Notable Women of Olden Time
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AMERICAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION,
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Within a few centuriesafter the flood,while some who hadwitnessed the sin andthe destruction of theantediluvian worldwere still living, Jehovahsaw fit, in accordance with his designsof eternal wisdom, to separate Abrahamfrom his brethren, calling upon him toleave the land of his birth and go out into astrange land, to dwell in a far country. Hewas to pass the rest of his days as a sojournerin a land which should be thereafter given to apeople yet unborn,—to a nation which was todescend from him.
Abraham was a lineal descendant of Shem,who was doubtless still living while "the fatherof Abraham yet abode with his kindred inthe land of the Chaldees;" and from the lipsof his venerable progenitor, Abraham himselfmay have first received the knowledge of thetrue God, and have learned lessons of wisdomand obedience, as he sat at his feet. Shemmay have conversed with Methuselah; andMethuselah must have known Adam; andfrom Adam, Methuselah may have heard thathistory of the creation and fall, which he narratedto Shem, and which Shem may have transmittedto Abraham; and the history of the worldwould be thus remembered as the traditionalrecollections of a family, and repeated as thefamiliar remembrances of a single household.
Tales of the loveliness of Eden,—of the gloriesof the creation,—of the blessedness of theprimeval state,—of the days before the fall; remembrancesof the "mother of all living" inthe days of her holiness, when she was as beautifulas the world created for her home, in all thedewy sweetness of the morning of its existence,—ofthe wisdom of man before he yielded to thevoice of temptation, when authority was enthronedupon his brow, and all the tribes ofthe lower creation did him homage;—of thegood spirits who watched over to minister untoand bless them;—of those dark, unholy and accursedones, who came to tempt, betray and destroythem,—were recounted as events of whichthose who described them had been the witnesses.And from the remembrances thuspreserved and transmitted by tradition, eachgeneration obscuring or exaggerating them,have descended what we call fables of antiquity,—greatfacts, now dimly remembered and darklypresented, as shadowed over by the mists oflong ages.
How must the hearts of the descendantsof Shem have thrilled as they heard from himthe history of by-gone times—of a world whichhad passed away! How much had the greatpatriarch of his race, himself, beheld? Hehad seen the glory and the beauty of the worldbefore the flood. It was cursed for the sinof man, in the day of his fall—but slowly, aswe measure time, do the woes denounced byGod often take effect, and, though excluded fromEden, the first pair may have seen little changepass over the face of the earth. The consummationof this curse may have been the deluge;and those who dwelt on the earth, before thiscalamity swept it with its destroying wing, mayhave seen it in much of its original beauty;while those who outlived that event witnesseda wonderful change.
From that frail fabric, the ark, which provedthe second cradle of the race, Shem had behelda world submerged,—a race swept off bythe floods of Almighty wrath. He had heardthe shrieks of the drowning, the vain prayerof those who had scoffed the threatened vengeance,the fruitless appeal of those who hadlong rejected mercy. As the waves bore uphis frail vessel, he had seen the black andsullen waters settle over temples, cities andpalaces; and he had gazed until he could beholdbut one dark expanse of water, in whose turbiddepths were buried all the families of theearth—save one.
Those he had loved and honoured, and muchwhich, perhaps, he had envied and coveted—thepride, the glory, the beauty of earth—allhad passed away. And after the waters subsided,and the ark had found a resting-place,what a deep and sad solemnity must havemingled with the joy for their preservation.
How strange the aspect the world presented!How must the survivors have recalledpast scenes and faces, to be seen no more!How much they must have longed to recogniseold familiar places,—the Eden of Adamand Eve,—the graves in which they had beenlaid! For doubtless Seth and his descendantsstill remained with their first parents, while Cainwent out from their presence and built a cityin some place remote. The earth which Noahand his descendants repeopled was one vastgrave; and what wonder that those who builtabove a race entombed, should mingle fancywith tradition, and imagine that the buriedcities and habitations were yet inhabited by theaccursed and unholy. Such have been thefancies of those who darkly remembered theflood; and as the wind swept through the cavernsof the earth, the superstitious might stillimagine that they heard the voices or theshrieks of the spirits imprisoned within.
Shem seems to have far exceeded his brothersin true piety, and the knowledge of Jehovahwas for many generations preserved amonghis descendants, while few or none of them eversank into those deep superstitions which debasedthe children of Ham. And it is beautifulto remark, that the filial piety which so pre-eminentlymarked him has ever been a prominenttrait among all nations descended fromhim. Thus receiving his impressions of thepower, the truth, the awful justice of Jehovah,from one well fitted to convey them,—and taughtthe certain fulfilment of promises and of threats,—Abrahamwas early inspired with that deepreverential and yet filial love, that entire confidence,which led to the trusting obediencewhich distinguished his character.
