The Old Testament is more full of parables than the New. Its history is prophetic. Its stories are parables in real life. The chronicles of Israel are full of God's foreshadowings of the redemption of the world. From the Fall in Eden to the restoration of the Jews under Ezra, there are, all along the way, fingerposts that point to the Cross of Christ. Their inscriptions are sometimes so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. They are sometimes so obscured that the heedless traveler notes them not. These finger-posts Iare what the author seeks to decipher, these parables to interpret. The light that shines from the Old Testament is that of the Star of Bethlehem, which conducts the reader to the manger of his Incarnate Lord. There is a vividness in Mr. Abbotts descriptions that is delightful. The old fields, that have been culled by so many gleaners, are vitalized into reproductiveness.
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The Star of Bethlehem
Old Testament Shadows of New Testament Truths
The Star of Bethlehem, L. Abbott
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
I. THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN. 2
II. WATER IN THE WILDERNESS. 9
III. ELIEZER'S PRAYER. 15
IV. JOSEPH'S STAFF. 21
V. THE GREAT QUESTION. 29
VI. THE GREAT DELIVERANCE. 37
VII. THE RIVEN ROCK. 45
VIII. THE FIERY SERPENTS AND THE BRAZEN SERPENT. 51
IX. THE BENEVOLENCE OF BOAZ. 55
X. THE FORLORN HOPE OF ISRAEL. 60
XI. THE PRICE OF AMBITION. 69
XII. SAMSON'S STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS. 77
XIII. ELISHA'S VISION. 83
XIV. THE QUEEN'S CROWN. 90
THE Old Testament is more full of parables than the New.
Its history is prophetic. Its stories are parables in real life.
The chronicles of Israel are full of God's foreshadowings of the redemption of the world. From the Fall in Eden to the restoration of the Jews under Ezra, there are, all along the way, fingerposts that point to the Cross of Christ. Their inscriptions are sometimes so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. They are sometimes so obscured that the heedless traveler notes them not. These finger-posts I seek to decipher; these parables to interpret.
The light that shines from the Old Testament is that of the Star of Bethlehem, which conducts the reader to the manger of his Incarnate Lord. That star I seek to follow.
THE story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the most extraordinary in the Old Testament.
It is singularly attested by the imperishable witness of the mountains and the sea. Skepticism may scout at the plagues of Egypt; may smile incredulously at the marvelous deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea; may look with ill-concealed pity upon those who, fed daily by God's bounty, believe that God fed the hungry Israelites in the wilderness; may account the stories of the marvels which he wrought in answer to the prayers of Elijah the legends of a romantic age, and reject with ridicule the assertion of the apostle that the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much; it will find nowhere in the Bible a story more extraordinary and intrinsically incredible than that of the destruction of the cities of the plain. Yet to deny this, it must not only impugn the sacred writers, but must also repudiate the traditions of heathen nations reported by secular historians, and refuse to listen to the silent testimony of nature itself. For, until the vision of Ezekiel is fulfilled, and the sacred waters, flowing from God's holy hill, heal the waters of the Salt Sea and give life again to this valley of death—until mercy shall conquer justice in nature as it already has in human experience, this scene of desolation will remain, a terrible witness to the reality of God's justice, and the fearfulness of his judgments.
Nor does it merely testify to the truth of the Scripture narrative. The briny waters of the Salt Sea, the upheaved rocks scored with fire, the mountain of solid salt, the masses of bitumen, the extinct crater of a neighboring volcano, the other innumerable traces of volcanic action, all remain, not only to attest that a remarkable convulsion of nature has taken place in the past, but also to indicate the nature of the phenomenon, and the character of the forces which operated to produce it.
In the southeast corner of Palestine, in a basin scooped out of the solid rock by some extraordinary pre-historic convulsion, lie the waters of what is fitly called the Dead Sea. The barren rocks which environ it crowd close to the water's edge. The almost impassable pathway which leads down their precipitous sides has no parallel even among the dangerous passes of the Alps and the Apennines. From the surface of this singular lake there perpetually arises a misty exhalation, as though it were steam from a vast caldron, kept at boiling point by infernal fires below. No fish play in these deadly waters. When now .and then one ventures hither from the Jordan, he pays for his temerity with his life. No birds make here their nests. No fruits flourish along these inhospitable shores, save the apples of Sodom, fair to the eye, but turning to dust and ashes in the hand of him that plucks them. The few miserable men that still make their home in this accursed valley are dwarfed, and stunted, and sickly, as those that live in the shadowy border land that separates life from death.
