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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Genesis 12

 

 

Verses 1-3

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Now the Lord had said] More literally this may read, "The Lord said," and may refer to a call to leave Haran, and not to that which Abram received in Ur, of which Stephen speaks in Act , and which was a short time previous (Jacobus).—Abram] Heb. High father—a distinguished progenitor of a race.—Get thee out] Heb. Go for thyself. The command was pre-eminently to him and for his advantage; though others were not excluded, as the history shows.—Of thy country] The fatherland, the land of Mesopotamia, as it embraced both Ur of the Chaldees and Haran (Lange).—And from thy kindred] Alford renders "the place of thy birth," such being the general meaning of this word. Still, in other places, it plainly signifies kindred (Gen 43:7; Est 8:6), and this is the probable meaning here. Abram's kindred would be the Chaldaic descendants of Shem.—From thy father's house] Terah and his family (Gen 11:31-32).—

Gen . And thou shalt be a blessing] Heb. Be thou a blessing. He is to be not merely a subject of blessing, but a medium of blessing to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And the Lord here confers on Abram the delightful prerogative of dispensing good to others (Murphy).—

Gen . And curse him that curseth thee] Heb. Those that make light of thee will I curse. The verb signifies to treat as vile, worthless, or contemptible. This is included in cursing, which is the imprecation of evil.—In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed]. These words have given occasion for much contention on the part of rationalist interpreters. Knobel, who is the best example of them, would understand them, that all the families of the earth should bless with (or, in) thee, i.e. wish themselves blessed in—by the example of—Abraham; wish for themselves blessedness like his. This rendering he defends by chapter Gen 48:20, "In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh." The objection to this is that the verb is in the passive voice, not bless, but be blessed. On such a matter we may further remark that we may well leave the New Testament writers, to whom Hebrew was familiar, to decide for us which of the senses should prevail. And this has been plainly and emphatically done. See Act 3:25; Gal 3:8; Gal 3:14. Notice that literally the expression is, "all the families of the ground," so that the blessing is an echo of the primal curse (Alford).—

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Gen

THE CALL OF ABRAHAM

The last chapter dealt with the human race as a whole, and thus furnished the elements of a universal history. In this chapter that history is contracted and becomes national. It is not the design of Scripture to record the famous deeds of all men everywhere, to trace the development of the kingdoms of this world, but rather to unfold the spiritual dealings of God with the race. The sacred historian, therefore, after marking the downward tendency of mankind, now calls attention to a man on whom God's light had shined, who was to be the only hope of a world which had well nigh perished in the ruins of its corruption. God chooses Abraham that He might make him a worthy ancestor of the children of faith, and the founder of a nation by means of which he was to illustrate the ways of His Providence and grace. The knowledge of God had well nigh perished from the world, and the call of Abraham was a spiritual revival—a fresh starting place in the religious history of mankind. In the call of Abraham, we may observe—

Gen . That it was manifestly Divine. The patriarch did not by study and meditation discover the course of duty which he afterwards obeyed. The idea did not arise in his own mind, but was suggested to him from a source purely Divine. St. Stephen says that "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham." There was some visible manifestation of the Divine glory, and an authentic voice was heard. Since the last recorded communication from heaven, 422 years had passed away, and now God speaks again to Abraham. This call could not have been an illusion, for—

1. To obey it, he gave up all that was dear and precious to him in the world. He gave up country, home, friends, and entered upon an untried path, committing himself to unknown chances. He could not have made such a sacrifice without a sufficient reason. The early Christians submitted to persecution, even unto death, because they knew that the alleged facts of their religion were true. The conduct of Abraham can only be explained by the fact that he acted upon a real communication from God, and not from an impression.

2. The course of conduct he followed could not be of human suggestion. Abraham was not driven from his country by adverse circumstances, or attracted by the promise of plenty elsewhere. He might have followed the usual policy of the world, and made the best of things as they are. But he left a condition which would then be considered as prosperous, and cheerfully accepted whatever trials might await him. The whole of his character and destiny were changed. Natural causes cannot account for so sudden and marked a change. The "word" of God alone has power like this. An ignorant idolator cannot be turned to the ways of true religion, and a life of faith, without the operation of a Divine power. Flesh and blood could not have revealed this to Abraham.

3. The history of the Church confirms the fact that the call was Divine. The Christian Church was but a continuation of the Jewish, with added light, and fresh blessings. That Church must have had an origin in the dim past, sufficient to account for the fact of its existence. If the world had lapsed into idolatry this new spiritual nation could not have arisen, unless God had raised up a founder for it—a new centre around which He could gather a chosen people. The Church can be traced back to the grey morning of history in which one great figure appears, which shines through all the succeeding ages, and still will shine until the course of man on earth is run. The blessings which the Church has enjoyed, and still shall enjoy, throughout all time, are the blessings which God promised to Abraham. The Church of God is a fact, and something strange and unusual must have happened in the past history of the world to account for it. The name of Abraham is so closely connected with the doctrines of the Gospel, as delivered in the New Testament, that to throw doubt upon the reality of his history would go very far towards destroying the foundations of the Christian religion. Christian believers now do but repeat the history of this patriarch, for they are all called of God, as was Abraham.

II. It demanded great sacrifices. Upon the Divine call, Abraham was not immediately rewarded with temporal blessings. Appearances were altogether against his deriving any advantages from obedience. He was called upon to make great sacrifices, with no human prospect of compensation.

1. He had to sever the ties of country. It is natural for a man to love his native land, the scenes of his earliest years and first impressions. A man's country becomes hallowed in the course of years by many tender associations. The youth may leave his native land with little regret, but to the old man it is like tearing some firm attachment from his heart. To have been suddenly called to leave his country must have been no small trial to Abraham.

2. He had to sever the ties of kindred. Natural relationships form a strong bond of unity, and awaken a peculiar love. A man must have a stronger affection for his own flesh and blood than for the rest of the human race. He clings with a fond attachment to those who were the guardians of his early life. These are the most sacred of natural ties, and to sever them touches the deepest fountains of human emotion. Abraham was called upon to make this sacrifice at a time when he could feel it most.

3. He had to sever the ties of home. This is narrower than kindred and signifies all the dear and precious things that form our domestic circle, or lie nearest our heart. Man has a kind of instinctive belief in a home, some sacred spot where he can find rest and comfort and be secure from invasion. There he has sanctuary. To sever the ties of home with the prospect of some sufficient advantage elsewhere may be justified as a call of duty, or devotion to some high principle; still the act itself is a real sacrifice. Abraham had reasons for leaving his home; yet in making up his mind to this he must needs have felt the pangs which nature gives.

III. It was an example of faith. The promise was made in general terms, and the good things to come, as far as Abraham was personally concerned, placed at an inaccessible distance. God did not tell him that He would give him the land, but merely show it to him. And as a fact of history he did not possess the good land. To act upon a promise like this required strong faith.

1. Faith is required to brave the terrors of the unknown. Abraham went forth upon his untried journey without any clear idea as to where he was going, or what might await him along his course. The unknown is ever the terrible, and we can only enter it with any confidence or hope when supported by the mysterious power of faith. Spiritual men derive the whole force and energy of their superior life from the influence of the distant and unknown. Faith is the power which links these to the present, and makes them a reality to the soul.

2. Faith trusts in God. Abraham did not know where he was going, but, like St. Paul, he knew "whom he had believed." That faith which merely believes the truth concerning God is dead, but that faith which believes in God is powerful and energetic. Such faith is not an attachment to some system of truth which the mind may languidly receive; it is trust in a person. "Abraham believed God." By the adoption of certain forms, and assents to creeds, we may have corporate religion, but personal religion can only arise from the soul's direct dealings with its God. God did not explain all the reasons of His strange commands and dealings to Abraham, yet Abraham trusted Him.

3. In religious faith there is an element of reason. Religion does not require us to exercise a blind faith. We have to venture something, but still we have sufficient reason to justify us in the step. The called of God may demand of us that we should go beyond what reason could point out, but never that we should act contrary to reason. The children of the truth recognise the voice of truth as soon as they hear it. There is something in the nature of their souls to which the truth is agreeable. There is a purer instinct in man, which to follow is the highest reason. Abraham was one of those to whom God appeared, and he felt that it was reasonable to obey the high command. It was enough for him to know that it was God who spoke, and God could only have a high and worthy purpose in view in all His commands to the children of men. To follow the promptings of faith is the noblest act of human reason.

IV. It was accompanied by promise. Though God does not explain all the reasons of His dealings to believers, and show them every step of the way in which they shall be led, yet He gives them sufficient encouragement by promises of future good. Abraham was assured that the advantages of obedience would be great. To employ an expression of Matthew Henry's, he might be a "loser for God, but not a loser by Him." The promises made to Abraham may be considered in a twofold light.

1. As they concerned himself, personally. He would have compensation for all the worldly loss he would have to endure. The nature of the affections of the soul cannot endure that they should remain without a proper object. If one hope is taken away from a man, he must have another. If he is forbidden to love some object unworthy of his affection, some other must be provided for him. Abraham had to lose much, and it was necessary that he should have reason for believing that God would be able to give him much more than this. There is a "better and an enduring substance" which more than compensates for all the sacrifices which faith demands. The several promises made to Abraham corresponded, in each case, to the sacrifices he was called upon to make.

(1) For the loss of country, God promised that He would make him a great nation. His own nation was fast sinking into idolatry, and had he remained in it he must have caught the contagion of the times, and continued ignorant of the true religion. It was a double blessing to be delivered from such a nation, and to be made the head of another for which such an illustrious history was preparing.

(2) For the loss of his place of birth, God promised to bless him with a higher prosperity. Abraham had much to leave behind—all his prospects of wealth and comfort, but God said, "I will bless thee." That blessing included all prosperity; as much as was needful, and sufficient for this life, and in the world to come life everlasting.

(3) For the loss of family distinction, God promised to make his name great. Abraham had to leave his "father's house," but he was destined in the Providence of God to build up a more famous and lasting house. These promises may be considered—

2. In his relation to humanity. God said, "Thou shalt be a blessing." This promise implied something grander and nobler than any personal benefits which Abraham could inherit. It was the higher blessing—the larger benefit. Religion means something more than the selfish enjoyment of spiritual good, and he who only considers the interests of his own soul has failed to catch the true spirit of it. Man approaches the nature of God when he becomes a source of blessing to others. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Abraham was to be a blessing to mankind in the highest sense. Along his line were to flow all the benefits of salvation, and all the precious gifts of the covenant of grace. Other men have blessed the world with useful works and inventions, and with the gifts of literature and science, but he who is chosen by God to be an instrument in the world's salvation is the greatest benefactor to the race. As a further expansion of this blessing promised to Abraham—

(1.) His cause was henceforth to be identified with the cause of God. "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee" (Gen ). "God promised further, so to take sides with Abraham in the world, as to make common cause with him—share his friendships, and treat his enemies as His own. This is the highest possible pledge. This threatening against hostile people was signally fulfilled in the case of the Egyptians, Edomites, Amalekites, Moabites, Ammonites, and the greater nations—Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian, Greek, and Roman, which have fallen under the curse of God as here denounced against the enemies of the Church and kingdom of Christ. The Church is God's. Her enemies are His. Her friends are His also, and no weapon that is formed against her shall prosper, for He who has all power given unto Him shall be with her faithful servants, even to the end of the world" (Jacobus).

3. He was to be the source of the highest blessing to mankind. "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Heb. Of the ground. The ground was cursed in Adam, now it was to be blessed in Abraham. The world was to be blessed in families, for the family is the first of all relationships, the most lasting of all institutions, and the best representative of the love of God, who is the Father of all mankind. By virtue of the Sonship of Christ Jesus we are made members of the household of God. It is God's design to bless the world by means of a family, hence in the fulness of time His own Son took flesh and blood of the children of Abraham, entered into our human relationships that He might bless all the families of the earth. In all this, there are three great principles involved.

(1) That it is God's plan to help man by means of man. The system of mediators prevails throughout all human affairs. Nature ministers to us, and we have to minister one to the other. God brought spiritual succour to the human race, not directly but by means of the family of Abraham.

