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518. The name of Ishmael was given to him before his birth. The sons of Ishmael were twelve in number, as had been foretold; and they became very numerous and powerful as had been promised to Abram and to Hagar. Their dwelling was from Shur, before or near to Egypt, unto Havilah on the Assyrian route; and though we do not know the exact extent of the country here alluded to, we know, from the circumstances, that it was quite considerable. xvi. 11; xvii. 20; xvi. 10.
519. It was said of Ishmael, xvi. 12, "he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren;" and now we are told that "he died in the presence of all his brethren " ; the meaning of which is, that, though his hand was against every man, and every man's hand against him, he was too powerful to be overcome, both during his life and at the time of his death. It is generally believed that the Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael; and in them we find the character of their illustrious progenitor.
ISAAC AND HIS FAMILY.
CONTENTS.-Birth of Esau and Jacob; Sale of Birthright; Sojourn in Gerar; Removal to Beersheba; Isaac's Blessing; Esau and Family; Sier.
The birth of Isaac, his being offered in sacrifice, the procuring for him a wife, &c., have all been recorded and commented upon in that part of the book that relates to Abram and his family. The narrative proceeds as follows:
BIRTH OF ESAU AND JACOB.
19. And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begat Isaac:
20. And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan-aram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.
21. T And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
22. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD.
23. And the LORD said unto her,
Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
24. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
25. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.
26. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old, when she bare them.
520. The cause of the difference, at their birth, between Esau and Jacob, is not given, nor can it be inferred from the circumstances. The fact, however, may be made instructive as illustrating a principle that may help us to account for other differences among men that have come up since that time. Indeed many of the peculiarities by which different branches of the human race, are distinguished, may have had the same origin. There is no doubt that great diversities among men have originated
in this way; and when once started, there is a strong tendency to permanency, though nature may at last resume her accustomed course.
- ESAU SELLS HIS BIRTHRIGHT.
27. And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.
28. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29. And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came from the field, and he was faint.
30. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birth-right.
32. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birth-right do to me?
33. And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him; and he sold his birth-right unto Jacob.
34. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles, and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birth-right.
521. This transaction has been made to reflect very unfavorably upon the conduct of Jacob. He should not, it is said, have taken advantage of his brother's necessities, so as to procure a valuable object to which he was not otherwise entitled. But the narrative plainly implies that Esau did not regard the birthright as a valuable possession. The language "he despised his birthright," evidently conveys this idea. It does not appear that Jacob refused his brother food, nor that Esau must have perished if Jacob had not supplied his wants. If this were so, then the language, "he despised his birthright," is out of place. A man does not give evidence of despising a thing, or placing a small value upon it, when he parts with it to save his life. The intention of the passage is to show that Esau regarded the birthright as of little value, and therefore parted with it for a small consideration. Jacob, however, thought differently; and surely there was no wrong in receiving from his brother, what the latter deemed of little consequence.
522. It may be well to ask here what value there really was in the birthright?
It appears from what is said of Cain and Abel, that one privilege enjoyed by the first-born, was that of pre-eminence over the rest of the family. Cain was to rule over his brother. The conduct of Abraham would lead us to infer that the first-born was heir to the estate of his father, while others only received gifts and were sent away. xxv. 6. From other references that will be considered hereafter, it becomes obvious that the dying blessing of the patriarch, upon the first-born, was expected to be fraught with greater good, than upon the other children. Esau seems to make a distinction between the blessing and the birthright, xxvii, 36; but this may have been only a pretence, and intended to justify himself, in seeking to appropriate to himself what he had parted with, and what he now could not justly claim.
SECTION III.-ISAAC'S SOJOURN IN Gerar.
1. And there was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.
2. And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
3. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; 4. And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
5. Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
6. And Isaac dwelt in Gerar: 7. And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to
say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.
8. And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.
9. And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.
10. And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lain with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.
11. And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.
12. Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year a hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.
13. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:
14. For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.
15. For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.
16. And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.
17. And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.
18. And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had
stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.
19. And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.
20. And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.
21. And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.
22. And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.
523. The narrative seems to imply an intention on the part of Isaac to go down to Egypt, as he expected he could there alone receive supplies during the famine; but a divine vision detained him in Gerar, a city of the Philistines. The Abimelech here mentioned may have been the one that entertained Abraham; but it is highly probable that another of the same name, perhaps a son of the former, is had in view. It is not improbable that this was a common designation of all the kings of that country, as Pharaoh was of Egypt, and Cæsar was of Rome.
524. It appears that the result of Abraham's deception, concerning his wife, did not deter his son from doing the same thing; and the result, with the latter, was no more fortunate than with the former. It is quite probable that there are no circumstances, when deception, for any purpose, can be justified. The narrative seems designed to show us how much better truth would have answered the purpose, in the case recorded, than falsehood; and if truth were better then, it is better now. Another purpose had in view by the narrator, may be to show, that, even among heathens, there is the consciousness of right, implanted in the heart by the Creator's hand.
525. Isaac went down to Gerar, and was expecting to go on to Egypt, on account of a famine; but being de