Page images
PDF
EPUB

that should arise to them in their darkness. If, like the pillar of fire in the wilderness, it were an emblem of the divine Majesty, its passing through the parts of the divided sacrifices would denote God's entering into covenant with his servant Abram, and that all the mercy which should come upon his posterity would be in virtue of it.

Ver. 18. That wbich had been hinted under a figure, is now declared in express language. The same day Jehovah made a covENANT with Abram ; making over to this posterity, as by a solemn deed of gift, the whole land in which he then was, defining with great accuracy its exact boundaries; and this notwithstanding the afflictions which they should undergo in Egypt. Thus the burning lamp would succeed and dispel the darkness of the smoking furnace.

DISCOURSE XXIV.

SARAI'S CROOKED POLICY FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE

PROMISE.

Gen. xvi.

[ocr errors]

Ver. 1-3. We have had several renewals of promises to Abram ; but as yet no performance of them. Ten years had elapsed in Canaan, and things remained as they were. Now, though Abram's faith had been strengthened, yet that of Sarai fails. At her time of life, she thinks, there is no hope of seed in the ordinary way: if therefore the promise be fulfilled, it must be in the person of another. And having a handmaid whose name was Hagar, she thinks of giving her to Abram to wife. Unbelief is very prolific of schemes; and surely this of Sarai is as carnal, as foolish, and as fruitful of domestic misery, as almost any that could have been devised. Yet such was the influence of evil counsel, especially from such a quarter, that Abram hearkened to her voice. The father of mankind sinned by hearkening to his wife, and now the father of the faithful follows his example. How necessary for those who stand in the nearest relations, to take heed of being snares, instead of helps, one to another! It was a double sin : first, of distrust; and secondly, of deviation from the original law of marriage ; and seems to have opened a door to polygamy. We never read of two wives before, except those of Lamech, who was of the descendants of Cain; but here the practice is coming into the church of God. Two out of three of the patriarchs go into it ; yet neither of them of their own accord. There is no calculating in how many instances this ill example has been followed, or how great a matter this little fire kindled,

:

The plea used by Sarai in this affair shows how easy it is to err by a misconstruction of providence, and following that as a rule of conduct, instead of God's revealed will. The Lord, says she, hath restrained me from bearing : and therefore I must contrive other means for the fulfilment of the promise! But why not inquire of the Lord ? As in the crowning of Adonijah, the proper authority was not consulted.

Ver. 4, 5. The consequence was what might have been expected: the young woman is elated with the honour done her, and her mistress is despised in her eyes. And now, when it is too late, Sarai repents, and complains to her husband; breaking out into intemperate language, accusing him as the cause, as though he must needs have secretly encouraged her : My wrong be upon thee! Nor did she stop here ; but taking it for granted that her husband would not hear her, goes on to appeal to God himself: The Lord judge between me and thee! Those who are first in doing wrong, are often first in complaining of the effects, and in throwing the blame upon others. Loud and passionate appeals to God, instead of indicating a good cause, are commonly the marks of a bad one.

Ver. 6. Abram on this vexing occasion is meek and gentle. He had learned that a soft answer turneth away wrath : and therefore he refrained from upbraiding his wife, as he might easily have done ; preferring domestic peace, to the vindication of himself and the placing of the blame where it ought to have laid. It is doubt. ful, however, whether he did not yield too much in this case : for though, according to the custom of those times, Hagar was his wife only with respect to cohabitation, and without dividing the power with Sarai; yet she was entitled to protection, and should not have been given up to the will of one who on this occasion manifested nothing but jealousy, passion, and caprice. But he seems to have been brought into a situation wherein he was at a loss what to do ; and thus, as Sarai is punished for tempting him, be also is punished with a disordered house for having yielded to the temptation. And now Sarai, incited by revenge, deals bardly with Hagar, much more so, it is likely, than she ought : for though the young woman might have acted vainly and sinfully, yet. her mistress is far from being a proper judge of the punishment

a

woman.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

which she deserved. The consequence is, as might be expected, she leaves the family, and goes into a wilderness. Indeed it were better to dwell in a wilderness than with a contentious and angry

But as Sarai and Abram bad each reaped the fruits of their sin, Hagar in ber turn reaps the frụit of hers. If creatures act disorderly, God will act orderly and justly in dealing with them.

Ver. 7, 8. Hagar however, though an Egyptian, shall reap advantage from her connexion with Abram's family. Other heathens might have brought themselves into trouble, and been left to grapple with it alone; but to her an angel from heaven is sent, to direct and relieve her. Bending her course towards Egypt, her native country, and finding a spring of water in the wildrness, she sat down by it to refresh herself. While in this situation, she hears a voice, saying, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence comest thou; and whither wilt thou go? She would perceive, by this language, that she was known, and conclude that it was no common voice that spoke to her. He that spoke to her is called, the angel of the Lord ; yet he afterwards says, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly. It seems therefore not to have been a created angel, but the same divine personage who frequently appeared to the fathers. In calling Hagar Sarai's maid, he seems tacitly to disallow of the mar. riage, and to lead her mind back to that humble character which she had formerly sustained. The questions put to her were close, but tender, and such as were fitly addressed to a person fleeing from trouble. The first might be answered, and was answered : I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. But with respect to the last she is silent. We know our present grievances, and so can tell whence we came, much better than our future lot, or whither we are going. In many cases, if the truth were spoken, the answer would be, from bad to worse. At present, this poor young woman seems to have been actuated by mere natural prin. ciples, those of fleeing from misery. In all her trouble there appears nothing like true religion, or committing her way to the Lord : yet she is sought out of him whom she sought-not.

Ver. 9, 10. The counsel of God here was, to return and submit. Wherefore? She had done wrong in despising her mis

tress, and must now be humbled for it. Hard as this might appear, it was the counsel of wisdom and mercy: a connexion with the people of God, with all their faults, is far preferable to the best of this world, where God is unknown. If we have done wrong, whatever temptations or provocations we may have met with, the only way to peace and happiness is to retrace our footsteps, in repentance and submission. For her encouragement, she is given to expect a portion of Abram's blessing, of which she must have often heard; namely, a numerous offspring. And by the manner in which this was promised—I will multiply thy seed, she would perceive that the voice which spake to her was no other than that of Abram's God.

Ver. 11. With respect to the child of which she was then pregnant, it is foretold that it should be a son, and that his name should be called Ishmael, or God shall hear, from the circumstance of God having heard her afliction. God is not said to have heard her prayer;

for it does not appear that she had as yet ever called upon his name : she merely sat bewailing herself, as not knowing what would become of her. Yet lo, the ear of mercy is open to affliction itself! The groans of the prisoner are heard of God: not only theirs who cry unto him, but, in many cases, theirs who do not.

Ver. 12. The child is also characterized, as a wild man ; a bold and daring character, living by his bow in the wilderness, and much engaged in war; his hand being, as it were, against every man, and every man's hand against him: yet that he should maintain his ground notwithstanding, dwelling in the presence of all his brethren, and dying at last in peace.* Nor was this prophecy merely intended to describe Ishmael, but his posterity. Bishop Newton, in his Dissertations on the Prophecies, has shown that such has been the character of the Arabians, who descended from him, in all ages ; a wild and warlike people, who, under all the conquests of other nations by the great powers of the earth, remain unsubdued.

Ver. 13, 14. The effect of this divine appearance on Hagar, was to bring her to the knowledge and love of God : at least, the

* See Chap. xxv. 17, 18.

>

« PreviousContinue »