(2) That it is God's plan to help man by means of the human in conjunction with the divine. No one of the human race, however illustrious, could redeem mankind. All were tainted by sin, stricken by the same disease, equally weak and impotent to save. It was necessary, therefore, for God to take hold on human nature in order to procure the salvation of mankind. Hence St. Paul teaches that by the seed of Abraham, by which the world was to be blessed, was meant Jesus Christ. "He saith not, ‘And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal ). The promise made to Abraham does not distinctly mention the God-man, yet in the progress of revelation it gradually narrows to this. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ, and though dimly, yet still with a real perception, of which this is the account.

(3) That the catholic spirit belongs to all stages of inspiration. The Old Testament is not narrow, exclusive, and confined, for it speaks here of blessings to come to all families of the earth. The New Testament can have no wider aim, and merely speaks of this gracious purpose as being accomplished. God's design to construct a family of saints built upon the Sonship of Christ was revealed to Abraham, and therefore St. Paul declares that in this promise the Gospel was preached to him beforehand. (Gal .)

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES

Gen . God's speaking to man—

(1) Should inspire reverence and worship;

(2) should put an end to doubt;

(3) should be a sufficient basis for faith;

(4) should command obedience.

Revelation consists of communications made by God to men, who, to say the least, were above the average of mankind in purity and nobility of character.

The call of Abraham—

(1) A manifestation of the grace of God. Others may have been as worthy, or, if not, they might have been fitted for such a purpose, but the Divine choice rested upon him. Here was grace, by which God takes the lead in human salvation, and in calling men to special services in the Church. Abraham did not choose the Lord, but the Lord him.

2. Peremptory. There was no room for debate. Abraham must obey at once, for the danger was great. The world was fast sinking into idolatry, and provoking the judgment of God. The faith must be saved in a man of heaven's choice.

3. Authoritative. There was a clear revelation from God. The authority could not be questioned. A man must not contend with his Maker.

4. Painful. Obedience to it was hard for flesh and blood.

5. It required faith. The voice that called was authoritative and commanding, yet since the believer cannot know all the journey, or through what untried things he shall have to pass, he must exercise faith. God's promise to Abraham was such as he could not immediately realise, and to the end of his life he would have to exercise faith. Yea, he died in faith.

A similar command is virtually given to us. We are not, indeed, called to leave our country and connections, but to withdraw our affections from earthly things, and fix them upon things above, we are called. The world around us lies in wickedness; we are not to love it or the things that are in it; we are rather to come out from it, and to be crucified to it; we are to regard it as a wilderness through which we are passing to our Father's house, and in our passage through it to consider ourselves as strangers and pilgrims. If we meet with good accommodation and kind treatment, we are to be thankful; if we meet with briars and thorns in our way, we must console ourselves with the thought that it is the appointed way, and that every step still brings us nearer home. We are to be looking forward to our journey's end, and to be proceeding towards it, whatever be the weather, or whatever the road. Thus we are to fulfil our pilgrimage to the heavenly Canaan in the same spirit as did Abraham to the earthly.—(Bush.)

When "God chose Abraham" (Neh ) it was an act of free and sovereign grace. He did not, on this occasion, make choice of Melchizedek, who was already in the Holy Land, and was faithfully sustaining there the offices of a king of righteousness and peace, and a priest of the Most High God. The Lord is found of those who seek Him not. He comes to Abraham dwelling afar off, and if not hostile, at least indifferent, to the truth; to him He reveals Himself—him He chooses—him He calls. To Abraham, while yet ungodly, God, intending to "justify the heathen through faith, preaches the Gospel, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Gal 3:8).—(Candlish.)

The call of Abraham was the first act of God towards the formation of a Church. It was the design of God that faith should proceed from one believer to all, in like manner as from one Saviour redemption should flow to all.

It is common to find that a nation imbibes the spirit of its founder. Nimrod, the founder of the Assyrian monarchy, was a conqueror, and the Assyrians were pre-eminently a conquering nation. But in the founder of the Jewish nation we find, not a conqueror, nor a law-giver, but a saint, remarkable only for this, that he lived with God; and therefore we may expect to meet with what is really the case, not a profane history, but the history of piety.—(Robertson.)

Gen . The promise, "I will make of thee a great nation," required faith in a most eminent degree.

1. There was the barrier of a natural improbability. Sarai was barren, which was a difficulty in the way of his faith, hard to be overcome. Abraham felt that afterwards, and lent himself to a device for bringing about the promise by means which God had not appointed.

2. The promise could not receive sufficient fulfilment until after his death. A great nation can only be built up in the course of long centuries.

3. Abraham had not the encouragement of example. There was no nation then existing that could be called truly great. A believer has great encouragement when he can look back upon what God has done for His saints in the past, when he hears of the "noble works that God did in their days;" but Abraham had not this. He had to face things altogether new and untried.

A nation which God makes, though it may not actually fulfil the Divine ideal, must possess some elements of spiritual work not enjoyed by any other. Abraham was the father of a nation which preserved pure the revelation of God, and out of which the true monarch of human souls was to arise.

The promise had reference to things which could be but of small account to an eye of sense; but faith would find enough in it to satisfy the most enlarged desires. The objects, though distant, were worth waiting for. He should be the father of a great nation, and what was of greater account, and which was doubtless understood, that nation should be the Lord's. God Himself would bless him; and this would be more than the whole world without it. He would also make his name great; not in the records of worldly fame, but in the history of the Church; and being himself full of the blessing of the Lord, it should be his to impart blessedness to the world. "I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing." This promise has been fulfilling ever since. All the true blessedness which the world is now, or shall hereafter be possessed of, is owing to Abraham and his posterity. Through them we have a Bible, a Saviour, and a Gospel. They are the stock on which the Christian Church is grafted. Their very dispersions and punishments have proved the riches of the world. What then shall be their recovery but life from the dead! It would seem that the conversion of the Jews, whenever it shall take place, will be a kind of resurrection to mankind. Such was the hope of this calling. And what could the friends of God or man desire more?—(Fuller.)

What constitutes a great nation?

1. A nation where righteousness dwells is great. Abraham was accounted righteous before God, being justified by faith. He stamped his own spirit and character upon his nation, whose history has furnished long lines of remarkable saints.

2. A nation on which God's blessing descends is great. No nation can be truly great that does not keep and cherish the revelation of God. There must be the possession of spiritual truth before the highest blessing can be enjoyed. It was this that made the Jews superior to other nations in the chief things which concern man.

(1) They had the most noble conceptions of God. Among the heathen nations the idea of God was debased by the most degrading conceptions. A few superior minds could reach to better and purer thoughts of the Divinity, yet how cold are their abstractions when compared with the majesty of the idea furnished by the Hebrew Scriptures! It was only in Judah that God was truly known, and in Israel that His name was truly great.

(2) They had the purest morality. What a contrast between the moral law of the Jews and that of the nations around them throughout the whole course of their history! God's blessing conveys the inheritance of the highest moral principles.

(3) They felt that they were the subjects of Divine government. The religion of the Jews taught them that they were not under the rule of fate or chance, but of Providence. They learned to trace all their disasters to disobedience to God. What nation was ever taught as they, by so severe a discipline, that a people can only fail through lack of righteousness!

3. That nation is great which is a source of blessing to others. The Jewish nation gave the world the Scriptures and a Redeemer. No nation can be truly great from which the Word of God and the blessings of the Gospel do not go forth to others. To be the centre of spiritual life and light is the highest distinction.

His believing this so unhesitatingly and so manifestly with all his heart—his taking God simply at His word, asking no questions and raising no difficulties—is itself a wonder. He might have started many objections, and made many anxious inquiries. How can these things be? How can he, whose wife is barren, be the father of a great nation? How can he, who is a man of unclean lips, be at once so graciously received into favour, when his eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts? And how is he to become so awful a sign of trial, and so fruitful a source of good, to his brethren, and to all men? But Abram stands not upon any such scruples. He takes the plain testimony of the God of glory—"I will bless thee;" I, who alone can bless, and whose high prerogative and right to bless none may question—I will bless thee; and if I justify, who is he that condemneth? It is enough. Abraham believes—"Be it unto me, Lord, according to thy word"—and he is blessed in believing; blessed, as having his iniquity forgiven, his transgressions covered, his sin imputed no more, and his spirit freed from guile (Psa ; Rom 4:6-8), even as the spirit of a little child is free from guile when he is found trusting at once, implicitly and for ever, his parent's eye, word, and heart. But have we not in all this something more than an exercise of belief competent to the natural man? Have we not that faith which is "the gift of God?" (Eph 2:8.)—(Candlish.)

I will magnify, or make thy name great. This concerns his repute, because, being called from his own, he might justly fear disrespect among strangers. God encourageth him by this that He will make his name famous, that is for piety, virtue, goodness, and power. It contains—

1. A greatening of all good, which is the ground of true honour and respect among the best.

2. A greatening of the fame and report of all this in the ears of the inhabitants of the earth. Now this was effected both in Abram's person and in his seed. And such a good and great name is a precious ointment, a sweet blessing.—(Hughes).

Gen . Such an assurance is the highest pledge of friendship and favour that can be given, and sets forth the privileges of the Lord's chosen in the most impressive light. The strictest leagues and covenants of kings and princes contain no stronger bond of alliance than the engagement to regard each other's friends and enemies as common friends and enemies.—(Bush).

God considers as done to Himself the wrongs and insults done to His people.

God deals with nations according to their treatment of His people. The Church is a serious factor in the political history of the world.

God is in league for the offensive part, to be an enemy also unto his enemies. Two words are here used—

1. That upon the part of the enemy signifieth to set light by, and so to vilify or reproach, which God takes notice of to Judges

2. The word upon God's part is to curse unto perdition; so much is God incensed against the enemies of His covenanted ones.—(Hughes).

In Abram is this blessing laid up as a treasure hid in a field to be realised in due time. All the families of mankind shall ultimately enter into the enjoyment of this unbounded blessing. Thus, when the Lord saw fit to select a man to preserve vital piety on the earth and to be the head of a race fitted to be the depository of a revelation of mercy, He at the same time designed that this step should be the means of effectually recalling the sin-enthralled world to the knowledge and love of Himself. The race was twice already since the fall put upon its probation—once under the promise of victory to the seed of the woman, and again under the covenant with Noah. In each of these cases, notwithstanding the growing light of revelation and accumulating evidence of the Divine forbearance, the race had apostatised from the God of mercy with lamentably few known exceptions. Yet undeterred by the gathering tokens of this second apostasy, and after reiterated practical demonstration to all men of the debasing, demoralising effects of sin, the Lord, with calm determination of purpose, sets about another step in the great process of removing the curse of sin, dispensing the blessing of pardon, and eventually drawing all the nations to accept His mercy. The special call of Abram contemplates the calling of the Gentiles as its final issue, and is therefore to be regarded as one link in a series of wonderful events, by which the legal obstacles of the Divine mercy are to be taken out of the way, and the spirit of the Lord is to prevail with still more and more of men to return to God.—Murphy.

The passage contains a clear intimation of what God Himself, whose judgment is according to truth, regards as the source of the truest and richest blessings to the children of men. It is not wealth, fame, power, sensual pleasure, or mental endowments, but the gift of His own Son as a Saviour, the bestowment of the Holy Spirit, the pardon of sin, peace of conscience, and the high and purifying hopes connected with eternal life. This is the inheritance that makes us truly rich; and utterly vain, foolish, and fatal it is to seek it from any other source.—(Bush).

The first promise of a Messiah was victory through the seed of the woman. The second promise was blessing for all mankind. Thus God gradually reveals His gracious purpose with ever-enlarging ground of encouragement and hope.

ILLUSTRATIONS

BY THE

REV. WM. ADAMSON

Abram and History! Gen .

(1) The unchanged habits of the East, says Stanley, render it a kind of living Pompeii. The outward appearances, which, in the case of the Greeks and Romans, we knew only through art and writing—through marble, fresco, and parchment—in the case of Jewish history we know through the forms of actual men living and moving before us, wearing the same garb, speaking almost the same language as Abram and the patriarchs.

(2) From Ur of the Chaldees, remarks Landels, comes forth, in one sense, the germ of all that is good throughout succeeding generations. His appearance, like that of some great luminary in the heavens, marks an epoch in the world's history. A stream of influence flows from him—not self-originated, but deriving its existence from those heaven-clouds of Divine dew of blessing resting upon this lofty summit of his soul.

