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CRITICAL AND PRACTICAL,
ON THE BOOK OF
DESIGNED AS A GENERAL HELP TO
BIBLICAL READING AND INSTRUCTION*
By GEORGE BUSH,
PROF. OF HEB. AND ORIENT. LIT., N. Y. CITY UNIVERSITY.
IN TWO VOLUMES
Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1838, by
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Southern District of New Yoik»
STEREOTYPED BY J. S. REDFIELD,
No. 13 Chambers-street, New York.
THE BOOK OF GENESIS.
CHAPTER XXII. If those portions of history are most replete with interest and instruction which exhibit to us illustrious characters in trying situations, having their virtues put to the severest test, yet holding fast their integrity, conquering difficulties, and rising superior to temptation by the powrer of moral principle, then the ensuing narrative of Abraham's last and greatest trial prefers the strongest claims to our attention. It is an event preeminently memorable in the life of the patriarch. Whatever signal instances of faith and obedience have hitherto distinguished his conduct, they are all eclipsed by that which we are now called to consider. At the very time when we are prompted to congratulate the happy sire, and flatter ourselves that his tribulations have an end; that the storms which ruffled the noon of life are blown over, and the evening of his age is becoming calm and serene, the sorest of his struggles yet awaits him. The loss of a beloved child would, under any circumstances, have been a grievous affliction; but in the present case he finds himself required to submit to a bereavement, which threatened to extinguish the hopes of the world. Nor was this all. The fatal blow was to be struck w7ith his own hand! And in this he was called to obey a mandate in which the divine counsel seemed so evidently to war with itself, that his bosom could not but be torn with a conflict of emotions, such as the mere grief of a father could never occasion. To a command which should merely put to the proof his paternal affection, he VOL. II. 1
could, no doubt, have submitted without hesitation; but when, to the eye of reason, he saw the precept arrayed against the promise of God, and an act enjoined directly at variance with all the attributes of a Being holy, just, and true, he could not but be conscious of an inward struggle, ineffably severe. But the faith which had triumphed before, triumphed now; and as he came forth from the terrible ordeal, like gold tried in the furnace, how pertinently may we conceive an approving God addressing him in the language of the poet:—
"All thy vexations Were but my trials of thy love: and thou Hast strangely stood the test.*'
The command here given to the patriarch to sacrifice his only son has ever been so fruitful a theme of cavil with the enemies of revelation, that it will be proper, in the outset, to advert with some particularity to the objections usually urged against it. The command, it is said, is inconsistent with the attributes of a Being of perfect justice and goodness. But to this it may be replied, that the. assertion rests upon no sufficient grounds. As God is the author and giver of life, he surely can, without the least shadow of injustice, take it away when and in what manner he pleases. It cannot be supposed that he conferred life either upon Abraham or Isaac, upon the terms of taking it away only in one certain manner, or in the way most agreeable to them. It wras given in this, as in all other cases, under the ordinary reserve of his own indisputable right of resumption in any mode that
might seem to him best. There is undoubtedly something shocking in the idea of a parent's taking away the life of his own child; but when this is done in obedience to an express command from a competent authority, then that which would otherwise be a sin becomes a duty, and whoever would impugn the act, must necessarily impugn the authority from which it proceeds. To human view it might appear a very barbarous deed in a father to order a son to be beaten to death with rods before his eyes; yet the conduct of Junius Brutus, who passed this sentence upon his own children, is usually considered as having been fully justified by the circumstances which occasioned it. And did Abraham owe less obedience to God than Brutus to his country? Indeed, had the command been actually executed, we should have been bound, by our antecedent knowledge of the perfections of the Deity, to regard it as wise, just, and good; though we might not, from our limited powers, have been able to see the reason of it; for a divine command necessarily supposes wisdom, justice, and goodness in the highest possible degree. But this was not the case. God never intended that the command should be actually executed. His purpose was to make trial of Abraham's faith and obedience; to make him perfect by suffering; and in him to propose to all coming generations an illustrious example for their imitation in the various trying services and sacrifices to which the voice of duty might call them. And will any one affirm that God may not, without impeaching his wisdom, his justice, or his mercy, put true religion to the test ?—the test of severe and repeated trials—the better to display, to perfect, and to crown it? Great virtue has a right to be made conspicuous. It is sinking the merit of all true moral heroism to withold from it the occasions of exercising itself. The justice of God, therefore is so far
