In the former part of this book, from the first to the twelfth chapter, the progress of the two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, from Noah to Abraham, is exhibited from Holy Scripture: In the latter part, the progress of the heavenly alone, from Abraham to the kings of Israel, is the subject.
It is difficult to discover from Scripture, whether, after the deluge, traces of the holy city are continuous, or are so interrupted by intervening seasons of godlessness, that not a single worshipper of the one true God was found among men; because from Noah, who, with his wife, three sons, and as many daughters-in-law, achieved deliverance in the ark from the destruction of the deluge, down to Abraham, we do not find in the canonical books that the piety of any one is celebrated by express divine testimony, unless it be in the case of Noah, who commends with a prophetic benediction his two sons Shem and Japheth, while he beheld and foresaw what was long afterwards to happen. It was also by this prophetic spirit that, when his middle son— that is, the son who was younger than the first and older than the last born— had sinned against him, he cursed him not in his own person, but in his son's (his own grandson's), in the words,
Cursed be the lad Canaan; a servant shall he be unto his brethren. Genesis 9:25 Now Canaan was born of Ham, who, so far from covering his sleeping father's nakedness, had divulged it. For the same reason also he subjoins the blessing on his two other sons, the oldest and youngest, saying,
Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall gladden Japheth, and he shall dwell in the houses of Shem. Genesis 9:26-27 And so, too, the planting of the vine by Noah, and his intoxication by its fruit, and his nakedness while he slept, and the other things done at that time, and recorded, are all of them pregnant with prophetic meanings, and veiled in mysteries.
The things which then were hidden are now sufficiently revealed by the actual events which have followed. For who can carefully and intelligently consider these things without recognizing them accomplished in Christ? Shem, of whom Christ was born in the flesh, means
named. And what is of greater name than Christ, the fragrance of whose name is now everywhere perceived, so that even prophecy sings of it beforehand, comparing it in the Song of Songs, Song of Songs 1:3 to ointment poured forth? Is it not also in the houses of Christ, that is, in the churches, that the
enlargement of the nations dwells? For Japheth means
enlargement. And Ham (i.e., hot), who was the middle son of Noah, and, as it were, separated himself from both, and remained between them, neither belonging to the first-fruits of Israel nor to the fullness of the Gentiles, what does he signify but the tribe of heretics, hot with the spirit, not of patience, but of impatience, with which the breasts of heretics are wont to blaze, and with which they disturb the peace of the saints? But even the heretics yield an advantage to those that make proficiency, according to the apostle's saying,
There must also be heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 1 Corinthians 11:19 Whence, too, it is elsewhere said,
The son that receives instruction will be wise, and he uses the foolish as his servant. For while the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the Catholic faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction. However, not only those who are openly separated from the church, but also all who glory in the Christian name, and at the same time lead abandoned lives, may without absurdity seem to be figured by Noah's middle son: for the passion of Christ, which was signified by that man's nakedness, is at once proclaimed by their profession, and dishonored by their wicked conduct. Of such, therefore, it has been said,
By their fruits you shall know them. Matthew 7:20 And therefore was Ham cursed in his son, he being, as it were, his fruit. So, too, this son of his, Canaan, is fitly interpreted
their movement, which is nothing else than their work. But Shem and Japheth, that is to say, the circumcision and uncircumcision, or, as the apostle otherwise calls them, the Jews and Greeks, but called and justified, having somehow discovered the nakedness of their father (which signifies the Saviour's passion), took a garment and laid it upon their backs, and entered backwards and covered their father's nakedness, without their seeing what their reverence hid. For we both honor the passion of Christ as accomplished for us, and we hate the crime of the Jews who crucified Him. The garment signifies the sacrament, their backs the memory of things past: for the church celebrates the passion of Christ as already accomplished, and no longer to be looked forward to, now that Japheth already dwells in the habitations of Shem, and their wicked brother between them.
But the wicked brother is, in the person of his son (i.e., his work), the boy, or slave, of his good brothers, when good men make a skillful use of bad men, either for the exercise of their patience or for their advancement in wisdom. For the apostle testifies that there are some who preach Christ from no pure motives;
but, says he,
whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. Philippians 1:18 For it is Christ Himself who planted the vine of which the prophet says,
The vine of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel; Isaiah 5:7 and He drinks of its wine, whether we thus understand that cup of which He says,
Can ye drink of the cup that I shall drink of? Matthew 20:22 and,
Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, Matthew 26:39 by which He obviously means His passion. Or, as wine is the fruit of the vine, we may prefer to understand that from this vine, that is to say, from the race of Israel, He has assumed flesh and blood that He might suffer;
and he was drunken, that is, He suffered;
and was naked, that is, His weakness appeared in His suffering, as the apostle says,
though He was crucified through weakness. 2 Corinthians 13:4 Wherefore the same apostle says,
The weakness of God is stronger than men; and the foolishness of God is wiser than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25 And when to the expression
he was naked Scripture adds
in his house, it elegantly intimates that Jesus was to suffer the cross and death at the hands of His own household, His own kith and kin, the Jews. This passion of Christ is only externally and verbally professed by the reprobate, for what they profess, they do not understand. But the elect hold in the inner man this so great mystery, and honor inwardly in the heart this weakness and foolishness of God. And of this there is a figure in Ham going out to proclaim his father's nakedness; while Shem and Japheth, to cover or honor it, went in, that is to say, did it inwardly.
These secrets of divine Scripture we investigate as well as we can. All will not accept our interpretation with equal confidence, but all hold it certain that these things were neither done nor recorded without some foreshadowing of future events, and that they are to be referred only to Christ and His church, which is the city of God, proclaimed from the very beginning of human history by figures which we now see everywhere accomplished. From the blessing of the two sons of Noah, and the cursing of the middle son, down to Abraham, or for more than a thousand years, there is, as I have said, no mention of any righteous persons who worshipped God. I do not therefore conclude that there were none; but it had been tedious to mention every one, and would have displayed historical accuracy rather than prophetic foresight. The object of the writer of these sacred books, or rather of the Spirit of God in him, is not only to record the past, but to depict the future, so far as it regards the city of God; for whatever is said of those who are not its citizens, is given either for her instruction, or as a foil to enhance her glory. Yet we are not to suppose that all that is recorded has some signification; but those things which have no signification of their own are interwoven for the sake of the things which are significant. It is only the ploughshare that cleaves the soil; but to effect this, other parts of the plough are requisite. It is only the strings in harps and other musical instruments which produce melodious sounds; but that they may do so, there are other parts of the instrument which are not indeed struck by those who sing, but are connected with the strings which are struck, and produce musical notes. So in this prophetic history some things are narrated which have no significance, but are, as it were, the framework to which the significant things are attached.
We must therefore introduce into this work an explanation of the generations of the three sons of Noah, in so far as that may illustrate the progress in time of the two cities. Scripture first mentions that of the youngest son, who is called Japheth: he had eight sons, and by two of these sons seven grandchildren, three by one son, four by the other; in all, fifteen descendants. Ham, Noah's middle son, had four sons, and by one of them five grandsons, and by one of these two great-grandsons; in all, eleven. After enumerating these, Scripture returns to the first of the sons, and says,
Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a giant on the earth. He was a giant hunter against the Lord God: wherefore they say, As Nimrod the giant hunter against the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Assur, and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: this was a great city. Now this Cush, father of the giant Nimrod, is the first-named among the sons of Ham, to whom five sons and two grandsons are ascribed. But he either begot this giant after his grandsons were born, or, which is more credible, Scripture speaks of him separately on account of his eminence; for mention is also made of his kingdom, which began with that magnificent city Babylon, and the other places, whether cities or districts, mentioned along with it. But what is recorded of the land of Shinar which belonged to Nimrod's kingdom, to wit, that Assur went forth from it and built Nineveh and the other cities mentioned with it, happened long after; but he takes occasion to speak of it here on account of the grandeur of the Assyrian kingdom, which was wonderfully extended by Ninus son of Belus, and founder of the great city Nineveh, which was named after him, Nineveh, from Ninus. But Assur, father of the Assyrian, was not one of the sons of Ham, Noah's son, but is found among the sons of Shem, his eldest son. Whence it appears that among Shem's offspring there arose men who afterwards took possession of that giant's kingdom, and advancing from it, founded other cities, the first of which was called Nineveh, from Ninus. From him Scripture returns to Ham's other son, Mizraim; and his sons are enumerated, not as seven individuals, but as seven nations. And from the sixth, as if from the sixth son, the race called the Philistines are said to have sprung; so that there are in all eight. Then it returns again to Canaan, in whose person Ham was cursed; and his eleven sons are named. Then the territories they occupied, and some of the cities, are named. And thus, if we count sons and grandsons, there are thirty-one of Ham's descendants registered.
