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leave to take his own course. He was soon, however, forced to feel and acknowledge, that it is God who made, and who controls man's mouth. He could not speak according to his own will, or the will of his master Balak; but a true prophecy was given to him against his will, and to the disappointment of his covetousness. “He took up his parable and said, Balak, the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east; saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed ? or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied ? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him : Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”
This characteristic of separation has belonged to the Jewish people, in a remarkable degree, from the very commencement of their history; and a comparison of the prophecies that it would be so, with the fact, that hitherto it has been so, is the part of the subject now more immediately to be brought before us.
In tracing the sacred history of the multiplication of the human species on the earth, after the deluge, we find three distinct lines of descent mentioned in the tenth chapter of Genesis ; one from each of the sons of Noah :---1, the line of Japheth ; 2, of Ham; 3, of Shem. Then, after the dispersion of the people from Babel, the generations of Shem are again introduced, and carried down to the family
of Terah. Ham and Japheth are lost sight of in the history for a season, and Shem is taken ; all the other descendants of Shem are lost sight of, and Terah is taken; all the other sons of Terah are lost sight of, and Abraham is taken ; and on him and his posterity, the whole attention of the reader is concentrated.
1. This man was the father of the Hebrews. Here therefore we find the origin of the Jewish nation. The descendants of Abraham were constituted into a distinct people by the word of the divine prediction: God said, I will make of thee a great nation. This is the first prophecy relative to the Jewish nation, distinctly as such. The circumstances in which Abraham stood, at the time when this prophecy was given, should be attentively considered. He was a very old man, long married, and without any family : it had ceased also with Sarah his wife to be after the manner of women. This seemed to present an hindrance to the literal interpretation of the prophecy; and if human arguments, grounded upon probability, had been allowed to have much weight with him, he would, in all likelihood, have had recourse to some other interpretation. He might, perhaps, have supposed that the children of his steward, Eliezer of Damascus, who was then his heir presumptive, were, in the figurative language of prophecy, called his own children: or, in other words, that God did
Gen. xii. 2.
not mean what he said exactly, but something else ; which something else Abraham was to collect from the words of God, in the most reasonable way he could, without being enthusiastic or presumptuous enough to expect impossibilities. We know, however, that the father of the faithful had recourse to no such evasions. To his everlasting praise, it is recorded of him by the apostle Paul, that “being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body, now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb; he staggered not at the promise (or prophecy) of God, through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised, (not what Abraham might choose to understand by it, but what he had promised,) he was able also to perform." The friends and household of Abraham might, indeed, have questioned, at the time, the justice of his literal interpretation of the Lord's prophecy; they might have represented to him, in strong colours, those yery considerations which the apostle specifies as naturally occurring under the circumstances of his and Sarah's case; and we cannot imagine any argu. ment by which he could meet such reasonable op: position to his views, except, simply, an appeal to the terms of the prophecy, taken in their obvious sense. “God hath said it, and I believe what he hath said, simply, because he hath said it. The circumstance of difficulty, or even apparent © Rom. iv. 18-21..
impossibility, in the way of a literal fulfilment, has no effect upon me---for nothing is impossible with God; and though this be confessedly marvellous in the eyes of my household, and in my own eyes, does it therefore follow, that it should be marvellous in the eyes of the Lord of Hosts ? Assuredly not. I am free to acknowledge the strength of the objection; and I would be wholly influenced thereby, if the prophecy were the word of man. But God hath spoken ; and I resolutely persevere, in expecting that he will do, precisely and literally, what he has promised to do. This is the language of faith ; and, to the heart of faith, here would be an end of controversy: but we know little of the nature of man, if we suppose that such a line of argument could be generally satisfactory or effective. I am not alleging that a controversy, such as is here imagined, did actually exist in the family, or among the friends of Abraham : the supposition, however, that it may have existed, involves no contradiction in itself; and it serves to illustrate a very important principle. Year after year elapsed, and still there was no appearance of the fulfilment of the prophecy; and from the nature of the case, each succeeding year rendered the literal fulfilment of it more improbable. If a difference of opinion, then, as to the right interpretation, did really exist at the time ; the advocates of a figurative, or, as Abraham would probably have called it, an evasive interpretation, would acquire strength and confidence in the delay. Here was the trial of Abraham's faith and patience. He continued to believe, giving glory to God. The prophecy was repeated to him, with increasing clearness, and additional details ; and at last, the event fully justified his literal expectation. For “ the Lord visited Sarah, as he had said; and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken ; for Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him."d Thus was preparation made for “ the great nation;" while history, at the same time, gave her plain and instructive verdict in favour of the literal interpretation of prophecy.
II. Again, the Lord said unto Abraham, after that he was come into the land of Canaan, and after that Lot was separated from him, “ Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward ; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” This grant of Canaan implied an exclusive dominion of occupation; and thereby, as a necessary consequence, separated the people, to whom it was made, from the rest of the world.
“ And the Lord said unto Abraham, Know of a surety, that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years : and also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge ; and Gen. xxi. 1, 2.
e Gen, xiii. 14, 15.