by Louis Ginzberg

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The Legends of the Jews
by Louis Ginzberg

Volume I

Bible Times and Characters from the Creation to Jacob

ABRAHAM
THE WICKED GENERATIONS
THE BIRTH OF ABRAHAM
THE BABE PROCLAIMS GOD
ABRAHAM S FIRST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC
THE PREACHER OF THE TRUE FAITH
IN THE FIERY FURNACE
ABRAHAM EMIGRATES TO HARAN
THE STAR IN THE EAST
THE TRUE BELIEVER
THE ICONOCLAST
ABRAHAM IN CANAAN
HIS SOJOURN IN EGYPT

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ABRAHAM

THE WICKED GENERATIONS

Ten generations there were from Noah to Abraham, to show how great is the clemency of God, for all the generations provoked His wrath, until Abraham our father came and received the reward of all of them.[1] For the sake of Abraham God had shown himself long-suffering and patient during the lives of these ten generations. Yea, more, the world itself had been created for the sake of his merits.[2] His advent had been made manifest to his ancestor Reu, who uttered the following prophecy at the birth of his son Serug: "From this child he shall be born in the fourth generation that shall set his dwelling over the highest, and he shall be called perfect and spotless, and shall be the father of nations, and his covenant shall not be dissolved, and his seed shall be multiplied forever."[3]

It was, indeed, high time that the "friend of God"[4] should make his appearance upon earth. The descendants of Noah were sinking from depravity to lower and lower depths of depravity. They were beginning to quarrel and slay, eat blood, build fortified cities and walls and towers, and set one man over the whole nation as king, and wage wars, people against people, and nations against nations, and cities against cities, and do all manner of evil, and acquire weapons, and teach warfare unto their children. And they began also to take captives and sell them as slaves. And they made unto themselves molten images, which they worshipped, each one the idol he had molten for himself, for the evil spirits under their leader Mastema led them astray into sin and uncleanness. For this reason Reu called his son Serug, because all mankind had turned aside unto sin and transgression. When he grew to manhood, the name was seen to have been chosen fittingly, for he, too, worshipped idols, and when he himself had a son, Nahor by name, he taught him the arts of the Chaldees, how to be a soothsayer and practice magic according to signs in the heavens. When, in time, a son was born to Nahor, Mastema sent ravens and other birds to despoil the earth and rob men of the proceeds of their work. As soon as they had dropped the seed in the furrows, and before they could cover it over with earth, the birds picked it up from the surface of the ground, and Nahor called his son Terah, because the ravens and the other birds plagued men, devoured their seed, and reduced them to destitution.[6]

THE BIRTH OF ABRAHAM

Terah married Emtelai, the daughter of Karnabo,[6] and the offspring of their union was Abraham. His birth had been read in the stars by Nimrod,[7] for this impious king was a cunning astrologer, and it was manifest to him that a man would be born in his day who would rise up against him and triumphantly give the lie to his religion. In his terror at the fate foretold him in the stars, he sent for his princes and governors, and asked them to advise him in the matter. They answered, and said: "Our unanimous advice is that thou shouldst build a great house, station a guard at the entrance thereof, and make known in the whole of thy realm that all pregnant women shall repair thither together with their midwives, who are to remain with them when they are delivered. When the days of a woman to be delivered are fulfilled, and the child is born, it shall be the duty of the midwife to kill it, if it be a boy. But if the child be a girl, it shall be kept alive, and the mother shall receive gifts and costly garments, and a herald shall proclaim, 'Thus is done unto the woman who bears a daughter!' "

The king was pleased with this counsel, and he had a proclamation published throughout his whole kingdom, summoning all the architects to build a great house for him, sixty ells high and eighty wide. After it was completed, he issued a second proclamation, summoning all pregnant women thither, and there they were to remain until their confinement. Officers were appointed to take the women to the house, and guards were stationed in it and about it, to prevent the women from escaping thence. He furthermore sent midwives to the house, and commanded them to slay the men children at their mothers' breasts. But if a woman bore a girl, she was to be arrayed in byssus, silk, and embroidered garments, and led forth from the house of detention amid great honors. No less than seventy thousand children were slaughtered thus. Then the angels appeared before God, and spoke, "Seest Thou not what he doth, yon sinner and blasphemer, Nimrod son of Canaarl, who slays so many innocent babes that have done no harm?" God answered, and said: "Ye holy angels, I know it and I see it, for I neither slumber nor sleep. I behold and I know the secret things and the things that are revealed, and ye shall witness what I will do unto this sinner and blasphemer, for I will turn My hand against him to chastise him."[8]

It was about this time that Terah espoused the mother of Abraham, and she was with child. When her body grew large at the end of three months of pregnancy,[9] and her countenance became pale, Terah said unto her, "What ails thee, my wife, that thy countenance is so pale and thy body so swollen?" She answered, and said, "Every year I suffer with this malady."[10] But Terah would not be put off thus. He insisted: "Show me thy body. It seems to me thou art big with child. If that be so, it behooves us not to violate the command of our god Nimrod."[11] When he passed his hand over her body, there happened a miracle. The child rose until it lay beneath her breasts, and Terah could feel nothing with his hands. He said to his wife, "Thou didst speak truly," and naught became visible until the day of her delivery.

When her time approached, she left the city in great terror and wandered toward the desert, walking along the edge of a valley,[12] until she happened across a cave. She entered this refuge, and on the next day she was seized with throes, and she gave birth to a son. The whole cave was filled with the light of the child's countenance as with the splendor of the sun, and the mother rejoiced exceedingly. The babe she bore was our father Abraham.

His mother lamented, and said to her son: "Alas that I bore thee at a time when Nimrod is king. For thy sake seventy thousand men children were slaughtered, and I am seized with terror on account of thee, that he hear of thy existence, and slay thee. Better thou shouldst perish here in this cave than my eye should behold thee dead at my breast." She took the garment in which she was clothed, and wrapped it about the boy. Then she abandoned him in the cave, saying, "May the Lord be with thee, may He not fail thee nor forsake thee."[13]

THE BABE PROCLAIMS GOD

Thus Abraham was deserted in the cave, without a nurse, and he began to wail. God sent Gabriel down to give him milk to drink, and the angel made it to flow from the little finger of the baby's right hand, and he sucked at it until he was ten days old.[14] Then he arose and walked about, and he left the cave, and went along the edge of the valley.[15] When the sun sank, and the stars came forth, he said, "These are the gods!" But the dawn came, and the stars could be seen no longer, and then he said, "I will not pay worship to these, for they are no gods." Thereupon the sun came forth, and he spoke, "This is my god, him will I extol." But again the sun set, and he said, "He is no god," and beholding the moon, he called her his god to whom he would pay Divine homage. Then the moon was obscured, and he cried out: "This, too, is no god! There is One who sets them all in motion."[16]

He was still communing with himself when the angel Gabriel approached him and met him with the greeting, "Peace be with thee," and Abraham returned, "With thee be peace," and asked, "Who art thou?" And Gabriel answered, and said, "I am the angel Gabriel, the messenger of God," and he led Abraham to a spring of water near by, and Abraham washed his face and his hands and feet, and he prayed to God, bowing down and prostrating himself.

