on Genesis 21 :33
Abraham planted a grove - The original word אשל eshel has been variously translated a grove, a plantation, an orchard, a cultivated field, and an oak. From this word, says Mr. Parkhurst, may be derived the name of the famous asylum, opened by Romulus between two groves of oaks at Rome; (μεθοριον δυοιν δρυμως, Dionys. Hal., lib. ii. c. 16): and as Abraham, Genesis 21:33, agreeably, no doubt, to the institutes of the patriarchal religion, planted an oak in Beer-sheba, and called on the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God, (compare Genesis 12:8; Genesis 18:1), so we find that oaks were sacred among the idolaters also. Ye shall be ashamed of the oaks ye have chosen, says Isaiah, Isaiah 1:29, to the idolatrous Israelites. And in Greece we meet in very early times with the oracle of Jupiter at the oaks of Dodona. Among the Greeks and Romans we have sacra Jovi quercus, the oak sacred to Jupiter, even to a proverb. And in Gaul and Britain we find the highest religious regard paid to the same tree and to its mistletoe, under the direction of the Druids, that is, the oak prophets or priests, from the Celtic deru, and Greek δρυς, an oak. Few are ignorant that the mistletoe is indeed a very extraordinary plant, not to be cultivated in the earth, but always growing on some other tree. "The druids," says Pliny, Nat. Hist., lib. xvii., c. 44, "hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe, and the tree on which it is produced, provided it be the oak. They make choice of groves of oak on this account, nor do they perform any of their sacred rites without the leaves of those trees; so that one may suppose that they are for this reason called, by a Greek etymology, Druids. And whatever mistletoe grows on the oak they think is sent from heaven, and is a sign that God himself has chosen that tree. This however is very rarely found, but when discovered is treated with great ceremony. They call it by a name which signifies in their language the curer of all ills; and having duly prepared their feasts and sacrifices under the tree, they bring to it two white bulls, whose horns are then for the first time tied; the priest, dressed in a white robe, ascends the tree, and with a golden pruning hook cuts off the mistletoe, which is received into a white sagum or sheet. Then they sacrifice the victims, praying that God would bless his own gift to those on whom he has bestowed it." It is impossible for a Christian to read this account without thinking of Him who was the desire of all nations, of the man whose name was the Branch, who had indeed no father upon earth, but came down from heaven, was given to heal all our ills, and, after being cut off through the Divine counsel, was wrapped in fine linen and laid in the sepulcher for our sakes. I cannot forbear adding that the mistletoe was a sacred emblem to other Celtic nations, as, for instance, to the ancient inhabitants of Italy. The golden branch, of which Virgil speaks so largely in the sixth book of the Aeneid, and without which, he says, none could return from the infernal regions, (see line 126), seems an allusion to the mistletoe, as he himself plainly intimates by comparing it to that plant, line 205, etc. See Parkhurst, under the word אשל eshel.
In the first ages of the world the worship of God was exceedingly simple; there were no temples nor covered edifices of any kind; an altar, sometimes a single stone, sometimes consisting of several, and at other times merely of turf, was all that was necessary; on this the fire was lighted and the sacrifice offered. Any place was equally proper, as they knew that the object of their worship filled the heavens and the earth. In process of time when families increased, and many sacrifices were to be offered, groves or shady places were chosen, where the worshippers might enjoy the protection of the shade, as a considerable time must be employed in offering many sacrifices. These groves became afterwards abused to impure and idolatrous purposes, and were therefore strictly forbidden. See Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 16:21.