(3) Widening as it flows, and promoting, in spite of the occasional checks and hindrances it meets with, spiritual life and health, that stream is vastly more deserving of exploration and research than the streams of the Lualaba and Niger, or the sources of the Nile and Zambesi. Such exploration and research will be productive of incalculable benefit to those who engage therein with right motives and aspirations.

"Truth springs like harvest from the well-ploughed field,

And the soul feels it has not searched in vain."—Bonar.

Father of Faithful! Gen . Here we have—

1. The Call (Gen );

2. The Command (Gen );

3. The Covenant (Gen );

4. The Conditions (Gen );

5. The Compliance (Gen );

6. The Conversion (Gen ); and

7. The Considerations.—The call was from God. The command was to leave his native land. The covenant was protection and preservation, etc. The condition was that of simple trust and confidence. The compliance was that Abraham journeyed first to Haran, thence to Canaan. The conversion of Abraham was evidently the erection of the "altar," erected wherever he pitched his tent. And the considerations are

(1) That God calls and commands each of the sons of men to come out from a world lying in wickedness, and make life a pilgrimage to heaven.

(2) That God covenants and conditions with each of the sons of men obeying this call to crown their lives with loving-kindness and tender mercies.

(3) That God counts and compensates for all sacrifices and sufferings endured in complying with His call with the Crown of Life that fadeth not away.

"One of the chivalry of Christ! He tells us how to stand

With rootage like the palm, amid the maddest whirl of sand."—Massey.

Darkness and Light! Gen .

(1) In the early Genesis of Creation we have the material chaos and darkness, succeeded by the introduction of light. Here we have God saying in the moral world, as He had uttered before in the natural, "Let there be light." As Stanley Leathes says: The light was making itself manifest after the Babel chaos and gloom. And that which made manifest was light. The proof that it was light was in the light which it diffused; just as when, with closed eyes, I am told that a light has been brought into the midnight room of darkness, I open them to have proof that there is light. Abraham could have no higher proof.

(2) Other gods had not cared for him—had held no communication with him—had not made themselves known to him as living beings; but this Being had. He had come out of the darkness and made light all about Him. He had come out of the silence and spoken with the voice of the Word of God. He had convinced Abram that He lived, and that from Him all living creatures enjoyed life. Abram believed God; and obedience quickly followed.

(3) When Richard I. returned in disguise to England, after his escape from the Austrian dungeons, the peasants required evidence that he was indeed the king. Richard appeared amongst them; he spoke to them; he performed such feats of strength as Richard only was known to achieve; he showed them his signet-ring. They were satisfied. Believing that "Richard was himself again," they immediately tendered him their allegiance, and complied with his royal requirements to proceed with him. Faith, i.e. true faith, cannot be separated one from the other,—they are more intimately joined than the Siamese twins.

"Therefore look and believe, for works will follow spontaneous,

Even as the day the sun; for Christian works are no more than

Animate faith and love, as flowers are the animate springtide."—Longfellow.

Demand and Supply! Gen .

(1) That God called Abram is the Mosaic utterance under Divine Inspiration. But had there been no craving in Abram's mind and heart, no yearning after the Infinite, no aspirations after a knowledge of the true God, "O that I knew where I might find Him?" Was there no demand answering to the supply? Was there no craving to be met by the gratification? Surely. It is only reasonable to suppose that Jehovah responded to the heart-hunger of Abram. To him the bread of idol-knowledge and of creature-worship was as bone-dust or fruit of Sodom. The hunger was appeased only at the cost of moral dyspepsia—of spiritual leanness. The aspiration became intenser.

(2) The law of growth through craving is, as Ladd remarks, fundamental; it is capable of illustration from every form of animal life. Put life into matter, and you get as one of its earliest exhibitions the same phenomenon, which remains with the life until its extinction; you get craving, which, being met by supply, becomes the minister of higher life and growth. In the souls of men this instinctive craving under various forms acts as the spur of the rider to drive men towards the Divine, in which alone they can find satisfaction and rest.

"Every inmost aspiration is God's angel undefiled;

And in every "O my Father!" slumbers deep "Here, My child."—Dscheladeddin.

Abram's Aspiration! Gen .

(1) No more beautiful description of the methods of intellectual and spiritual vitality can anywhere be found than is given us in the Duke of Argyll's "Reign of Law." He unfolds the relations of the external force of the earth to the internal force which moves the bird's wing.

(2) What God does for nature He does not deny to man. He puts a force in the soul. That soul can float beside the albatross, at rest, where there is nothing else at rest in the tremendous turmoil of its own stormy seas, which has received the Divine Force.

(3) Under Divine tuition Abram was trained to beat down resistance from without by force that answered from within. Shall we say that God enabled Abram to use—as the bird uses the breezes of air—his soul's yearning after Himself?

"God found one worthy to be drawn

From out the deepening social night,

And set him as a star of dawn,

And herald of the greater Light."

Abram's Separation! Gen . "We may apply," says Gibson, "the same term to Abram, which the Apostle Paul applies to himself, when he says, ‘Separated unto the Gospel of God.' As a skilful schoolmaster trains his pupil by a regular graduated series of lessons, so God trained Abram by a series of separations. His first lesson, and one in the acquiring of which the patriarch proved an apt scholar, was when he separated from Ur of the Chaldees by Divine command (Gen 12:1). Then another lesson had to be acquired when he was again summoned to leave Charran behind. Having graduated in this standard, he underwent separation from Canaan itself (Gen 12:6), when he erected his tent as a pilgrim and stranger in the land, and his altar as a mountain, from whose lofty summit faith's eye might descry the heavenly home on high. Again, we find him at school in Egypt, learning the lesson of separation from the world more and more. And this repeated separation was not for his sake only, or that of his descendants by birth, but for the "world's sake." "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." As a good man has wide sympathies and aims in the education of his child, so with God. If the Christian father educates his son for the sake of his fellow-creatures as well as for his own, surely much more would the Divine Father be educating Abraham for the sake of "all the families of the world."

"At God's commandment self-exiled,

Alone he left his native clan,

Led forth by faith, like a blind man

Led by a simple-hearted child."


Verses 4-9

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Gen . And Lot went with him] Kurtz understands that "God had not intended that Lot should join Abram on his journey. This (he says) is sufficiently manifest from his later history. But God allowed it, probably, from condescension to Abraham's attachment to his family." It would be more strictly proper to say that, as the narrative presents it, Lot joined the company of his own prompting, and not by Divine command, as in the case of Abram. It was, therefore, upon his own responsibility (Jacobus).—Seventy and five years old] Abram's age at the second stage of his journey is now mentioned. Hence we can determine that he departed from Ur five years before.—

Gen . All their substance that they had gathered] Heb. All their gain which they had gained. A term descriptive of property, whether in money, cattle, or any other kind of possessions.—And the souls they had gotten in Haran] Heb. And the souls which they did (or made). Nephesh, here used, denotes collectively the persons (servants) taken with them from Haran—as in Eze 27:13. The Sept. renders it πασαν ψυχην, every soul. The verb to do, or make, here used, is rendered by the Sept. εκτησαντο, acquired—as Deu 8:17; Gen 1:12. The Chald. renders, "All the souls he had subdued unto the law." Some understand it, therefore, of proselytes made to the true religion from among the heathen at Haran. But the general sense which best suits the context is that of bond-servants, which Abram had acquired. These were gotten commonly by conquest, or by money. Here it seems to be the latter (Jacobus).—Gotten] Strictly, made, descriptive of the gain in slaves, male and female (Lange). Not only gotten, as secular property, but had made obedient to the law of the true God (Wordsworth).—

Gen . The place of Sichem] Some understand the expression as meaning the neighbourhood of Sichem; others, of the site where it afterwards stood—speaking by way of anticipation. Most expositors regard the words, "the place of," as redundant—the place Sichem. It may more likely mean "town or village of Shechem." At the time of Jacob's arrival here, after sojourning in Mesopotamia, Shechem was a Hivite city, of which Hamor, Shechem's father, was chief man. And it was at this time that Jacob purchased from him "the parcel of ground" (of the field) which he gave to his son Joseph, where was Jacob's well (Joh 4:5). The name means "shoulder" or "ridge" (Jacobus.) Shechem was one of the oldest towns in Palestine.—Plain of Moreh] The rugged and mountainous nature of the country seems to forbid the idea of any "plain" existing there. The best authorities render the Heb. alion Moreh, "the oak of Moreh." The name may have been derived from its owner or planter. Oaks, from their great size and durability, would be convenient as landmarks in those early ages. They were also a meeting-place for the performance of religious rites.—And the Canaanite was then in the land] This notice was most probably added to show that the land was not empty at that time, but that the subsequent promise implied a displacement of inhabitants then in possession. Nothing can be more natural than such a notice; and there is not the slightest reason for supposing it to be an interpolation of later date than the narrative itself (Alford). These words note the great obstacle Abram had to contend with. "The author of Genesis evinces in this clause his knowledge of the Canaanites, pre-supposes their nature and character to be known in such a way as a late writer could not do" (Jacobus).—

Gen . And the Lord appeared unto Abram] This remarkable phrase first occurs here. We know not in what manner God appeared to Abram, but in some way he felt that God spoke to him. "The possibility of God appearing to man is antecedently undeniable. The fact of his having done so proves the possibility. On the mode of His doing this it is vain for us to speculate" (Murphy).—Unto thy seed] Not unto thee. To Abram himself "He gave none inheritance in it; no, not so much as to set his foot on" (Act 7:5) (Murphy).—Will I give this land] God at first signified His purpose of merely showing to Abram a distant land in which he was to sojourn; he now speaks of giving it, but not immediately to himself, but to his seed; doubtless for a further trial of his faith (Bush).—And there builded he an altar unto the Lord] In Shechem, as Jacob did afterwards (Gen 23:20). Thus, by means of a religious act, he assumed the proprietorship of the land. The sanctuary stood here in the time of Joshua (Jos 24:1; Jos 24:25-26), and the law was proclaimed with blessings from Gerizim, and curses from Ebal (Deu 27:12; Jos 8:33-35). Here, also, Joshua gave his parting counsels to the people (Jos 24:1; Jos 24:25).—

Gen . And he removed from thence unto a mountain] Heb. mountainwards—indicating the nature of the district, and not any particular mountain. A similar expression in Gen 19:30.—Bethel] This name signifies "house of God." At this time the place was called Luz, and did not become Bethel until so named by Jacob after his vision (Gen 28:19). "It does not appear that any town was ever built on the precise spot to which Jacob gave this name; but the appellation was afterwards transferred to the adjacent city of Luz, which thus became the historical Bethel. Modern researches have not been able clearly to identify the site of this ancient city; but there is a ruined village and monastery about eighteen miles south of Naplons or Shechem, and north of Jerusalem, which is generally supposed to indicate very nearly the spot" (Bush)—On the west] Heb. "from the sea," or seaward. The expression rests upon the fact that the Mediterranean Sea was the western boundary of Canaan. In the same way, "the desert" is used for "the south" (Psa 75:6), where "from the south" is the rendering of the Heb. "from the desert."—Hai] Heb. The Ai. The word means, a heap of ruins. The H represents the Heb. definite article. It was a royal city of Canaan, and was the first taken by the Israelites after the passage of the Jordan (Jos 7:3-5). The exact site is not known.—Called upon the name of the Lord] As "Jehovah."—

Gen . And Abram journeyed, going on still towards the South] Heb. "He broke up his encampment, going and pulling up southwards." Thus he advanced from place to place by degrees, according to the customs of nomadic life; but his general direction was southwards. The fact is noticed in Heb 11:10.—

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Gen

ABRAM ON HIS JOURNEY.—THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH

Faith in God implies something more than listening to His voice, and receiving as truth what He reveals. It is a living principle which must show itself in action. Abram is now on his journey in obedience to the command of God. We have here an instance of the belief of the heart, as distinguished from a mere intellectual assent. When a man believes with the heart, he acts upon that belief; he is full of energy, and to obey the will of God is his meat and drink—the means by which his true life is sustained. We have here an example of the obedience of faith.