Meantime the mother of Abraham thought of him in sorrow and tears, and she went forth from the city to seek him in the cave in which she had abandoned him. Not finding her son, she wept bitterly, and said, "Woe unto me that I bore thee but to become a prey of wild beasts, the bears and the lions and the wolves!" She went to the edge of the valley, and there she found her son. But she did not recognize him, for he had grown very large. She addressed the lad, "Peace be with thee!" and he returned, "With thee be peace!" and he continued, "Unto what purpose didst thou come to the desert?" She replied, "I went forth from the city to seek my son." Abraham questioned further, "Who brought thy son hither?" and the mother replied thereto: "I had become pregnant from my husband Terah, and when the days of my delivery were fulfilled, I was in anxiety about my son in my womb, lest our king come, the son of Canaan, and slay him as he had slain the seventy thousand other men children. Scarcely had I reached the cave in this valley when the throes of travailing seized me, and I bore a son, whom I left behind in the cave, and I went home again. Now am I come to seek him, but I find him not."

Abraham then spoke, "As to this child thou tellest of, how old was it?"

The mother: "It was about twenty days old."

Abraham: "Is there a woman in the world who would forsake her new-born son in the desert, and come to seek him after twenty days?"

The mother: "Peradventure God will show Himself a merciful God!"

Abraham: "I am the son whom thou hast come to seek in this valley!"

The mother: "My son, how thou art grown! But twenty days old, and thou canst already walk, and talk with thy mouth!"[17]

Abraham: "So it is, and thus, O my mother, it is made known unto thee that there is in the world a great, terrible, living, and ever-existing God, who doth see, but who cannot be seen. He is in the heavens above, and the whole earth is full of His glory."

The mother: "My son, is there a God beside Nimrod?"

Abraham: "Yes, mother, the God of the heavens and the God of the earth, He is also the God of Nimrod son of Canaan. Go, therefore, and carry this message unto Nimrod."

The mother of Abraham returned to the city and told her husband Terah how she had found their son. Terah, who was a prince and a magnate in the house of the king, betook himself to the royal palace, and cast himself down before the king upon his face. It was the rule that one who prostrated himself before the king was not permitted to lift up his head until the king bade him lift it up. Nimrod gave permission to Terah to rise and state his request. Thereupon Terah related all that had happened with his wife and his son. When Nimrod heard his tale, abject fear seized upon him, and he asked his counsellors and princes what to do with the lad. They answered, and said: "Our king and our god! Wherefore art thou in fear by reason of a little child? There are myriads upon myriads of princes in thy realm,[18] rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, and overseers without number. Let the pettiest of the princes go and fetch the boy and put him in prison." But the king interposed, "Have ye ever seen a baby of twenty days walking with his feet, speaking with his mouth, and proclaiming with his tongue that there is a God in heaven, who is One, and none beside Him, who sees and is not seen?" All the assembled princes were horror struck at these words.[19]

At this time Satan in human form appeared, clad in black silk garb, and he cast himself down before the king. Nimrod said, "Raise thy head and state thy request." Satan asked the king: "Why art thou terrified, and why are ye all in fear on account of a little lad? I will counsel thee what thou shalt do: Open thy arsenal and give weapons unto all the princes, chiefs, and governors, and unto all the warriors, and send them to fetch him unto thy service and to be under thy dominion."

This advice given by Satan the king accepted and followed. He sent a great armed host to bring Abraham to him. When the boy saw the army approach him, he was sore afraid, and amid tears he implored God for help. In answer to his prayer, God sent the angel Gabriel to him, and he said: "Be not afraid and disquieted, for God is with thee. He will rescue thee out of the hands of all thine adversaries." God commanded Gabriel to put thick, dark clouds between Abraham and his assailants. Dismayed by the heavy clouds, they fled, returning to Nimrod, their king, and they said to him, "Let us depart and leave this realm," and the king gave money unto all his princes and his servants, and together with the king they departed and journeyed to Babylon.[20]

ABRAHAM'S FIRST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC

Now Abraham, at the command of God, was ordered by the angel Gabriel to follow Nimrod to Babylon. He objected that he was in no wise equipped to undertake a campaign against the king, but Gabriel calmed him with the words: "Thou needest no provision for the way, no horse to ride upon, no warriors to carry on war with Nimrod, no chariots, nor riders. Do thou but sit thyself upon my shoulder, and I shall bear thee to Babylon."

Abraham did as he was bidden, and in the twinkling of an eye he found himself before the gates of the city of Babylon.[21] At the behest of the angel, he entered the city, and he called unto the dwellers therein with a loud voice: "The Eternal, He is the One Only God, and there is none beside. He is the God of the heavens, and the God of the gods, and the God of Nimrod. Acknowledge this as the truth, all ye men, women, and children. Acknowledge also that I am Abraham His servant, the trusted steward of His house."

Abraham met his parents in Babylon, and also he saw the angel Gabriel, who bade him proclaim the true faith to his father and his mother. Therefore Abraham spake to them, and said: "Ye serve a man of your own kind, and you pay worship to an image of Nimrod. Know ye not that it has a mouth, but it speaks not; an eye, but it sees not; an ear, but it hears not; nor does it walk upon its feet, and there is no profit in it, either unto itself or unto others?"

When Terah heard these words, he persuaded Abraham to follow him into the house, where his son told him all that had happened--how in one day he had completed a forty days' journey. Terah thereupon went to Nimrod and reported to him that his son Abraham had suddenly appeared in Babylon.[22] The king sent for Abraham, and he came before him with his father. Abraham passed the magnates and the dignitaries until he reached the royal throne, upon which he seized hold, shaking it and crying out with a loud voice: "O Nimrod, thou contemptible wretch, that deniest the essence of faith, that deniest the living and immutable God, and Abraham His servant, the trusted steward of His house. Acknowledge Him, and repeat after me the words: The Eternal is God, the Only One, and there is none beside; He is incorporeal, living, ever-existing; He slumbers not and sleeps not, who hath created the world that men might believe in Him. And confess also concerning me, and say that I am the servant of God and the trusted steward of His house."[23]

While Abraham proclaimed this with a loud voice, the idols fell upon their faces, and with them also King Nimrod.[24] For a space of two hours and a half the king lay lifeless, and when his soul returned upon him, he spoke and said, "Is it thy voice, O Abraham, or the voice of thy God?" And Abraham answered, and said, "This voice is the voice of the least of all creatures called into existence by God." Thereupon Nimrod said, "Verily, the God of Abraham is a great and powerful God, the King of all kings," and he commanded Terah to take his son and remove him, and return again unto his own city, and father and son did as the king had ordered.[25]