Yet this sterile scene possesses a ghastly, corpse-like beauty, even in death, which indicates what its living beauty must have been. Here and there, along its shores, are a few oases, whose fertile soil, abundant vegetation, and luxuriant growth, point us back to the morning when Abraham and Lot stood on the neighboring hill-top, and "beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, even as the garden of the Lord." For once the southern extremity of the Dead Sea was doubtless a fertile plain. Magnificent mountains encircled it in their arms. The streams that irrigated its surface outnumbered all that were to be found in all the rest of Palestine. A tropical sun drew from a fertile soil a most luxuriant vegetation. The waters of the neighboring lake, then fresh and sweet, were dotted with many a sail, and alive with innumerable fish. A mountain of salt at the southern extremity of the plain supplied the Holy Land with an article even more essential to the Hebrews than to us. Vast veins of bitumen, interwoven in the texture of the soil, supplied them with fuel, with brick, and with a substitute for pitch and tar, and brought to the vale of Siddim a profitable commerce. Kings fought for the possession of this second Eden. Flourishing cities, embowered in all the bloom and verdure of tropical gardens, sprang up in this "Valley of Fields." The fabled glories of Damascus were surpassed by the realities of this terrestrial paradise. The busy hum of industry resounded where now reigns the unbroken stillness of the grave. The fragrance of many gardens loaded the air now heavy with the exhalations of this salty sea. Where now is utter loneliness and hopeless desolation was once a lake country, teeming with life, and exquisite in all the horticultural beauty of an Asiatic garden —the fairest nook in all the fair land of Canaan.
Yet even then death lurked unseen in the midst of this prolific life. Volcanic fires slumbered beneath the carpeted fields. The veins of bitumen only awaited the torch of the Lord to enkindle farm and city in one universal conflagration. The mound of salt was made ready to mingle its properties with the water of the neighboring lake, and turn it from a fount of life to a sea of death. The lake itself only waited the beck of God to overleap its boundaries, and obliterate, with one fierce and irresistible wave, every trace of the civilization of the proud and prosperous cities of the plain. The very luxuriance of their land bred in its inhabitants those vices which belong to a luxurious and enervated people. The record of their shameless iniquity, hinted at in a few brief words in the sacred story, is too infamous to be dilated on. Lewdness ran such riot that strangers were not safe from the perpetration of crimes which modern literature dares not even so much as name.
In all the plain not half a score of men could be found whose purity might justify the mercy of God in restraining the fulfillment of his purposes of justice. In the city of Sodom there was but one who, in the general degeneracy of the age, feared God or regarded his law. Often, perhaps, had Lot remonstrated with his fellows—but in vain; often had he sighed for the peace and purity of his pastoral life, yet lacked the courage to return to it in his old age. His fellow-citizens repaid his remonstrances with mob violence. His own son-in-law ridiculed his warnings of divine judgment.
At length the doomed cities filled to the full the measure of their iniquity. The patience of God would wait no longer. Lot, warned of the impending destruction, went forth by night, at the hazard of his life, to save, if possible, at least his own kinsfolk from a fearful death. But he seemed to them as one that mocked. They laughed him to scorn.
It is easy to imagine the replies of the incredulous people. Their descendants employ the same replies to-day.
"Sodom and Gomorrah to be destroyed by fire!" cried one; "it is contrary to all our experience. No evidence can convince me of it." "It would be a violation of the laws of nature," said another. "God is too merciful," said a third.
"It will be time enough to flee when the fire comes," said a fourth. "I will think of it," said a fifth; "but the subject is one of momentous importance. I can do nothing in haste."
There was no time for delay. The message was delivered. The blood of this people was henceforth upon their own heads. Lot, leaving behind him his country, home, possessions, friends, kinsfolk—poorer far than when he entered the valley where his wealth had been accumulated— his wife and two daughters his sole companions, went forth to commence his life anew, a stranger in a_ strange land.
The rising sun was just beginning to touch the mountain tops with light as they issued from the western gate of the still sleeping city, and commenced to traverse the plain toward the little city of Zoar, the ruins of which are still to be seen among the mountains that skirt the southern edge of the Dead Sea.
The morning sun rose clear and bright. The city woke from its slumbers, and went to its accustomed tasks. Yet on that highest southern peak there hung a heavy cloud.
It was there at early sunrise. The air was hot and murky.