I. It was prompt (Gen ). Abram had left Ur of the Chaldees, and now he must leave Haran, the place of his father's sepulchre. Devotion to the memory of an aged parent might tempt him to linger there, but he obeys the stronger claims of God and presses forwards to the Promised Land. He breaks the closest ties of nature, and having just light enough to walk by—but not for full knowledge—he accepts the difficulties and trials of a life of faith. Like St. Paul, he acted upon his convictions at once, gave no opportunity for counter influences to operate, and "conferred not with flesh and blood." There was in his obedience an appearance of hurry, of impetuosity. Worldly prudence imposes caution upon men in taking any new important step. Friends and interests have to be consulted, and probabilities of success must be calculated. A wise man, in the affairs of this life, will do nothing rashly. Hence the popular maxim that "second thoughts are best." And that maxim is true when applied to ordinary affairs, for in these to act on the first impulse is unsafe. But this advice is not good when applied to matters which concern the soul. In those things which regard the conscience, first thoughts are the truest and best. He is a wise man in the things of this world who pauses to consider before he commits himself to any important step, but he is a foolish man who, in the things of the eternal world, delays between the thought and the action. When God commands, to delay is to be disobedient. Faith makes haste to obey. The children of faith, in serving God, are set free from all other masters. The authority under which they act is supreme, and therefore they have no need for deliberation. Such was Abram—ready to hear the Divine voice, prompt to obey it.

II. It was considerate of the interests of others. After the death of his father, Abraham took his providential place as the leader of the colony. He sought to urge others to obedience to the Divine will by the force of his authority, or by the milder influence of his example. He was known to his Maker as one who would command his household after him, and win them to the ways of righteousness. True piety is never selfish. He who has received the mercy of heaven catches the spirit of the Divine benevolence, and longs for others to share the same blessings. He partakes of that blessed Spirit whose chief attribute is liberality. Abraham was not content to be a solitary servant of God—to be absorbed in attention to the salvation of his own soul. Religion contemplates no man as an isolated portion of humanity, but rather in his relation to others. The fire of devotion is not only hot within, but resplendent without, giving light to all around. The lights of the world, like the sun, are public—they are intended to bless far and wide. The call of Abraham had regard to the spiritual interests of others. Religion implies society. Where "two or three are gathered together," God is present to bless. It is not in lonely solitude that the righteous man enjoys the blessings of salvation; he partakes thereof with others. God designed to found a Church by means of His servant Abraham, who was thus to be a source of blessing to all nations. The life of faith acquires a sublime value by the consciousness that its blessings are shared by other souls.

1. The believer's joy is increased. Religion is not a cold assent of the understanding, but engages the affections of the heart. When the heart is full, the joy that swells it must overflow.

2. The believer's idea of God is enhanced. He thinks of the benevolence of God as plenteous and wide.

3. The believer's faith is greatly strengthened. It is possible to imagine a faith so real and well-founded that a man could hold it against all the world. Still, he who is quite alone in his faith labours under great disadvantages. He is liable to many discouragements, and often tempted to doubt as to whether he is right. A man's confidence is greatly increased when he meets with another believer. Religion in man requires the aid of society.

III. It was maintained in the midst of difficulties. To all human appearance, Abraham had little else than discouragement throughout the whole of his course. However much he might have been inwardly supported, an ordinary observer could not discern that he had received any real benefit from his belief in God.

1. He was a wanderer in the land which God had promised to give him. He has no estate or dominion there assigned to him, but travels about as a wanderer from place to place. This was a continual difficulty in the way of faith in a promise that God would give him that land to dwell in.

2. He is beset by enemies. "The Canaanite was then in the land" (Gen ). Others were already in possession, so that he could not pass through the country without challenge. One would have thought that, having received the Divine promise, which seemed to speak of temporal good in abundance, his way would have been made clear before him, and he would have but to rest and enjoy.

3. The Divine promise opened up for him no splendid prospect in this world. The land was to be given not to himself but to his "seed." In the case of the patriarch himself the promise appeared to point to an earthly reward, but in reality had no such fulfilment. To Abraham himself "He gave none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on" (Act ). The promise referred to things remote and beyond the limits of his own earthly life. Here was faith which could trust in God against all appearances, and when denied of a present earthly reward. The children of this world are under the tyranny of the present. They believe that one now is worth many hereafters—one good actually in possession is worth more than a doubtful and late reversion. The faith of Abraham regarded a prospect higher than this world. It was enough for him that God had spoken and He would fulfil His word in His own way.

IV. It respected the outward forms of piety. Abraham was not satisfied with private devotion—with those exercises of the soul, which, though true and real, are invisible to others. He made a public profession and exhibition of his faith. He "built an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord" (Gen ). Of such an action we may say—

1. It was unworldly. When the men of this world find a fruitful plain, they build a city and a tower to enhance their own greatness, and to transmit their fame to coming generations. The children of faith make it the first duty to raise an altar to God. They regard all things as consecrated to Him whose they are, and whom they serve. The action of Abraham in building an altar amounted to the taking possession of the land for God. Thus the believer holds the gifts of Providence as the steward of them, and not as their possessor.

2. It satisfied a pious instinct which meets some of the difficulties of devotion. It is difficult for man to realise the invisible without the aid of the visible. Hence the pious in all ages have built places in which to worship God. This arises from no desire to limit God in space; but in order that men might feel that He is present everywhere, they must feel that He is specially present somewhere. God meets man by coming down to his necessity.

3. It was a public profession of his faith. Abraham was not one of those who hid the righteousness of God in his heart. He made it known to all around him by outward acts of devotion. Such conduct glorifies God, and gives religion the advantage that is derived from the corporate life of those who profess it.

4. It was an acknowledgement of the claims of God. By building an altar and calling upon the name of the Lord, Abraham confessed that all claims were on the side of God and not on that of man. He confessed that sin requires expiation, and that all true help and reward must come to man from above. The only religion possible to man is that of penitence and faith.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES

Gen . Obedience to the utmost of the Word of God is the necessary issue of a sound faith.—(Hughes.)

The rule of the believer's life is what God has spoken. The Divine word directs him in the way.

No sooner did Abraham receive the Divine command than he obeyed it. When acting in the ordinary affairs of life, and from mere worldly considerations, prudence may dictate delay, and the propriety of consulting friendly advice, but when the call is evidently from above, when the direction is clearly from God, to be dilatory is to be disobedient. Faith is prompt in compliance, and makes haste to execute the will of our Heavenly Master. Though the journey to be undertaken was above three hundred miles in length, and rendered formidable by deserts, high mountains, and thick forests, yet the patriarch implicitly puts himself under the conduct of that Providence whose summons had called him forth, and following its leadings bade defiance to difficulty and danger. (Bush.)

Every true believer longs for companions in his faith.

"So Abram departed." So starts the spirit of faith. Long is the struggle to leave "father's house." To go forth "not knowing whither we go," is trial enough. To go forth from "Father's house" at once seems impossible. Thus the old man of our fallen spiritual life, though it cannot really help us to Canaan, is still clung to. Indeed, at first it seems to help us. It is written, not Abram took Terah, but "Terah took Abraham;" for often some energy which is really corrupt is active, apparently in a good direction, when the elect is called. But Terah never passes Jordan; he can reach Chanan, no further. Having got thus far he has been long enough pilgrim, "he dwells there." … Once with the old man leading us we went forth to go into the land of Canaan; but we only got to Chanan and dwelt there. But the old man was buried; then again we started to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan we came.—(Jukes: Types of Genesis.)

Gen . He who shows the obedience of faith is fitted to be a leader of other souls.

Piety moves along the lines of natural affection. A man may desire most of all the salvation of his own household, without deserving the imputation of narrowness and partiality.

No great spiritual work is wrought in any soul without affecting many others.

Though the sense of "making proselytes" is not conveyed by the words in their primary meaning, yet they are expressly thus rendered in the Jerusalem Targum; and the Chaldee paraphrase has, "All the souls which he had subdued unto the law," and the fact that Abraham is afterwards said to have had three hundred and eighteen trained (Heb. catechised) servants in his house, as well as his acknowledged character as a pious man, makes the supposition altogether probable. The true sense of the phrase, at any rate, so nearly approximates to this, that we cannot hesitate to adduce the example of Abraham as an admonition to us, that, wherever the providence of God shall place us, there we are to labour to be "makers of souls," to gain proselytes to our Heavenly Master, to increase to the utmost the number of those who shall devote themselves to His fear and service.—(Bush).

Faith moveth souls only to the Land of Promise. Such was Canaan, Heb ; good in itself, Deu 8:7-9; Eze 20:6; Jehovah's Land, Hos 9:3; Holy Land, Zec 2:12; Land of Immanuel, Isa 8:8; a type of heaven, Heb 11:9-10.—(Hughes).

Gen . Pilgrimage is noticed first. Abram dwells in tents to the end, possessing nothing here save a burial place. And the spirit in us, which obeys God's call, will even yet dwell in tents and be a pilgrim. The old man may rest in outward things and be settled, but the spirit of faith has here no certain dwelling-place. Its tent is often stretched by rains and winds; yet the spirit of faith lives, and by these very trials is kept from many snares. For the called one cannot be as Moab, "settled on his lees." "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, he hath settled on his lees, he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remaineth in him, his scent is not changed" (Jer 48:11). Abram, and David, and Israel, have all been emptied from vessel to vessel. Pilgrimage is their appointed lot, because true life is always progressing, moving. In the course of this discipline, trials befall them which others never meet with; failures, too, are seen, such as we never see in the prudent worldly man. When did Nahor go down to Egypt, or deny his wife? When did Saul, like David, go down to Achish, and play the madman? But in this same course God is seen, and man is learnt.—(Jukes: Types of Genesis.)

The children of faith are but pilgrims in this world. Others are in possession of the land: they are bound elsewhere.

The believer should follow the command of God, though, to all human appearance, no definite end be reached. A strong faith should be able to bear the utmost trial.

This first halting place of Abram and his household in the Land of Promise was the "City of Samaria, called Sychar," where Our Lord sowed the early seeds of His Gospel doctrine in His conversation with the Samaritan woman (Joh ); and it was the same place at which Philip first preached in the transition of the Christian Church from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Act 7:5), where it should be rendered "a city of Samaria"—the phrase being the very same in the Greek as in Joh 4:5—(Jacobus).

The enemies of God are still in the land through which we pass in our faith's journey. The believer is more than a pilgrim on the earth, he is also a stranger.

Gen . He who created the spirit of man can have access to it in whatever way it pleases Him.

God does more than act upon men by the outward circumstances of life. He can appear to the spirit of man and impress it by His presence and His word.

"And the Lord appeared unto Abram." A reference to various other passages where a similar event is described, leads to the belief that such manifestations were vouchsafed for the most part in dreams and visions of the night, when supernatural revelations were made in such a way as to carry the evidence of their Divinity along with them. But until we know more of the nature of spirits and of the mode of spiritual communications, we must be content to abide in comparative ignorance on this whole matter. Certain it is that that Almighty power which has raised our bodies from the dust, which has formed the eye and planted the ear, and whose inspiration hath given us understanding, can avail itself of any avenue that it pleases to reach the sentient spirits of His creatures, whether in their sleeping or waking moments, and impart the knowledge of His will. To the pious and humble mind it will be matter rather of devout admiration and praise than of curious research, that the Father of our spirits is thus pleased to manifest His presence in the secret chambers of the soul, and by unknown channels to infuse strength, peace, confidence, and refreshing joy into the hearts of His servants, who are disposed to make sacrifices and to encounter perils for His sake. The Scriptures teem with assurance to such that they, like Abraham, shall not fail of their reward, even in the present life.—(Bush.)

In the deepest trials God often manifests Himself most clearly. If the call of faith seems hard to flesh and blood, the warrant of it will be made all the stronger. The revelation of God is graduated to the needs of the soul.

When God is seen by the inner eye, then only has a man true spiritual knowledge. All other religion but that which is in this way derived is but the religion of tradition or authority; and does not rest upon that real knowledge of the truth which comes of the vision of God. The "inspiration of the Almighty" is the source of man's understanding and true wisdom.

God reveals Himself and His purposes gradually, so rewarding one degree of faith as to beget another. The land was first shown to Abraham, and afterwards the promise was uttered that God would give it to him.

"There he builded an altar unto the Lord."

1. The spiritual feelings of the soul express themselves in outward acts of devotion.

2. The gifts of God should be consecrated to His service. Noah thus consecrated the new world, and now Abraham the Land of Promise.

3. The believer should assure himself of a title to his inheritance. Abraham, by building an altar, took possession of the land on the ground of the right secured to him by faith. However poor and unpromising the prospect around us, we can secure our title to the heavenly Canaan.