It remains to mention the sons of Shem, Noah's eldest son; for to him this genealogical narrative gradually ascends from the youngest. But in the commencement of the record of Shem's sons there is an obscurity which calls for explanation, since it is closely connected with the object of our investigation. For we read,
Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Heber, the brother of Japheth the elder, were children born. Genesis 10:21 This is the order of the words: And to Shem was born Heber, even to himself, that is, to Shem himself was born Heber, and Shem is the father of all his children. We are intended to understand that Shem is the patriarch of all his posterity who were to be mentioned, whether sons, grandsons, great-grandsons, or descendants at any remove. For Shem did not beget Heber, who was indeed in the fifth generation from him. For Shem begot, among other sons, Arphaxad; Arphaxad begot Cainan, Cainan begot Salah, Salah begot Heber. And it was with good reason that he was named first among Shem's offspring, taking precedence even of his sons, though only a grandchild of the fifth generation; for from him, as tradition says, the Hebrews derived their name, though the other etymology which derives the name from Abraham (as if Abrahews) may possibly be correct. But there can be little doubt that the former is the right etymology, and that they were called after Heber, Heberews, and then, dropping a letter, Hebrews; and so was their language called Hebrew, which was spoken by none but the people of Israel among whom was the city of God, mysteriously prefigured in all the people, and truly present in the saints. Six of Shem's sons then are first named, then four grandsons born to one of these sons; then it mentions another son of Shem, who begot a grandson; and his son, again, or Shem's great-grandson, was Heber. And Heber begot two sons, and called the one Peleg, which means
dividing; and Scripture subjoins the reason of this name, saying,
for in his days was the earth divided. What this means will afterwards appear. Heber's other son begot twelve sons; consequently all Shem's descendants are twenty-seven. The total number of the progeny of the three sons of Noah is seventy-three, fifteen by Japheth, thirty-one by Ham, twenty-seven by Shem. Then Scripture adds,
These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. And so of the whole number
These are the families of the sons of Noah after their generations, in their nations; and by these were the isles of the nations dispersed through the earth after the flood. From which we gather that the seventy-three (or rather, as I shall presently show, seventy-two) were not individuals, but nations. For in a former passage, when the sons of Japheth were enumerated, it is said in conclusion,
By these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his language, in their tribes, and in their nations.
But nations are expressly mentioned among the sons of Ham, as I showed above.
Mizraim begot those who are called Ludim; and so also of the other seven nations. And after enumerating all of them, it concludes,
These are the sons of Ham, in their families, according to their languages, in their territories, and in their nations. The reason, then, why the children of several of them are not mentioned, is that they belonged by birth to other nations, and did not themselves become nations. Why else is it, that though eight sons are reckoned to Japheth, the sons of only two of these are mentioned; and though four are reckoned to Ham, only three are spoken of as having sons; and though six are reckoned to Shem, the descendants of only two of these are traced? Did the rest remain childless? We cannot suppose so; but they did not produce nations so great as to warrant their being mentioned, but were absorbed in the nations to which they belonged by birth.
But though these nations are said to have been dispersed according to their languages, yet the narrator recurs to that time when all had but one language, and explains how it came to pass that a diversity of languages was introduced.
The whole earth, he says,
was of one lip, and all had one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there. And they said one to another, Come, and let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had bricks for stone, and slime for mortar. And they said, Come, and let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top shall reach the sky; and let us make us a name, before we be scattered abroad on the face of all the earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. And the Lord God said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Come, and let us go down, and confound there their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. And God scattered them thence on the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city and the tower. Therefore the name of it is called Confusion; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and the Lord God scattered them thence on the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:1-9 This city, which was called Confusion, is the same as Babylon, whose wonderful construction Gentile history also notices. For Babylon means Confusion. Whence we conclude that the giant Nimrod was its founder, as had been hinted a little before, where Scripture, in speaking of him, says that the beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, that is, Babylon had a supremacy over the other cities as the metropolis and royal residence; although it did not rise to the grand dimensions designed by its proud and impious founder. The plan was to make it so high that it should reach the sky, whether this was meant of one tower which they intended to build higher than the others, or of all the towers, which might be signified by the singular number, as we speak of
the soldier, meaning the army, and of the frog or the locust, when we refer to the whole multitude of frogs and locusts in the plagues with which Moses smote the Egyptians. Exodus x But what did these vain and presumptuous men intend? How did they expect to raise this lofty mass against God, when they had built it above all the mountains and the clouds of the earth's atmosphere? What injury could any spiritual or material elevation do to God? The safe and true way to heaven is made by humility, which lifts up the heart to the Lord, not against Him; as this giant is said to have been a
hunter against the Lord. This has been misunderstood by some through the ambiguity of the Greek word, and they have translated it, not
against the Lord, but
before the Lord; for ἐναντίον means both
against. In the Psalm this word is rendered,
Let us weep before the Lord our Maker. The same word occurs in the book of Job, where it is written,
You have broken into fury against the Lord. Job 15:13 And so this giant is to be recognized as a
hunter against the Lord. And what is meant by the term
hunter but deceiver, oppressor, and destroyer of the animals of the earth? He and his people therefore, erected this tower against the Lord, and so gave expression to their impious pride; and justly was their wicked intention punished by God, even though it was unsuccessful. But what was the nature of the punishment? As the tongue is the instrument of domination, in it pride was punished; so that man, who would not understand God when He issued His commands, should be misunderstood when he himself gave orders. Thus was that conspiracy disbanded, for each man retired from those he could not understand, and associated with those whose speech was intelligible; and the nations were divided according to their languages, and scattered over the earth as seemed good to God, who accomplished this in ways hidden from and incomprehensible to us.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men built: it was not the sons of God, but that society which lived in a merely human way, and which we call the earthly city. God, who is always wholly everywhere, does not move locally; but He is said to descend when He does anything in the earth out of the usual course, which, as it were, makes His presence felt. And in the same way, He does not by
seeing learn some new thing, for He cannot ever be ignorant of anything; but He is said to see and recognize, in time, that which He causes others to see and recognize. And therefore that city was not previously being seen as God made it be seen when He showed how offensive it was to Him. We might, indeed, interpret God's descending to the city of the descent of His angels in whom He dwells; so that the following words,
And the Lord God said, Behold, they are all one race and of one language, and also what follows,
Come, and let us go down and confound their speech, are a recapitulation, explaining how the previously intimated
descent of the Lord was accomplished. For if He had already gone down, why does He say,
Come, and let us go down and confound?— words which seem to be addressed to the angels, and to intimate that He who was in the angels descended in their descent. And the words most appropriately are, not,
Go ye down and confound, but,
Let us confound their speech; showing that He so works by His servants, that they are themselves also fellow-laborers with God, as the apostle says,
For we are fellow-laborers with God. 1 Corinthians 3:9
We might have supposed that the words uttered at the creation of man,
Let us, and not Let me,
make man, were addressed to the angels, had He not added
in our image; but as we cannot believe that man was made in the image of angels, or that the image of God is the same as that of angels, it is proper to refer this expression to the plurality of the Trinity. And yet this Trinity, being one God, even after saying
Let us make, goes on to say,
And God made man in His image, Genesis 1:26 and not
Gods made, or
in their image. And were there any difficulty in applying to the angels the words,
Come, and let us go down and confound their speech, we might refer the plural to the Trinity, as if the Father were addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit; but it rather belongs to the angels to approach God by holy movements, that is, by pious thoughts, and thereby to avail themselves of the unchangeable truth which rules in the court of heaven as their eternal law. For they are not themselves the truth; but partaking in the creative truth, they are moved towards it as the fountain of life, that what they have not in themselves they may obtain in it. And this movement of theirs is steady, for they never go back from what they have reached. And to these angels God does not speak, as we speak to one another, or to God, or to angels, or as the angels speak to us, or as God speaks to us through them: He speaks to them in an ineffable manner of His own, and that which He says is conveyed to us in a manner suited to our capacity. For the speaking of God antecedent and superior to all His works, is the immutable reason of His work: it has no noisy and passing sound, but an energy eternally abiding and producing results in time. Thus He speaks to the holy angels; but to us, who are far off, He speaks otherwise. When, however, we hear with the inner ear some part of the speech of God, we approximate to the angels. But in this work I need not labor to give an account of the ways in which God speaks. For either the unchangeable Truth speaks directly to the mind of the rational creature in some indescribable way, or speaks through the changeable creature, either presenting spiritual images to our spirit, or bodily voices to our bodily sense.
Nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do, Genesis 11:6 are assuredly not meant as an affirmation, but as an interrogation, such as is used by persons threatening, as e.g., when Dido exclaims,
They will not take arms and pursue?
We are to understand the words as if it had been said, Shall nothing be restrained from them which they have imagined to do? From these three men, therefore, the three sons of Noah we mean, 73, or rather, as the catalogue will show, 72 nations and as many languages were dispersed over the earth, and as they increased filled even the islands. But the nations multiplied much more than the languages. For even in Africa we know several barbarous nations which have but one language; and who can doubt that, as the human race increased, men contrived to pass to the islands in ships?
There is a question raised about all those kinds of beasts which are not domesticated, nor are produced like frogs from the earth, but are propagated by male and female parents, such as wolves and animals of that kind; and it is asked how they could be found in the islands after the deluge, in which all the animals not in the ark perished, unless the breed was restored from those which were preserved in pairs in the ark. It might, indeed, be said that they crossed to the islands by swimming, but this could only be true of those very near the mainland; whereas there are some so distant, that we fancy no animal could swim to them. But if men caught them and took them across with themselves, and thus propagated these breeds in their new abodes, this would not imply an incredible fondness for the chase. At the same time, it cannot be denied that by the intervention of angels they might be transferred by God's order or permission. If, however, they were produced out of the earth as at their first creation, when God said,
Let the earth bring forth the living creature, Genesis 1:24 this makes it more evident that all kinds of animals were preserved in the ark, not so much for the sake of renewing the stock, as of prefiguring the various nations which were to be saved in the church; this, I say, is more evident, if the earth brought forth many animals in islands to which they could not cross over.
It is also asked whether we are to believe that certain monstrous races of men, spoken of in secular history, have sprung from Noah's sons, or rather, I should say, from that one man from whom they themselves were descended. For it is reported that some have one eye in the middle of the forehead; some, feet turned backwards from the heel; some, a double sex, the right breast like a man, the left like a woman, and that they alternately beget and bring forth: others are said to have no mouth, and to breathe only through the nostrils; others are but a cubit high, and are therefore called by the Greeks
Pigmies: they say that in some places the women conceive in their fifth year, and do not live beyond their eighth. So, too, they tell of a race who have two feet but only one leg, and are of marvellous swiftness, though they do not bend the knee: they are called Skiopodes, because in the hot weather they lie down on their backs and shade themselves with their feet. Others are said to have no head, and their eyes in their shoulders; and other human or quasi-human races are depicted in mosaic in the harbor esplanade of Carthage, on the faith of histories of rarities. What shall I say of the Cynocephali, whose dog-like head and barking proclaim them beasts rather than men? But we are not bound to believe all we hear of these monstrosities. But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.
The same account which is given of monstrous births in individual cases can be given of monstrous races. For God, the Creator of all, knows where and when each thing ought to be, or to have been created, because He sees the similarities and diversities which can contribute to the beauty of the whole. But He who cannot see the whole is offended by the deformity of the part, because he is blind to that which balances it, and to which it belongs. We know that men are born with more than four fingers on their hands or toes on their feet: this is a smaller matter; but far from us be the folly of supposing that the Creator mistook the number of a man's fingers, though we cannot account for the difference. And so in cases where the divergence from the rule is greater. He whose works no man justly finds fault with, knows what He has done. At Hippo-Diarrhytus there is a man whose hands are crescent-shaped, and have only two fingers each, and his feet similarly formed. If there were a race like him, it would be added to the history of the curious and wonderful. Shall we therefore deny that this man is descended from that one man who was first created? As for the Androgyni, or Hermaphrodites, as they are called, though they are rare, yet from time to time there appears persons of sex so doubtful, that it remains uncertain from which sex they take their name; though it is customary to give them a masculine name, as the more worthy. For no one ever called them Hermaphroditesses. Some years ago, quite within my own memory, a man was born in the East, double in his upper, but single in his lower half— having two heads, two chests, four hands, but one body and two feet like an ordinary man; and he lived so long that many had an opportunity of seeing him. But who could enumerate all the human births that have differed widely from their ascertained parents? As, therefore, no one will deny that these are all descended from that one man, so all the races which are reported to have diverged in bodily appearance from the usual course which nature generally or almost universally preserves, if they are embraced in that definition of man as rational and mortal animals, unquestionably trace their pedigree to that one first father of all. We are supposing these stories about various races who differ from one another and from us to be true; but possibly they are not: for if we were not aware that apes, and monkeys, and sphinxes are not men, but beasts, those historians would possibly describe them as races of men, and flaunt with impunity their false and vainglorious discoveries. But supposing they are men of whom these marvels are recorded, what if God has seen fit to create some races in this way, that we might not suppose that the monstrous births which appear among ourselves are the failures of that wisdom whereby He fashions the human nature, as we speak of the failure of a less perfect workman? Accordingly, it ought not to seem absurd to us, that as in individual races there are monstrous births, so in the whole race there are monstrous races. Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.
But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled. For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man. Wherefore let us seek if we can find the city of God that sojourns on earth among those human races who are catalogued as having been divided into seventy-two nations and as many languages. For it continued down to the deluge and the ark, and is proved to have existed still among the sons of Noah by their blessings, and chiefly in the eldest son Shem; for Japheth received this blessing, that he should dwell in the tents of Shem.
It is necessary, therefore, to preserve the series of generations descending from Shem, for the sake of exhibiting the city of God after the flood; as before the flood it was exhibited in the series of generations descending from Seth. And therefore does divine Scripture, after exhibiting the earthly city as Babylon or
Confusion, revert to the patriarch Shem, and recapitulate the generations from him to Abraham, specifying besides, the year in which each father begot the son that belonged to this line, and how long he lived. And unquestionably it is this which fulfills the promise I made, that it should appear why it is said of the sons of Heber,
The name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided. Genesis 10:25 For what can we understand by the division of the earth, if not the diversity of languages? And, therefore, omitting the other sons of Shem, who are not concerned in this matter, Scripture gives the genealogy of those by whom the line runs on to Abraham, as before the flood those are given who carried on the line to Noah from Seth. Accordingly this series of generations begins thus:
These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood. And Shem lived after he begot Arphaxad five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters. In like manner it registers the rest, naming the year of his life in which each begot the son who belonged to that line which extends to Abraham. It specifies, too, how many years he lived thereafter, begetting sons and daughters, that we may not childishly suppose that the men named were the only men, but may understand how the population increased, and how regions and kingdoms so vast could be populated by the descendants of Shem; especially the kingdom of Assyria, from which Ninus subdued the surrounding nations, reigning with brilliant prosperity, and bequeathing to his descendants a vast but thoroughly consolidated empire, which held together for many centuries.