THE PREACHER OF THE TRUE FAITH

When Abraham attained the age of twenty years, his father Terah fell ill. He spoke as follows to his sons Haran and Abraham, "I adjure you by your lives, my sons, sell these two idols for me, for I have not enough money to meet our expenses." Haran executed the wish of his father, but if any one accosted Abraham, to buy an idol from him, and asked him the price, he would answer, "Three manehs," and then question in turn, "How old art thou?" "Thirty years," the reply would be. "Thou art thirty years of age, and yet thou wouldst worship this idol which I made but to-day?" The man would depart and go his way, and another would approach Abraham, and ask, "How much is this idol?" and "Five manehs" would be the reply, and again Abraham would put the question, "How old art thou?"--"Fifty years."--"And dost thou who art fifty years of age bow down before this idol which was made but to-day?" Thereupon the man would depart and go his way. Abraham then took two idols, put a rope about their necks, and, with their faces turned downward, he dragged them along the ground, crying aloud all the time: "Who will buy an idol wherein there is no profit, either unto itself or unto him that buys it in order to worship it? It has a mouth, but it speaketh not; eyes, but it seeth not; feet, but it walketh not; ears, but it heareth not."

The people who heard Abraham were amazed exceedingly at his words. As he went through the streets, he met an old woman who approached him with the purpose of buying an idol, good and big, to be worshipped and loved. "Old woman, old woman," said Abraham, "I know no profit therein, either in the big ones or in the little ones, either unto themselves or unto others. And," he continued to speak to her, "what has become of the big image thou didst buy from my brother Haran, to worship it?" "Thieves," she replied, "came in the night and stole it, while I was still at the bath." "If it be thus," Abraham went on questioning her, "how canst thou pay homage to an idol that cannot save itself from thieves, let alone save others, like thyself, thou silly old woman, out of misfortune? How is it possible for thee to say that the image thou worshippest is a god? If it be a god, why did it not save itself out of the hands of those thieves? Nay, in the idol there is no profit, either unto itself or unto him that adores it."[26]

The old woman rejoined, "If what thou sayest be true, whom shall I serve?" "Serve the God of all gods," returned Abraham, "the Lord of lords, who hath created heaven and earth, the sea and all therein--the God of Nimrod and the God of Terah, the God of the east, the west, the south, and the north. Who is Nimrod, the dog, who calleth himself a god, that worship be offered unto him?"

Abraham succeeded in opening the eyes of the old woman, and she became a zealous missionary for the true God. When she discovered the thieves who had carried off her idol, and they restored it to her, she broke it in pieces with a stone, and as she wended her way through the streets, she cried aloud, "Who would save his soul from destruction, and be prosperous in all his doings, let him serve the God of Abraham." Thus she converted many men and women to the true belief.

Rumors of the words and deeds of the old woman reached the king, and he sent for her. When she appeared before him, he rebuked her harshly, asking her how she dared serve any god but himself. The old woman replied: "Thou art a liar, thou deniest the essence of faith, the One Only God, beside whom there is no other god. Thou livest upon His bounty, but thou payest worship to another, and thou dost repudiate Him, and His teachings, and Abraham His servant."

The old woman had to pay for her zeal for the faith with her life. Nevertheless great fear and terror took possession of Nimrod, because the people became more and more attached to the teachings of Abraham, and he knew not how to deal with the man who was undermining the old faith. At the advice of his princes, he arranged a seven days' festival, at which all the people were bidden to appear in their robes of state, their gold and silver apparel. By such display of wealth and power he expected to intimidate Abraham and bring him back to the faith of the king. Through his father Terah, Nimrod invited Abraham to come before him, that he might have the opportunity of seeing his greatness and wealth, and the glory of his dominion, and the multitude of his princes and attendants. But Abraham refused to appear before the king. On the other hand, he granted his father's request that in his absence he sit by his idols and the king's, and take care of them.

Alone with the idols, and while he repeated the words, "The Eternal He is God, the Eternal He is God!" he struck the king's idols from their thrones, and began to belabor them with an axe. With the biggest he started, and with the smallest he ended. He hacked off the feet of one, and the other he beheaded. This one had his eyes struck out, the other had his hands crushed.[27] After all were mutilated, he went away, having first put the axe into the hand of the largest idol.

The feast ended, the king returned, and when he saw all his idols shivered in pieces, he inquired who had perpetrated the mischief. Abraham was named as the one who had been guilty of the outrage, and the king summoned him and questioned him as to his motive for the deed. Abraham replied: "I did not do it; it was the largest of the idols who shattered all the rest. Seest thou not that he still has the axe in his hand? And if thou wilt not believe my words, ask him and he will tell thee."

IN THE FIERY FURNACE

Now the king was exceedingly wroth at Abraham, and ordered him to be cast into prison, where he commanded the warden not to give him bread or water.[28] But God hearkened unto the prayer of Abraham, and sent Gabriel to him in his dungeon. For a year the angel dwelt with him, and provided him with all sorts of food, and a spring of fresh water welled up before him, and he drank of it. At the end of a year, the magnates of the realm presented themselves before the king, and advised him to cast Abraham into the fire, that the people might believe in Nimrod forever. Thereupon the king issued a decree that all the subjects of the king in all his provinces, men and women, young and old, should bring wood within forty days, and he caused it to be thrown into a great furnace and set afire.[29] The flames shot up to the skies, and the people were sore afraid of the fire. Now the warden of the prison was ordered to bring Abraham forth and cast him in the flames. The warden reminded the king that Abraham had not had food or drink a whole year, and therefore must be dead, but Nimrod nevertheless desired him to step in front of the prison and call his name. If he made reply, he was to be hauled out to the pyre. If he had perished, his remains were to receive burial, and his memory was to be wiped out henceforth.

Greatly amazed the warden was when his cry, "Abraham, art thou alive?" was answered with "I am living." He questioned further, "Who has been bringing thee food and drink all these many days?" and Abraham replied: "Food and drink have been bestowed upon me by Him who is over all things, the God of all gods and the Lord of all lords, who alone doeth wonders, He who is the God of Nimrod and the God of Terah and the God of the whole world. He dispenseth food and drink unto all beings. He sees, but He cannot be seen, He is in the heavens above, and He is present in all places, for He Himself superviseth all things and provideth for all."