As he went along he erected altars to commemorate the mercies of God, and to remind his posterity that this was really their own land. Here we have that strange feeling of human nature, the utter impossibility of realising the invisible except through the visible. Churches, what are they built for? To limit God and bind Him down to space? or to explain God to us, to enable us to understand Him, and to teach us that not there only, but in every place He is present? Consider then what the land of Canaan became. Gradually it was dotted over with these stones, teaching the Israelites that it was a sacred land. What these stones did for the Israelites our memory does for us; it brings back in review our past life. Remember, I pray you, what that life will be to you when it all appears again. Blessed, thrice blessed, is the man to whom life is as it was to Abram, dotted over with memorials of communion with God. But your life—that guilty thought and act, that unhallowed feeling—dare you see it come before you again? I pray you remember that this return of all the past, to memory, in the day when God shall judge your life, is no dream, but one of the things that must be hereafter.—(Robertson.)

Wherever he had a tent God had an altar, and an altar sanctified by prayer.—(Henry.)

Abraham erected an altar.

1. As a protest against the idolatry around him. He was everywhere surrounded by idolatrous neighbours, and it was due to his high calling to show allegiance to the true God. As the Canaanites were a fierce and proud people he would thereby expose himself to persecution. But he would not deny God even at the peril of his life.

2. As a pious example to his household. He was a man of some social distinction—the lord of a large household. We hear afterwards of his having "three hundred and eighteen trained servants, born in his own house." How great must have been the influence of his example upon these! They saw continually before them a hero of the faith who was not ashamed to confess the true God, amidst the ridicule and scorn of the heathen around him.

3. As a recognition of an atoning sacrifice for sin. Ever since the Fall all worship had to take account of the fact that sin requires expiation. "Though nothing is here stated of sacrificial offering yet the building of an altar fairly implies this."—(Jacobus.)

On the hill east of this sacred ground Abram built another altar, and called upon the name of the Lord. Here we have the reappearance of an ancient custom instituted in the family of Adam after the birth of Enoch (Gen ). Abram addresses God by His proper name Jehovah, with an audible voice in his assembled household. This, then, is a continuation of the worship of Adam with additional light according to the progressive development of the moral nature of man.—(Murphy).

It is the characteristic of the members of the true Church of God that they call upon His name.

Gen . We may on various occasions change places, provided we carry the true religion with us; in this we must never change.—(Fuller).

Abraham pulled up and pitched his tent, from point to point, during the course of his journey. Such is our condition as Christians. We have here "no continuing city," but are moving towards a permanent home. We do not dwell in tents, but our habitations in this world are sufficiently moveable to remind us that our true rest is not here. There is no fixity in our human life. Our houses change their inhabitants often, and we are passing on to other scenes.

To all points, East, and West, and South, God orders the motions of the saints, to leave some savour of His truth everywhere.—(Hughes).

ILLUSTRATIONS

BY THE

REV. WM. ADAMSON

Abram and History! Gen .

(1) The unchanged habits of the East, says Stanley, render it a kind of living Pompeii. The outward appearances, which, in the case of the Greeks and Romans, we knew only through art and writing—through marble, fresco, and parchment—in the case of Jewish history we know through the forms of actual men living and moving before us, wearing the same garb, speaking almost the same language as Abram and the patriarchs.

(2) From Ur of the Chaldees, remarks Landels, comes forth, in one sense, the germ of all that is good throughout succeeding generations. His appearance, like that of some great luminary in the heavens, marks an epoch in the world's history. A stream of influence flows from him—not self-originated, but deriving its existence from those heaven-clouds of Divine dew of blessing resting upon this lofty summit of his soul.

(3) Widening as it flows, and promoting, in spite of the occasional checks and hindrances it meets with, spiritual life and health, that stream is vastly more deserving of exploration and research than the streams of the Lualaba and Niger, or the sources of the Nile and Zambesi. Such exploration and research will be productive of incalculable benefit to those who engage therein with right motives and aspirations.

"Truth springs like harvest from the well-ploughed field,

And the soul feels it has not searched in vain."—Bonar.

Father of Faithful! Gen . Here we have—

1. The Call (Gen );

2. The Command (Gen );

3. The Covenant (Gen );

4. The Conditions (Gen );

5. The Compliance (Gen );

6. The Conversion (Gen ); and

7. The Considerations.—The call was from God. The command was to leave his native land. The covenant was protection and preservation, etc. The condition was that of simple trust and confidence. The compliance was that Abraham journeyed first to Haran, thence to Canaan. The conversion of Abraham was evidently the erection of the "altar," erected wherever he pitched his tent. And the considerations are

(1) That God calls and commands each of the sons of men to come out from a world lying in wickedness, and make life a pilgrimage to heaven.

(2) That God covenants and conditions with each of the sons of men obeying this call to crown their lives with loving-kindness and tender mercies.

(3) That God counts and compensates for all sacrifices and sufferings endured in complying with His call with the Crown of Life that fadeth not away.

"One of the chivalry of Christ! He tells us how to stand

With rootage like the palm, amid the maddest whirl of sand."—Massey.

Abram's Call! Gen .

(1) The Talmud, in face of Genesis 12, asserts that Abram left Ur on account of Nimrod's attempt to kill him. The king's design, however, was frustrated by Eleazar, a slave of Abram, whom Nimrod had presented to him. He told Abram of the king's dream—of the interpretation which the wise men put upon it—and of the king's design to kill him. So Abram hastened to the house of Noah, and remained there hiding while the servants of the king searched his own home and the surrounding country in vain, and he remained a longer time—even until the people had forgotten him. Then Abram said to Therach, his father, "Let us all journey to another land; let us go to Canaan." And Noah and his son Shem added their entreaties to his, until Therach consented to do as they wished. And they went forth to Charran.

(2) The Scripture asserts a Divine call. It assures us that this Divine call did not include the name of the land to which he would take them. It authorises the belief that Abram obeyed God's command in simple faith, i.e., in entire ignorance of the "where." And it associates Charran with Abram's emigration only so long as Terah lived. The puerilites and perversions of the Talmudic Tales bear on their faces their own condemnation as false witnesses; whereas God's word has on it the impress of truth.

"Pure is the Book of God, with sweetness filled;

More pure than massive, unadulterate gold;

More sweet than honey from the rock distilled."—Mant.

Obedience of Faith! Gen .

(1) Suppose a man were to build a tower without any foundation, intending to place the foundations on the roof. What would happen it is easy to surmise. The fabric would very soon give way. Many do this in spiritual things. They place "the foundations of faith" upon the superstructure of obedience. It is obedience that must rise up on the basis of faith. "Trust in God and do the right," is a wise maxim; but some make the proverb an inverted pyramid. Place Pharaoh's great pyramid on its apex, and we can easily conceive the result. Abram first believed, then obeyed God.

(2) "Hasten onward with your troop to yonder ravine; hold your ground there until I arrive with the main body of the army." Such were the orders of the great general to one of his brigadier officers, and he was obeyed. But whence sprang the subaltern's obedience? He trusted his general's "Until I arrive with the main body of the army." Faith was not the blossom, it was the root, and obedience the flower. Abram's obedience—so prompt and perfect—had its root in Divine trust. Believing God, he obeyed, and went forth, not knowing whither.

"Yes! strong in faith I tread the uneven ways,

And bare my head unshrinking to the blast;

And if the way seems rough, I only clasp

The hand that leads me with a firmer grasp."—Lynch.

Moral Emigration! Gen .

(1) When Abram announced his determination to go forth, his keen-sighted friends doubtless inquired to what land he was directed. But the intending emigrant knew not. They would suggest that all might be a delusion; or that it might be far off, and the way perilous; or that, even should it be reached, he might find it a bleak and inhospitable desert. But Abram trusted God on all points.

(2) When Bunyan allegorized the sinner's call from the City of Destruction, he fully realised its analogy to that of Abram. To the dwellers in the "City of Destruction" the "Promised Land" was more or less a doubtful realm—if not doubtful in its existence, certainly so in its locality and characteristics. But the moral pilgrim would not be deterred from the Divine emprise. He trusted God on all points.

(3) When a young man receives the Divine call to forsake a world lying in wickedness, and become a stranger and sojourner in the earthly land of "promise and grace," what efforts are put forth by friends to dissuade him from such an emigration. Many, alas! have failed in the fiery ordeal. They have not been able to resist the plausible insinuations, the subtle surmises of professed friends. They have not trusted God on all points.

"Faith feels the Spirit's kindling breath

In love and hope, that conquer death;

Faith brings us to delight in God,

And blesses e'en His smiting rod."

Canaan Route! Gen . Westward they went. Two days' travel would bring them to the border of the Euphrates, which would be about ten or twelve feet deep. On rafts of skin, Abraham's goods and chattels would be carried to the western bank; or he may have used boats—circular boats, "round like a shield," as an old historian describes them—built of willow boughs, covered with skins and smeared with bitumen. Once on the west side, a seven days' journey would bring him to Aleppo. The Arabs have a tradition that Aleppo derives it name from "haleb," because Abraham's servants here milked the kine to give to the poor inhabitants. Thence Abraham would proceed to Damascus, and southward to Canaan by way of the beautiful upland district of Gilead and Bashan. On his way, from crag and peak, the pilgrim would catch many a glance of the "Home of his pilgrimage."

"From every mountain's rugged peak

The promised land I view;

And from its fields of fragrant bloom

Come breezes laden with perfume,

To fan my weary brow."

Moreh! Gen . Abraham crossed, no doubt, at the ford of Bethabara. Here would rise before him a stretch of mountain country, several thousand feet high. The only way to enter upon it would be by the ravines of the watercourses, known as the wadys. These are steep and winding, and often narrow. Most of them are dry, except in the rainy season. But sometimes they widen out into little valleys and strips of meadow, with a spring gushing up. One of these wadys opens with a beautiful rich plain, and as it leads to the place of Sichem probably this was Abraham's selected route. One translation says that Abram came to the "plain," but the Hebrew word is "oak" of Moreh, a little plain between the rocky ridges known as Ebal and Gerisim. No more beautiful and fertile region could the patriarch have selected for his pilgrim tent and altar.

"The fresh young leaves on the hoar oak trees

Quivered and fluttered in glee;

And the merry rills from the mighty hills

Shouted his lullaby."—Schönberg.

Divine Repetitions! Gen .

(1) In many aspects there is a remarkable parallel between this portion of Genesis and the Gospel narratives of the New Testament. Here we have the Son of God calling Abraham, first in Ur, then in Haran. In the life of David we have this reiteration, so to speak, of Divine will, a reiteration apparent in the prophetic calls. In the New Testament we have the Son of Man calling the disciples twice over at the beginning of His ministry, and again twice over after His resurrection. Even in the Acts of the Apostles Paul seems to have had a similar double call. The same Divine repetitions reappear in the Apocalyptic annals of the Patmos seer.

(2) The spiritual lesson is that God's Holy Spirit often repeats His call—the second being in more emphatic and explicit terms. It has been suggested that Abraham was remiss in complying with the call in Ur, hence its repetition in Haran. But this is mere conjecture. The analogy of faith is progressive—a fuller development of the Divine ideal and intention. The captain gives his soldiers a general apprehension of his design and their duty, and on the march he more fully unfolds his design and unveils their duty.

"So, darkness in the pathway of man's life

Is but the shadow of God's providence,

By the great sun of wisdom cast thereon,

And what is dark below is light in heaven."—Whittier.

Promised Possession! Gen .

(1) Old Canaan was a very nice country. Yet in itself it was scarcely worth while promising in possession. It was nothing to the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, of Cyrus, of Alexander, of the Cæsars, or of the sovereigns of England. "Is it not, therefore," asks Gibson, "perfectly obvious that the ‘promised possession' was not the gift of so many acres, but of a land separated from the nations, from heathenism, from the wickedness of a corrupt world. And that for the ‘world's sake.'"

(2) It was the Lord's startling statement to the proud children of Abram after the flesh, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day." Messiah's day had begun in Abraham's day; the patriarch saw it, and was glad. The day of salvation was scanned by Abram on hope's lofty summit by faith's eye, as Moses surveyed the promised land from Nebo's towering height. "This land" expanded and widened out into the "renewed world." He beheld the fertile and fruitful fields of the Messianic land of grace.

"He heard the promise as one hears

The voice of waters through a wood;

And Faith foreran th' appointed years,

And grasp'd the substance of the good."