A strange oppressiveness was in it. The crowing cock hailed the rising sun less joyously than usual. The cattle in the field showed signs of uneasiness and fear.
Blacker grows the cloud; thicker and heavier the air.
Lightnings play about the mountain summit. Ever and anon a heavy peal of thunder seems to shake the very hills, rolling and reverberating among the surrounding peaks, till finally it is lost far up the lake. The birds hush their songs. Passers in the street hurry to reach a place of shelter. Children are called in from their out-door sports. The streets of busy, money-making Sodom are deserted and hushed. All hearts dread they know not what.
Now the sun withdraws behind the darkened clouds, and hides its face from the impending calamity. Then suddenly a new and strange light illumines the darkened scene. From a neighboring peak there issues a column of smoke, and stones, and salty ashes, and lurid flame. The thunders are no longer lost in the far distance. The whole air is tremulous with their reverberating echoes. The lightning no longer comes and goes in flashes. The whole southern horizon is sheeted with flame. It seems no longer even to abide in the heavens. For lo! blue flames run to and fro across the fields, in strange intermixture, as though they were uplifted torches borne by devils joining in some fiendish dance below. Now these lurid lights leap up in sheets of flame toward the darkened heavens; now they burrow in the ground, throwing up showers of soil and stone, and making huge chasms in the solid earth. The husbandmen run affrighted from the fields to find a shelter in the city. Their wives and children flee from the falling cities for shelter to the fields. The solid earth trembles and reels. Houses and temples, sought for shelter, prove only tombs. From the chasms of the earth the flames, upleaping, devour whatever the earthquake leaves. The air is filled with a shower of falling ashes. It is all alive with flame. Filled with dismay, mothers call wildly for their children; children call piteously for their mothers; and wives and husbands seek each other, but in vain.
But hark! what sound was that? Neither the thunder of the heavens, nor the artillery of the mountains, nor the groanings of the convulsed earth. The sea! the sea!
For now the waters of the lake, uplifted from their bed, roll in upon the plain. Water and fire contend in terrible battle for the mastery. Over the blackened fields and ruined cities God spreads this veil of waters, that the earth may not see the destruction he hath wrought; while the thunders of heaven and earth, the hissing of the red-hot rocks as the waters overflow them, the crash of falling buildings, the screams of the affrighted, and the groans of the dying, mingle in a chorus more terrible, accompanying a scene more awful, than any the world hath ever witnessed, or shall ever witness, until that day when the whole heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the whole earth shall melt with fervent heat.
"And Abraham got up early in the morning, * * * and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace"
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah epitomizes the Gospel. Every act in the great, the awful drama of life is here foreshadowed. The analogy is so perfect that we might almost be tempted to believe that this story is a prophetic allegory, did not nature itself witness its historic truthfulness.
The fertile plain contained, imbedded in its own soil, the elements of its own destruction. There is reason to believe the same is true of this world on which we live. A few years ago an unusually brilliant star was observed in a certain quarter of the heavens. At first it was thought to be a newly-discovered sun. More careful examination resulted in a different hypothesis. Its evanescent character indicated combustion. Its brilliancy was marked for a few hours—a few nights at most. Then it faded, and was gone. Astronomers believe that it was a burning world. Our own earth is a globe of living fire. Only a thin crust intervenes between us and this fearful interior.
Ever and anon, in the rumbling earthquake or the sublime volcano, it gives us warning of its presence. These are themselves Gospel messengers. They say, if we would but hear them, Prepare to meet thy God. The intimations of science confirm those of revelation. "The heavens and the earth * * * are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men."
What was true of Sodom and Gomorrah, what is true of the earth we live on, is true of the human soul. It contains within itself the instruments of its own punishment.
There is a fearful significance in the solemn words of the apostle," After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath."
Men gather, with their own hands, the fuel to feed the flame that is not quenched. They nurture in their own bosoms the worm that dieth not. In habits formed, never to be broken; in words spoken, incapable of recall; in deeds committed, never to be forgotten; in a life wasted and cast away, that can never be made to bloom again, man prepares for himself his own deserved and inevitable chastisement. Son, remember! —to the soul who has spent its all in riotous living there can be no more awful condemnation.
Alas! to how many the divine word of warning is as an idle tale which they regard not. Lot still seems as one that mocks. The danger is imminent, but not apparent.
