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LECTURES ON BIBLICAL HISTORY.
“And it came to pass, after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac ; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi.”—GEN. xxv. 11.
It will be recollected, that we have already expended three lectures on the three most important events in the life of Abraham; i.e. his vocation first from Ur, and afterwards from Haran; the covenant of circumcision which God formed with him in relation to the promised seed; and the trial of his faith, in the intentional sacrifice of his beloved Isaac, who, as the heir and successor of his father, will be the principal subject of the ensuing exercise.
But here it may not be amiss to notice briefly, two or three occurrences, that took place towards the close of Abraham's mortal pilgrimage, which, while they tend still further to develope his amiable character, cannot fail to suggest some useful reflections.
Not long after the memorable transaction on Mount Moriah, Abraham appears to have left Beersheba, and pitched his tent in Hebron, a town in the land of the Hittites, the descendants of Heth. Here he was visited by a sore affliction: Sarah, the wife of his youth and the mother of his Isaac, was taken sick and died, at the advanced age of one hundred and twenty-seven years. How did the patriarch behave on the occasion : Like a tender husband he mourned and wept for her. He knew, and doubtless acknowledged, that this was the Lord's doing; yet he mourned and wept. The strength of his faith did not diminish his natural affection; nor are we forbidden to feel under our bereavements. We may pay the tribute of a tear to the memory of a departed friend, provided we neither murmur nor sorrow as they that have no hope. Abraham's grief was not so great, or so long indulged, as to disqualify him for the sacred duty of “burying his dead out of his sight.” Our sympathies are excited to see the venerable man, in a land of strangers, destitute of a spot of ground in which to deposit the remains of his deceased wife. The people of the land were, indeed, hospitable and generous: “In the choice of our sepulchres,” say they, “bury thy dead.” This friendly offer was courteously declined; the right of burial was, in his estimation, a matter of too much moment for him to accept as a gift, while he had the means of procuring it by a fair and honourable purchase. Accordingly, after a negotiation of some length, conducted by both parties on liberal principles, and agreeably to the simple usage of the times, “the field of Ephron, including the
cave of Machpelah, was made sure unto Abraham, for a possession of a burying-place by the sons of Heth.” There the body of Sarah was laid to rest, “dust to dust, and ashes to ashes.” And there it was, that Abraham began to receive the fulfilment of the promise—“I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.” Another thing, worthy of notice, in the conduct of Abraham is, the pains which he took in regard to the marriage of his son. Isaac must have been now about forty years of age. And as he had been selected as one of the progenitors of the Messiah, and as he was to have the chief management in religious concerns during his life-time, it was of importance that his matrimonial connexion should comport with the end of his high vocation. The management of this matter was committed to Eliezer, the eldest servant or the steward of Abraham's house, under the solemnity of an oath. He was charged not to take a wife for Isaac from among the daughters of the Canaanites; but to go and seek one among the remote kindred of the family. The design evidently was, not to look for wealth and other fashionable accomplishments, but to procure a companion suitable for a pious man, and to guard against an alliance with idolatry and other forms of immorality and wickedness. Eliezer accepts the charge—proceeds to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor, where, after referring the matter seriously to the disposal of Providence, his mission is speedily crowned with success. Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, and grand-daughter of Nahor, Abraham's brother, is obtained by consent of the family. We forbear any remarks on the manner in which this negotiation was conducted. It is narrated by Moses in a style of inimitable delicacy, precision, and simplicity. No person of taste and discernment can read the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis, without being forcibly impressed with the piety and fidelity of Eliezer, in executing his trust; as, also, with the hospitality and mutual kindness of Rebekah and her kindred, while they submitted, quietly, to a separation which must have been exceedingly grievous, had it not been evident, that “the thing proceeded from the Lord.” We are, incidentally, made acquainted with Isaac's contemplative and devotional turn of mind. When the servant and Rebekah arrived at the well Lahai-roi, the place of Isaac's residence, they find him meditating in the field, at even-tide, a season highly favourable to retirement and religious thoughtfulness. Such a retreat from the noise and cares of the world, at the close of every day, would conduce not a little to his peace of mind and growth in grace. And, suffer me, readers, to recommend some such practice to you. It is as useful now, as it was in the patriarchal age. Secret devotion tends to prepare Vol. II.-Presb. Mag. 3 F
us for public duty; it cherishes the pious affections—fortifies our minds against temptation, by cultivating a sense of dependance on Divine aid—and by habituating us to live and act as seeing Him who is invisible: and though we may not have a field to meditate in, yet we may all have a closet, and we know who has given this explicit direction, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret, will reward thee openly.” Matt. vi. 6. But to return.