But to avoid needless prolixity, we shall mention not the number of years each member of this series lived, but only the year of his life in which he begot his heir, that we may thus reckon the number of years from the flood to Abraham, and may at the same time leave room to touch briefly and cursorily upon some other matters necessary to our argument. In the second year, then, after the flood, Shem when he was a hundred years old begot Arphaxad; Arphaxad when he was 135 years old begot Cainan; Cainan when he was 130 years begot Salah. Salah himself, too, was the same age when he begot Eber. Eber lived 134 years, and begot Peleg, in whose days the earth was divided. Peleg himself lived 130 years, and begot Reu; and Reu lived 132 years, and begot Serug; Serug 130, and begot Nahor; and Nahor 79, and begot Terah; and Terah 70, and begot Abram, whose name God afterwards changed into Abraham. There are thus from the flood to Abraham 1072 years, according to the Vulgate or Septuagint versions. In the Hebrew copies far fewer years are given; and for this either no reason or a not very credible one is given.
When, therefore, we look for the city of God in these seventy-two nations, we cannot affirm that while they had but one lip, that is, one language, the human race had departed from the worship of the true God, and that genuine godliness had survived only in those generations which descend from Shem through Arphaxad and reach to Abraham; but from the time when they proudly built a tower to heaven, a symbol of godless exaltation, the city or society of the wicked becomes apparent. Whether it was only disguised before, or non-existent; whether both cities remained after the flood,— the godly in the two sons of Noah who were blessed, and in their posterity, and the ungodly in the cursed son and his descendants, from whom sprang that mighty hunter against the Lord,— is not easily determined. For possibly— and certainly this is more credible— there were despisers of God among the descendants of the two sons, even before Babylon was founded, and worshippers of God among the descendants of Ham. Certainly neither race was ever obliterated from earth. For in both the Psalms in which it is said,
They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one, we read further,
Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord. There was then a people of God even at that time. And therefore the words,
There is none that does good, no, not one, were said of the sons of men, not of the sons of God. For it had been previously said, men, that is, all who belong to the city which lives according to man, not according to God, are reprobate.
Wherefore, as the fact of all using one language did not secure the absence of sin-infected men from the race—for even before the deluge there was one language, and yet all but the single family of just Noah were found worthy of destruction by the flood,— so when the nations, by a prouder godlessness, earned the punishment of the dispersion and the confusion of tongues, and the city of the godless was called Confusion or Babylon, there was still the house of Heber in which the primitive language of the race survived. And therefore, as I have already mentioned, when an enumeration is made of the sons of Shem, who each founded a nation, Heber is first mentioned, although he was of the fifth generation from Shem. And because, when the other races were divided by their own peculiar languages, his family preserved that language which is not unreasonably believed to have been the common language of the race, it was on this account thenceforth named Hebrew. For it then became necessary to distinguish this language from the rest by a proper name; though, while there was only one, it had no other name than the language of man, or human speech, it alone being spoken by the whole human race. Some one will say: If the earth was divided by languages in the days of Peleg, Heber's son, that language, which was formerly common to all, should rather have been called after Peleg. But we are to understand that Heber himself gave to his son this name Peleg, which means Division; because he was born when the earth was divided, that is, at the very time of the division, and that this is the meaning of the words,
In his days the earth was divided. Genesis 10:25 For unless Heber had been still alive when the languages were multiplied, the language which was preserved in his house would not have been called after him. We are induced to believe that this was the primitive and common language, because the multiplication and change of languages was introduced as a punishment, and it is fit to ascribe to the people of God an immunity from this punishment. Nor is it without significance that this is the language which Abraham retained, and that he could not transmit it to all his descendants, but only to those of Jacob's line, who distinctively and eminently constituted God's people, and received His covenants, and were Christ's progenitors according to the flesh. In the same way, Heber himself did not transmit that language to all his posterity, but only to the line from which Abraham sprang. And thus, although it is not expressly stated, that when the wicked were building Babylon there was a godly seed remaining, this indistinctness is intended to stimulate research rather than to elude it. For when we see that originally there was one common language, and that Heber is mentioned before all Shem's sons, though he belonged to the fifth generation from him, and that the language which the patriarchs and prophets used, not only in their conversation, but in the authoritative language of Scripture, is called Hebrew, when we are asked where that primitive and common language was preserved after the confusion of tongues, certainly, as there can be no doubt that those among whom it was preserved were exempt from the punishment it embodied, what other suggestion can we make, than that it survived in the family of him whose name it took, and that this is no small proof of the righteousness of this family, that the punishment with which the other families were visited did not fall upon it?
But yet another question is mooted: How did Heber and his son Peleg each found a nation, if they had but one language? For no doubt the Hebrew nation propagated from Heber through Abraham, and becoming through him a great people, is one nation. How, then, are all the sons of the three branches of Noah's family enumerated as founding a nation each, if Heber and Peleg did not so? It is very probable that the giant Nimrod founded also his nation, and that Scripture has named him separately on account of the extraordinary dimensions of his empire and of his body, so that the number of seventy-two nations remains. But Peleg was mentioned, not because he founded a nation (for his race and language are Hebrew), but on account of the critical time at which he was born, all the earth being then divided. Nor ought we to be surprised that the giant Nimrod lived to the time in which Babylon was founded and the confusion of tongues occurred, and the consequent division of the earth. For though Heber was in the sixth generation from Noah, and Nimrod in the fourth, it does not follow that they could not be alive at the same time. For when the generations are few, they live longer and are born later; but when they are many, they live a shorter time, and come into the world earlier. We are to understand that, when the earth was divided, the descendants of Noah who are registered as founders of nations were not only already born, but were of an age to have immense families, worthy to be called tribes or nations. And therefore we must by no means suppose that they were born in the order in which they were set down; otherwise, how could the twelve sons of Joktan, another son of Heber's, and brother of Peleg, have already founded nations, if Joktan was born, as he is registered, after his brother Peleg, since the earth was divided at Peleg's birth? We are therefore to understand that, though Peleg is named first, he was born long after Joktan, whose twelve sons had already families so large as to admit of their being divided by different languages. There is nothing extraordinary in the last born being first named: of the sons of Noah, the descendants of Japheth are first named; then the sons of Ham, who was the second son; and last the sons of Shem, who was the first and oldest. Of these nations the names have partly survived, so that at this day we can see from whom they have sprung, as the Assyrians from Assur, the Hebrews from Heber, but partly have been altered in the lapse of time, so that the most learned men, by profound research in ancient records, have scarcely been able to discover the origin, I do not say of all, but of some of these nations. There is, for example, nothing in the name Egyptians to show that they are descended from Misraim, Ham's son, nor in the name Ethiopians to show a connection with Cush, though such is said to be the origin of these nations. And if we take a general survey of the names, we shall find that more have been changed than have remained the same.
Let us now survey the progress of the city of God from the era of the patriarch Abraham, from whose time it begins to be more conspicuous, and the divine promises which are now fulfilled in Christ are more fully revealed. We learn, then, from the intimations of holy Scripture, that Abraham was born in the country of the Chaldeans, a land belonging to the Assyrian empire. Now, even at that time impious superstitions were rife with the Chaldeans, as with other nations. The family of Terah, to which Abraham belonged, was the only one in which the worship of the true God survived, and the only one, we may suppose, in which the Hebrew language was preserved; although Joshua the son of Nun tells us that even this family served other gods in Mesopotamia. Joshua 24:2 The other descendants of Heber gradually became absorbed in other races and other languages. And thus, as the single family of Noah was preserved through the deluge of water to renew the human race, so, in the deluge of superstition that flooded the whole world, there remained but the one family of Terah in which the seed of God's city was preserved. And as, when Scripture has enumerated the generations prior to Noah, with their ages, and explained the cause of the flood before God began to speak to Noah about the building of the ark, it is said,
These are the generations of Noah; so also now, after enumerating the generations from Shem, Noah's son, down to Abraham, it then signalizes an era by saying,
These are the generations of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. Genesis 11:27-29 This Iscah is supposed to be the same as Sarah, Abraham's wife.