Men slumber on the brink of death. Woe unto them that dare prophesy evil. It has always been so, and it will always be so till time shall be no more. Noah, warning of the flood; Lot, of the destroying fire; Jeremiah, of the approaching captivity; Christ, of the irreparable destruction of the cities by the Sea of Galilee and of Jerusalem, city of God, are all received with impatient scorn. America laughs at the prophecies of her wisest men, and the baptism of fire and blood takes her at last altogether by surprise. Oh you who hear with careless incredulity the cry, Flee as a bird to your mountain, take a lesson from the inculcations of the past. "Who hath ears to hear let him hear."
He that heeds the Gospel message must be ready to do as Lot did. He had neither time nor opportunity to save anything but himself from the universal wreck. Houses, lands, property, position, honors, friends—all must be left behind. Every interest bound him fast to Sodom—every interest but one. All were offset by that fearful cry," Escape for thy life." What ransom is too great to give for that? The conditions of the Gospel are not changed. The voice of Christ still is," Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." It is no easier in the nineteenth century than in the first to serve both God and Mammon. The judgment which God visited upon Ananias and Sapphira is perpetually repeated.
The Church is full of dead Christians, struck down with spiritual death, because they have kept back part of the price—because they have not given all to Him who gave up all that he might ransom them from sin and death.
"Remember Lot's wife." How many a Galatian Christian has begun to run well, but has suffered hinderances to prevent the consummation of the race. How many a Pliable flounders a while in the slough of despond, then goes back to the city of Destruction. How many a gladiator enters the lists, but shirks the battle. How many a laborer puts his hand to the plow, and then turns back. How many a soul, startled by the cry, Escape for thy life, commences to flee, then stops, wavers, hesitates, and suffers the incrustations of worldliness to gather over him, and turn him from a living witness of the power of God's grace into a fearful monument of the danger of a worldly spirit and a divided service. If to the impenitent the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is full of warning, to the hesitating, laggard Christian the story of Lot's wife is one of no less solemn significance.
Reader, if you are out of Christ you are living in the city of Destruction. There is but a hand's-breadth between you and death. But there is deliverance. The mountain of refuge is not far off. A voice, sweeter than that of angels, and far mightier to save, cries out to you, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. It is the voice of the Son of God. The irreparable past he effaces with his blood.
The wasted life he makes to bloom again. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"—not to teach, not to govern, but to save. For he comes not as a pilot to give safe voyage to vessels yet whole and strong; but to those already lying on the rocks and beaten in the angry surf, threatened every moment with engulfment, he conies, to succor, to rescue, to save. There is death in delay. There is safety only in the Savior's arms. "Haste thee; escape thither."
"Haste, traveler, haste! the night comes on,
And many a shining hour is gone,
The storm is gathering in the west,
And thou art far from home and rest:
Haste, traveler, haste!
"The rising tempest sweeps the sky;
The rains descend, the winds are high;
The waters swell, and death and fear
Beset thy path: no refuge near:
Haste, traveler, haste!
"Haste, while a shelter you may gain—
A covert from the wind and rain—
A hiding-place, a rest, a home—
A refuge from the wrath to come:
Haste, traveler, haste!
"Then linger not in all the plain;
Flee for thy life, the mountain gain;
Look not behind; make no delay;
Oh, speed thee, speed thee on thy way!
Haste, traveler, haste!"
A FRIGHTFUL desert. Low rounded hills of stone, strangely colored but treeless, losing themselves in the dim horizon of a barren and illimitable waste of sand.
Waterless wadies, marking, with their deep gorges in the soft sandstone, places where the mountain torrents flowed a few weeks ago. A burning sun. A strange shimmering heat that seems to exhale from the scorched earth. No shade. No trees. Here and there the stunted retem, the only vegetation to be seen. Not even the cool shadow of a great rock. A dazzling brightness that shines not only from the oppressive sun, but is reflected from the polished rock and the yellow sands of the desert—a light and heat that parches the skin, fevers the brow, makes the eyes smart with intolerable burning. Far as the eye can reach this same scene repeated; no tent; no tree; no attainable shelter; no pathway; a trackless desert; no sign, far or near, of human life.
Into this desert two helpless beings, mother and son, have come to die.
A life of strange vicissitudes has been that of Hagar.
She is an Egyptian by birth. She has the dark tresses, the coal-black eyes, the olive skin, the hot blood, the haughty pride, the impetuous passions of her people. She belongs to a dominant race, yet is a slave. Servitude goes hard with such. It has gone hard with Hagar, though her master has been more than kind to her.