The miraculous rescue of Abraham from death by starvation and thirst convinced the prison-keeper of the truth of God and His prophet Abraham, and he acknowledged his belief in both publicly. The king's threat of death unless he recanted could not turn him away from his new and true faith. When the hangman raised his sword and set it at his throat to kill him, he exclaimed, "The Eternal He is God, the God of the whole world as well as of the blasphemer Nimrod." But the sword could not cut his flesh. The harder it was pressed against his throat, the more it broke into pieces.[30]

Nimrod, however, was not to be turned aside from his purpose, to make Abraham suffer death by fire. One of the princes was dispatched to fetch him forth. But scarcely did the messenger set about the task of throwing him into the fire, when the flame leapt forth from the furnace and consumed him. Many more attempts were made to cast Abraham into the furnace, but always with the same success- whoever seized him to pitch him in was himself burnt, and a large number lost their lives. Satan appeared in human shape, and advised the king to place Abraham in a catapult and sling him into the fire. Thus no one would be required to come near the flame. Satan himself constructed the catapult. Having proved it fit three times by means of stones put in the machine, they bound Abraham, hand and foot, and were about to consign him to the flames. At that moment Satan, still disguised in human shape, approached Abraham, and said, "If thou desirest to deliver thyself from the fire of Nimrod, bow down before him and believe in him." But Abraham rejected the tempter with the words, "May the Eternal rebuke thee, thou vile, contemptible, accursed blasphemer!" and Satan departed from him.

Then the mother of Abraham came to him and implored him to pay homage to Nimrod and escape the impending misfortune. But he said to her: "O mother, water can extinguish Nimrod's fire, but the fire of God will not die out for evermore. Water cannot quench it."[31] When his mother heard these words, she spake, "May the God whom thou servest rescue thee from the fire of Nimrod!"

Abraham was finally placed in the catapult, and he raised his eyes heavenward, and spoke, "O Lord my God, Thou seest what this sinner purposes to do unto me!"[32] His confidence in God was unshakable. When the angels received the Divine permission to save him, and Gabriel approached him, and asked, "Abraham, shall I save thee from the fire?" he replied, "God in whom I trust, the God of heaven and earth, will rescue me," and God, seeing the submissive spirit of Abraham, commanded the fire, "Cool off and bring tranquillity to my servant Abraham."[33]

No water was needed to extinguish the fire. The logs burst into buds, and all the different kinds of wood put forth fruit, each tree bearing its own kind. The furnace was transformed into a royal pleasance, and the angels sat therein with Abraham. When the king saw the miracle, he said: "Great witchcraft! Thou makest it known that fire hath no power over thee, and at the same time thou showest thyself unto the people sitting in a pleasure garden." But the princes of Nimrod interposed all with one voice, "Nay, our lord, this is not witchcraft, it is the power of the great God, the God of Abraham, beside whom there is no other god, and we acknowledge that He is God, and Abraham is His servant." All the princes and all the people believed in God at this hour, in the Eternal, the God of Abraham, and they all cried out, "The Lord He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else."[34]

Abraham was the superior, not only of the impious king Nimrod and his attendants, but also of the pious men of his time, Noah, Shem, Eber, and Asshur.[35] Noah gave himself no concern whatsoever in the matter of spreading the pure faith in God. He took an interest in planting his vineyard, and was immersed in material pleasures. Shem and Eber kept in hiding, and as for Asshur, he said, "How can I live among such sinners?" and departed out of the land.[36] The only one who remained unshaken was Abraham. "I will not forsake God," he said, and therefore God did not forsake him, who had hearkened neither unto his father nor unto his mother.

The miraculous deliverance of Abraham from the fiery furnace, together with his later fortunes, was the fulfilment and explanation of what his father Terah had read in the stars. He had seen the star of Haran consumed by fire, and at the same time fill and rule the whole world. The meaning was plain now. Haran was irresolute in his faith, he could not decide whether to adhere to Abraham or the idolaters. When it befell that those who would not serve idols were cast into the fiery furnace, Haran reasoned in this manner: "Abraham, being my elder, will be called upon before me. If he comes forth out of the fiery trial triumphant, I will declare my allegiance to him; otherwise I will take sides against him." After God Himself had rescued Abraham from death, and Haran's turn came to make his confession of faith, he announced his adherence to Abraham. But scarcely had he come near the furnace,[37] when he was seized by the flames and consumed, because he was lacking in firm faith in God. Terah had read the stars well, it now appeared: Haran was burnt, and his daughter Sarah[38] became the wife of Abraham, whose descendants fill the earth.[39] In another way the death of Haran was noteworthy. It was the first instance, since the creation of the world, of a son's dying while his father was still alive.[40]

The king, the princes, and all the people, who had been witnesses of the wonders done for Abraham, came to him, and prostrated themselves before him. But Abraham said: "Do not bow down before me, but before God, the Master of the universe, who hath created you. Serve Him and walk in His ways, for He it was who delivered me from the flames, and He it is who hath created the soul and the spirit of every human being, who formeth man in the womb of his mother, and bringeth him into the world. He saveth from all sickness those who put their trust in Him."

The king then dismissed Abraham, after loading him down with an abundance of precious gifts, among them two slaves who had been raised in the royal palace. 'Ogi was the name of the one, Eliezer the name of the other. The princes followed the example of the king, and they gave him silver, and gold, and gems. But all these gifts did not rejoice the heart of Abraham so much as the three hundred followers that joined him and became adherents of his religion.

ABRAHAM EMIGRATES TO HARAN

For a period of two years Abraham could devote himself undisturbed to his chosen task of turning the hearts of men to God and His teachings.[41] In his pious undertaking he was aided by his wife Sarah, whom he had married in the meantime. While he exhorted the men and sought to convert them, Sarah addressed herself to the women.[42] She was a helpmeet worthy of Abraham. Indeed, in prophetical powers she ranked higher than her husband.[43] She was sometimes called Iscah, "the seer," on that account.[44]

At the expiration of two years it happened that Nimrod dreamed a dream. In his dream he found himself with his army near the fiery furnace in the valley into which Abraham had been cast. A man resembling Abraham stepped out of the furnace, and he ran after the king with drawn sword, the king fleeing before him in terror. While running, the pursuer threw an egg at Nimrod's head, and a mighty stream issued therefrom, wherein the king's whole host was drowned. The king alone survived, with three men. When Nimrod examined his companions, he observed that they wore royal attire, and in form and stature they resembled himself. The stream changed back into an egg again, and a little chick broke forth from it, and it flew up, settled upon the head of the king, and put out one of his eyes.