— Isaac approved of what the servant had done; and, convinced that the whole affair had been ordered by a wise and holy Providence, he received Rebekah, no doubt with suitable marks of kindness and respect, conducted her to his mother's tent, and “she became his wife, and he loved her.” Parents may learn from this piece of sacred history, how to advise their children on the subject of marriage. And let youth listen with filial reverence, to the counsels of experience and parental affection. And you will allow me to say, without any disparagement to those external accomplishments which are well enough in their place, that, in choosing an every-day companion, a partner for life, a friend for adversity as well as Prosperity, of all requisites, piety and correct morals, good sense, and habits of industry, are fairly entitled to the preference. Some time after the death of Sarah, Abraham married a second wife, whose name was Keturah, by whom he had six sons. To these sons, when grown up, we are told he gave gifts or portions, and sent them away from Isaac his son, eastward unto the east country. This measure seems to have been taken with a view to prevent family dissention. The descendants of these sons of Keturah, together with the posterity of Esau, are mentioned, in history, by the name of Edomites or Idumeans. But we have now reached the concluding paragraph in the long narrative of this good man's diversified and interesting pilgrimage: “And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life, which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. Then Abraham gave up the ghost (i.e. resigned his spirit into the hand of the Creator), and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron—which is before Mamre; the field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.” “Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord! Yea, saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them " Long after the patriarch's decease, Jehovah proclaims himself the God of Abraham; and in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, our Saviour makes Abraham's bosom the symbol of heaven. May you and I, readers, be found at last among the “Many that shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. viii. 11. “And it came to pass, after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac.” On reviewing the history of the early ages, we are pleased to find, amidst the wide-spreading desolations of sin, the noiseless but powerful operation of redeeming grace. The Lord has always had a people for his praise in our apostate world; and, in the darkest and most degenerate times, he has exercised over that people a very special care. This observation is happily illustrated, in that portion of the sacred story which is connected with the life of Isaac. In the preservation of the seed from which the Saviour was to spring, we see the hand of God often and signally displayed. May we learn to adore and trust the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things! His word endureth for ever, and his faithfulness unto all generations! Abraham, the high father of many nations, cannot continue, by reason of death; but Isaac is raised up in his stead. And as it had been with the father, so it proved with the son; God blessed him, even as he had blessed the father—not only with a large increase of worldly substance, but with abundant communications of grace, and with promises and revelations reaching in their design and import to the end of the world, even to the ages of eternity. As Isaac appears to have been of a retiring disposition, so the history of his life is marked with but few striking events; and our notices of those few must be short and general. He was encouraged by Divine promise to expect a numerous offspring. But his faith and patience were tried, on this point, for about twenty years. Nor let it be thought that this was a small trial. To a man, in his circumstances, a desire to have children, was a religious affection; for had he died without issue, the promise had failed, the covenant had been broken. He, therefore, entreated the Lord, Ónce and again—and at length, as if to enhance the value of the gift, it is granted, in answer to much prayer. Two sons were born to him at one time, which, though an immediate occasion of joy and thankfulness, proved afterwards a source of trouble. , Concerning these two sons, it had been announced, before their birth, that they were to be the heads of two nations of different characters; that the one people should be stronger than the other people, and that the elder should serve the younger. In allusion to some extraordinary occurrences which happened on that occasion, the elder was named Esau, which signifies red, and the younger, Jacob, or the supplanter. As these youths grew up, they chose different occupations. “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.” Each parent had a favourite. Isaac loved Esau, for a reason not very creditable, “because he did eat of his venison;” but Rebekah loved Jacob, we are not informed why, but, probably, because he was of a domestic turn, and gave her more of his company. But this favouritism is a bad thing in families; it produced mischief in this case; and it cannot fail to engender strife, jealousy, and envy, wherever it is indulged to any considerable degree. Parental affection should be like the wisdom that is from above, “without partiality.” That these two brothers did not feel towards one another as they ought to have done, is obvious; and that the blame of this, was partly attributable to the parents, is very probable. In that strange affair, the transfer of the birth-right, one scarcely knows which of the two is most censurable; Esau, for his profaneness, or Jacob, for his insidious craft and want of brotherly kindness; the Divine purpose furnishes no excuse for either; God never required any of his creatures to do a wrong thing to accomplish his decrees. But why is Esau pronounced profane, for bartering away his birthright? Because the first-born was sacred to the Lord—and, because it was his privilege to officiate as priest of the family, and have the chief government in matters ecclesiastical; he had a right to the particular blessing of his dying father, that he might transmit to the next generation the promise of a Redeemer, and all the blessings of the covenant made with Abraham; so that, in giving up the rights of primogeniture, he proved himself a despiser of religion; a contemner of God, and things divine. “Thus Esau despised his birth-right,” and for so doing, the apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, has called him a profane person, and has grounded upon Esau's bad conduct an exhortation, which evidently supposes that persons, under the gospel dispensation, may be guilty in a similar way. But how : What birth-right have we, which any of us would be so foolish as to despise 2 I will tell you, readers: many of you are the children of pious parents—of parents who professed to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; you were born in the visible church, and accordingly had the seal of God's covenant with his people affixed upon you in your infancy; it is, therefore, your birth-right to belong to that people whose God is the Lord. You drew your first breath within the sacred pale of the visible household of faith, and it is your duty to do the will, and keep the ordinances of God your Saviour. Have you all done so? Are you doing so now How many baptized youth are growing up in a state of unblushing conformity to the world? Yea, more; how many have become parents themselves, who have never felt or acknowledged their obligations to Christ by commemorating his death? How many are letting their chil