(Chapter 8)


Milton Terry
©1898 by
Eaton & Mains, New York
Reprinted 1988 by
Baker Book House
ISBN 0-8010-8888-7


    A STUDY of the life of Abraham, as set forth in the Book of Genesis, will discover a series of revelations and promises similar to those seen in the life of Noah. We venture to exhibit them as a sevenfold apocalypse. They constitute a designed variety in the midst of a great organic unity, and show a very obvious relation to the Messianic hope of the Hebrew nation. The compiler, here as in other parts of Genesis, has appropriated material from various sources, but he so connects the varying traditions as to make them serve the purpose of reiterated assurances of the loftiest hopes of his nation. It was fitting that the Messianic hope, as revealed to the great “father of the faithful” and the “friend of God,” should be repeated in many portions and forms, and thus show, like the duplicated dreams of Joseph and of Pharaoh, that all was estab­lished in the purpose of God, and would certainly come to pass (Gen. 41:32). For of all the patriarchs of antiquity Abraham stands out as the most honored, a prophet, priest, and king, who sees by repeated favors of heaven the day of the Messiah, and is glad (John 8:56). To him, therefore, more appropriately than to any other in that ancient time, came a sevenfold apocalypse of the promised Seed through whom all nations were destined to be blessed.

    1. The first passage contains the divine call of Abraham, and combines revelation, commandment, and promise (Gen. 12:1-3):

Now said Jehovah unto Abraham,
Go get thee from thy land and from thy kin and from thy father’s house,
Unto the land which I will show thee.
And I will make of thee a great nation,
And I will bless thee and make thy name great,
And be thou a blessing.
And I will bless them that bless thee,
And him that treats thee lightly I will curse,
And blessed in thee shall be all the families of the earth.

    2. The second revelation was the promise of the land of Canaan. As he first passed through the land and halted at Shechem, Jehovah appeared unto him and assured him that he would give that land unto his posterity, and he builded an altar there and also one at Bethel (12:6-9). But after he had passed through the length of the land, gone down into Egypt, returned and separated from Lot, Jehovah thus addressed him (13:14-17):

Lift now thy eyes and look from the place where thou art,
Northward and southward and eastward and westward;
For all the land thou seest, to thee I give it,
And to thy seed forever.
And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth,
So that if a man can number the dust of the earth,
Then also may thy seed be numbered.
Rise, walk in the land to its length and to its breadth,
For unto thee I give it.

    3. Another revelation and promise, attributed by most critics to a different writer, is recorded in Gen. 15. It is interwoven with a narrative which seems to distribute it into portions given on two successive nights. We may fancy the patriarch lying down to sleep under the open sky, heavy and despondent over the uncertain pros­pect of posterity of his own. In his dreams Jehovah utters a new word of assurance, and impresses the same by a soul-stirring vision. Upon his asking how he can expect a great future when “Dammesek Eliezer” appears to be his only possible heir, he receives the follow­ing oracle (Gen. 15:1, 4, 5).

Fear not, Abraham, I am a shield for thee,
And great exceedingly is thy reward.
This man shall not become thy heir,
But one that shall go forth from thy own loins,
He shall become thy heir.
Look now unto the heavens and count the stars,
If indeed thou art able to count them,
Thus shall thy seed be.

    4. In connection with the foregoing oracle there came also a prophecy of bondage and triumph (verses 9-21). From this record as it now stands one might infer that all the rest of that night the patriarch meditated and communed with God, and with the break of morning asked some further token (verse 8). He is ordered to prepare five representative offerings, and all that day he busies himself in preparing the victims and keeping off the birds of prey. “But when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and behold a horror of great darkness fell upon him.” Then the vision of “a smoking furnace and a flaming torch,” symbols of God’s presence, passed between the pieces of the victims, thereby sealing the covenant and assuring Abram of his great inheritance. And a word of Jehovah accompanied the vision (verses 18-21), naming ten Canaanitish nations as destined to yield up their possessions to the promised seed of Abram. These heathen tribes are fitting types of all the kingdoms of this world which must at last become the kingdom of Jehovah and his Anointed.

    5. The seventeenth chapter of Genesis contains what may be ap­propriately termed the oracles of the Abrahamic covenant. Herein the Holy One reveals himself under the name EL SHADDAY, ordains the covenant of circumcision, and gives to the patriarch and his wife new names of prophetic significance:

And thy name shall no more be called Abram,
But thy name shall be Abraham,
For the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee.
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful,
And I will make thee into nations,
And kings shall come forth from thee.
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee,
And with thy seed after thee for their generations for an everlasting covenant,
To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee (Gen. 17:5-7).

The name of Sarai is changed to Sarah, and she is destined to be a mother of nations.

“Kings of peoples shall be from her.”
Sarah thy wife shall bear unto thee a son
And thou shalt call his name Isaac,
And I will establish my covenant with him,
For an everlasting covenant for his seed after him (Gen. 17:19).

    6. The sixth revelation to Abraham was an angelophany (Gen. 18). Celestial messengers appeared to him in the form and habits of ordinary men. The promise of a son was repeated, Sarah’s un­belief rebuked, and the impending doom of Sodom and Gomorrah declared. In the revelation of the overthrow of Sodom, and in the intercession of Abraham, we learn how the righteous are the salt of the earth, how wonderful are the long-suffering and the righteous­ness of God, and with what blended humility and boldness man may intercede with God in prayer.

    7. The seventh and last revelation of God to Abraham came in connection with the severest trial of his faith, the command to offer up his only son (Gen. 22). It represents the patriarch’s sublimest act of devotion, and the perfection of his faith in God. The oracle is confirmed by two immutable things, God’s oath and promise:

By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah,
That inasmuch as thou hast done this thing,
And didst not spare thy son, thy only one,
That in blessing I will bless thee
And in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven,
And as the sand which is on the shore of the sea,
And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22:16-18).

    Thus the last of the series of revelations and promises to the chief patriarch of the Hebrew race closes with the same prediction of a blessed seed as that with which the first was distinguished; but this last was confirmed by Jehovah’s oath.[1]

End Note

  1. Stanley’s observation on the sacrifice of Abraham is worthy of note: “The doctrine of the types of the ancient dispensation has often been pushed to excess, but there is a sense in which the connection indicated thereby admits of no dispute, and which may be illustrated even by other history than that with which we are now concerned. …Abraham and Abraham’s son in obedience, in resignation, in the sacrifice of whatever could be sacrificed short of sin, form an anticipation which cannot be mistaken of that last and greatest event which closes the history of the chosen people. We leap as by a natural instinct from the sacrifice in the land of Moriah to the sacrifice of Calvary. There are many differences; there is a danger of exaggerating the resemblance, or of confounding in either case what is subordinate with what is essen­tial. But the general feeling of Christendom has in this respect not gone far astray. Each event, if we look at it well and understand it rightly, will serve to explain the other. In the very point of view in which I have just been speaking of it the likeness is most remarkable. Human sacrifice, which was in outward form nearest to the offering of Isaac, was in fact and in spirit most entirely condemned and repudiated by it. The union of parental love with the total denial of self is held up in both cases as the highest model of human, and therefore as the shadow of divine, love. ‘Sacrifice’ is rejected, but ‘to do thy will, O God,’ is accepted (Heb. 10:5, 7).”—History of the Jewish Church, First Series, pp. 56, 56. New York, 1869.