He has been, in fact, her husband. To be childless is, in the Orient, to be accursed of God. On Abraham this curse rested. His wealth increased. His flocks, his herds, his slaves were multiplied. Kings were honored by his alliance. But his tent was solitary. The poorest menial in his camp was richer than he. No sparkling eyes laughed with new delight when they met his. No chubby arms reached out for him to take their owner. No childish lips cried Father to him. Even the wail of a babe would have been a solace.' Oh, the lonely, solitary, darkened house that has not the light and the music of children in it, a garden with no flowers, a grove with no bird, heaven with no harp, no hymn. Sarah—true woman in this at least—felt the void even more keenly than her husband.
The age was polygamous. The wife offered to her lord her favorite maid. Hagar was promoted from slave to second wife, no great promotion in the Orient; but it was too great for Hagar. She despised the wife whom she fancied she had supplanted. When maternal instincts whispered to her God's promise of a child, denied so long to Sarah, she made no attempt to conceal her exultant scorn. It was more than the proud and sensitive heart of Sarah could endure. The true wife reasserted herself.
Hagar was deposed. She became again the maid of the mistress; suffered a little while in proud silence the petty revenge of her intolerant foe; then fled to this same wilderness. Perhaps she hoped to find her way back to Egypt; perhaps she only hoped to die.
Neither relief was granted her. She must battle bravely on. The mother in her soul recalled her to her duty. A voice, as the voice of an angel, met her in the desert, and bade her retrace her steps. "Return," it said to her," to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. Behold thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction." It was a hard battle between the woman's pride and the mother's instinct. But the mother conquered the woman. Hagar went back to submit her proud neck again to the yoke of an intolerable bondage.
That well-side, where she fought out the battle of her life which made her the mother of a mighty nation, she never forgot. "Beer-lahai-roi," she called it—" the well of him that liveth and seeth me." Whoever forgets the place and the hour wherein he first meets God and submits his own proud will to the will of the Almighty?
Hagar never retook her lost position. She was always the maid of Sarah, never again the wife of Abraham. So fourteen years passed away. They were years of bitterness; bitterness to Sarah, because God had given to Hagar what he denied to her, a child; bitterness to Abraham, who loved his son, and Hagar for his son's sake, yet could guard them from the petty revenges of his jealous wife only by repressing his affection; bitterness to Hagar, who bore with the patience of pride the anomaly of her position, mother of Abraham's heir, slave of Abraham's wife.
For that Ishmael was Abraham's heir she never doubted.
As the years rolled on this assurance became the conviction of the patriarch's household. Abraham no longer hoped for another son. Sarah laughed at the bare suggestion. In Ishmael the promises all centered. Upon Ishmael the almost regal splendor of the old patriarch's wealth would all devolve. He would become the father of a great nation. The mother might die a slave; what matter, so that the son lived a prince. All this was instilled into Ishmael's soul. He shared the haughty' spirit of his mother.
He caught her infectious hate.
When, therefore, at length, Isaac, the Child of Laughter, was born in Sarah's old age, it was a bitter blow to Ishmael, the Child of Affliction. Sarah, the Princess, received the wife's true coronation. Hagar, the Stranger, became a stranger, indeed, in Abraham's household. Such a disappointment sometimes humiliates, but oftener embitters pride. Ishmael looked on Isaac as one that had come to rob him of his heritage. Yet Isaac's right to that inheritance he denied. Ishmael was the elder. He still claimed, in the silence of his own proud heart, the 'elder son's portion. But even this last hope he was not permitted long to nourish. When the time of weaning came, Abraham publicly recognized the young babe as his heir, with all the pomp and ceremony which always in the Orient accompanies this event. The mother and son witnessed with hot, proud hearts the festivities in which they could not join. Hagar, educated in the slave's school, had learned to hide her scorn beneath a passionless exterior. The son made no effort to hide his. Had Sarah possessed any magnanimity of soul, she might well have afforded to grace her triumph with a generous forbearance. She saw fit to dishonor it by humiliating her rival. She demanded that Abraham cast out the child he still loved so tenderly, and the mother who had borne him. Hagar was too proud to remonstrate. She accepted the leathern bottle and the scanty stock of provisions which Abraham gave her. Wrestling with the agony of a disappointed ambition, a crucified pride, a broken heart, she entered a second time the wilderness of Beersheba.
Before, the hope of her maternity sustained her. Now, she brought her boy to die with her.
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