from being concerned in guarding great minds from great trials, that it is rather evinced in granting them. Nor are we to estimate such a dispensation by the slight and transient anxieties or pains of the trial itself, but by the lasting joy that awaits and rewards the triumph. Add to this the incalculable advantages that would redound to mankind at large from such an example. No one can doubt that every signal instance of devout submission to the will of God under the pressure of sharp temptations is among the stablest supports and the most powerful incitements to a similar conduct under similar circumstances. Every such example is a new and shining light set up on high to guide, enlighten, and cheer us in the path of duty. But while we find, in these considerations, an ample vindication of the wisdom and equity of this command, perhaps a still more adequate estimate will be formed of it, if we view it in another light. It has generally been held that the present command was imposed merely as a trial of Abraham's faith; and seeing the deed was not executed, it has been affirmed that there was nothing unworthy the divine goodness in having instituted such a trial; all which maybe readily admitted: but as Bp. Warburton has suggested, it hardly accounts for all the circumstances; and it may be well to state, in a condensed form, the theory of sthat learned divine in regard to it. He supposes that Abraham was desirous of becoming acquainted with the manner in which all the families of the earth should be blessed in him; and upon this he builds the conclusion that the command was imposed upon him chiefly with the design of teaching him by action, instead of words, and thus enabling him to see and feel by what means this great end should be accomplished. In other words, that it was a prefiguration of the sacrifice of Christ.
This theory the author founds upon that passage of the Gospel of John 8
A ND it came to pass after these £-»- things, that a God did tempt
Heb.ll. 17. Jam. 1. 12.
a 1 Cor. 10. 13. I Pet. 1.7.
Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
56. in which the Lord says to the unbelieving Jews, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.' It is evident, from the reply made by the Jews to this assertion, that they understood the expression to seem its most literal sense; while it is equally evident, that when they objected to the possibility of a man, not yet fifty years old, having seen Abraham, our Lord did not correct them in the notion which they had formed as to seeing. It was not, however, himself personally, whom our Saviour asserted that Abraham rejoiced to see, but his day; by which cannot be meant the period of his sojourn upon earth, but the circumstance in his life which was of the highest importance, and mainly characteristic of his office as the Redeemer. That the term will admit of this interpretation is indubitable, from the frequent use made, in a similar sense, of the word hour. Thus, when our Lord repeatedly says, ' My hour is not yet come'—' the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners ;' when he prayed that 'if it were possible the hour might pass from him :' where it is said, that 'no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come ;' and again, 'that the hour was come when the Son of Man should be glorified,'—in all these instances it is evident that the word does not signify a mere portion of time, from which no one can be saved by its passing from him; but some particular circumstance or circumstances in his life, which were peculiar to him as the Redeemer. The peculiar circumstance, however, which constituted Jesus the Redeemer of the world, was the laying down of his life; and this it was which
Abraham must have rejoiced to see, and seeing which he was glad. But there is nothing recorded of Abraham in the Old Testament, from which it could be inferred that he saw Christ's day in this sense, if he did not see and/eeZ it in the command to sacrifice his only son. In this transaction therefore, he would have a lively figure of the offering up of the Son of God for the sins of the world; and not only so, but the intermediate system of typical sacrifices under the Mosaic economy was represented by the prescribed oblation of the ram instead of Isaac.
On the whole, we regard this as a very rational and plausible hypothesis, and one that derives no little support from the place where the scene of the transaction was laid. If the design of the command had been simply a trial of Abraham's faith, it is not easy to see why he should have been required to go to such a distance to perform an act that might as well have been performed anywhere else. But when we find him directed to go to the site of Jerusalem, and to rear his altar, and offer up his sacrifice, on or near the very spot where the Saviour was afterwards actually crucified, we cannot well avoid seeing in the incident a designed typical and prophetical character. But a fuller view of the event in its various bearings will be gained from the explanations that follow.
1. And it came to pass after these things. Heb. * After these words' That is, we suppose, not merely after the things recorded in the preceding chapter, but after all the previous trials which Abraham had been called to pass through. Notwithstanding he may have hoped for a period of tranquil rest in the de