The days of the years, etc. - There is a beauty in this expression which is not sufficiently regarded. Good men do not live by centuries, though many such have lived several hundred years, nor do they count their lives even by years, but by days, living as if they were the creatures only of A Day; having no more time than they can with any propriety call their own, and living that day in reference to eternity.
- The Death of Abraham
1. קטוּרה qeṭûrâh “Qeturah, incense.”
2. זמרן zı̂mrān “Zimran, celebrated in song.” יקשׁן yāqshān “Joqshan, fowler.” מדן medān “Medan, judge.” מדין mı̂dyān “Midian, one who measures.” לאבק yı̂shbāq “Jishbaq, he leaves.” שׁוּח shûach “Shuach, pit.”
3. לטוּשׁם leṭûshı̂ym “Letushim, hammered, sharpened.” לאמים le'umı̂ym “Leummim, peoples.”
4. עיפה ‛êypâh “‹Ephah, darkness.” עפר ‛êper “‹Epher, dust.” אבידע 'ǎbı̂ydā‛ “Abida‹, father of knowledge.” אלדעה 'eldā‛âh “Elda‹ah, knowing?”
Another family is born to Abraham by Keturah, and portioned off, after which he dies and is buried.
Added and took a wife. - According to the laws of Hebrew composition, this event may have taken place before that recorded in the close of the previous chapter. Of this law we have several examples in this very chapter. And there is nothing contrary to the customs of that period in adding wife to wife. We cannot say that Abraham was hindered from taking Keturah in the lifetime of Sarah by any moral feeling which would not also have hindered him from taking Hagar. It has been also noticed that Keturah is called a concubine, which is thought to imply that the proper wife was still living; and that Abraham was a very old man at the death of Sarah. But, on the other hand, it is to be remembered that these sons were in any case born after the birth of Isaac, and therefore after Abraham was renewed in vital powers. If this renewal of vigor remained after the birth of Isaac, it may have continued some time after the death of Sarah, whom he survived thirty-eight years. His abstinence from any concubine until Sarah gave him Hagar is against his taking any other during Sarah‘s lifetime. His loneliness on the death of Sarah may have prompted him to seek a companion of his old age. And if this step was delayed until Isaac was married, and therefore separated from him, an additional motive would impel him in the same direction. He was not bound to raise this wife to the full rights of a proper wife, even though Sarah were dead. And six sons might be born to him twenty-five years before his death. And if Hagar and Ishmael were dismissed when he was about fifteen years old, so might Keturah when her youngest was twenty or twenty-five. We are not warranted, then, still less compelled, to place Abraham‘s second marriage before the death of Sarah, or even the marriage of Isaac. It seems to appear in the narrative in the order of time.
The endeavors to ascertain the tribes that descended from these six sons of Keturah have not been very successful. Zimran has been compared with Ζαβράμ Zabram (Ptol. vi. 7,5), situated west of Mecca on the Red Sea. Jokshan with the Κασσανῖται Kassanitai (Ptol. vi. 7,6), and with the tribe Jakish among the Himyarites in South Arabia. Medan with Μοδιάνα Modiana on the east coast of the Aelanitic Gulf. Midian is found in two localities west of the Aelanitic Gulf and east of the Salt Sea. Among the former, Moses afterward found refuge. The latter are probably east of Abraham‘s residence. Ishbak is compared with Shobek, a place in Idumaea. Shuah probably belongs to the same region. He may be the ancestor of Bildad the Shuhite Job 2:11. Of these, Midian alone appears to be ascertained. The others may have been absorbed in that congeries of tribes, the Arabs.
Sheba, Dedan, and Asshurim are recurring names Genesis 10:7, Genesis 10:22, Genesis 10:28, describing other tribes of Arabs equally unknown. The three sons of Dedan may be traced in the tribe Asir of the south of Hejaz, the Beni Leits of Hejaz, and the Beni Lam of the borders of Mesopotamia. Of the sons of Midian, Epha is mentioned in Isaiah 60:6 along with Midian. Epher is compared with Beni Ghifar in Hejaz, Henok with Hanakye north of Medinah, Abida with the Abide, and Eldaah with the Wadaa. These conjectures of Burckhardt are chiefly useful in showing that similar names are still existing in the country. There are here six sons of Abraham, seven grandsons, and three great-grandsons, making sixteen descendants by Keturah. If there were any daughters, they are not noticed. It is not customary to mention females, unless they are connected with leading historical characters. These descendants of Abraham and Keturah are the third contribution of Palgites to the Joktanites, who constituted the original element of the Arabs, the descendants of Lot and Ishmael having preceded them. All these branches of the Arab nation are descended from Heber.
Abraham makes Isaac his heir Genesis 24:36. He gives portions to the sons of the concubines during his lifetime, and sends them away to the East. Ishmael had been portioned off long before Genesis 21:14. The East is a general name for Arabia, which stretched away to the southeast and east of the point where Abraham resided in the south of Palestine. The northern part of Arabia, which lay due east of Palestine, was formerly more fertile and populous than now. The sons of Keturah were probably dismissed before they had any children. Their notable descendants, according to custom, are added here before they are dismissed from the main line of the narrative.
The death of Abraham. His years were a hundred and seventy-five. He survived Sarah thirty-eight years, and Isaac‘s marriage thirty-five. His grandfather lived a hundred and forty-eight years, his father two hundred and five, his son Isaac a hundred and eighty, and his grandson Jacob a hundred and forty-seven; so that his years were the full average of that period. “Expired” - breathed his last. “In a happy old age,” in external and internal blessedness Genesis 15:15. “Old and full” - having attained to the standard length of life in his days, and being satisfied with this life, so that he was ready and willing to depart. “Gathered to his peoples” Genesis 15:15. To be gathered is not to cease to exist, but to continue existing in another sphere. His peoples, the departed families, from whom he is descended, are still in being in another not less real world. This, and the like expression in the passage quoted, give the first fact in the history of the soul after death, as the burial is the first step in that of the body.