The king was confounded in his sleep, and when he awoke, his heart beat like a trip-hammer, and his fear was exceeding great. In the morning, when he arose, he sent and called for his wise men and his magicians, and told them his dream. One of his wise men, Anoko by name, stood up, and said: "Know, O king, this dream points to the misfortune which Abraham and his descendants will bring upon thee. A time will come when he and his followers will make war upon thy army, and they will annihilate it. Thou and the three kings, thy allies, will be the only ones to escape death. But later thou wilt lose thy life at the hands of one of the descendants of Abraham. Consider, O king, that thy wise men read this fate of thine in the stars, fifty-two years ago, at the birth of Abraham. As long as Abraham liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be stablished, nor thy kingdom." Nimrod took Anoko's words to heart, and dispatched some of his servants to seize Abraham and kill him. It happened that Eliezer, the slave whom Abraham had received as a present from Nimrod, was at that time at the royal court. With great haste he sped to Abraham to induce him to flee before the king's bailiffs. His master accepted his advice, and took refuge in the house of Noah and Shem, where he lay in hiding a whole month. The king's officers reported that despite zealous efforts Abraham was nowhere to be found. Thenceforth the king did not concern himself about Abraham.

When Terah visited his son in his hiding-place, Abraham proposed that they leave the land and take up their abode in Canaan, in order to escape the pursuit of Nimrod. He said: "Consider that it was not for thy sake that Nimrod overloaded thee with honors, but for his own profit. Though he continue to confer the greatest of benefactions upon thee, what are they but earthly vanity? for riches and possessions profit not in the day of wrath and fury. Hearken unto my voice, O my father, let us depart for the land of Canaan, and serve the God that hath created thee, that it may be well with thee."

Noah and Shem aided and abetted the efforts of Abraham to persuade Terah, whereupon Terah consented to leave his country, and he, and Abraham, and Lot, the son of Haran, departed for Haran with their households. They found the land pleasant, and also the inhabitants thereof, who readily yielded to the influence of Abraham's humane spirit and his piety. Many of them obeyed his precepts and became God-fearing and good.[45]

Terah's resolve to quit his native land for the sake of Abraham and take up his abode in strange parts, and his impulse to do it before even the Divine call visited Abraham himself--this the Lord accounted a great merit unto Terah, and he was permitted to see his son Abraham rule as king over the whole world. For when the miracle happened, and Isaac was born unto his aged parents, the whole world repaired to Abraham and Sarah, and demanded to know what they had done that so great a thing should be accomplished for them. Abraham told them all that had happened between Nimrod and himself, how he had been ready to be burnt for the glory of God, and how the Lord had rescued him from the flames. In token of their admiration for Abraham and his teachings, they appointed him to be their king, and in commemoration of Isaac's wondrous birth, the money coined by Abraham bore the figures of an aged husband and wife on the obverse side, and of a young man and his wife on the reverse side, for Abraham and Sarah both were rejuvenated at the birth of Isaac, Abraham's white hair turned black, and the lines in Sarah's face were smoothed out.

For many years Terah continued to live a witness of his son's glory, for his death did not occur until Isaac was a youth of thirty-five.[46] And a still greater reward waited upon his good deed. God accepted his repentance, and when he departed this life, he entered into Paradise, and not into hell, though he had passed the larger number of his days in sin. Indeed, it had been his fault that Abraham came near losing his life at the hands of Nimrod.[47]

THE STAR IN THE EAST

Terah had been a high official at the court of Nimrod, and he was held in great consideration by the king and his suite. A son was born unto him whom he called Abram, because the king had raised him to an exalted place. In the night of Abraham's birth, the astrologers and the wise men of Nimrod came to the house of Terah, and ate and drank, and rejoiced with him that night. When they left the house, they lifted up their eyes toward heaven to look at the stars, and they saw, and, behold, one great star came from the east and ran athwart the heavens and swallowed up the four stars at the four corners. They all were astonished at the sight, but they understood this matter, and knew its import. They said to one another: "This only betokens that the child that hath been born unto Terah this night will grow up and be fruitful, and he will multiply and possess all the earth, he and his children forever, and he and his seed will slay great kings and inherit their lands."

They went home that night, and in the morning they rose up early, and assembled in their meeting-house. They spake, and said to one another: "Lo, the sight that we saw last night is hidden from the king, it has not been made known to him, and should this thing become known to him in the latter days, he will say to us, Why did you conceal this matter from me? and then we shall all suffer death. Now, let us go and tell the king the sight which we saw, and the interpretation thereof, and we shall be clear from this thing." And they went to the king and told him the sight they had seen, and their interpretation thereof, and they added the advice that he pay the value of the child to Terah, and slay the babe.

Accordingly, the king sent for Terah, and when he came, he spake to him: "It hath been told unto me that a son was born to thee yesternight, and a wondrous sign was observed in the heavens at his birth. Now give me the boy, that we may slay him before evil comes upon us from him, and I will give thee thy house full of silver and gold in exchange for him." Terah answered: "This thing which thou promisest unto me is like the words which a man spoke to a mule, saying, 'I will give thee a great heap of barley, a houseful thereof, on condition that I cut off thy head!' The mule replied, 'Of what use will all the barley be to me, if thou cuttest off my head? Who will eat it when thou givest it to me?' Thus also do I say: What shall I do with silver and gold after the death of my son? Who shall inherit me?" But when Terah saw how the king's anger burned within him at these words, he added, "Whatever the king desireth to do unto his servant, that let him do, even my son is at the king's disposal, without value or exchange, he and his two older brethren."

The king spake, however, saying, "I will purchase thy youngest son for a price." And Terah made answer, "Let my king give me three days' time to consider the matter and consult about it with my family." The king agreed to this condition, and on the third day he sent to Terah, saying, "Give me thy son for a price, as I spoke unto thee, and if thou wilt not do this, I will send and slay all thou hast in thy house, there shall not be a dog left unto thee."

Then Terah took a child which his handmaid had borne unto him that day, and he brought the babe to the king, and received value for him, and the king took the child and dashed his head against the ground, for he thought it was Abraham. But Terah took his son Abraham, together with the child's mother and his nurse, and concealed them in a cave, and thither he carried provisions to them once a month, and the Lord was with Abraham in the cave, and he grew up, but the king and all his servants thought that Abraham was dead.

And when Abraham was ten years old, he and his mother and his nurse went out from the cave, for the king and his servants had forgotten the affair of Abraham.

In that time all the inhabitants of the earth, with the exception of Noah and his household, transgressed against the Lord, and they made unto themselves every man his god, gods of wood and stone, which could neither speak, nor hear, nor deliver from distress. The king and all his servants, and Terah with his. household, were the first to worship images of wood and stone. Terah made twelve gods of large size, of wood and of stone, corresponding to the twelve months of the year, and he paid homage to them monthly in turn.[48]

THE TRUE BELIEVER

Once Abraham went into the temple of the idols in his father's house, to bring sacrifices to them, and he found one of them, Marumath by name, hewn out of stone, lying prostrate on his face before the iron god of Nahor. The idol was too heavy for him to raise it alone, and he called his father to help him put Marumath back in his place. While they were handling the image, its head dropped off, and Terah took a stone, and chiselled another Marumath, setting the head of the first upon the new body. Then Terah continued and made five more gods, and all these he delivered to Abraham, and bade him sell them in the streets of the city.