And called there on the name of the Lord - On this important passage Dr. Shuckford speaks thus: "Our English translation very erroneously renders this place, he called upon the name of Jehovah; but the expression קרא בשם kara beshem never signifies to call upon the name; קרא שם kara shem would signify to invoke or call upon the name, or קרא אל שם kara el shem would signify to cry unto the name; but קרא בשם kara beshem signifies to invoke In the name, and seems to be used where the true worshippers of God offered their prayers in the name of the true Mediator, or where the idolaters offered their prayers in the name of false ones, 1 Kings 18:26; for as the true worshippers had but one God and one Lord, so the false worshippers had gods many and lords many, 1 Corinthians 8:5. We have several instances of קרא kara, and a noun after it, sometimes with and sometimes without the particle אל el, and then it signifies to call upon the person there mentioned; thus, קרא יהוה kara Yehovah is to call upon the Lord, Psalm 14:4; Psalm 17:6; Psalm 31:17; Psalm 53:4; Psalm 118:5, etc.; and קרא אל יהוה kara el Yehovah imports the same, 1 Samuel 12:17; Jonah 1:6, etc.; but קרא בשם kara beshem is either to name By the name, Genesis 4:17; Numbers 32:42; Psalm 49:11; Isaiah 43:7; or to invoke In the name, when it is used as an expression of religious worship." - Connex. vol. i., p. 293. I believe this to be a just view of the subject, and therefore I admit it without scruple.
The everlasting God - יהוה אל עולם Yehovah el olam, Jehovah, the Strong God, the Eternal One. This is the first place in Scripture in which עולם olam occurs as an attribute of God, and here it is evidently designed to point out his eternal duration; that it can mean no limited time is self-evident, because nothing of this kind can be attributed to God. The Septuagint render the words Θεος αιωνιος, the ever-existing God; and the Vulgate has Invocavit ibi nomen Do mini, Dei aeterni, There he invoked the name of the Lord, the eternal God. The Arabic is nearly the same. From this application of both the Hebrew and Greek words we learn that עולם olam and αιων aion originally signified Eternal, or duration without end. עלם alam signifies he was hidden, concealed, or kept secret; and αιων, according to Aristotle, (De Caelo, lib. i., chap. 9, and a higher authority need not be sought), is compounded of αει, always, and ων, being, αιων εστιν, απο του αει ειναι· The same author informs us that God was termed Aisa, because he was always existing, λεγεσθαι - Αισαν δε, αει ουσαν. De Mundo, chap. xi., in fine. Hence we see that no words can more forcibly express the grand characteristics of eternity than these. It is that duration which is concealed, hidden, or kept secret from all created beings; which is always existing, still running On but never running Out; an interminable, incessant, and immeasurable duration; it is That, in the whole of which God alone can be said to exist, and that which the eternal mind can alone comprehend.
In all languages words have, in process of time, deviated from their original acceptations, and have become accommodated to particular purposes, and limited to particular meanings. This has happened both to the Hebrew עלם alam, and the Greek αιων; they have been both used to express a limited time, but in general a time the limits of which are unknown; and thus a pointed reference to the original ideal meaning is still kept up. Those who bring any of these terms in an accommodated sense to favor a particular doctrine, etc., must depend on the good graces of their opponents for permission to use them in this way. For as the real grammatical meaning of both words is eternal, and all other meanings are only accommodated ones, sound criticism, in all matters of dispute concerning the import of a word or term, must have recourse to the grammatical meaning, and its use among the earliest and most correct writers in the language, and will determine all accommodated meanings by this alone. Now the first and best writers in both these languages apply olam and αιων to express eternal, in the proper meaning of that word; and this is their proper meaning in the Old and New Testaments when applied to God, his attributes, his operations taken in connection with the ends for which he performs them, for whatsoever he doth, it shall be for ever - יהיה לעולם yihyeh leolam, it shall be for eternity, Ecclesiastes 3:14; forms and appearances of created things may change, but the counsels and purposes of God relative to them are permanent and eternal, and none of them can be frustrated; hence the words, when applied to things which from their nature must have a limited duration, are properly to be understood in this sense, because those things, though temporal in themselves, shadow forth things that are eternal. Thus the Jewish dispensation, which in the whole and in its parts is frequently said to be לעולם leolam, for ever, and which has terminated in the Christian dispensation, has the word properly applied to it, because it typified and introduced that dispensation which is to continue not only while time shall last, but is to have its incessant accumulating consummation throughout eternity. The word is, with the same strict propriety, applied to the duration of the rewards and punishments in a future state. And the argument that pretends to prove (and it is only pretension) that in the future punishment of the wicked "the worm shall die," and "the fire "shall be quenched," will apply as forcibly to the state of happy spirits, and as fully prove that a point in eternity shall arrive when the repose of the righteous shall be interrupted, and the glorification of the children of God have an eternal end! See note on Genesis 17:7. See note on Genesis 17:8.
