|Vol. IV, No. 11
Shebat 5607, February 1847
The Mission Of Abraham.
By Rev. J. K. Gutheim, Of Cincinnati.
In reading the ancient record of the life and deeds of our fathers, the patriarchs of old; in investigating their spotless characters, as delineated by the sacred writer; in reflecting on their several eventful careers and the miraculous interposition of Providence so visibly displayed in their behalf; in pondering over their glorious mission fraught with bliss and happiness for the whole human race: how exalted must not be the estimation which the memory of those pious men is calculated to excite in the mind of even the philosophical reader of Holy Writ. At a time when mankind worshipped the host of heaven, the elements of nature, or the works of their own hands, mistaking or willfully setting up the creature for the Creator: at such a time of degrading idolatry, the patriarchs proclaimed the existence of the One True God, and, in their words and in their deeds, in their fervent supplications and their unbounded confidence, taught the knowledge of His holy name, and the moral excellence which this knowledge inculcates, to an astounded world. Near four thousand years have elapsed since our progenitor, Abraham, at the behest of the Almighty, went forth from Ur of the Chaldeans, “from beyond the river where, as Joshua tell us, his fathers lived and worshipped other gods.” Yet, even at this distant day, the followers of the Koran, who claim descent from the “father of many nations,” will point out to the inquiring traveller in those sunny climes, the ground which he trod, the groves where he pitched his tent, and the cave where his mortal remains are locked up from the eye of the curious and profane. For, dear and sacred to the Mussulman is every spot with which some incident of the life of the patriarch is associated, and with religious reverence he cherishes the memory of Ishmael’s sire. What emotions, then, must fill our hearts, what thoughts rise in our minds at tracing the course of that great luminary of the East, with whose appearance first dawned the heavenly light of religion? We, the legitimate descendants of Abraham, the inheritors of the divine promises vouchsafed to him, the guardians and propagators of the eternal truths revealed to him, the successors to that glorious mission for the accomplishment of which he was ordered by the Almighty to set out from his broad native plains on the bank of the great river, “unto a land which would be shown to him,”—must we not endeavour fully to comprehend the magnitude of the trust of which we are the favoured repositories, in order to be capable of discharging the obligations embodied in it? Let us, therefore, examine the nature of the Abrahamic mission, and the consequent divine promises, by answering the following three questions:—1. In what did the mission of Abraham consist? 2. What were the divine promises granted to him? and 3. How ought we to act to accomplish this mission, and to be worthy of those divine promises?
We find an appropriate text in this day’s Sidrah, Gen. 18: 18, 19.
ואברהם היו יהיה לגוי גדול ועצום ונברכו בו כל גויי הארץ: כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך ה' על אברהם את אשר דבר עליו:
“And Abraham will become a great and mighty nation, and there will be blessed in him all the nations of the earth. For I know him, that he will command his sons and his house after him, that they shall keep the way of the Lord to do righteousness and judgment, that the Lord may bring on Abraham what he hath spoken of him.”
If we contemplate the present state and condition of the morals, and draw the line of demarcation between the different nations that inhabit different parts of the globe, how striking is the variety of manners and customs, of social and political relations that meets our observant eyes. Great, however, as this contrast is, in all matters appertaining to the temporal state of man: greater still are the difference and disagreement by which his peculiar religious creed is distinguished from that of his fellow-man. It is true, that wherever civilization has raised its standard,—a civilization founded on a true historical basis—there also the Supreme Father of the Universe is acknowledged. But from what a tissue of absurd doctrines have the various religious systems to be disentangled—to what an extent have their maxims and tenets to be modified, before they body forth that true conception of the Deity and His attributes according to the revelation of the Bible from which they originated; before they fully correspond with the dogmas of our sacred faith in the Divine Unity. Our creed embraces the doctrine of a pure monotheism and a mode of worship, according to which we address our heavenly Father, not by means of a mediator, but in direct manner, convinced as we are that the Almighty has neither equal nor associate, and that He alone is sufficient to govern and maintain the world, which, in His infinite Power, Wisdom, and Benevolence, He alone has created.