Abraham saddled his mule, and went to the inn where merchants from Fandana in Syria put up on their way to Egypt. He hoped to dispose of his wares there. When he reached the inn, one of the camels belonging to the merchants belched, and the sound frightened his mule so that it ran off pell-mell and broke three of the idols. The merchants not only bought the two sound idols from him, they also gave him the price of the broken ones, for Abraham had told them how distressed he was to appear before his father with less money than he had expected to receive for his handiwork.

This incident made Abraham reflect upon the worthlessness of idols, and he said to himself: "What are these evil things done by my father? Is not he the god of his gods, for do they not come into being by reason of his carving and chiselling and contriving? Were it not more seemly that they should pay worship to him than he to them, seeing they are the work of his hands?" Meditating thus, he reached his father's house, and he entered and handed his father the money for the five images, and Terah rejoiced, and said, "Blessed art thou unto my gods, because thou didst bring me the price of the idols, and my labor was not in vain." But Abraham made reply: "Hear, my father Terah, blessed are thy gods through thee, for thou art their god, since thou didst fashion them, and their blessing is destruction and their help is vanity. They that help not themselves, how can they help thee or bless me?"

Terah grew very wrathful at Abraham, that he uttered such speech against his gods, and Abraham, thinking upon his father's anger, left him and went from the house. But Terah called him back, and said, "Gather together the chips of the oak wood from which I made images before thou didst return, and prepare my dinner for me." Abraham made ready to do his father's bidding, and as he took up the chips he found a little god among them, whose forehead bore the inscription "God Barisat." He threw the chips upon the fire, and set Barisat up next to it, saying: "Attention! Take care, Barisat, that the fire go not out until I come back. If it burns low, blow into it, and make it flame up again." Speaking thus, he went out. When he came in again, he found Barisat lying prone upon his back, badly burnt. Smiling, he said to himself, "In truth, Barisat, thou canst keep the fire alive and prepare food," and while he spoke, the idol was consumed to ashes. Then he took the dishes to his father, and he ate and drank and was glad and blessed his god Marumath. But Abraham said to his father, "Bless not thy god Marumath, but rather thy god Barisat, for he it was who, out of his great love for thee, threw himself into the fire that thy meal might be cooked." "Where is he now?" exclaimed Terah, and Abraham answered, "He hath become ashes in the fierceness of the fire." Terah said, "Great is the power of Barisat! I will make me another this day, and to-morrow he will prepare my food for me."

These words of his father made Abraham laugh in his mind, but his soul was grieved at his obduracy, and he proceeded to make clear his views upon the idols, saying: "Father, no matter which of the two idols thou blessest, thy behavior is senseless, for the images that stand in the holy temple are more to be worshipped than thine. Zucheus, the god of my brother Nahor, is more venerable than Marumath, because he is made cunningly of gold, and when he grows old, he will be worked over again. But when thy Marumath becomes dim, or is shivered in pieces, he will not be renewed, for he is of stone. And the god Joauv, who stands above the other gods with Zucheus, is more venerable than Barisat, made of wood, because he is hammered out of silver, and ornamented by men, to show his magnificence. But thy Barisat, before thou didst fashion him into a god with thy axe, was rooted in the earth, standing there great and wonderful, with the glory of branches and blossoms. Now he is dry, and gone is his sap. From his height he has fallen to the earth, from grandeur he came to pettiness, and the appearance of his face has paled away, and he himself was burnt in the fire, and he was consumed unto ashes, and he is no more. And thou didst then say, 'I will make me another this day, and to-morrow he will prepare my food for me.' Father," Abraham continued, and said, "the fire is more to be worshipped than thy gods of gold and silver and wood and stone, because it consumes them. But also the fire I call not god, because it is subject to the water, which quenches it. But also the water I call not god, because it is sucked up by the earth, and I call the earth more venerable, because it conquers the water. But also the earth I call not god, because it is dried out by the sun, and I call the sun more venerable than the earth, because he illumines the whole world with his rays. But also the sun I call not god, because his light is obscured when darkness cometh up. Nor do I call the moon and the stars gods, because their light, too, is extinguished when their time to shine is past. But hearken unto this, my father Terah, which I will declare unto thee, The God who hath created all things, He is the true God, He hath empurpled the heavens, and gilded the sun, and given radiance to the moon and also the stars, and He drieth out the earth in the midst of many waters, and also thee hath He put upon the earth, and me hath He sought out in the confusion of my thoughts."[49]

THE ICONOCLAST

But Terah could not be convinced, and in reply to Abraham's question, who the God was that had created heaven and earth and the children of men, he took him to the hall wherein stood twelve great idols and a large number of little idols, and pointing to them he said, "Here are they who have made all thou seest on earth, they who have created also me and thee and all men on the earth," and he bowed down before his gods, and left the hall with his son.

Abraham went thence to his mother, and he spoke to her, saying: "Behold, my father has shown those unto me who made heaven and earth and all the sons of men. Now, therefore, hasten and fetch a kid from the flock, and make of it savory meat, that I may bring it to my father's gods, perhaps I may thereby become acceptable to them." His mother did according to his request, but when Abraham brought the offering to the gods, he saw that they had no voice, no hearing, no motion, and not one of them stretched forth his hand to eat. Abraham mocked them, and said, "Surely, the savory meat that I prepared doth not please you, or perhaps it is too little for you! Therefore I will prepare fresh savory meat to-morrow, better and more plentiful than this, that I may see what cometh therefrom." But the gods remained mute and without motion before the second offering of excellent savory meat as before the first offering, and the spirit of God came over Abraham, and he cried out, and said: "Woe unto my father and his wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone, which cannot eat, nor smell, nor hear, nor speak, which have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs without motion!"

Abraham then took a hatchet in his hand, and broke all his father's gods, and when he had done breaking them he placed the hatchet in the hand of the biggest god among them all, and he went out. Terah, having heard the crash of the hatchet on the stone, ran to the room of the idols, and he reached it at the moment when Abraham was leaving it, and when he saw what had happened, he hastened after Abraham, and he said to him, "What is this mischief thou hast done to my gods?" Abraham answered: "I set savory meat before them, and when I came nigh unto them, that they might eat, they all stretched out their hands to take of the meat, before the big one had put forth his hand to eat. This one, enraged against them on account of their behavior, took the hatchet and broke them all, and, behold, the hatchet is yet in his hands, as thou mayest see."

Then Terah turned in wrath upon Abraham, and he said: "Thou speakest lies unto me! Is there spirit, soul, or power in these gods to do all thou hast told me? Are they not wood and stone? and have I not myself made them? It is thou that didst place the hatchet in the hand of the big god, and thou sayest he smote them all." Abraham answered his father, and said: "How, then, canst thou serve these idols in whom there is no power to do anything? Can these idols in which thou trustest deliver thee? Can they hear thy prayers when thou callest upon them?" After having spoken these and similar words, admonishing his father to mend his ways and refrain from worshipping idols, he leapt up before Terah, took the hatchet from the big idol, broke it therewith, and ran away.

