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unnecessary it was. But the best men have their weaknesses; and in men, whose faith is ordinarily strong, fear will sometimes prevail.
Abimelech, supposing Sarah to be only Abraham's sister, sent and took her into his house, with an intention, not to dishonour her, but to make her his wife.
Before he had accomplished this design, God, by a dream in the night, warned him of the dangerous step which he was meditating, and directed him to restore the woman to Abraham, whose wife she
The king, after professing the innocence of his intentions, calls for Abraham, and thus expostulates with him on the unjustifiable deception which he had used. "What hast thou done to us? and, What have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me, and on my kingdom, a great sin ?" i. e. exposed us to a great scandal and calamity. "Thou hast done deeds to me, which ought not to be done. What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?" Abraham answers, I did this," because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they will slay me for my wife's sake." However, he says, the relation which they had professed, was not altogether fictitious; for she was the daughter of his father, though not the daughter of his mother." She was his father's grand daughter; and, in the language of scripture, grandchildren are often called children. Sarai, who in the eleventh chapter is called Iscah, was daughter to Haran, Abraham's elder brother. It seems, by this account, that Terah, Abraham's Father, had two wives, from one of whom was born Haran, the father of Lot and Sarai, or Iscah, and from the other was born Abraham. So that she was daughter to Abraham's half brother. And with such a niece, it was, in those days, thought not unlawful to mar
But though Abraham's account of their relation, was, according to the language of the times, liter ally true; yet his concealment of the more delicate and important relation, could not, on the reason assigned, be justified. For surely he ought not to have gone voluntarily among a people, where he apprehended no regard would be paid to the conjugal rights: Or, if he was called in providence to sojourn among them, he might have trusted to divine protection.
This incident, in the history of Abraham's life, will afford us some useful observations.
1. The atrocious nature of the sin of adultery, which consists in violating connubial rights, is here represented in a very striking manner.
Though Abraham supposed that there was no sense of God and religion among the people of Gerar, yet he seems not to have entertained the least suspicion, that they would insult the honour of his family, either by rape or seduction. His apprehension was, that they would kill him for his wife's sake. He imagined, that no man could be so abandoned, as to take his wife from him, or debauch her, while he was alive; but he was much afraid, there were men bad enough to murder him, that they might have liberty to enjoy her.
Abraham evidently considers adultery as a crime far more horrid in its nature, and far more contrary to the dictates of natural reason and conscience, than even murder itself. His whole conduct, in this, and the former instance, is grounded on the supposition, that a ruffin, who is bloody enough to assassinate an innocent man, yet may not be so brutal as to violate a married woman. The man who can do the latter, in a deliberate and customary manner, is undoubtedly capable of any kind of wickedness, to which he feels the smallest temptation.
Murder is generally considered as one of the blackest crimes of which a man can be guilty. But it is observable, that, by the divine law, the same penalty is annexed to adultery, as to murder: And, perhaps, of the two, it is the greater crime. It certainly indicates a more depraved state of mind, Murder may be the effect of high provocation, or sudden passion. The other proceeds from a settled, habitual viciosity of heart. And in its consequences no species of villany can be more mischievousmore fatal. It is contrary to the peace and order of society-both of particular families, and of larger communities. It is an unprovoked, and irreparable injury to men, in those rights of which they are most jealous. It robs them of that comfort and enjoyment, which they value no less than life, and without which life is hardly supportable. It extends its baleful effects to the innocent offspring, and dooms them, without their fault, to infamy and misery. It is a violation of the most sacred and solemn vows. It tramples in the dust the honour and the happiness, not of a single person, or family only, but of many persons, and of divers families. It awakens grief, anxiety, and perpetual jealousy; excites hatred, malice, and revenge; sometimes leads to the deliberate murder of the tender offspring, and of the injured party; and, on the other hand, provokes to the violent assassination of the infamous invader. In a word, it involves in it the guilt of injustice, fraud, cruelty and perjury; yea, and murder too, if not in the immediate act, yet in the remoter effects, as it taints and poisons the sweetest joys of life.
Such is the horrid criminality of this evil, that every resolved offender must be viewed as thoroughly depraved, and presumptuously wicked, and be held in detestation and abhorrence by all the lovers of virtue, and friends of human society. His con.
cern for the rights of mankind is absorbed in his own lawless gratifications. His regard to the Deity is totally lost in sensuality. His social and benevolent affections are extinguished in the polluted sink of brutal indulgence.
Such a depraved libertine cannot be supposed to possess a single principle of virtue or honour; or to be secure from any vice, if only a temptation' should offer itself. Joseph, solicited to this crime, rejected the proposal with the strongest abhorrence.. "My master," says he to the lewd enchantress, "knoweth not what is with me in the house, and hath committed all that he hath into mine hand, neither hath he kept back any thing from me, but thee, because thou art his wife; How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” His words import, that a man, who feels in his heart any fear of the presence of God, or any regard to the rights of his fellow men, cannot deliberately perpetrate so vile an action.
David, in his penitent reflections on this sin, and the murder which followed, prays, "Create in me a clean heart-deliver me from blood, thou God of my salvation. Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart."
In the case of Abimelech, God says, woman, whom thou hast taken, is a man's wife; and unless thou restore her, thou shalt surely die." From this moment he indulged not a single thought. of retaining her in his house.. And such a sense had his people of the sacredness of the conjugal relation, that, when they heard of the unhappy errour, into which their prince had fallen, they were in painful anxiety for the consequences. To wipe off, as far as possible, the reproach brought on the community by this transaction, the king avowed the innocence of his intentions, immediately restor
ed to Abraham his wife, made him a liberal donation of servants, flocks, and herds, and gave him the fullest assurance of future security in his kingdom. The whole transaction shews the utter abhorrence which this people had of the crime under consideration.
This crime has been held in detestation by almost all nations, in all ages of the world. By the ancient laws of Draco and Solon, the husband of an adulteress, if he detected her in her guilt,, might immediately kill both the criminals, or stigmatize, them, or put out their eyes, or might exact of the adulterer a heavy fine. But, by the law of Moses, they were both to be put to death with publick infamy; and, in ordinary cases, there was no dispensation.
I proceed to observe,
II. That a sense of virtue and religion is sometimes found where we least expect it.
How different was the true character of the people in Gerar, from that which Abraham's jealousy had drawn for them? There was much of the fear of God among them, though he had imagined there was none at all.
It appears, from this short history, that the prince of the country was a man of great virtue. He was not an idolater, but a worshipper of the true God, as was also Melchizedek the priest. He was not a stranger to divine Revelations, though favoured with them in a lower degree than Abraham. As God, on the occasion here mentioned, communicated to him his will in a dream, so there is no doubt, but, on other occasions, he had been favoured with divine discoveries. He seems not to have been unacquainted with this manner of receiving intimations of the divine pleasure. He acknowledges a supreme governour of the world, and regards him as a being of almighty power, and of per