Next it is related how Terah with his family left the region of the Chaldeans and came into Mesopotamia, and dwelt in Haran. But nothing is said about one of his sons called Nahor, as if he had not taken him along with him. For the narrative runs thus:
And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarah his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and led them forth out of the region of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; and he came into Haran, and dwelt there. Genesis 11:31 Nahor and Milcah his wife are nowhere named here. But afterwards, when Abraham sent his servant to take a wife for his son Isaac, we find it thus written:
And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his lord, and of all the goods of his lord, with him; and arose, and went into Mesopotamia, into the city of Nahor. Genesis 24:10 This and other testimonies of this sacred history show that Nahor, Abraham's brother, had also left the region of the Chaldeans, and fixed his abode in Mesopotamia, where Abraham dwelt with his father. Why, then, did the Scripture not mention him, when Terah with his family went forth out of the Chaldean nation and dwelt in Haran, since it mentions that he took with him not only Abraham his son, but also Sarah his daughter-in-law, and Lot his grandson? The only reason we can think of is, that perhaps he had lapsed from the piety of his father and brother, and adhered to the superstition of the Chaldeans, and had afterwards emigrated thence, either through penitence, or because he was persecuted as a suspected person. For in the book called Judith, when Holofernes, the enemy of the Israelites, inquired what kind of nation that might be, and whether war should be made against them, Achior, the leader of the Ammonites, answered him thus:
Let our lord now hear a word from the mouth of your servant, and I will declare unto you the truth concerning the people which dwells near you in this hill country, and there shall no lie come out of the mouth of your servant. For this people is descended from the Chaldeans, and they dwelt heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, which were glorious in the land of the Chaldeans, but went out of the way of their ancestors, and adored the God of heaven, whom they knew; and they cast them out from the face of their gods, and they fled into Mesopotamia, and dwelt there many days. And their God said to them, that they should depart from their habitation, and go into the land of Canaan; and they dwelt, etc., as Achior the Ammonite narrates. Whence it is manifest that the house of Terah had suffered persecution from the Chaldeans for the true piety with which they worshipped the one and true God.
On Terah's death in Mesopotamia, where he is said to have lived 205 years, the promises of God made to Abraham now begin to be pointed out; for thus it is written:
And the days of Terah in Haran were two hundred and five years, and he died in Haran. Genesis 11:32 This is not to be taken as if he had spent all his days there, but that he there completed the days of his life, which were two hundred and five years: otherwise it would not be known how many years Terah lived, since it is not said in what year of his life he came into Haran; and it is absurd to suppose that, in this series of generations, where it is carefully recorded how many years each one lived, his age was the only one not put on record. For although some whom the same Scripture mentions have not their age recorded, they are not in this series, in which the reckoning of time is continuously indicated by the death of the parents and the succession of the children. For this series, which is given in order from Adam to Noah, and from him down to Abraham, contains no one without the number of the years of his life.
When, after the record of the death of Terah, the father of Abraham, we next read,
And the Lord said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, Genesis 12:1 etc., it is not to be supposed, because this follows in the order of the narrative, that it also followed in the chronological order of events. For if it were so, there would be an insoluble difficulty. For after these words of God which were spoken to Abraham, the Scripture says:
And Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him. Now Abraham was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran. Genesis 12:4 How can this be true if he departed from Haran after his father's death? For when Terah was seventy years old, as is intimated above, he begot Abraham; and if to this number we add the seventy-five years which Abraham reckoned when he went out of Haran, we get 145 years. Therefore that was the number of the years of Terah, when Abraham departed out of that city of Mesopotamia; for he had reached the seventy-fifth year of his life, and thus his father, who begot him in the seventieth year of his life, had reached, as was said, his 145th. Therefore he did not depart thence after his father's death, that is, after the 205 years his father lived; but the year of his departure from that place, seeing it was his seventy-fifth, is inferred beyond a doubt to have been the 145th of his father, who begot him in his seventieth year. And thus it is to be understood that the Scripture, according to its custom, has gone back to the time which had already been passed by the narrative; just as above, when it had mentioned the grandsons of Noah, it said that they were in their nations and tongues; and yet afterwards, as if this also had followed in order of time, it says,
And the whole earth was of one lip, and one speech for all. Genesis 11:1 How, then, could they be said to be in their own nations and according to their own tongues, if there was one for all; except because the narrative goes back to gather up what it had passed over? Here, too, in the same way, after saying,
And the days of Terah in Haran were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran, the Scripture, going back to what had been passed over in order to complete what had been begun about Terah, says,
And the Lord said to Abram, Get you out of your country, Genesis 12:1 etc. After which words of God it is added,
And Abram departed, as the Lord spoke unto him; and Lot went with him. But Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran. Therefore it was done when his father was in the 145th year of his age; for it was then the seventy-fifth of his own. But this question is also solved in another way, that the seventy-five years of Abraham when he departed out of Haran are reckoned from the year in which he was delivered from the fire of the Chaldeans, not from that of his birth, as if he was rather to be held as having been born then.
Now the blessed Stephen, in narrating these things in the Acts of the Apostles, says:
The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, and come into the land which I will show you. Acts 7:2-3 According to these words of Stephen, God spoke to Abraham, not after the death of his father, who certainly died in Haran, where his son also dwelt with him, but before he dwelt in that city, although he was already in Mesopotamia. Therefore he had already departed from the Chaldeans. So that when Stephen adds,
Then Abraham went out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran, Acts 7:4 this does not point out what took place after God spoke to him (for it was not after these words of God that he went out of the land of the Chaldeans, since he says that God spoke to him in Mesopotamia), but the word
then which he uses refers to that whole period from his going out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelling in Haran. Likewise in what follows,
And thenceforth, when his father was dead, he settled him in this land, wherein ye now dwell, and your fathers, he does not say, after his father was dead he went out from Haran; but thenceforth he settled him here, after his father was dead. It is to be understood, therefore, that God had spoken to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran; but that he came to Haran with his father, keeping in mind the precept of God, and that he went out thence in his own seventy-fifth year, which was his father's 145th. But he says that his settlement in the land of Canaan, not his going forth from Haran, took place after his father's death; because his father was already dead when he purchased the land, and personally entered on possession of it. But when, on his having already settled in Mesopotamia, that is, already gone out of the land of the Chaldeans, God says,
Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, Genesis 12:1 this means, not that he should cast out his body from thence, for he had already done that, but that he should tear away his soul. For he had not gone out from thence in mind, if he was held by the hope and desire of returning—a hope and desire which was to be cut off by God's command and help, and by his own obedience. It would indeed be no incredible supposition that afterwards, when Nahor followed his father, Abraham then fulfilled the precept of the Lord, that he should depart out of Haran with Sarah his wife and Lot his brother's son.