Terah hastened to Nimrod, bowed down before him, and besought him to hear his story, about his son who had been born to him fifty years back, and how he had done to his gods, and how he had spoken. "Now, therefore, my lord and king," he said, "send for him that he may come before thee, and do thou judge him according to the law, that we may be delivered from his evil." When Abraham was brought before the king, he told him the same story as he had told Terah, about the big god who broke the smaller ones, but the king replied, "Idols do neither speak, nor eat, nor move." Then Abraham reproached him for worshipping gods that can do nothing, and admonished him to serve the God of the universe. His last words were, "If thy wicked heart will not hearken to my words, to cause thee to forsake thy evil ways and serve the Eternal God, then wilt thou die in shame in the latter days, thou, thy people, and all that are connected with thee, who hear thy words, and walk in thy evil ways."

The king ordered Abraham to be put into prison, and at the end of ten days he caused all the princes and great men of the realm to appear before him, and to them he put the case of Abraham. Their verdict was that he should be burnt, and, accordingly, the king had a fire prepared for three days and three nights, in his furnace at Kasdim, and Abraham was to be carried thither from prison to be burnt.

All the inhabitants of the land, about nine hundred thousand men, and the women and the children besides, came to see what would be done with Abraham. And when he was brought forth, the astrologers recognized him, and they said to the king, "Surely, this is the man whom we knew as a child, at whose birth the great star swallowed the four stars. Behold, his father did transgress thy command, and he made a mockery of thee, for he did bring thee another child, and him didst thou kill."

Terah was greatly terrified, for he was afraid of the king's wrath, and he admitted that he had deceived the king, and when the king said, "Tell me who advised thee to do this. Hide naught, and thou shalt not die," he falsely accused Haran, who had been thirty-two years old at the time of Abraham's birth, of having advised him to deceive the king. At the command of the king, Abraham and Haran, stripped of all their clothes except their hosen, and their hands and feet bound with linen cords, were cast into the furnace. Haran, because his heart was not perfect with the Lord, perished in the fire, and also the men who cast them into the furnace were burnt by the flames which leapt out over them, and Abraham alone was saved by the Lord, and he was not burnt, though the cords with which he was bound were consumed. For three days and three nights Abraham walked in the midst of the fire, and all the servants of the king came and told him, "Behold, we have seen Abraham walking about in the midst of the fire."[50]

At first the king would not believe them, but when some of his faithful princes corroborated the words of his servants, he rose up and went to see for himself. He then commanded his servants to take Abraham from the fire, but they could not, because the flames leapt toward them from the furnace, and when they tried again, at the king's command, to approach the furnace, the flames shot out and burnt their faces, so that eight of their number died. The king then called unto Abraham, and said: "O servant of the God who is in heaven, go forth from the midst of the fire, and come hither and stand before me," and Abraham came and stood before the king. And the king spoke to Abraham, and said, "How cometh it that thou wast not burnt in the fire?" And Abraham made answer, "The God of heaven and earth in whom I trust, and who hath all things in His power, He did deliver me from the fire into which thou didst cast me."[51]

ABRAHAM IN CANAAN

With ten temptations Abraham was tempted, and he withstood them all, showing how great was the love of Abraham.[52] The first test to which he was subjected was the departure from his native land. The hardships were many and severe which he encountered, and he was loth to leave his home, besides. He spoke to God, and said, "Will not the people talk about me, and say, 'He is endeavoring to bring the nations under the wings of the Shekinah, yet he leaves his old father in Haran, and he goes away.' " But God answered him, and said: "Dismiss all care concerning thy father and thy kinsmen from thy thoughts. Though they speak words of kindness to thee, yet are they all of one mind, to ruin thee."[53]

Then Abraham forsook his father in Haran, and journeyed to Canaan, accompanied by the blessing of God, who said unto him, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great." These three blessings were to counteract the evil consequences which, he feared, would follow emigration, for travelling from place to place interferes with the growth of the family, it lessens one's substance, and it diminishes the consideration one enjoys.[54] The greatest of all blessings, however, was the word of God, "And be thou a blessing." The meaning of this was that whoever came in contact with Abraham was blessed. Even the mariners on the sea were indebted to him for prosperous voyages.[55] Besides, God held out the promise to him that in time to come his name would be mentioned in the Benedictions, God would be praised as the Shield of Abraham, a distinction accorded to no other mortal except David.[56] But the words, "And be thou a blessing," will be fulfilled only in the future world, when the seed of Abraham shall be known among the nations and his offspring among the peoples as "the seed which the Lord hath blessed."[57]

When Abraham first was bidden to leave his home, he was not told to what land he was to journey--all the greater would be his reward for executing the command of God.[58] And Abraham showed his trust in God, for he said, "I am ready to go whithersoever Thou sendest me." The Lord then bade him go to a land wherein He would reveal Himself, and when he went to Canaan later, God appeared to him, and he knew that it was the promised land.[59]

On entering Canaan, Abraham did not yet know that it was the land appointed as his inheritance. Nevertheless he rejoiced when he reached it. In Mesopotamia and in Aramnaharaim, the inhabitants of which he had seen eating, drinking, and acting wantonly, he had always wished, "O that my portion may not be in this land," but when he came to Canaan, he observed that the people devoted themselves industriously to the cultivation of the land, and he said, "O that my portion may be in this land!" God then spoke to him, and said, "Unto thy seed will I give this land."[60] Happy in these joyous tidings, Abraham erected an altar to the Lord to give thanks unto Him for the promise, and then he journeyed on, southward, in the direction of the spot whereon the Temple was once to stand. In Hebron he again erected an altar, thus taking possession of the land in a measure. And likewise he raised an altar in Ai, because he foresaw that a misfortune would befall his offspring there, at the conquest of the land under Joshua. The altar, he hoped, would obviate the evil results that might follow.

Each altar raised by him was a centre for his activities as a missionary. As soon as he came to a place in which he desired to sojourn, he would stretch a tent first for Sarah, and next for himself, and then he would proceed at once to make proselytes and bring them under the wings of the Shekinah. Thus he accomplished his purpose of inducing all men to proclaim the Name of God.[61]

For the present Abraham was but a stranger in his promised land. After the partition of the earth among the sons of Noah, when all had gone to their allotted portions, it happened that Canaan son of Ham saw that the land extending from the Lebanon to the River of Egypt was fair to look upon, and he refused to go to his own allotment, westward by the sea. He settled in the land upon Lebanon, eastward and westward from the border of the Jordan and the border of the sea. And Ham, his father, and his brothers Cush and Mizraim spoke to him, and said: "Thou livest in a land that is not thine, for it was not assigned unto us when the lots were drawn. Do not thus! But if thou persistest, ye, thou and thy children, will fall, accursed, in the land, in a rebellion. Thy settling here was rebellion, and through rebellion thy children will be felled down, and thy seed will be destroyed unto all eternity. Sojourn not in the land of Shem, for unto Shem and unto the children of Shem was it apportioned by lot. Accursed art thou, and accursed wilt thou be before all the children of Noah on account of the curse, for we took an oath before the holy Judge and before our father Noah."