Evident and clear as this truth must appear to every thinking man, irresistible as must be the conviction with which it forces itself on the mind of every being endowed with reason, the dominion of error, nevertheless, yields but slowly and procrastinatingly to the benign sway of truth. But אמת יעשה דרכו truth will as surely accomplish its end, and conquer falsehood, as light dispels darkness.
The revelation vouchsafed to Abraham is as important to the whole human race in general as the revelation of Mount Sinai was to the people of Israel in particular. The latter was the revelation of a code of laws for the education and government of a people just then created, and had a particular bearing on the development of its moral, social, and political character. Viewed in its religious nature, it is evidently the corollary of the former, and must be traced back to the revelation of the patriarch as its fountain-head. The knowledge of the Supreme, of which we perceive but rare and fitful glimpses in the ante-Abrahamic age, seemed almost entirely to have been forgotten at the time of Abraham. The whole world bowed down to the worship of innumerable deities and the adoration of graven images; human victims bled on the altars erected to imaginary gods; ignorance and superstition brutalized mankind, and fettered the sublime faculties of their heaven-born spirits. At such a time of prevailing error and gloom, Abraham appeared invested with his heavenly mission. Tradition tells us that, when yet at a very tender age, he had a presentiment of his Creator (בן שלש שנים אברהם הכיר את בוראו). This presentiment, which, in the course of time, became a settled conviction within him, tended towards the development of all those noble qualities, for which the character of Abraham is distinguished. Liberal hospitality, generous self-denial, affection and disinterestedness towards his friends, endurance and resignation in trials, and toleration towards all, gained for him the high esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries, to such a degree that he was styled נשיא אלהים, a godly prince, and that even kings entered with him into covenants of friendship. Thus was Abraham a fit messenger to proclaim the name of the all-kind God, who wills the happiness of all his creatures.
The mission of Abraham was a mission of peace. He came not to make war on mankind, and, by the fostering of a virulent fanaticism, to tear the son from his father, and to raise brother against brother. “Righteousness and judgment” were, as our text says, the instruments with which error was to be eradicated; a noble and upright conduct the powerful means to convince the unbeliever. This task was distinctly prescribed in the following words addressed to him by the Deity: אני אל שדי התהלך לפני והיה תמים “I am God, the Almighty, walk before me and be perfect!” To consider God as the Creator, Governor, and Preserver of the universe, who rules the destinies of empires and of nations; to look upon Him as the source of his being and happiness; to address his prayers to, and put his confidence in, Him alone; to show to the world an example of unwavering faith—the patriarch was thus directed. And what language can afford a more comprehensive sentence than the Divine apothegm, “Walk before me and be perfect?” Does it not comprise all the high-born virtues of which man is capable?
But it was not to his age alone that Abraham should proclaim the name of the Holy One, and show the example of true piety and devotion: his mission also should be transmitted as an heir-loom to his descendants and redound to the benefit of future generations. There is no doubt that he endeavoured to preserve the knowledge of the true God in his family; since the Almighty himself testifies in his behalf, saving: “For I know him, that he will command his sons, and his house after him, that they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment.”
Having thus given the outline of the mission of Abraham, let us now proceed to answer our second inquiry: “What were the Divine promises granted to him?”
The Divine promises vouchsafed to Abraham were of a twofold nature: temporal and spiritual. He received the assurance his descendants should possess the land of Canaan; that they should grow up to be a great and mighty nation, and that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in them. All these promises having been literally fulfilled, they afford undeniable proof of the authenticity of the Bible and the divinity of its origin. As far as the temporal blessings are concerned, there can be no difference of opinion. They are historical facts, and fall as such within the grasp and range of our senses and experience. But far different is it with the spiritual promises, which, however distinctly expressed, through their abstract nature, leave ample scope for perversion and misapplication to suit the views of particular parties.
