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528. … Before ever he [Abraham] 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)…

529. Sarah, at this period, lacked self-respect; and Abraham had insufficient respect for her.

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,

537. The legal requirements of King Hammurabi which Sarah obeyed… Par. 144 says: “He shall not take a concubine” if his wife “has given a maid to her husband;” and Par. 146 says, if “she has given a maid to her husband and she has borne him children [and] that maid has made [should make] herself equal with her mistress,” the mistress may reduce her to servitude again, but may not sell her. This is surely wonderful confirmation that Sarah’s treatment of this whole matter, up to the time of Isaac’s weaning, was precisely in accord with the legal provisions and customs by which the country was governed. But when Isaac was weaned, she took another course, and God, by express revelation to Abraham, confirmed her new departure as in the line of His will.

538. It is worthwhile for us to pause long enough to call attention to these very unjust and humiliating laws, as relates to women, engraven on that stone which records the Code of Hammurabi, …

539. Sarah did go through the form of asking Abraham to bear a son by Hagar, but the act should be judged by the fact that a man had legal right to divorce a childless wife, and she was now past seventy-five years of age. That Sarah had had reason to fear divorcement seems certain, because when Hagar became arrogant in her treatment of Sarah, the latter accuses Abraham of being himself to blame for Hagar’s conduct, in the words: “My wrong be upon thee.” The Septuagint gives the idea conveyed by the words as, “I am wronged by thee.” Sarah is opening her eyes in new self-respect; she tells Abraham he had no right to have ever brought Hagar¾the price of her humiliation¾into the family; and then to have so conducted himself as to have created in her the fear of being divorced, through no fault of her own, but merely because she had not fulfilled for him the promises of God, that he should have a son. This is what we understand by her expression, and she adds: The Lord judge between me and thee,” declaring her confidence that her position was just in God’s sight.

540. And Abraham yielded, which he would not have done so readily had he not felt she was right. Then Sarah did the only thing allowable under the law; she attempted to discipline Hagar, and return her to the position of a handmaiden. Sarah was not willing that her household should be polygamous; the law cut Abraham off from the right of a concubine in the family, since Sarah had given him her maid to bear a child for Sarah (see par. 537). But Hagar would be nothing less than a wife, so she left the house, doubtless thinking Abraham, for the sake of his only child, would divorce Sarah and take her back in Sarah’s place. Sarah made no effort to keep the child, so far as we know, which the law allowed.

545. God cannot always elect,¾that is, select¾persons who are ideal, for they cannot be found. He takes faulty ones, but those capable of development. Such was the condition in which he found Abraham and Sarah. It is simply ludicrous to read some of the attempts that have been made by blundering expositors to explain away all the wrong things Abraham did: “Abraham’s venture was not from laxity as to the sanctity of marriage, or as to his duty to protect his wife: it was from a presumptuous confidence in the wonderful assistance of God,”¾thus speaks Lange’s Commentary. Such men, in their strained efforts to make Abraham appear ideal from the day God called him, leave no place for that most valuable and much-needed lesson, as to the wonderful transformation of character which the grace of God can bring about in the faultiest person who will submit to God’s authority, as Abraham began to do when he left his home in Chaldea.

546. The character of Abraham changed greatly under the moulding influence of divine grace, but we will not occupy the space to describe this transformation, for the reason that, as women, we are more interested in the character of Sarah, who, we hold, has been greatly belittled by the same commentators who will not admit that Abraham ever had many faults. Her character underwent a transformation quite as wonderful as Abraham’s. Think what she was, as the servile female who went, apparently without protest, into the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech, not knowing that she could ever come out undefiled; accepting polygamy weakly, if not happily. Like almost any Oriental woman of today, her husband’s wish seemed as law, even when it bade her do that which was immoral, and which she may have utterly detested to do. She makes no complaint, but obeys.

547. Now study her character a little later, when she wakes up to resent the way she had been treated by Abraham in the matter of Hagar. She accuses Abraham as in the wrong, and appeals to God to judge between them. There were reasons why she might have been very cowardly at this moment, for Hagar was in the ascendancy just then, and was making the most of her position. Sarah might have reasoned: “I must not offend Abraham now, while Hagar seems so much more in his favor because of the boy.” Doubtless Hagar counted on such a compromise. But Sarah was courageous, and met the situation boldly, calling upon Abraham to defend her in refusing Hagar the right to be a concubine, or a second wife, in the family,¾for Sarah had yielded to the provisions of Hammurabi’s Code on purpose to prevent this. (See par. 537).

548. Then follows the later scene. Ishmael is older now, and Sarah demands that the last vestige of the semblance of polygamy be cleaned out of the household. If she again called on Jehovah to judge between her and Abraham, we do not know, but we do know that when she made the demand, God told Abraham to obey what Sarah said, and it was done. If Abraham improved in character and saw the hatefulness of mixed marriage relations in the sight of God, it was under the joint training of God and Sarah. And later, after the old man had lost Sarah, and mourned deeply, her loss, he married one Keturah (Genesis 25:1). But though the word “concubine” is used in the sixth verse of this chapter, since Abraham did not marry Keturah until after Sarah’s death, the word is not used in its ordinary sense, for, too, Hagar never bore this relation to Abraham.

549. But to return to Sarah: How are we to account for this development of such force of character, as that she has become quite “imperious”? Men usually do not like “imperiousness” in women; they think it “unwomanly” and they criticize Sarah because of this trait. But was it not of God’s own planting and development, in Sarah’s case? God called her “Mine Anointed” and God uses no idle words. He anointed her to be the Prince of the tribe, for God gives no empty titles. God commanded Abraham to cease calling her Sarai: “As for Sarai they wife, thou shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah (prince) shall her name be,”¾Genesis 17:15. The older form “Sarai” meant the same as “Sarah” in Chaldea, but it did not in Canaan, hence the change. Sarah means “prince.” We do not say “princess,” for the reason that the–”ss” has been used as rather a wifely termination among us, signifying the rank of the husband. Abraham was not called “Prince” by God. His name was changed from Abram to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” Sarah was constituted by God a ruler, in her own right; she, not Abraham, was the anointed ruler of the tribe. Not because she was a woman, ¾not at all for that reason; but because she had better views than Abraham on the subject of social purity, and probably on other subjects.[3]

550. God had laid His hand upon a previously pagan family, to make of them a Christian household. He began by checking sensual tendencies in Abraham, taught him the benefits of monogamy, and respect for his wife; wrought upon his instincts of fatherhood, and taught him to aspire to have a progeny that would bless the world, because of its excellencies. Furthermore, in receiving a special revelation as to the right course of dealing with spurious matrimonial relations (Genesis 21:12), Abraham must have learned the lesson that the headship or leadership in a household turned not upon sex, but upon which one, husband or wife, know best what to do. As for Sarah, He taught her He was her Protector and Deliverer from peril; trained her in self-respect; restored her to her place as the recipient of His promises when she had yielded it to another to secure a child for her husband; named her the Prince of her tribe, and anointed her for the office. We have shown that the oldest and most inveterate faults of man are the love of ruling and sensuality. Abraham’s training was to correct these. Sarah’s training was in dignity, authority and self-respect; and both in faith.

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LESSON 67.

THE FOUNDING OF A CHRISTIAN FAMILY.

(Continued.)

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[1] 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.”[2] 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.

(To be continued.)

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