God's promises made to Abraham are now to be considered; for in these the oracles of our God, that is, of the true God, began to appear more openly concerning the godly people, whom prophetic authority foretold. The first of these reads thus:
And the Lord said unto Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, and go into a land that I will show you: and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and magnify your name; and you shall be blessed: and I will bless them that bless you, and curse them that curse you: and in you shall all tribes of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3 Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said,
Go into a land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation; but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words,
And in you shall all tribes of the earth be blessed. Eusebius thought this promise was made in Abraham's seventy-fifth year, as if soon after it was made Abraham had departed out of Haran because the Scripture cannot be contradicted in which we read,
Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. But if this promise was made in that year, then of course Abraham was staying in Haran with his father; for he could not depart thence unless he had first dwelt there. Does this, then, contradict what Stephen says,
The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran? Acts 7:2 But it is to be understood that the whole took place in the same year—both the promise of God before Abraham dwelt in Haran, and his dwelling in Haran, and his departure thence—not only because Eusebius in the Chronicles reckons from the year of this promise, and shows that after 430 years the exodus from Egypt took place, when the law was given, but because the Apostle Paul also mentions it.
During the same period there were three famous kingdoms of the nations, in which the city of the earth-born, that is, the society of men living according to man under the domination of the fallen angels, chiefly flourished, namely, the three kingdoms of Sicyon, Egypt, and Assyria. Of these, Assyria was much the most powerful and sublime; for that king Ninus, son of Belus, had subdued the people of all Asia except India. By Asia I now mean not that part which is one province of this greater Asia, but what is called Universal Asia, which some set down as the half, but most as the third part of the whole world—the three being Asia, Europe, and Africa, thereby making an unequal division. For the part called Asia stretches from the south through the east even to the north; Europe from the north even to the west; and Africa from the west even to the south. Thus we see that two, Europe and Africa, contain one half of the world, and Asia alone the other half. And these two parts are made by the circumstance, that there enters between them from the ocean all the Mediterranean water, which makes this great sea of ours. So that, if you divide the world into two parts, the east and the west, Asia will be in the one, and Europe and Africa in the other. So that of the three kingdoms then famous, one, namely Sicyon, was not under the Assyrians, because it was in Europe; but as for Egypt, how could it fail to be subject to the empire which ruled all Asia with the single exception of India? In Assyria, therefore, the dominion of the impious city had the pre-eminence. Its head was Babylon—an earth-born city, most fitly named, for it means confusion. There Ninus reigned after the death of his father Belus, who first had reigned there sixty-five years. His son Ninus, who, on his father's death, succeeded to the kingdom, reigned fifty-two years, and had been king forty-three years when Abraham was born, which was about the 1200th year before Rome was founded, as it were another Babylon in the west.
Abraham, then, having departed out of Haran in the seventy-fifth year of his own age, and in the hundred and forty-fifth of his father's, went with Lot, his brother's son, and Sarah his wife, into the land of Canaan, and came even to Sichem, where again he received the divine oracle, of which it is thus written:
And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto your seed will I give this land. Genesis 12:7 Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed.
Having built an altar there, and called upon God, Abraham proceeded thence and dwelt in the desert, and was compelled by pressure of famine to go on into Egypt. There he called his wife his sister, and told no lie. For she was this also, because she was near of blood; just as Lot, on account of the same nearness, being his brother's son, is called his brother. Now he did not deny that she was his wife, but held his peace about it, committing to God the defence of his wife's chastity, and providing as a man against human wiles; because if he had not provided against the danger as much as he could, he would have been tempting God rather than trusting in Him. We have said enough about this matter against the calumnies of Faustus the Manichæan. At last what Abraham had expected the Lord to do took place. For Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who had taken her to him as his wife, restored her to her husband on being severely plagued. And far be it from us to believe that she was defiled by lying with another; because it is much more credible that, by these great afflictions, Pharaoh was not permitted to do this.
On Abraham's return out of Egypt to the place he had left, Lot, his brother's son, departed from him into the land of Sodom, without breach of charity. For they had grown rich, and began to have many herdmen of cattle, and when these strove together, they avoided in this way the pugnacious discord of their families. Indeed, as human affairs go, this cause might even have given rise to some strife between themselves. Consequently these are the words of Abraham to Lot, when taking precaution against this evil,
Let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdmen and your herdmen; for we be brethren. Behold, is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me: if you will go to the left hand, I will go to the right; or if you will go to the right hand, I will go to the left. Genesis 13:8-9 From this, perhaps, has arisen a pacific custom among men, that when there is any partition of earthly things, the greater should make the division, the less the choice.
Now, when Abraham and Lot had separated, and dwelt apart, owing to the necessity of supporting their families, and not to vile discord, and Abraham was in the land of Canaan, but Lot in Sodom, the Lord said to Abraham in a third oracle,
Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you now are, to the north, and to Africa, and to the east, and to the sea; for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed for ever. And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: if any one can number the dust of the earth, your seed shall also be numbered. Arise, and walk through the land, in the length of it, and in the breadth of it; for unto you will I give it. Genesis 13:14-17 It does not clearly appear whether in this promise that also is contained by which he is made the father of all nations. For the clause,
And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth, may seem to refer to this, being spoken by that figure the Greeks call hyperbole, which indeed is figurative, not literal. But no person of understanding can doubt in what manner the Scripture uses this and other figures. For that figure (that is, way of speaking) is used when what is said is far larger than what is meant by it; for who does not see how incomparably larger the number of the dust must be than that of all men can be from Adam himself down to the end of the world? How much greater, then, must it be than the seed of Abraham—not only that pertaining to the nation of Israel, but also that which is and shall be according to the imitation of faith in all nations of the whole wide world! For that seed is indeed very small in comparison with the multitude of the wicked, although even those few of themselves make an innumerable multitude, which by a hyperbole is compared to the dust of the earth. Truly that multitude which was promised to Abraham is not innumerable to God, although to man; but to God not even the dust of the earth is so. Further, the promise here made may be understood not only of the nation of Israel, but of the whole seed of Abraham, which may be fitly compared to the dust for multitude, because regarding it also there is the promise of many children, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. But we have therefore said that this does not clearly appear, because the multitude even of that one nation, which was born according to the flesh of Abraham through his grandson Jacob, has increased so much as to fill almost all parts of the world. Consequently, even it might by hyperbole be compared to the dust for multitude, because even it alone is innumerable by man. Certainly no one questions that only that land is meant which is called Canaan. But that saying,
To you will I give it, and to your seed for ever, may move some, if by
for ever they understand
to eternity. But if in this passage they take
for ever thus, as we firmly hold it means that the beginning of the world to come is to be ordered from the end of the present, there is still no difficulty, because, although the Israelites are expelled from Jerusalem, they still remain in other cities in the land of Canaan, and shall remain even to the end; and when that whole land is inhabited by Christians, they also are the very seed of Abraham.
Having received this oracle of promise, Abraham migrated, and remained in another place of the same land, that is, beside the oak of Mamre, which was Hebron. Then on the invasion of Sodom, when five kings carried on war against four, and Lot was taken captive with the conquered Sodomites, Abraham delivered him from the enemy, leading with him to battle three hundred and eighteen of his home-born servants, and won the victory for the kings of Sodom, but would take nothing of the spoils when offered by the king for whom he had won them. He was then openly blessed by Melchizedek, who was priest of God Most High, about whom many and great things are written in the epistle which is inscribed to the Hebrews, which most say is by the Apostle Paul, though some deny this. For then first appeared the sacrifice which is now offered to God by Christians in the whole wide world, and that is fulfilled which long after the event was said by the prophet to Christ, who was yet to come in the flesh,
You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, — that is to say, not after the order of Aaron, for that order was to be taken away when the things shone forth which were intimated beforehand by these shadows.
The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision also. For when God promised him protection and exceeding great reward, he, being solicitous about posterity, said that a certain Eliezer of Damascus, born in his house, would be his heir. Immediately he was promised an heir, not that house-born servant, but one who was to come forth of Abraham himself; and again a seed innumerable, not as the dust of the earth, but as the stars of heaven,— which rather seems to me a promise of a posterity exalted in celestial felicity. For, so far as multitude is concerned, what are the stars of heaven to the dust of the earth, unless one should say the comparison is like inasmuch as the stars also cannot be numbered? For it is not to be believed that all of them can be seen. For the more keenly one observes them, the more does he see. So that it is to be supposed some remain concealed from the keenest observers, to say nothing of those stars which are said to rise and set in another part of the world most remote from us. Finally, the authority of this book condemns those like Aratus or Eudoxus, or any others who boast that they have found out and written down the complete number of the stars. Here, indeed, is set down that sentence which the apostle quotes in order to commend the grace of God, circumcision should glory, and be unwilling to receive the uncircumcised nations to the faith of Christ. For at the time when he believed, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness, Abraham had not yet been circumcised.