The possession of the land of Canaan was a temporal boon. After the Israelites were released from Egyptian bondage, they journeyed towards the land promised to the patriarch upwards of four hundred years antecedently. There, in a small and secluded portion of the earth, they were to cultivate and to preserve those religious truths first revealed to Abraham, and afterwards corroborated amidst the thunders of Sinai. On the shores of the Jordan, “a kingdom of priests” was thus established, for the worship of the Most High. Whilst all other nations were plunged in gross idolatry, a pure and sublime theism was perpetuated among the descendants of Abraham, and “from Zion went forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” announcing truth, peace, and salvation to all mankind.
The promise to Abraham, that he should become a great and mighty nation, must be taken in a spiritual sense. Politically considered, we never attained to pre-eminence. Even our independence, whilst yet forming a body-politic, was short-lived and precarious. But although we cannot boast of vast and mighty conquests, such as were achieved by other nations of antiquity; although the continued changes of the political aspect of the world owe little to Hebrew influence: our part in the march of the human mind and the progress of civilization has been most active and striking. Scattered over the wide face of the habitable globe, we carry with us the seeds of that heavenly tree of Divine knowledge, under whose shadow the whole human family is destined one day to find shelter. We are the living witnesses of the living God, or, as Isaiah expresses it, “I am the Lord; ye are witnesses, saith the Lord.” Yes, we testify to the Unity of God, we testify to his Providence, we testify to the Revelation of Himself and His holy will, in order to realize the happiness of mankind. And not until every vestige of the erroneous belief in the plurality of the Godhead is vanished—not until, as we daily pray, all the inhabitants of the earth know and acknowledge, that to the God of the Universe every knee must bow and every tongue swear—not until then will our mission, descended to us from our progenitor Abraham, be accomplished. Not until then will the promise be fulfilled, “that in his seed all the nations, of the earth shall be blessed.”
If such be our glorious destiny, let us thirdly inquire, “How ought we to act to accomplish our mission and be worthy of those Divine promises?”
We find an answer in our text, “For I know him,” says the Lord of Abraham, “that he will command his sons, and his house after him, that they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment, that the Lord may bring on Abraham what he hath spoken of him.” By doing righteousness and judgment, by walking before the Lord and being perfect, by showing to our children an example of true godliness and, piety, in a word, by treading in the footsteps of our pious ancestor, we shall realize the object of his mission and hasten the fulfillment of the promises received by him. We are not enjoined to force our belief on those who differ from us. Truth scorns violence and deception, and can only be propagated by means of sincere conviction,לא בחיל ולא בכח כי אם ברוחי, “not with hosts, not with strength, but in the spirit of the Lord.” It is by the purity of our faith and the excellence of our conduct that we must endeavour to vindicate our glorious religion before the eyes of the nations. It is therefore our duty, diligently to study those sacred pages of heavenly wisdom, in order that we may become fully aware “what the Lord requireth of us,” and that we may be enabled to meet and to refute the misinterpretations and erroneous doctrines which the adherents of another creed, grafted on ours, have thought fit to deduce from it. Yes, it is the duty of every Israelite to be acquainted with the history of his fathers; to be fully cognisant if the origin, rise, and development of his religion; to know the statutes and judgments of the Lord, in order to appreciate the dignity of his position among the children of man. Neglect not this study, my brethren! Do not remain in ignorance and darkness, when you have ample opportunity to enlighten your understanding. To whom is the knowledge of the Law more necessary than to the Israelite, whose eternal happiness and hopes are centered in the Word of God, who finds therein a haven for all the doubts and for all the afflictions that may overcloud his mind? But, above all things, do not withhold a thorough religious education from your children. Let them be made fully acquainted with Israel’s history and Israel’s Law, that they may be able to defend their religion against any attack directed against it, and not stand abashed, and confess their ignorance, when questioned on points that involve their eternal welfare. Teach them to walk in the way of the Lord, to practise righteousness and justice, and man will delight in them, and the Lord will bless them. By acting thus, you will accomplish your mission, and be worthy of the promises inherited from our fathers.
May the Lord, our God, be with us, as He has been with our fathers; not leave us nor forsake us: may He incline our hearts unto Him, to walk in all His ways, and to observe His statutes, judgments, and commandments, which He commanded our fathers. “And may he bestow on us His heavenly blessing, which He has taught His servant Moses. The Lord bless thee, &c.”