Heart-Hunger! Gen .

(1) The amœlia, a small jellyfish or speck, driven by its instinctive craving, searches for that in the environment which is fitted to its use. It then makes its whole self into a stomach to wrap about the food which it has secured. Under excitement from this instinctive craving, the locusts go forth in bands, and, braver than the Amazonian warriors of Ashantee, scale walls and smother with their dead bodies the fires which are lit to oppose their progress. In the world of struggling races, this instinctive unrest acts like a mighty hammer to spread out the nations, and fuse them under its blows. This craving, pure and simple, is constitutional, and, therefore, Divine in its origin. In the case of man, the introduction of sin, while it has distorted that craving, has intensified the hunger.

(2) The traditions, therefore, about Abram have doubtless a solid substratum of truth. Abram craved after God. His heart hungered after a knowledge of God. Augustine of Milan tells of a "deep-seated craving" which he long tried to satisfy. Such was the heart-hunger of Abram when God revealed Himself as the true and satisfying food. "Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none upon the earth that I desire in comparison of Thee." When Abram fed upon this knowledge of God he was satisfied. We do not say that "heart-hunger" ceased. Far otherwise. Each feast of the heart upon Divine knowledge whetted the appetite for more, while it furnished strength and ministered satisfaction.

"Still, still without ceasing.

I feel it increasing,

This hunger of holy desire."—Guyon.

Travelling South! Gen .

(1) There are in this country about forty-five species, says Neil, of the orchis. All these plants are pilgrim-travellers. The early purple, Orchis Mascula, every year throws out a new bulb or tubercule, always on the side towards the south. By this means it always changes its position, and little by little advances to the southward. It thus steadily travels on to the bright home of this family of flowers in the tropics—the cloudless land of sun.

(2) And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. The soul, which has heaven for its home patiently grows heavenward—growing up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. Southward from the cold, bleak wastes of worldly conformity—southward to the warm haunt of everlasting flowers—the land of unclouded sunshine.

"So live that you each year may be,

While time glides softly by,

A little farther from the earth,

And nearer to the sky."

Pilgrim Purpose! Gen .

(1) Dwellers in houses are exposed to dangers such as the dwellers in tents do not fear. Passive waters become stagnant, while the ruffled waves abide incorrupt. Abram's tent was often searched by winds and rains; yet he was safe from the stagnancy of city life. The gipsy knows little or nothing of the fevers associated with settled dwellings of brick and stone. Moab's ease leads to Moab's being settled on his lees; whereas, Israel by captivity learns what is in his heart towards God, and what is in God's heart towards him.

(2) Abram's tent-life was a Divine purpose. It was linked with the encountering of storms and tempests. But the lofty pine of Norway becomes statelier, and strikes its roots more firmly amid the crevices of the mountains, the more the breezes battle amid its spreading boughs. "If my life has been one of trouble, it has also been one of much spiritual blessing. I gained more strength and acquired more knowledge from my varying experience of calm and storm, than otherwise I should. It is through the Divine mercy."

"Great truths are greatly won, not found by chance,

Nor wafted on the breath of summer dream:

But grasped in the great struggle of the soul,

Hard buffeting with adverse wind and stream."—Bonar.


Verses 10-20

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Gen . A famine in the land] The frequent famines are a peculiar characteristic of early times, and of uncivilised lands. Egypt as a rich and fruitful land was even then a refuge from famine, as it was in the history of Jacob (Lange). Egypt being annually watered by the overflow of the Nile, and not depending on rains for the crops, was the great grain-growing region, and corn could be found there when famine prevailed in the adjoining country (Jacobus).—

Gen . He said unto Sarai] Thus to maintain the pretence that she was his sister was a settled matter between them.—A fair woman] Heb. "Fair of aspect" (Sept). "Of fair countenance." "The original implies fairness of complexion, and one therefore likely to attract the attention of the darker coloured Egyptians" (Bush).—

Gen . Say, I pray thee] Heb. "Say now"—a word not indicating time, but request and entreaty. This word is used with a similar meaning in English.—My soul shall live because of thee] Heb. napshi—a word often used for the person, or individual life. Here, the meaning evidently is, "My life shall be spared because of thee."

Gen . Pharaoh] Not a personal name, but a title common to all the kings of Egypt, like that of Cæsar among the Romans. And commended her before Pharaoh.] Modern travellers speak in a similar way of Oriental kings, who incorporate into their harems the beautiful women of their land in a perfectly arbitrary way" (Knobel.) "The recognition of Sarah's beauty is more easily explained, if we take into view that the Egyptian women, although not so dark a complexion as the Nubians or Ethiopians, were yet of a darker shade than the Asiatics. The women of high rank were usually represented upon the monuments in lighter shades for the purpose of flattery" (Hengstenberg.)—

Gen . Entreated Abram well for her sake] Heb., "Did good to Abram for her sake"—bestowed upon him many favours and gifts. Sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maid, servants, and she asses, and camels] For "she asses" the Septuagint has mules. "The presents are much the same as the items of the patriarchal wealth given elsewhere (e.g., Gen 24:25; Gen 33:15; Job 1:3; Job 42:12). It is to be observed that in these enumerations we nowhere find horses mentioned, though they were the pride of Egypt" (Alford).—

Gen . Plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues] Heb., "Beat him with great strokes or blows." We know not what was the nature of these chastisements, but they were evidently of such a nature as to guard Sarai from injury (Gen 20:4; Gen 20:6). Josephus says that the cause of these plagues was revealed to Pharaoh by the priests.—

Gen . And they sent him away.] The term implies that he was provided with an honourable escort to ensure his safe departure from Egypt. "The original term is often used for that kind of sending or conveying away which is marked by peculiar tokens of honour and respect, as when a guest is accompanied at his departure to some distance by his host and a party of friends" (Bush).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Gen

ABRAM IN EGYPT: THE TEMPTATIONS AND TRIALS OF A LIFE OF FAITH

Hitherto in the life of Abram we have seen nothing but implicit obedience and heroic faith. We have seen a man who put himself entirely in the hands of God for the direction and control of his whole earthly course and destiny. Now, we have the same man under the trial of great affliction and perplexity betraying a want of confidence in God, and having a distorted sense of what is true and right. Under trial Abram showed those weaknesses which are common to man. Faith—even in the case of the most renowned saints—is not exempted from those imperfections which cling to all other virtues and graces. The whole of the religious life of man is complicated by his moral position in this world. The terrible facts of man's condition in this present life must be admitted. Divine grace has to work upon human souls tormented and distracted by many cares, tried by the temptations of the flesh and of the mind, and often in great perplexity, through the complications of human affairs, as to where the path of duty lies. The life of faith has many temptations and trials. Of these we may observe—

I. That they may arise from temporal calamities. Abram, who had hitherto lived in plenty, is now exposed to famine, and is in danger to lack and suffer hunger (Gen ). He is literally starved out of the land, and is forced to go down to Egypt for help. Famine is one of the rods of God, which He uses to punish the wicked and to correct the penitent. It was necessary that the character of Abram should be perfected by the trial of affliction, for there is a hope which only comes to us through the ancestry of tribulation, patience, and experience. Man must know by the bitter experiment how weak he is, and that if he reaches any noble end at all his success must be ascribed to Divine grace alone. Still, the trials arising from temporal calamities are, for the present, grievous.

1. They direct the whole care and attention of the mind to themselves. Abram is now obliged by the pressure of want to leave the land of his sojourn, and to endure the hardships of a second exile. He is forced to do that by hard necessity which he would not do by choice or prompted by the spirit of adventure. The great calamities of life absorb all a man's care and attention. His whole energy is employed in seeking how he may deliver himself. Chiefest among these trials is the lack of daily bread. While this want is pressing upon a man his mind cannot suffer any other care. To make religion possible to man he must first of all live. His existence—however humble in some of its aspects—is the basis of all that is afterwards laid upon it. Hence in the Lord's Prayer the petition for daily bread comes first in order. It is a terrible trial to be in want of those things which are necessary for the support of physical life. Under the oppression of such a calamity a man can think of little else besides his own pressing want.

2. They may suggest doubt in the Divine providence. We can imagine a faith so strong as never to be disturbed by any doubt. A saint of God may say, in some exalted moments of spiritual life, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." But, considering what human nature is, great calamities may for awhile cloud and obscure the sense of God's loving providence. There are times when it may be difficult for a man to realise that he has a Father above who knows his wants and cares for him. To Abram the visitation of famine would be peculiarly trying. He was in danger to lack and suffer hunger in the land of promise and plenty. It would be but natural that he should be tempted to regret that ever he had left his native land, and that he should call in question the Divine origin of the command that bade him encounter the trials and dangers of a wandering life. There was room for the temptation, though Abram sinned not in this. He still retained his hold upon the promise.

3. They serve to give us an exaggerated estimate of past trials. It would seem as if all calamities were now rushing upon Abram. Past trials would come back to him and renew his grief—the friends he had lost, the delay of promised good, the dangers of his pilgrimage. In great troubles it often happens that all the evils and sufferings of former years revive and oppress our souls by their multitude. Abram endured the trial of all his sorrows rushing upon him at once. But a life of faith has other temptations and trials.

II. They may arise from the difficulty of applying the principles of religion to the moral problems of life. Abram knew that his wife's beauty would expose her to danger in the court of Pharaoh, and that his own life might be sacrificed should it stand in the way of the foul desires of that licentious monarch. Therefore, to save himself, he has recourse to falsehood. He did not tell a full-orbed lie, but concealed a portion of the truth. His sin might be described as dissimulation, or, at least, equivocation. Though Abram was an example to all believers in the strength of his faith, yet he was not such an example in the application of it to the affairs of life. In our human experience complications often arise which make it difficult for us to act with due regard to the great principles of truth and righteousness. In applying such principles to special cases we are in danger of committing grievous moral errors.

1. We may be tempted to have recourse to false prudence and expediency. In the affairs of this life there is often a certain reticence imposed upon us which we can maintain consistently with our devotion to truth. Society drives us to the necessity of using many expedients of prudence. But there is a false prudence and expediency. We have no right to save ourselves by the sacrifice of truth. We should be true at all hazards. Abram evaded the truth, and acted as a man of the world, and not as a follower of righteousness. The path of duty often lies where we require much practical wisdom to enable us to walk sure-footedly. Faith may be strong in us, and yet we (like Abram) may fail in applying the principles of it to special cases. Our constant temptation is to use doubtful means in order to save our own interests.

2. We are exposed to the sin of tempting Providence. It is probable that Abram regarded the course he adopted in the light of a provisional expediency, rendered necessary by the perplexing situation; and that he hoped that God would, in some way at last, extricate him from the difficulty. He had grievously entangled himself, and he looked to Divine Providence to untie the knot. But we have no right thus to tempt Providence by departing from the clear path of duty, and then expecting the evils we have thus brought upon ourselves shall be rectified. There are complications in our human life in which we are exposed to this sin of presumption. If we acknowledge God in all our ways, we may expect that He will direct us; but if we use our own wisdom, doubtful and imperfect at best, and often sinful, it is vain to hope that He will adjust all our difficulties.

3. We may be tempted to preserve one good at the expense of another. Abram had faith that whatever difficulties might arise in the future God would fulfil His promise. He knew that the promise was intimately connected with himself. The word which God had given him implied the preservation of his own life. With a devotion commendable in itself, he fastens upon the promise as a desired good, and he is ready to sacrifice any other good in order that the promise might stand firm. He will preserve the blessing even at the expense of the honour of his wife. Such are some of the moral perplexities of human life. They expose us to the temptation of casting away one virtue in order to preserve another.

4. They may tempt us to hesitate concerning what is right. When we have clear principles of duty to guide us there ought to be no hesitation. Conscience should be obeyed at once. We should do what the spiritual instincts of the soul determine to be right, and leave the result to God. If we perform our duty God will accomplish His purpose, no matter what stands in the way. But Abram hesitates when he had clear light on his duty, and devises the expedient of a man of this world but quite unworthy of a man of faith. It is dangerous to hesitate when our moral obligation is clear.

III. They are made the means of impressing valuable moral lessons. Abram would learn many lessons from his bitter experience in Egypt.