Isaac and Ishmael, - in brotherly cooperation. Ishmael was the oldest son, dwelt in the presence of all his brethren, and had a special blessing. The sons of Keturah were far away in the East, very young, and had no particular blessing. Ishmael is therefore properly associated with Isaac in paying the last offices to their deceased father. The burying-place had been prepared before. Its purchase is here rehearsed with great precision as a testimony of the fact. This burial-ground is an earnest of the promised possession.
This verse is an appendix to the history of Abraham, stating that the blessing of God, which he had enjoyed until his death, now descended upon his son Isaac, who abode at Beer-lahai-roi. The general name “God” is here employed, because the blessing of God denotes the material and temporal prosperity which had attended Abraham, in comparison with other men of his day. Of the spiritual and eternal blessings connected with Yahweh, the proper name of the Author of being and blessing, we shall hear in due time.
The section now completed contains the seventh of the documents commencing with the formula, “these are the generations.” It begins in the eleventh chapter and ends in the twenty-fifth, and therefore contains a greater number of chapters and amount of matter than the whole of the preceding narrative. This is as it should be in a record of the ways of God with man. In the former sections, things anterior and external to man come out into the foreground; they lie at the basis of his being, his mental and moral birth. In the present section, things internal to man and flowing from him are brought into view. These are coincident with the growth of his spiritual nature. The latter are no less momentous than the former for the true and full development of his faculties and capacities.
In the former sections the absolute being of God is assumed; the beginning of the heavens and the earth asserted. The reconstruction of skies and land and the creation of a new series of plants and animals are recorded. This new creation is completed by the creating of man in the image of God and after his likeness. The placing of man in a garden of fruit trees prepared for his sustenance and gratification; the primeval command, with its first lessons in language, physics, ethics, and theology; the second lesson in speaking when the animals are named; and the separation of man into the male and the female, are followed by the institutions of wedlock and the Sabbath, the fountain-heads of sociality with man and God, the foreshadows of the second and first tables of the law. The fall of man in the second lesson of ethics; the sentence of the Judge, containing in its very bosom the intimation of mercy; the act of fratricide, followed by the general corruption of the whole race; the notices of Sheth, of calling on the name of Yahweh begun at the birth of Enosh, of Henok who walked with God, and of Noah who found grace in his sight; the flood sweeping away the corruption of man while saving righteous Noah; and the confusion of tongues, defeating the ambition of man, while preparing for the replenishing of the earth and the liberties of men - these complete the chain of prominent facts that are to be seen standing in the background of man‘s history. These are all moments, potent elements in the memory of man, foundation-stones of his history and philosophy. They cannot be surmounted or ignored without absurdity or criminality.
In the section now completed the sacred writer descends from the general to the special, from the distant to the near, from the class to the individual. He dissects the soul of a man, and discloses to our view the whole process of the spiritual life from the newborn babe to the perfect man. Out of the womb of that restless selfish race, from whom nothing is willingly restrained which they have imagined to do, comes forth Abram, with all the lineaments of their moral image upon him. The Lord calls him to himself, his mercy, his blessing, and his service. He obeys the call. That is the moment of his new birth. The acceptance of the divine call is the tangible fact that evinces a new nature. Henceforth he is a disciple, having yet much to learn before he becomes a master, in the school of heaven. From this time forward the spiritual predominates in Abram; very little of the carnal appears.
Two sides of his mental character present themselves in alternate passages, which may be called the physical and the metaphysical, or the things of the body and the things of the soul. In the former only the carnal or old corrupt nature sometimes appears; in the latter, the new nature advances from stage to stage of spiritual growth unto perfection. His entrance into the land of promise is followed by his descent into Egypt, his generous forbearance in parting with Lot, his valorous conduct in rescuing him, and his dignified demeanor toward Melkizedec and the king of Sodom. The second stage of its spiritual development now presents itself to our view; on receiving the promise, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward, he believes in the Lord, who counts it to him for righteousness, and enters into covenant with him. This is the first fruit of the new birth, and it is followed by the birth of Ishmael. On hearing the authoritative announcement, I am God Almighty; walk before me and be perfect, he performs the first act of that obedience which is the keystone of repentance, by receiving the sign of covenant, and proceeds to the high functions of holding communion and making intercession with God. These spiritual acts are followed by the destruction of the cities of the Jordan vale, with the preservation of Lot, the sojourning in Gerar, the birth of Isaac, and the league with Abimelek. The last great act of the spiritual life of Abraham is the surrender of his only son to the will of God, and this again is followed by the death and burial of Sarah, the marriage of Isaac, and the second marriage of Abraham.
It is manifest that every movement in the physical and ethical history of Abraham is fraught with instruction of the deepest interest for the heirs of immortality. The leading points in spiritual experience are here laid before us. The susceptibilities and activities of a soul born of the Spirit are unfolded to our view. These are lessons for eternity. Every descendant of Abraham, every collateral branch of his family, every contemporary eye or ear-witness, might have profited in the things of eternity by all this precious treasury of spiritual knowledge. Many of the Gentiles still had, and all might have had, a knowledge of the covenant with Noah, and a share in its promised blessings. This would not have precluded, but only promoted, the mission of Abraham to be the father of the seed in whom all the families of man should effectually be blessed. And in the meantime it would have caused to be circulated to the ends of the earth that new revelation of spiritual experience which was displayed in the life of Abraham for the perfecting of the saints.