All this talk about optimism and pessimism is itself a dismal fall from the old talk about right and wrong. Our fathers said that a nation had sinned and suffered like a man. We say it has decayed, like a cheese. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber




The Birth of Ishmael

After parting from his uncle, Lot went down into the fertile valley of the lower Jordan, and pitched his tents near the five rich cities of the plain, among which were Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were ruled by five kings, and in them dwelt men who were as wicked as wicked could be.

Lot, who was a good man, did not enjoy the neighborhood of these wicked people; but, instead of going away, he lingered there until a war broke out between the five cities and a powerful king who claimed tribute from them.

A battle was fought, in which the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were killed. Their cities were then robbed; and Lot, being found on their lands, was carried off into captivity with all the rest of the people, and all his possessions were taken away from him.

The news of Lotís peril was brought to Abraham. As soon as he heard it, he hastily gathered together the three hundred and eighteen men of his household, and, accompanied by the Amorites, his friends, he hurried off to rescue his unlucky nephew.

This small troop overtook the victors near the sources of the Jordan. There, by cleverly dividing his forces, and surprising the enemy in the middle of the night, Abraham managed not only to beat them, but to free Lot and to get back all the spoil they had taken.

The little army then came home in triumph, and Abraham gave back the spoil to the new King of Sodom. He kept only the tenth part for the King of Salem, a priest of the Lord, who came to meet him, and gave him bread and wine, and blessed him.

Abraham, having thus saved Lot from the hands of his enemies, went home, where he was soon made happy by a vision from God. This time the Lord repeated all the promises he had already made, and told Abraham that he would have a son. Then pointing upward, God said that Abrahamís descendants would be as many as the stars shining in the blue sky above them.

Now the patriarch was over eighty years old, and had already waited many years in vain for the son whom God had promised him, but yet he believed these words. He also listened respectfully while God foretold that the Hebrews would be treated as slaves in a foreign land for four hundred years, but would finally escape, with larger numbers and greater riches, to take possession of the promised land.

Another time, God bade Abraham practice a religious rite called circumcision. This rite was observed by all the Jews after that, and it finally became the mark of the Hebrew nation, just as baptism is the outward sign of a Christian.

Abrahamís faith in Godís promises was tried by another long period of waiting. His wife Sarah became so sure that God would never give her a son that she finally persuaded her husband to accept Hagar, her servant, as a second wife. It was not at all unusual in those days for a man to have several wives at the same time; and you will soon see that more than one of the patriarchs followed this custom.

Hagar, Abrahamís new wife, soon became the mother of a son called Ishmael, whose birth was foretold by an angel. The messenger of God came to Hagar one day, and told her that this child would be "a wild man;" and it is said that he became in time the ancestor of a wandering race which we now call Bedouins, or Arabs.

Fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael, three strangers came to Abrahamís tent; and it is supposed that they must have been angels. After they had rested and eaten, these angels told Abraham that Sarah would have a son. The patriarch believed them, for he had not lost faith in Godís promise even yet; but Sarah, who was standing behind the door, laughed at them.

The messengers reproved her for doubting their words, and set out with Abraham toward the cities of the plain. On their way, one of these strangers told Abraham that God was weary of the wickedness of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and was about to destroy them in punishment for their sins.

Abraham was horrified when he heard this, and he humbly asked whether God would destroy the guilty cities if fifty good persons could be found within them. When told that fifty good men would save the towns, Abraham inquired whether forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten righteous men would not be enough, and each time the stranger answered, "Yes."

It was so unlikely that even ten righteous men should be found there that Abraham sadly returned to his tent, while his visitors passed on to the city of Sodom, to find out whether the people were really all wicked, and whether they deserved death.