1. That man cannot by his own strength and wisdom maintain and direct his own life. Abram thought that he had acted prudently—that his own wisdom was sufficient. But he found that man must humbly depend upon God, and mistrust himself, if he would be preserved in the safe path of duty. Faith is not exempt from that imperfection which belongs to every other virtue exercised by weak and erring man. Our own wisdom will only bring us to confusion; God must direct our steps, else we can reach no worthy end. Abram learnt also—

2. That adverse circumstances may be made to work for good. Abram's device had failed. The folly of his conduct appeared to his own confusion. Yet God so controlled events that they worked for his good. It is necessary sometimes that men learn wisdom by many and grievous failures. In the experiments of science, failures are often so much teaching. The labour of trial and investigation is not really lost. Important lessons are learned, and the mind is put upon the track of the truth. Our moral failures may serve to correct our errors and to deepen our sense of duty. It is the glory of God to bring good out of evil. Abram rose from the evil in which he had plunged himself with a stronger faith in God and His law. This was clear spiritual gain, though obtained by a painful and humiliating process.

4. That a good man may fail in his chief virtue. Moses was the meekest man of all the men that dwelt upon the face of the earth, yet it was he who spake unadvisedly with his lips. St. Peter, remarkable for his boldness, yet sinned through fear. Solomon, the wise, commits folly. Abram, the man of faith, by his dissimulation shows timid distrust in God; thinking that the Divine promise cannot be accomplished unless aided by the expedients of his wisdom.

IV. God is able to deliver from them all. When a man has the habitual intention of pleasing God, and when his faith is real and heart sincere, the lapses of his infirmity are graciously pardoned. God makes for him a way of escape, and grants the comfort of fresh blessings, and an improved faith. But,

1. God often delivers His people in a manner humiliating to themselves. "And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way" (Gen ). Here is the man of God rebuked by the man of the world—the Father of the Faithful taking a lesson in morality from a heathen! Pharaoh felt that he had been grievously wronged. Abram was taught the humiliating fact that his falsehood was unnecessary, and that had he adhered to the strict truth the difficulty would not have arisen. It is humiliating to be convicted of folly by men who are ignorant of the reality of religion.

2. God delivers them by a way by which His own name is glorified in the sight of men. The king saw that God had care of His people, that there was a sacred charm about their lives, and that their errors did not deprive them of the attentions of His love. He was taught by Divine judgment to respect the man of faith. God is careful of the honour of His servants, and glorifies His name in them in the sight of all men. Pharaoh might blame Abram, but he must have felt the majesty of the God whom Abram served.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES

Gen . Here the patriarch meets a sore trial of his faith. A stranger in a strange land, having removed from his comfortable home and loving kindred, he finds himself in the midst of famine, and in danger of starvation. No corn trade as yet existed between these countries. He therefore determined to leave the land of promise for the land of Egypt, lest he might perish of want.… Egypt being annually watered by the overflowing of the Nile, and not depending on rains for the crops, was the great grain-growing region, and corn could be found there when famine prevailed in the adjoining country (ch. Gen 42:1-2).—(Jacobus.)

Famine is the frequent scourge of uncivilised lands. The cultivation of man's intellectual and moral powers is necessary to the stability, comfort, and well-being of society. God has willed it that the powers and the happiness of mankind are to be enlarged by the struggle with natural difficulties.

The trials of God's people seldom come alone: one is the prelude to another.

We are reminded by the afflictions of our present state that this life is but a pilgrimage.

Abram goes down to Egypt only to sojourn there for a time, until the trouble be overpast. He still keeps his eye upon the Land of Promise, and his heart moves towards it. In all our wanderings here our soul should have a fixed centre.

As if all this were not enough to try him, even daily bread begins to fail him. He has hitherto been steadfast, he has "builded an altar" wherever he has dwelt, and has "called on the name of the Lord." He has at all hazards avowed his faith, and sought to glorify his God; but it seems as if, from very necessity, he must at last abandon the fruitless undertaking. He is literally starved out of the land. Why, then, should he not go back to his ancient dwelling-place, and try what good he can do, remaining quietly at home? There he would find peace and plenty; and he might seem to have a good reason, or at least a sufficient excuse for retracing his steps. But he is still faithful, and rather than draw back he will even encounter yet greater dangers. He will go down into Egypt for a time.—(Candlish.)

It was a grievous trial to Abram to be called of God to a high destiny, and then to find himself plunged into all the horrors of a famine. In more than one circumstance of his life did the Father of the Faithful believe against all human hope.

Gen . Abram cannot draw nigh to Egypt without some misgiving as to his moral and social safety. He seems to have been a stranger to such a feeling before, betraying no apprehension in all his journeyings from Ur to Haran, and from Haran through the land of Canaan. He had hitherto acted upon the command and direction of God, and therefore was supported by the consciousness of the Divine approval. Now, he relies upon his own wisdom, pursues his own course, and, therefore, is greatly left to his own resources, which prove to be so vain. Besides, the people among whom he wandered were broken up into many small and scattered tribes, against whose violence he had sufficient resources to protect himself. But now, in approaching Egypt, he is coming into a land where there is a compact society, fixed institutions, and a strong government. Abram might well begin to fear lest he might not be able to contend with the difficulties which he foresaw would arise from dwelling in an altogether different condition of society. Civilisation has many perils, as well as advantages for the children of faith.

Escaping one trouble he falls into another. The temptation of Satan in the wilderness was practised upon the patriarch, as it was afterward upon the Messiah himself—taking advantage of His hunger. Did he forget that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God?" Alas, Egypt was not the land that his covenant God had showed him; and God, his God, could command the stones of Judea, and they would become bread. Now, therefore, as he started upon his own counsel, he is cast upon his own further device. Plainly he is in perplexity, and feels that he is not under the same guardianship, nor travelling by the same Divine warrant as before. How much better to trust in God than to lean to our own understanding. How secure Abram might have been under the Divine guaranty and guidance that all that he needed would be supplied to him in the Land of Promise.—(Jacobus.)

There are difficult situations in human life in which the saints of God find that their old nature revives.

Beauty is a snare for them that have it, and them that love it.—(Hughes.)

"A fair woman." The term signifies brightness, and refers probably to a fair, clear complexion. Though she was now sixty-five years old, yet this was only as about twenty-five or thirty in our day; and she had not had even the common hardships of a married life; and besides, she was of a character which would shine out in the countenance, full of energy and vivacity. Sarah's beauty was now the ground of Abram's fear among such strangers as the Egyptians, speaking a different tongue, and having a powerful, despotic monarch.—(Jacobus.)

In all the changes of our life it is well for us to reflect beforehand what difficulties may await us; not that we may rely upon a carnal policy, but rather upon that grace which will be graduated to our necessity.

Gen . Whether the apprehension here expressed was grounded upon anything more than a knowledge of the general evil promptings of our corrupt nature, particularly in a base state of society, is uncertain. This alone would, doubtless, form a sufficient warrant for his fears, and the result shows that they were well founded. Still, he might have had special reasons for such an anticipation, arising from the known character and habits of the people, of which we are ignorant. The opinion expressed by him gives the Egyptians credit for being less scrupulous about murder than adultery, which shows their distorted views of right and wrong, and the fearful influence that unhallowed passions exert upon our moral judgments.—(Bush.)

As Abram went down to Egypt of his own accord, and not by the command of God, so he must have recourse of his own devices to deliver him from those dangers into which he is about to plunge himself by his wilfulness.

When once we forsake the counsel of God we are soon convinced of our own weakness.

Abram knew well what he might expect from a people to whom God had not made Himself known.

Cruelty follows hard upon lust.

Fear may overtake believers and weaken faith in times of danger.—(Hughes.)

Gen . The transgression of Abram was the saying that Sarah was his sister when she was his wife, and the saying was not distinctly false, but rather an evasion, for she was his half-sister. Now we do not say that every evasion is wrong. For example, when an impertinent question is asked respecting family circumstances or religious feelings, it is not necessary that we should tell all. There are cases, therefore, in which we may tell the truth, though not the whole truth. It was even so with our Redeemer, for when asked by the Pharisees why He made Himself the Son of God, He would give them no answer. But Abram's evasion was nothing of this kind, it was a deception. It was not keeping back part of the truth when the questioner has no right to ask; it was false expediency. It was not the selection of the imperfect because the perfect could not be had; but it was the choice between telling the truth and saving his own life.… Man must not stop to ask himself which is best, right or wrong; he must do right. It was on this principle that the blessed martyrs of old died for the truth; it was but an evasion that was asked of them, but they felt that there was no comparison between the right and the wrong in the matter.… There is but one apology that can be offered for Abraham, and that is the low standard of the age in which he lived; it must be remembered that he was not a Christian.—(Robertson.)

Abram may have been tempted to employ this device out of respect to the promise of God, for the fulfilment of which it was necessary that his own life should be preserved. But no man has occasion to be anxious as to how God will accomplish His word. We must in all doubtful cases act upon the clear principles of moral duty, and leave God to find out the way of deliverance.

The grandest heroism is to trust in God. Carnal policy betrays fear and alarm and makes a man a coward.

Abram, as he forsook God's direction, proceeded to doubt His power to spread a table in the wilderness. The history of his children shows that they were prone to the same fault (Num ).

It may seem strange that the Scripture contains no express disapprobation of the conduct of Abram. But its manner is to affirm the great principles of moral truth, on suitable occasions, with great clearness and decision; and, in ordinary circumstances, simply to record the actions of its characters with faithfulness, leaving it to the reader's intelligence to mark their moral quality. And God's mode of teaching the individual is to implant a moral principle in the heart, which, after many struggles with temptation, will eventually root out all lingering aberrations.—(Murphy.)

The path of duty is always straight, lying clear and even before us; when we depart from that, we wander into crooked ways which grow worse as we proceed.

The true heroism is to hold fast our integrity, to resist all temptations to save ourselves at the cost of the truth. He who casts himself entirely upon God has no cause to fear. The believer's motto should be, "Jehovah-jireh"—the Lord will provide.

Gen . What we have to fear from the hands of the ungodly we are likely to see verified.

Sarai was sixty-five years of age (Gen ) at the time when Abram describes her as a woman fair to look upon. But we are to remember that beauty does not vanish with middle age; that Sarai's age corresponds with twenty-five or thirty years in modern times, as she was at this time not half the age to which men were then wont to live; that she had no family or other hardship to bring on premature decay, and that the women of Egypt were far from being distinguished for regularity of feature, or freshness of complexion.—(Murphy.)

Gen . The fears of those who mistrust God, and lean upon their own wisdom, are sometimes realised.

The most precious gifts of God may prove a snare.

Gen . This fact is strikingly in accordance with the manner of the Egyptian court, and shows the author's knowledge of Egyptian customs. The formalities were most strict and rigorous. "No slave durst approach the consecrated priestly person of the Pharaohs, but the court and the royal suite consisted of the sons of the principal priests."—Diod. Sic. i. 70. They extolled her beauty that so they might minister to the indulgence of the king, and then their interest in his carnal gratification. And upon such representations of her charms the woman was taken to Pharaoh's house. How bitterly Abram must now have bewailed the complications into which he had brought himself. True, his object was so far accomplished that his life was spared; but what a life when bereft now of his wife, and made to think only of the threatened disgrace and ruin which stared her and himself in the face! How must he have grieved to see her led away from him to the harem of the Egyptian monarch, from whose iron will he had no appeal. (Jacobus.)

In all ages courtiers have been notorious for ministering to the evil passions of their royal masters. Few men have had the power to withstand the temptations which belong to the possession of unlimited authority.

Of course, Abram could not have been a consenting party in this transaction; and yet it does not appear that the king intended to act, or was considered to act, oppressively in taking away a man's sister without thinking his consent necessary. The passage is illustrated by the privilege which royal personages still exercise in Persia, and other countries of the East, of claiming for their harem the unmarried sister or daughter of any of their subjects. This exercise of authority is rarely, if ever, questioned or resisted, however repugnant it may be to the father or brother. He may regret, as an inevitable misfortune, that his relative ever attracted the royal notice; but, since it has happened, he does not hesitate to admit the right which royalty possesses. When Abimelech, king of Gerar, acted in a similar manner towards Sarah, taking her away from her supposed brother (Gen ), it is admitted that he did so "in the integrity of his heart and innocency of his hands," which allows his right to act as he did, if Sarah had been no more than Abraham's sister.—(Pictorial Bible.)

Sarah is a type of the Church, and the favour of kings has often proved a snare to her.