In the same vision, God in speaking to him also says,
I am God that brought you out of the region of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it. Genesis 15:7 And when Abram asked whereby he might know that he should inherit it, God said to him,
Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another; but the birds divided he not. And the fowls came down, as it is written,
on the carcasses, and Abram sat down by them. But about the going down of the sun, great fear fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And He said unto Abram, Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and they shall reduce them to servitude and shall afflict them four hundred years: but the nation whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterward shall they come out hither with great substance. And you shall go to your fathers in peace; kept in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And when the sun was setting, there was a flame, and a smoking furnace, and lamps of fire, that passed through between those pieces. In that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto your seed will I give this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river Euphrates: the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites. Genesis 15:9-21
All these things were said and done in a vision from God; but it would take long, and would exceed the scope of this work, to treat of them exactly in detail. It is enough that we should know that, after it was said Abram believed in God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, he did not fail in faith in saying, know, as if he did not yet believe; but he says,
Whereby shall I know, meaning that some sign might be given by which he might know the manner of those things which he had believed, just as it is not for lack of faith the Virgin Mary says,
How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Luke 1:34 for she inquired as to the way in which that should take place which she was certain would come to pass. And when she asked this, she was told,
The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Luke 1:35 Here also, in fine, a symbol was given, consisting of three animals, a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, and two birds, a turtle-dove and pigeon, that he might know that the things which he had not doubted should come to pass were to happen in accordance with this symbol. Whether, therefore, the heifer was a sign that the people should be put under the law, the she-goat that the same people was to become sinful, the ram that they should reign (and these animals are said to be of three years old for this reason, that there are three remarkable divisions of time, from Adam to Noah, and from him to Abraham, and from him to David, who, on the rejection of Saul, was first established by the will of the Lord in the kingdom of the Israelite nation: in this third division, which extends from Abraham to David, that people grew up as if passing through the third age of life), or whether they had some other more suitable meaning, still I have no doubt whatever that spiritual things were prefigured by them as well as by the turtle-dove and pigeon. And it is said,
But the birds divided he not, because carnal men are divided among themselves, but the spiritual not at all, whether they seclude themselves from the busy conversation of men, like the turtle-dove, or dwell among them, like the pigeon; for both birds are simple and harmless, signifying that even in the Israelite people, to which that land was to be given, there would be individuals who were children of the promise, and heirs of the kingdom that is to remain in eternal felicity. But the fowls coming down on the divided carcasses represent nothing good, but the spirits of this air, seeking some food for themselves in the division of carnal men. But that Abraham sat down with them, signifies that even amid these divisions of the carnal, true believers shall persevere to the end. And that about the going down of the sun great fear fell upon Abraham and a horror of great darkness, signifies that about the end of this world believers shall be in great perturbation and tribulation, of which the Lord said in the gospel,
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning. Matthew 24:21
But what is said to Abraham,
Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and they shall reduce them to servitude, and shall afflict them 400 years, is most clearly a prophecy about the people of Israel which was to be in servitude in Egypt. Not that this people was to be in that servitude under the oppressive Egyptians for 400 years, but it is foretold that this should take place in the course of those 400 years. For as it is written of Terah the father of Abraham,
And the days of Terah in Haran were 205 years, Genesis 11:32 not because they were all spent there, but because they were completed there, so it is said here also,
And they shall reduce them to servitude, and shall afflict them 400 years, for this reason, because that number was completed, not because it was all spent in that affliction. The years are said to be 400 in round numbers, although they were a little more—whether you reckon from this time, when these things were promised to Abraham, or from the birth of Isaac, as the seed of Abraham, of which these things are predicted. For, as we have already said above, from the seventy-fifth year of Abraham, when the first promise was made to him, down to the exodus of Israel from Egypt, there are reckoned 430 years, which the apostle thus mentions:
And this I say, that the covenant confirmed by God, the law, which was made 430 years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. Galatians 3:17 So then these 430 years might be called 400, because they are not much more, especially since part even of that number had already gone by when these things were shown and said to Abraham in vision, or when Isaac was born in his father's 100th year, twenty-five years after the first promise, when of these 430 years there now remained 405, which God was pleased to call 400. No one will doubt that the other things which follow in the prophetic words of God pertain to the people of Israel.
When it is added,
And when the sun was now setting there was a flame, and lo, a smoking furnace, and lamps of fire, which passed through between those pieces, this signifies that at the end of the world the carnal shall be judged by fire. For just as the affliction of the city of God, such as never was before, which is expected to take place under Antichrist, was signified by Abraham's horror of great darkness about the going down of the sun, that is, when the end of the world draws near—so at the going down of the sun, that is, at the very end of the world, there is signified by that fire the day of judgment, which separates the carnal who are to be saved by fire from those who are to be condemned in the fire. And then the covenant made with Abraham particularly sets forth the land of Canaan, and names eleven tribes in it from the river of Egypt even to the great river Euphrates. It is not then from the great river of Egypt, that is, the Nile, but from a small one which separates Egypt from Palestine, where the city of Rhinocorura is.
And here follow the times of Abraham's sons, the one by Hagar the bond maid, the other by Sarah the free woman, about whom we have already spoken in the previous book. As regards this transaction, Abraham is in no way to be branded as guilty concerning this concubine, for he used her for the begetting of progeny, not for the gratification of lust; and not to insult, but rather to obey his wife, who supposed it would be solace of her barrenness if she could make use of the fruitful womb of her handmaid to supply the defect of her own nature, and by that law of which the apostle says,
Likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife, 1 Corinthians 7:4 could, as a wife, make use of him for childbearing by another, when she could not do so in her own person. Here there is no wanton lust, no filthy lewdness. The handmaid is delivered to the husband by the wife for the sake of progeny, and is received by the husband for the sake of progeny, each seeking, not guilty excess, but natural fruit. And when the pregnant bond woman despised her barren mistress, and Sarah, with womanly jealousy, rather laid the blame of this on her husband, even then Abraham showed that he was not a slavish lover, but a free begetter of children, and that in using Hagar he had guarded the chastity of Sarah his wife, and had gratified her will and not his own—had received her without seeking, had gone in to her without being attached, had impregnated without loving her—for he says,
Behold your maid is in your hands: do to her as it pleases you; Genesis 16:6 a man able to use women as a man should—his wife temperately, his handmaid compliantly, neither intemperately!
After these things Ishmael was born of Hagar; and Abraham might think that in him was fulfilled what God had promised him, saying, when he wished to adopt his home-born servant,
This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth of you, he shall be your heir. Genesis 15:4 Therefore, lest he should think that what was promised was fulfilled in the handmaid's son,
when Abram was ninety years old and nine, God appeared to him, and said unto him, I am God; be well-pleasing in my sight, and be without complaint, and I will make my covenant between me and you, and will fill you exceedingly.
