circumcision to enter therein.
THE PATRON OF HEBRON
Once upon a time some Jews lived in Hebron, few in number, but pious and good, and particularly hospitable. When strangers came to the Cave of Machpelah to pray there, the inhabitants of the place fairly quarrelled with each other for the privilege of entertaining the guests, and the one who carried off the victory rejoiced as though he had found great spoil.
On the eve of the Day of Atonement, it appeared that, in spite of all their efforts, the dwellers at Hebron could not secure the tenth man needed for public Divine service, and they feared they would have none on the holy day. Toward evening, when the sun was about to sink, they descried an old man with silver white beard, bearing a sack upon his shoulder, his raiment tattered, and his feet badly swollen from much walking. They ran to meet him, took him to one of the houses, gave him food and drink, and, after supplying him with new white garments, they all together went to the synagogue for worship. Asked what his name was, the stranger replied, Abraham.
At the end of the fast, the residents of Hebron cast lots for the privilege of entertaining the guest. Fortune favored the beadle, who, the envy of the rest, bore his guest away to his house. On the way, he suddenly disappeared, and the beadle could not find him anywhere. In vain all the Jews of the place went on a quest for him. Their sleepless night, spent in searching, had no result. The stranger could not be found. But no sooner had the beadle lain down, toward morning, weary and anxious, to snatch some sleep, than he saw the lost guest before him, his face luminous as lightning, and his garments magnificent and studded with gems radiant as the sun. Before the beadle, stunned by fright, could open his mouth, the stranger spake, and said: ”I am Abraham the Hebrew, your ancestor, who rests here in the Cave of Machpelah. When I saw how grieved you were at not having the number of men prescribed for a public service, I came forth to you. Have no fear! Rejoice and be merry of heart!”
On another occasion Abraham granted his assistance to the people of Hebron. The lord of the city was a heartless man, who oppressed the Jews sorely. One day he commanded them to pay a large sum of money into his coffers, the whole sum in uniform coins, all stamped with the same year. It was but a pretext to kill the Jews. He knew that his demand was impossible of fulfilment.
The Jews proclaimed a fast and day of public prayer, on which to supplicate God that He turn aside the sword suspended above them. The night following, the beadle in a dream saw an awe-inspiring old man, who addressed him in the following words: ”Up, quickly! Hasten to the gate of the court, where lies the money you need. I am your father Abraham. I have beheld the affliction wherewith the Gentiles oppress you, but God has heard your groans.” In great terror the beadle arose, but he saw no one, yet he went to the spot designated by the vision, and he found the money and took it to the congregation, telling his dream at the same time. Amazed, they counted the gold, precisely the amount required of them by the prince, no more and no less. They surrendered the sum to him, and he who had considered compliance with his demand impossible, recognized now that God is with the Jews, and thenceforth they found favor in his eyes.