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4. THE BLOOD COVENANT TESTED.
After the formal covenant of blood had been made between Abraham and Jehovah, there was a specific testing of Abraham's fidelity to that covenant, as if in evidence of the fact that it was no empty ceremony on his part, whereby he pledged his blood,—his very life, in its successive generations,-to Jehovah, in the rite of circumcision. The declaration of his "faith," and the promise of his faithfulness, were to be justified, in their manifest sincerity, by his explicit "works" in their direction.
All the world over, men who were in the covenant of blood-friendship were ready—or were supposed to be ready to give not only their lives for each other, but even to give, for each other, that which was dearer to them than life itself. And, all the world over, men who pledged their devotedness to their gods were ready to surrender to their gods that which they held as dearest and most precious-even to the extent of their life, and of that which was dearer than life. Would Abraham do as much for his Divine Friend, as men would do for their human friends? Would Abraham surrender to his God all that the worshipers of other gods were willing to surrender in proof of their devotedness? These were questions yet to be answered before the world.
"And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham [did put him to the test, or the
ORIENTAL ESTIMATE OF A SON.
proof, of his friendship], and said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee unto the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." And Abraham rose up instantly to respond to the call of his Divine Friend.
Just here it is important to consider two or three points at which the Western mind has commonly failed to recognize the Oriental thought, in connection with such a transaction as this.
An Oriental father prizes an only son's life far more than he prizes his own. He recognizes it, to be sure, as at his own disposal; but he would rather surrender any other possession than that. For an Oriental to die without a son, is a terrible thought. His life is a failure. His future is blank. But with a son to take his place, an Oriental is, in a sense, ready to die. When therefore an Oriental has one son, if the choice must be between the cutting short of the father's life, or of the son's, the former would be the lesser surren
1 Gen. 22: I, 2.
2" Heaven awaits not one who is destitute of a son," say the Brahmans (See page 194, supra). See, also, e. g., Thomson's Land and Book, I., 177; Roberts's Orient. Ill., p. 53 f., Ginsburg's "Illustrations," in Bible Educator, I., 30; Lane's Mod. Egypt., I., 68. Livingstone's Trav. and Res. in So. Af., p. 140; Pierotti's Cust. and Trad. of Pal., pp. 177 f., 190 f.
der; the latter would be far greater. Pre-eminently did this truth have force in the case of Abraham, whose pilgrim-life had been wholly with reference to the future; and whose earthly-joy and earthly-hopes centered in Isaac, the son of his old age. For Abraham to have surrendered his own toil-worn life, now that a son of promise was born to him, would have been a minor matter, at the call of God. But for Abraham to surrender that son, and so to become again a childless, hopeless old man, was a very different matter. Only a faith that would neither question nor reason, only a love that would neither fail nor waver, could meet an issue like that. The surrender of an only son by an Oriental was not, therefore, as it is often deemed in the Western mind, a father's selfish yielding of a lesser substitute for himself; but it was the giving of the one thing which he had power to surrender, which was more precious to him than himself. The difference here is as great as that between the enforced sending, by an able-bodied citizen, of a "substitute" defender of the sender's country in a war-time draft, and the willing sending to the front, by an aged father, of his loved and only son, at the first signal of his country's danger. The one case has in it more than a suggestion of cowardly shirking; the other shows only a loyal and self-forgetful love of country.
1 See illustrations of this error in Tylor's Prim. Cult., II., 403.
CHILDREN YIELDED IN FRIENDSHIP.
Again, we are liable to think of the surrender of a life, as the dooming to death; and of a sacrificial outpouring of blood, as necessarily an expiatory offering. In the case of the only son sent into battle by his patriotic father, death may be an incident to the transaction; but the gift of the son is the gift of his life, whether he shall live or die. And although the war itself be caused by sin, and be a result, and so a punishment, of sin, the son is sent into it, not in order that he may bear punishment, but that he may avert its disastrous consequences, even at the cost of his life-with the necessity of his death.
This idea of the surrender of an only son, not in expiation of guilt, but in proof of unselfish and limitless affection, runs down through the ages, apart from any apparent trace of connection with the tradition of Abraham and Isaac. It is seen :-in India, in the story of the sacrifice of Siralen, the only son of Sirutunden and Vanagata-ananga, as a simple proof of their loving devotedness to Vishnoo; in Arabia, in the story of the proffered slaying of the two only children of a king, in order to restore to life by their blood his dearly loved friend and servant, who had been turned to stone;2 in the Norseland, in the similar story of the king and his friend and servant " Faithful John;" in Great Britain, in 2 See page 119 f., supra.
1 See page 185 f., supra.
3 See page 120, supra.
the story of Amys and Amylion, the one of these friends sacrificing his two only children for the purpose of curing the other friend of the leprosy ; and so in many another guise. Whatever other value attaches to these legends, they show most clearly, that the conception of such a surrender as that to which Abraham was called in the sacrifice of Isaac, was not a mere outgrowth of the customs of human sacrifices to malignant divinities, in Phoenicia and Moab and the adjoining countries, in the days of Abraham and earlier. There was a sentiment involved, which is everywhere recognized as the noblest and purest of which humanity is capable.
If, indeed, there were any reluctance to accept this simple explanation of an obvious view of the test of friendship to which God subjected Abraham, because of its possible bearing on the recognized symbolism of the transaction, then it would be sufficient to remember, that one view of such a transaction is not necessarily its only view. Whatever other view be taken of the fact and the symbolism of God's call on Abraham to surrender to him his only son, it is obvious that, as a fact, God did test, or prove, Abraham his friend, by asking of him the very evidence of his loving and unselfish devotedness to him, which has been, everywhere
1 See page 117, supra.
2 See page 118 f., 120 f., supra. See discussions of this point, by Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Oehler, Ewald, Kuenen, Lange, Keil and Delitzsch, Stanley, Mozeley, etc.