But Canaan hearkened not unto the words of his father and his brothers. He dwelt in the land of the Lebanon from Hamath even unto the entrance of Egypt, he and his sons.[62] Though the Canaanites had taken unlawful possession of the land, yet Abraham respected their rights; he provided his camels with muzzles, to prevent them from pasturing upon the property of others.[63]

HIS SOJOURN IN EGYPT

Scarcely had Abraham established himself in Canaan, when a devastating famine broke out--one of the ten God appointed famines for the chastisement of men. The first of them came in the time of Adam, when God cursed the ground for his sake; the second was this one in the time of Abraham; the third compelled Isaac to take up his abode among the Philistines; the ravages of the fourth drove the sons of Jacob into Egypt to buy grain for food; the fifth came in the time of the Judges, when Elimelech and his family had to seek refuge in the land of Moab; the sixth occurred during the reign of David, and it lasted three years; the seventh happened in the day of Elijah, who had sworn that neither rain nor dew should fall upon the earth; the eighth was the one in the time of Elisha, when an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver; the ninth is the famine that comes upon men piecemeal, from time to time; and the tenth will scourge men before the advent of Messiah, and this last will be "not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord."[64]

The famine in the time of Abraham prevailed only in Canaan, and it had been inflicted upon the land in order to test his faith. He stood this second temptation as he had the first. He murmured not, and he showed no sign of impatience toward God, who had bidden him shortly before to abandon his native land for a land of starvation.[65] The famine compelled him to leave Canaan for a time, and he repaired to Egypt, to become acquainted there with the wisdom of the priests and, if necessary, give them instruction in the truth.[66]

On this journey from Canaan to Egypt, Abraham first observed the beauty of Sarah. Chaste as he was, he had never before looked at her, but now, when they were wading through a stream, he saw the reflection of her beauty in the water like the brilliance of the sun.[67] Wherefore he spoke to her thus, "The Egyptians are very sensual, and I will put thee in a casket that no harm befall me on account of thee." At the Egyptian boundary, the tax collectors asked him about the contents of the casket, and Abraham told them he had barley in it. "No," they said, "it contains wheat." "Very well," replied Abraham, "I am prepared to pay the tax on wheat." The officers then hazarded the guess, "It contains pepper!" Abraham agreed to pay the tax on pepper, and when they charged him with concealing gold in the casket, he did not refuse to pay the tax on gold, and finally on precious stones. Seeing that he demurred to no charge, however high, the tax collectors, made thoroughly suspicious, insisted upon his unfastening the casket and letting them examine the contents. When it was forced open, the whole of Egypt was resplendent with the beauty of Sarah. In comparison with her, all other beauties were like apes compared with men. She excelled Eve herself.[68] The servants of Pharaoh outbid one another in seeking to obtain possession of her, though they were of opinion that so radiant a beauty ought not to remain the property of a private individual. They reported the matter to the king,[69] and Pharaoh sent a powerful armed force to bring Sarah to the palace,[70] and so bewitched was he by her charms that those who had brought him the news of her coming into Egypt were loaded down with bountiful gifts.[71]

Amid tears, Abraham offered up a prayer. He entreated God in these words: "Is this the reward for my confidence in Thee? For the sake of Thy grace and Thy lovingkindness, let not my hope be put to shame."[72] Sarah also implored God, saying: "O God, Thou didst bid my lord Abraham leave his home, the land of his fathers, and journey to Canaan, and Thou didst promise him to do good unto him if he fulfilled Thy commands. And now we have done as Thou didst command us to do. We left our country and our kindred, and we journeyed to a strange land, unto a people which we knew not heretofore. We came hither to save our people from starvation, and now hath this terrible misfortune befallen. O Lord, help me and save me from the hand of this enemy, and for the sake of Thy grace show me good."

An angel appeared unto Sarah while she was in the presence of the king, to whom he was not visible, and he bade her take courage, saying, "Fear naught, Sarah, for God hath heard thy prayer." The king questioned Sarah as to the man in the company of whom she had come to Egypt, and Sarah called Abraham her brother. Pharaoh pledged himself to make Abraham great and powerful, to do for him whatever she wished. He sent much gold and silver to Abraham, and diamonds and pearls, sheep and oxen, and men slaves and women slaves, and he assigned a residence to him within the precincts of the royal palace.[73] In the love he bore Sarah, he wrote out a marriage contract, deeding to her all he owned in the way of gold and silver, and men slaves and women slaves, and the province of Goshen besides, the province occupied in later days by the descendants of Sarah, because it was their property. Most remarkable of all, he gave her his own daughter Hagar as slave, for he preferred to see his daughter the servant of Sarah to reigning as mistress in another harem.[74]

His free-handed generosity availed naught. During the night, when he was about to approach Sarah, an angel appeared armed with a stick, and if Pharaoh but touched Sarah's shoe to remove it from her foot, the angel planted a blow upon his hand, and when he grasped her dress, a second blow followed. At each blow he was about to deal, the angel asked Sarah whether he was to let it descend, and if she bade him give Pharaoh a moment to recover himself, he waited and did as she desired. And another great miracle came to pass. Pharaoh, and his nobles, and his servants, the very walls of his house and his bed were afflicted with leprosy, and he could not indulge his carnal desires.[75] This night in which Pharaoh and his court suffered their well deserved punishment was the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, the same night wherein God visited the Egyptians in a later time in order to redeem Israel, the descendants of Sarah.[76]

Horrified by the plague sent upon him, Pharaoh inquired how he could rid himself thereof. He applied to the priests, from whom he found out the true cause of his affliction, which was corroborated by Sarah. He then sent for Abraham and returned his wife to him, pure and untouched, and excused himself for what had happened, saying that he had had the intention of connecting himself in marriage with him, whom he had thought to be the brother of Sarah.[77] He bestowed rich gifts upon the husband and the wife, and they departed for Canaan, after a three months' sojourn in Egypt.[78]

Arrived in Canaan they sought the same night-shelters at which they had rested before, in order to pay their accounts, and also to teach by their example that it is not proper to seek new quarters unless one is forced to it.[79]

Abraham's sojourn in Egypt was of great service to the inhabitants of the country, because he demonstrated to the wise men of the land how empty and vain their views were, and also he taught them astronomy and astrology, unknown in Egypt before his time.[80]

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