Augustine traces, at considerable length, the dispensational fulfilment of this history. In this view Sarah is the Church, or New Covenant body, which, in its way to the land of rest, gets into the world's house for awhile, but is not suffered to be defiled there.—(Jukes: Types of Genesis.)

Gen . There are times when our sins and faults seem to be rewarded by increased worldly prosperity. But there abides the consciousness of some deep loss for which the world can give us no compensation. Abram's possessions were increased, but he loses that which to him was more precious than wealth.

When Abram arrived there, Egypt was under the rule of the shepherd kings, whose government had its capital in the Delta, or northerly portion, where he entered. These presents are such as one pastoral chief would present to another. It is plain that only such presents must have been made to Abram as were particularly valuable to him as a nomad. Mules and camels appear on the ancient monuments of Egypt. But all these princely gifts could not appease the honest grief of such an one as Abram for the shameful removal from him of his beloved Sarah. And the presents he durst not refuse lest he perish.—(Jacobus.)

In this time of trial Abram must have reflected upon the evil which he had done by his prevarication. We may suppose that this was for him a time of repentance, and prayer that God would interpose to deliver him.

There are times when the kindness and good-will of the world may become a source of great perplexity to the Church.

Gen . God is faithful to His elect, and interposes to rescue them, even from the evils which they bring upon themselves.

Men who oppress and afflict the Church shall at length be overtaken by Divine justice. God breaks the rod by which he chastises His elect.

The judgments of God are often sent beforehand, to prevent further sin. Blessed is he who learns their solemn lesson and intent before it is too late.

The mode of the Divine interference is suited to have the desired effect on the parties concerned. As Pharaoh is punished we conclude that he was guilty in the eye of heaven in this matter. He committed a breach of hospitality by invading the private abode of the stranger. He further infringed the law of equity between man and man in the most tender point. A deed of ruthless self-will, also, is often rendered more heinous by a blameable inattention to the character or position of him who is wronged. So it was with Pharaoh. Abram was a man of blameless life and inoffensive manners. He was, moreover, the chosen and special servant of the most High God. Pharaoh, however, does not condescend to inquire who the stranger is whom he is about to wrong; and is thus unwittingly involved in an aggravated crime. But the hand of the Almighty brings even tyrants to their senses.—(Murphy.)

The professors of the true faith may sometimes commit folly, and act unworthy of their calling, yet will God teach men to respect them.

Though Abram was far from his home and in great perplexity, God was still caring for him and working out his deliverance.

And his house. They who minister to the sin of others are involved in the same condemnation and exposed to the same judgments. God has a controversy with the families of the wicked.

Kings and their people have often been reproved and punished for their treatment of the Church of God. (Psa ).)

Gen . God had reproved Pharaoh, and now Pharaoh reproves Abram. It is a sad thing that saints should do that for which they should justly fall under the reproof of the wicked. (Trapp.)

Pharaoh throws the blame entirely upon Abram, and forgets how much he himself had done to deserve the punishment that fell upon him. We may think ourselves merely the victims of others' sins, but when Divine judgments touch us, we may be sure that there is some evil in ourselves which needs correction.

Even a saint of God, when he is worthy of blame, may receive direction and reproof from the children of this world. The position may be humiliating, yet the lesson must not be despised on account of the quarter whence it comes. Heathen morality has some valuable teaching which would put to shame many who profess the true religion.

The very manner of the deliverance is a rebuke to Abram himself. The man of whom he thought so ill has fairly the advantage of him, both in reproving and in requiting him. The dignified remonstrance of Pharaoh, speaking as one wronged—and in this Particular instance, whatever might be his own sin, he was wronged, by the distrust which had been felt and the deceit which had been practised—is fitted deeply to humble the patriarch. And when he saw the king so reasonable now—nay, when he even learned that if he had been told the truth at first he would have been as reasonable then—well might the patriarch be ashamed of his unnecessary and unprofitable falsehood, his weak and well-nigh fatal act of unbelief. Had he trusted God and dealt justly by Pharaoh at the beginning, it might have fared better both with him and with Sarai. An honest testimony might have told even upon one whom they regarded as beyond the reach of truth and righteousness. Still, as it was, God made the fall of His servant an occasion of good. He glorified Himself in the eyes of Pharaoh and his court.—(Candlish.)

Gen . The plagues of God lead some worldly men to consider the cause wherefore they are sent.

Words are not mere sounds which die away and are forgotten; they often live in the actions of others, to save or to destroy.

It is sad when the man of the world has to reprove the saint of God for his lack of open honesty and truth. Many professing Christians might be put to shame by the purer morality of those who are outside.

There are some sins from which the children of this world, who are not wholly abandoned to vice, shrink as from something horrible, the very possibility of which in their own case alarms them.

The justice of restitution, when the wrong is felt and known, is apparent to those who follow the light of natural religion.

The judgments of God upon Pharaoh quickened his conscience so that it answered to the eternal law of right.

The words, "So might I," etc., might also be rendered, And I took her to me to wife. This Pharaoh did, although, as we may fairly supply from the subsequent account (compare Gen with ch. Gen 20:6) that he was providentially withheld from consummating his marriage with her.—(Alford.)

Gen . Pharaoh now gives commandment to his men—his servants—officials who could be charged with this business. And they sent him away. The Septuagint reads, to send him away—as though this was what the men were commanded to do—to send forth Abram and his household from the country. The term implies an honourable escort, for his safe departure from Egypt with all that he had—cattle, goods, etc. (Gen 12:16).—(Jacobus.)

Abram's experience in Egypt was—

1. A means of reproving him for his sins. He left, without sufficient deliberation, the land which God had showed him. He showed want of confidence in the provisions of God in the time of distress, and resorted to a worldly policy to aid him in the time of perplexity. His experience was—

2. A strange discipline, by which he was brought back to the Land of Promise. Through such painful and weary paths does God often bring His people to the land of their inheritance.

Thus was Abram delivered; thus even now are individuals freed; thus shall the poor captive Church escape at last. The world will not have us among them because our principles judge them, and God will not have us there. In this one thing God and the world agree. Both, at last, say to us, "Behold thy wife; take her and go thy way."—(Jukes: Types of Genesis.

ILLUSTRATIONS

BY THE

REV. WM. ADAMSON

Abram and History! Gen .

(1) The unchanged habits of the East, says Stanley, render it a kind of living Pompeii. The outward appearances, which, in the case of the Greeks and Romans, we knew only through art and writing—through marble, fresco, and parchment—in the case of Jewish history we know through the forms of actual men living and moving before us, wearing the same garb, speaking almost the same language as Abram and the patriarchs.

(2) From Ur of the Chaldees, remarks Landels, comes forth, in one sense, the germ of all that is good throughout succeeding generations. His appearance, like that of some great luminary in the heavens, marks an epoch in the world's history. A stream of influence flows from him—not self-originated, but deriving its existence from those heaven-clouds of Divine dew of blessing resting upon this lofty summit of his soul.

(3) Widening as it flows, and promoting, in spite of the occasional checks and hindrances it meets with, spiritual life and health, that stream is vastly more deserving of exploration and research than the streams of the Lualaba and Niger, or the sources of the Nile and Zambesi. Such exploration and research will be productive of incalculable benefit to those who engage therein with right motives and aspirations.

"Truth springs like harvest from the well-ploughed field,

And the soul feels it has not searched in vain."—Bonar.

Egypt! Gen . In Syria the harvests depend upon the regular seasons of rain. When these rains do not fall a famine follows. Such famines are, as they were, of frequent occurrence in Syria. While Abraham journeyed as a pilgrim-patriarch from Moreh to Hai and Bethel a famine arose, which forced him southwards to Egypt. It was then the great garden-field of the East, and was properly limited to that portion of Africa watered by the Nile. The periodical overflowings of this river made Egypt exceedingly fertile, so that there was generally plenty there when Syria and other eastern countries were passing through all the horrors of famine. Of that plenty Abram heard. He must also have heard of Egypt's king, the first and most powerful of those "shepherd-kings" immortalised in history as such, because they were foreigners, supposed to have belonged to some of the powerful pastoral nations who kept flocks and made wars.

"Monarchs, the powerful and the strong,

Famous in history and in song

Of olden time."—Longfellow.

Christian Character! Gen .

(1) Seaweed plants, which live near the surface of the water, are green, whereas those in lower beds of the sea assume deeper shades of rich olive, and down in the depths still below, far removed from worldly glare, and where no human eye can penetrate, these flowers of ocean are clothed with hues of splendour.

(2) Abram's surface qualities do not look so very attractive, mingling as they do with human defect. But the deeper down we gaze into the moral depths of his being, the fairer are the flowers blooming there. Gazing into the clear tranquil depths of Abram's spirit, far removed from worldly glare or natural discernment, we behold richly-coloured graces and virtues.

"On all things created remaineth the half-effaced signature of God,

Somewhat of fair and good, though blotted by the finger of corruption."

Faith and Fear! Gen .

(1) "That portion of the fortifications is naturally so strong and isolated that we need not fear the besiegers there; let us look to the weak points in our defence, and place strong bodies of troops for their protection." Such was the governor's counsel to his subalterns. But the enemy had a subtle and far-seeing leader, who, anticipating such a course on the part of the garrison, actually assailed the strongest—because most unguarded—point of the citadel. The result was as the besieging general calculated upon. They found few soldiers; these few were speedily overcome, and the stronghold captured.

(2) Abraham's faith was his strongest point. The enemy of souls assailed it, as in reality the weakest; and the fortress of piety and trust was captured. The "Man-soul of Abram" fell into Satan's hands for the time. Had not the overruling providence of God made a way of escape to Abraham, he would assuredly have been hopelessly enslaved. But as the "Friend of God," he was delivered out of the snare of the fowler and led back to Bethel.

(3) It was this fear which led an eminent leader of the Early Reformation to conceal his union with the primitive faith, until the providence of God interposed to save him from the moral ruin which would have inevitably followed, as in the case of Abram. And how often God in mercy thus providentially interferes when Christians are tempted to evade the truth of their union with the Church of the living God!

"My footsteps seem to slide!" "Child, only raise

Thine eye to Me, then in these slippery ways

I will hold up thy goings; thou shalt praise

Me for each step above."

Sarah's Beauty! Gen . The Talmud relates that on approaching Egypt Abram locked up Sarah in a chest. This chest aroused the suspicion of the Custom-house officer, who suspected smuggled clothes. On Abram at once consenting to pay tribute on clothes, the collector began to think that the contents might be silk. Abram was willing to pay the custom upon the finest silk, which led the officer to ask for custom upon gold. Still the traveller was quite ready to tender the tribute upon gold. This led the tribute-taker to demand whether the box contained "pearls;" but Abram was still willing to pay the toll for jewels. Puzzled by the conduct of Abram, the officer requested that the box should be opened, "whereupon the whole land of Egypt was illumined by the lustre of Sarah's beauty—far exceeding even that of pearls."

"Alas! that aught so fair could lead astray

Man's wavering foot from duty's heav'nward way."—Beresford.

Divine Dealing! Gen .

(1) "At the court of Pharaoh," remarks Robertson, "Abram gained two of the most useful lessons of his life. He learnt that it was not in man that walketh to direct his steps. But he also learnt that all things work together for good to them that love God, and that it is the glory of God to bring good out of evil."

(2) Luther said that "temptation and tribulation were a good seminary for Christian scholars." Abram came back from Egypt very rich in cattle, richer still more in a deepened faith in God and His law. Both the temporal and moral wealth were under the guidance and governance of the Good Providence of God.

(3) Shall we, then, sin that grace may abound? Shall we fall, like Abram, that treasures of grace may be ours? Shall we fall like David, that priceless jewels of truth may fall to our lot? Shall we forswear, like Peter, that the unsearchable riches of Christ may be more fully our portion? Let it not be so. How shall we, who are freed from sin, live any longer therein?

(4) The broken limb, when re-set by the skilful and kind surgeon, may prove stronger than before it is broken; but because of this the restored man does not go about breaking every one of his limbs and bones. That were a dangerous experiment. He is content that the broken limb should be stronger, without desiring to have his other limbs broken in the hope of their acquiring a similar increase of strength.

"Providence is dark in its permissions; yet one day, when all is known,

The universe of reason shall acknowledge how just and good were they."—Tupper.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 12:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/genesis-12.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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