THE FOUNDING OF A CHRISTIAN FAMILY.
528. But to return to that first household of faith: With all Abraham’s wishes and prayers, as to a prospective heir, he had no mind to take any risk of his life to preserve Sarah, his wife. Before ever He obeyed God, and left his own kindred with Sarah, he put her under bonds to represent herself as merely his sister, to save his own life from all risk (Genesis 12:13), although, as his wife, she had already taken the risk of her own life for Abraham’s sake and for the sake of children,¾the risk that every woman takes who marries.
529. Sarah, at this period, lacked self-respect; and Abraham had insufficient respect for her. He had also, as yet, little faith in God, who, since He had sent them forth to a distant land, would have protected them both. We wonder if Abraham would have represented himself as her “natural protector?” We think so; for he says: “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake” (Genesis 12:13). In other words, “Please, Sarah, protect me from all risk to my life, in order that your ‘natural protector’ may survive to protect you.” The “protector” was protected by his wife, and he survived, at the risk of the loss of both wife and heir. See Genesis 12 and 20. We see something of this sort of “protection” in our own day. God was Sarah’s only protector; women would do well to learn that “cursed is the man that trusteth in man” (Jeremiah 17:5), but “they that trust in the Lord shall be like Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever.”
530. Sarah ought not to have agreed to such an arrangement with Abraham, and she would not have done it later in life,¾if we read her character aright, in its unfolding. But not knowing any better, God protected her, and incidentally to that protection, she was given as high a name as could be bestowed upon a human being¾“messiah,” “anointed”¾given to Sarah who lived ages before the great Messiah. 1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalm 105:15 read, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” The Hebrew-form “mine-anointed” is generally taken as plural (“mine anointed ones,” as it is translated in the R. V.), but nevertheless it has special application to Sarah and Rebekah. To Sarah, since it was regarding her that God gave commandment to Abimelech, and said, “I suffered thee not to touch her” (Genesis 20:6). And to Rebekah, included with Isaac, in a later Abimelech’s command not to touch them, given doubtless under God’s pressure (Genesis 26:11). Of no other persons is the same word spoken by God, at this early period in history.
531. Before God answered Abraham’s real, but as yet selfish desires, and gave him a son, He had one more lesson to teach him, by a not trivial operation upon a man of ninety-nine (Genesis 17:11), though not decrepit, as a man of those years would be in our day. It was likewise to be performed upon every male of his household; and after that operation, not before, they were in covenant relations with God. This was the act of circumcision. In Abraham’s case, at least. “It was the fit symbol of that removal of the old man, and that renewal of nature which qualified Abraham to be the parent of the holy seed” (Murphy). It is significant that whereas other nations and peoples have practiced and taught the circumcision of women also, this was not required by God, nor ever practiced among the Jews, among whom it signified entrance into covenant relations with God. The reason is not far to seek: long previously to this time woman had been entered into God’s covenant, as progenitress of the coming Christ, in His declaration: “I will put enmity between thee [Satan] and the woman; and between thy seed and her Seed; it shall bruise they head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
532. Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, even Rahab and Ruth, not to mention other women of blood foreign to the descendants of Abraham, enter, without ceremony, into the list of ancestors of Jesus Christ. But no male enters that list, save on two conditions: (1) He must be a descendant of Abraham, and (2), like Abraham himself, must have passed through that mysterious ceremony which signified “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11).
533. For an additional explanation of this exemption of women, we go back to the first chapters of Genesis, and what we have emphasized at the beginning. The sins longest indulged have the most tyranny over us. Adam desired to be “as God.” Ambition and lust first of human sins controlled the human race, ambition to rule finding an entrance through Adam, and lust, in addition, through descendants of Cain. Before Abraham could become the father of a chosen race, these sins needed to be extirpated from his character.
534. We have shown the special dealings as to sensuality with Abraham, to perfect his character. Now as to his domineering qualities: He had only pagan ideas of marriage at first, and by this time only scraps of that early dignity of womanhood remained. Without scruple, though a worshipper, of a sort, of the true God, he let Sarah be taken into Pharaoh’s harem (Genesis12:14-20). Doubtless he thought those promises of an abundant seed could be as well fulfilled through any other woman; the promise had been made to him, and he did not think it included Sarah, or he could hardly have been so easy about disposing of her. And more than this, Abraham seems to have thought her his chattel. Making no effort to rescue her from captivity in Pharaoh’s harem, he “received many presents” in exchange for her; for Pharao“entreated Abram well for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she-asses, and camels . . . And Abram went up out of Egypt . . . very rich.” And all this at the cost of Sarah’s moral well-being and risk of virtue, until Pharaoh restored her to him (Genesis 12:16; 13:1).
535. It was here probably at Sarah’s cost that Hagar was obtained; and Hagar was a source of sorrow to the family, and of grievous sin. A childless wife, in the Orient, is set aside after a few years; and the only means of escape from such a fate must be obtained by the childless wife herself; because she could not present her lord with an heir, she must present him with a woman servant who could bear him an heir,¾to be reckoned as the lawful wife’s child. Books on the “Duties of Women,” among the Chinese are embellished with instances of such wifely devotion as this, which is reckoned to be exceedingly “womanly.” The same is the case in India. One of the most vivid accounts of the ceremony, from a native standpoint, will be found under the title, Uma Himavutee, in a book by Mrs. Flora Annie Steel, called In The Permanent Way. Every woman who wishes to understand Sarah should read it.
536. Much has been said in depreciation of Sarah’s character because she gave Hagar her maid to Abraham (Genesis 16:2). We now know that the land of Canaan was, at this time, a dependency of the land from whence they came, the entire region being governed by Hammurabi (Amraphel, of Genesis 14:1). In 1901 a stone slab was discovered at Sura, upon which is engraved his code of laws. He ruled in the days of Abraham over all Mesopotamia, from the mouth of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates to the Mediterranean Coast, and Sarah but yielded to the requirements of the laws of her country in that which she did.