1. Faithfulness is one of the attributes of God, and none of his promises can fall. According to the promise to Abraham, Isaac is born; but according to the course of nature it fully appears that both Abraham and Sarah had passed that term of life in which it was possible for them to have children. Isaac is the child of the promise, and the promise is supernatural. Ishmael is born according to the ordinary course of nature, and cannot inherit, because the inheritance is spiritual, and cannot come by natural birth; hence we see that no man can expect to enter into the kingdom of God by birth, education, profession of the true faith, etc., etc. Those alone who are born from above, and are made partakers of the Divine nature, can be admitted into the family of God in heaven, and everlastingly enjoy that glorious inheritance. Reader, art thou born again? Hath God changed thy heart and thy life? If not, canst thou suppose that in thy present state thou canst possibly enter into the paradise of God? I leave thy conscience to answer.
2. The actions of good men may be misrepresented, and their motives suspected, because those motives are not known; and those who are prone to think evil are the last to take any trouble to inform their minds, so that they may judge righteous judgment. Abraham, in the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael, has been accused of cruelty. Though objections of this kind have been answered already, yet it may not be amiss farther to observe that what he did he did in conformity to a Divine command, and a command so unequivocally given that he could not doubt its Divine origin; and this very command was accompanied with a promise that both the child and his mother should be taken under the Divine protection. And it was so; nor does it appear that they lacked any thing but water, and that only for a short time, after which it was miraculously supplied. God will work a miracle when necessary, and never till then; and at such a time the Divine interposition can be easily ascertained, and man is under no temptation to attribute to second causes what has so evidently flowed from the first. Thus, while he is promoting his creatures' good, he is securing his own glory; and he brings men into straits and difficulties, that he may have the fuller opportunity to convince his followers of his providential care, and to prove how much he loves them.
3. Did we acknowledge God in all our ways, he would direct our steps. Abimelech, king of Gerar, and Phichol, captain of his host, seeing Abraham a worshipper of the true God, made him swear by the object of his worship that there should be a lasting peace between them and him; for as they saw that God was with Abraham, they well knew that he could not expect the Divine blessing any longer than he walked in integrity before God; they therefore require him to swear by God that he would not deal falsely with them or their posterity. From this very circumstance we may see the original purpose, design, and spirit of an oath, viz., Let God prosper or curse me in all that I do, as I prove true or false to my engagements! This is still the spirit of all oaths where God is called to witness, whether the form be by the water of the Ganges, the sign of the cross, kissing the Bible, or lifting up the hand to heaven. Hence we may learn that he who falsifies an oath or promise, made in the presence and name of God, thereby forfeits all right and title to the approbation and blessing of his Maker.
But it is highly criminal to make such appeals to God upon trivial occasions. Only the most solemn matters should be thus determined. Legislators who regard the morals of the people should take heed not to multiply oaths in matters of commerce and revenue, if they even use them at all. Who can take the oaths presented by the custom house or excise, and be guiltless? I have seen a person kiss his pen or thumb nail instead of the book, thinking that he avoided the condemnation thereby of the false oath he was then taking!
on Genesis 21 :33
on Genesis 21 :33
21:33 And Abraham planted a grove - For a shade to his tent, or perhaps an orchard of fruit trees; and there, though we cannot say he settled, for God would have him while he lived to be a stranger and a pilgrim, yet he sojourned many days. And called there on the name of the Lord - Probably in the grove he planted, which was his oratory, or house of prayer: he kept up publick worship, to which probably his neighbours resorted, and joined with him. Men should not only retain their goodness wherever they go, but do all they can to propagate it, and make others good. The everlasting God - Though God had made himself known to Abraham as his God in particular; yet he forgets not to give glory to him as the Lord of all, the everlasting God, who was before all worlds, and will be when time and days shall be no more.