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fore, 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 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 very considerations which the Apostle specifies as naturally occurring under the circumstances of his and Sarah’s case; and we cannot imagine any argument by which he could meet such reasonable opposition 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 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 * Gen. xii. 2.
+ Rom. iv. 18-21.
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
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."* Thus was preparation made for "the great nation,” while history, at the same time, gave her plain and instructive testimony 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 * * Gen. xxi. 1, 2.
+ Gen. xiii. 14, 15.
judge; and afterwards shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites (the natives of the land, who must be driven out or destroyed, in order to give you Hebrews possession of it,) is not yet full. . In that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.”'*
Here, in addition to the particulars already mentioned, namely, the formation of the people into a distinct nation, and the gift of a particular land for their residence; it is predicted, that before they entered into possession of this land, they should be an afflicted and enslavedt people, and also that God would execute judgment upon the nation which enslaved them. Who that has ever read the book of Genesis, can be ignorant of the simple, beautiful, and singularly interesting history of Joseph and his brethren; in the course of which the special providence of Jehovah is so clearly marked, and in the sequel of which the aged Jacob and
his household, threescore and ten persons, were brought into Egypt? And now the prophecy, implying that they should continue a separate people, was put to trial. Seventy emigrants, settling in the midst of a great nation, their brother the prime minister of the state, and themselves well received by the king for their brother's sake,-in the common course of human affairs, would soon amalgamate with the nation, and lose their distinction as a separate people. This seemed likely to be the result to the Hebrews of a long residence in Egypt. The literal interpretation of the prophecy given to Abraham, and repeated to Isaac and Jacob, was indeed against this; but, perhaps, the literal interpretation was not to be closely insisted upon; perhaps some reasonable allow
* Gen. xv. 13-18. + This distinction between the affliction and the bondage of the Israelites, --the former including the latter, but not confined to it,-throws light upon the difficulty which has been experienced respecting the period of 400 years here mentioned. “Their actual bondage in Egypt was of comparatively short duration; but the aßiction of the seed of Abraham commenced in his son Isaac. The interval between Isaac's birth and the Exodus was 405 years; and if we suppose the predicted affliction of the seed to commence in Isaac's fifth year, when he would be beginning to feel the effects of Ishmael's mockery, we then have the affliction enduring 400 years, and including in the last period of it the bondage.” What is said (Exod. xii. 40) "about the sojourning of the people for 430 years before the Exodus, presents no difficulty in the way of This solution, but rather confirms it; because it is evident, from Gal. iii. 17, that this period of 430 years is to be reckoned from the giving of the promise to Abraham, which was first done 25 years before the birth of Isaac.'s This corresponds exactly; and so the whole period of sojourn included the other iwo, which are more accurately characterized as first a period of affliction, and finally a period of actual slavery.
ance was to be made for the figurative language of prophecy, delivered in strains of Eastern poetry. Perhaps separation from all nations might only mean that they were to be of a different spirit from other people; refraining from idolatry, and shewing a good example of worshipping the true God. Perhaps the predicted judgment upon the nation whom they seryed, might mean nothing more than the gradual conversion of the Egyptians to the religion of the Hebrews; and perhaps their possession of the land of Canaan, concerning which the prophecy was so explicit, might signify, in a figure, that their influence would eventually predominate in the land of Egypt and elsewhere, through the growing prevalence of the religion of their fathers. Whatever might have been thought by some of the prudence and sobriety of such an interpretation at the time, we know, by the event, that it would have been wholly
It does not appear whether any of the Hebrews relaxed into this spiritual interpretation, or anything approaching to it; but we know that neither Jacob nor Joseph did. The dying directions of the one concerning his burial, and of the other concerning his bones, make it manifest that they departed this life in the faith of the literal fulfilment of the prophecy.* That part of the prophecy which implied the separation of the people to dwell alone, received throughout this period a continuous fulfilment of the most obviously literal character. “The men were shepherds; they were all men of cattle; and every shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians. It is of moment to observe this historical fact; because the circumstance in it which looked to be most adverse to the fulfilment of the divine prediction, did eventually conduce to, and almost prepare the way for it. First of all, their occupation and habits of life as shepherds, were a reason for a separate place being given to them to inhabit the land of Goshen, the best fitted for their use. Next, the prejudices and antipathy of the Egyptians to their pastoral character, acted as a constant principle of separation, to preserve the selected race in union with itself, and unmingled with the mass of their indigenous, but to them alien fellow subjects. The land of Goshen, covered with its cattle, in a country principally devoted, as Egypt always has been, to the labours of tillage; and the inhabitants of that pastoral oasis fenced in, like their own flocks, within a separate pale and fold, by the very hatred of the people who had given them a reception; wore a character of their own, and gave signs of the purposes which the Almighty Shepherd was preparing to bring out of such beginnings; when he should lead his people forth like sheep, as he afterwards did, by the
* Gen. xlix. 29; 1. 24-26.
hand of Moses and Aaron, and bring them, according to his promise, to their land of rest."*
"Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters, to afflict them with their burdens.”+ Thus was active oppression added to secret prejudice and antipathy, to keep the people effectually separated from the Egyptians; and thus was literally fulfilled that portion of the prophecy, which said to Abraham, “thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them.'"
The circumstances of their deliverance out of this bondage, are detailed with incomparable sublimity in the early chapters of the book of Exodus; where we find an awfully literal fulfilment of the next clause of the prophecy,—“And also that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge.” It was soon after this deliverance, and during their passage through the wilderness, towards the promised land, that the circumstances already mentioned, connected with our text, occurred; and prophecy again marked them out as a people separate, and to continue separate. “Lo! the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among
the nations." Much of the prophecy given to Abraham had now received its literal fulfilment. The people were increased into a great nation: they had been in a strange land, serving strangers; the predicted period of their affliction had expired; they were delivered, and their enemies destroyed; and now it only remained that they should be put in full possession of the land of Canaan. It is remarkable, that after so many particulars of the prophecy had been fulfilled to the letter, the people should have hesitated, or evinced any sceptical feeling respecting the remainder. But they did so; and the faithfulness with which their murmuring is recorded, is no small internal testimony to the honesty of the author of the Pentateuch. S * Davison. + Exod. i. 6-11.
#Gen, xv. 13. $ It has been objected, that had such stupendous miracles been performed before their eyes, they could never have murmured against a leader so divinely authenticated, and that, consequently, the fact of their murmuring proves that they never saw the miracles.
To this we reply, first, that there would indeed be some appearance of force