Yet, from his very piety, sad must it havebeen when the command came to leave the plainsof Mesopotamia, and go out a stranger and apilgrim into distant lands, to become a dwelleramong those who were fast apostatizing fromthe true faith. "But by faith he obeyed," andby his obedience he has given us an example andillustration of faith, which has been held forththrough all succeeding ages. To be the childof Abraham, to walk as he walked, is, afterthe lapse of thousands of years, the characteristicof the true worshipper of God.
Guided by an Omniscient hand, trusting inan Almighty power, cheered by that mysteriouspromise, which, as a star of hope shining in thehour of deepest darkness, still rose to higherbrightness as it guided the long line of patriarchs,kings, and prophets, until it settledover the manger of Bethlehem, and was lostin the full glory of the Sun of righteousness,—Abrahamgirded his loins and prepared for adeparture to far distant lands.
At first, attended by his father and brother,he sojourned with them in Haran; and the familypitched their tents in that spot which wasto become in future ages the battle-groundof nations, when the proud eagle of imperialRome was trailed in the dust, and her warriorsand her nobles fell before their fiercer foes.Long ages have intervened since the tents ofthis Syrian family were pitched by the side ofthe waters of Charan; and midway betweentheir days and ours, were these waters discolouredwith the blood of those who fell in thebattle of Charae, so disastrous to Rome, everhaughty, and then exulting in the height of herprosperity. A few wandering shepherds nowlead their flocks in the plain in which Sarahand Abraham dwelt, and where Cassius and hislegions fell. But a short sojourn was permittedAbraham here. "Arise and depart, forthis is not your rest"—and again he listened tothe command from above, and gathered hisflocks and servants, and girded his loins, andset his face towards the land promised to him,and to his seed after him. And now he lefthis father and his brethren, and went with hisown family, the head of his house, the futurepatriarch of his race.
Yet he was not alone. The wife of hisyouth was by his side. In all his wanderings,in all his cares, there was one with him toparticipate in his joys and to alleviate hissorrows. With him and for him, his wifeforsook home, kindred and country. We doubtnot that she too shared the faith of Abraham;that she too trusted and loved and worshippedthe God of Abraham, and of Shem,and of Noah. Like Abraham, a descendant ofShem,—like him too, she had been trained inthe worship of Jehovah. Yet to the faith ofthe true believer, there was added the strongaffection of the wife; and while Abraham wentout obeying God, Sarah followed, trusting Godindeed, but leaning still upon her husband. Inall her future life, she is presented to us thewife; devoted, affectionate, submissive; lovingher husband with a true affection, and honouringhim by a due deference.
With a beauty that fascinated kings, preservingthe charms of youth to the advanced periodof her life, she still lived but for her husband;and when even the faith of Abraham failed, andhe withdrew from the wife the protection of thehusband, and said, "She is my sister," Sarah appearsto have acquiesced in a deceit so unworthyof her husband and of herself, merely to insurehis safety among the lawless tribes around them.
As we read the story of Abraham's wife, wecatch glimpses of ages and nations that werehoar with antiquity, and had passed away whenour ancient historians began the record of thepast. Nation after nation had perished andbeen forgotten before the profane historian beganhis annals. Yet childless, still trustingin the promise of Jehovah, Abraham wanderedfor many years through the land which was tobe given to him, and his seed after him. Nowpitching his tent in Moreh; then building hisaltar at Bethel; then driven by famine intoEgypt; then returning to his altar at Bethel,—andthere separating from his nephew Lot, because"the land could not bear" both, he fixes hisabode in Hebron.
No pictures of pastoral life are more beautifulthan those presented in Genesis; and whilewe contemplate the character of Abraham, wecatch occasional glimpses of his household,and of the manners of his age. We see himexercising forbearance and relinquishing therights of a superior, that there might be nostrife between him and his too worldly relative.We see him leading out his own bandas a prince, to rescue that same relative,—who,tempted by the promise of large wealth,had chosen a location full of dangers,—and, inthe hour of victory, refusing all spoil and showingall honour to the priest of the most high God.
Again he is before us, sitting in his tentin the heat of the day, and hastening to receivestrangers,—"thus entertaining angels unawares,"—andthen interceding for that citydoomed to destruction for the wickedness of thedwellers therein.
And again he appears as the prince, thepatriarch, the head of his own family, andhigh in honour with those around him, everobserving all the decorum and proprieties oforiental life. We see him, too, as one whowalked with God; as the priest of his household,presenting the morning and the eveningsacrifice; as holding high communion with Godin the hours of darkness; entering into thatcovenant which is still pleaded by those whoclaim the