APOCALYPSE OF ABRAHAM
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):
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):
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).
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:
The name of Sarai is changed to Sarah, and she is destined to be a mother of nations.
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:
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.