Here there are more distinct promises about the calling of the nations in Isaac, that is, in the son of the promise, by which grace is signified, and not nature; for the son is promised from an old man and a barren old woman. For although God effects even the natural course of procreation, yet where the agency of God is manifest, through the decay or failure of nature, grace is more plainly discerned. And because this was to be brought about, not by generation, but by regeneration, circumcision was enjoined now, when a son was promised of Sarah. And by ordering all, not only sons, but also home-born and purchased servants to be circumcised, he testifies that this grace pertains to all. For what else does circumcision signify than a nature renewed on the putting off of the old? And what else does the eighth day mean than Christ, who rose again when the week was completed, that is, after the Sabbath? The very names of the parents are changed: all things proclaim newness, and the new covenant is shadowed forth in the old. For what does the term old covenant imply but the concealing of the new? And what does the term new covenant imply but the revealing of the old? The laughter of Abraham is the exultation of one who rejoices, not the scornful laughter of one who mistrusts. And those words of his in his heart,
Shall a son be born to me that am an hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? are not the words of doubt, but of wonder. And when it is said,
And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, if it troubles any one whether this is to be held as fulfilled, or whether its fulfilment may still be looked for, since no kind of earthly possession can be everlasting for any nation whatever, let him know that the word translated everlasting, by our writers is what the Greeks term αἰώ·νιον, which is derived from αἰὼ·ν, the Greek for sæculum, an age. But the Latins have not ventured to translate this by secular, lest they should change the meaning into something widely different. For many things are called secular which so happen in this world as to pass away even in a short time; but what is termed αἰω·νιον either has no end, or lasts to the very end of this world.
When it is said,
The male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people, because he has broken my covenant, Genesis 17:14 some may be troubled how that ought to be understood, since it can be no fault of the infant whose life it is said must perish; nor has the covenant of God been broken by him, but by his parents, who have not taken care to circumcise him. But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God's covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God's covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this:
In the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die. Genesis 2:17 Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus,
All flesh waxes old as does a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, You shall die the death. Sirach 15:17 Now, as the law was more plainly given afterward, and the apostle says,
Where no law is, there is no prevarication, Romans 4:15 on what supposition is what is said in the psalm true,
I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators, except that all who are held liable for any sin are accused of dealing deceitfully (prevaricating) with some law? If on this account, then, even the infants are, according to the true belief, born in sin, not actual but original, so that we confess they have need of grace for the remission of sins, certainly it must be acknowledged that in the same sense in which they are sinners they are also prevaricators of that law which was given in Paradise, according to the truth of both scriptures,
I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators, and
Where no law is, there is no prevarication. And thus, be cause circumcision was the sign of regeneration, and the infant, on account of the original sin by which God's covenant was first broken, was not undeservedly to lose his generation unless delivered by regeneration, these divine words are to be understood as if it had been said, Whoever is not born again, that soul shall perish from his people, because he has broken my covenant, since he also has sinned in Adam with all others. For had He said, Because he has broken this my covenant, He would have compelled us to understand by it only this of circumcision; but since He has not expressly said what covenant the infant has broken, we are free to understand Him as speaking of that covenant of which the breach can be ascribed to an infant. Yet if any one contends that it is said of nothing else than circumcision, that in it the infant has broken the covenant of God because, he is not circumcised, he must seek some method of explanation by which it may be understood without absurdity (such as this) that he has broken the covenant, because it has been broken in him although not by him. Yet in this case also it is to be observed that the soul of the infant, being guilty of no sin of neglect against itself, would perish unjustly, unless original sin rendered it obnoxious to punishment.
Now when a promise so great and clear was made to Abraham, in which it was so plainly said to him,
I have made you a father of many nations, and I will increase you exceedingly, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall go forth of you. And I will give you a son of Sarah; and I will bless him, and he shall become nations, and kings of nations shall be of him, — a promise which we now see fulfilled in Christ—from that time forward this couple are not called in Scripture, as formerly, Abram and Sarai, but Abraham and Sarah, as we have called them from the first, for every one does so now. The reason why the name of Abraham was changed is given:
For, He says,
I have made you a father of many nations. This, then, is to be understood to be the meaning of Abraham; but Abram, as he was formerly called, means
exalted father. The reason of the change of Sarah's name is not given; but as those say who have written interpretations of the Hebrew names contained in these books, Sarah means
my princess, and Sarai
strength. Whence it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews,
Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed. Hebrews 11:11 For both were old, as the Scripture testifies; but she was also barren, and had ceased to menstruate, so that she could no longer bear children even if she had not been barren. Further, if a woman is advanced in years, yet still retains the custom of women, she can bear children to a young man, but not to an old man, although that same old man can beget, but only of a young woman; as after Sarah's death Abraham could of Keturah, because he met with her in her lively age. This, then, is what the apostle mentions as wonderful, saying, besides, that Abraham's body was now dead; Hebrews 11:12 because at that age he was no longer able to beget children of any woman who retained now only a small part of her natural vigor. Of course we must understand that his body was dead only to some purposes, not to all; for if it was so to all, it would no longer be the aged body of a living man, but the corpse of a dead one. Although that question, how Abraham begot children of Keturah, is usually solved in this way, that the gift of begetting which he received from the Lord, remained even after the death of his wife, yet I think that solution of the question which I have followed is preferable, because, although in our days an old man of a hundred years can beget children of no woman, it was not so then, when men still lived so long that a hundred years did not yet bring on them the decrepitude of old age.
God appeared again to Abraham at the oak of Mamre in three men, who it is not to be doubted were angels, although some think that one of them was Christ, and assert that He was visible before He put on flesh. Now it belongs to the divine power, and invisible, incorporeal, and incommutable nature, without changing itself at all, to appear even to mortal men, not by what it is, but by what is subject to it. And what is not subject to it? Yet if they try to establish that one of these three was Christ by the fact that, although he saw three, he addressed the Lord in the singular, as it is written,
And, lo, three men stood by him: and, when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent-door, and worshipped toward the ground, and said, Lord, if I have found favor before you, Genesis 18:2-3 etc.; why do they not advert to this also, that when two of them came to destroy the Sodomites, while Abraham still spoke to one, calling him Lord, and interceding that he would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked in Sodom, Lot received these two in such a way that he too in his conversation with them addressed the Lord in the singular? For after saying to them in the plural,
Behold, my lords, turn aside into your servant's house, Genesis 19:2 etc., yet it is afterwards said,
And the angels laid hold upon his hand, and the hand of his wife, and the hands of his two daughters, because the Lord was merciful unto him. And it came to pass, whenever they had led him forth abroad, that they said, Save your life; look not behind you, neither stay in all this region: save yourself in the mountain, lest you be caught. And Lot said unto them, I pray you, Lord, since your servant has found grace in your sight, Genesis 19:16-19 etc. And then after these words the Lord also answered him in the singular, although He was in two angels, saying,
See, I have accepted your face, Genesis 19:21 etc. This makes it much more credible that both Abraham in the three men and Lot in the two recognized the Lord, addressing Him in the singular number, even when they were addressing men; for they received them as they did for no other reason than that they might minister human refection to them as men who needed it. Yet there was about them something so excellent, that those who showed them hospitality as men could not doubt that God was in them as He was wont to be in the prophets, and therefore sometimes addressed them in the plural, and sometimes God in them in the singular. But that they were angels the Scripture testifies, not only in this book of Genesis, in which these transactions are related, but also in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where in praising hospitality it is said,
For thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2 By these three men, then, when a son Isaac was again promised to Abraham by Sarah, such a divine oracle was also given that it was said,
Abraham shall become a great and numerous nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. Genesis 18:18 And here these two things, are promised with the utmost brevity and fullness—the nation of Israel according to the flesh, and all nations according to faith.
After this promise Lot was delivered out of Sodom, and a fiery rain from heaven turned into ashes that whole region of the impious city, where custom had made sodomy as prevalent as laws have elsewhere made other kinds of wickedness. But this punishment of theirs was a specimen of the divine judgment to come. For what is meant by the angels forbidding those who were delivered to look back, but that we are not to look back in heart to the old life which, being regenerated through grace, we have put off, if we think to escape the last judgment? Lot's wife, indeed, when she looked back, remained, and, being turned into salt, furnished to believing men a condiment by which to savor somewhat the warning to be drawn from that example. Then Abraham did again at Gerar, with Abimelech the king of that city, what he had done in Egypt about his wife, and received her back untouched in the same way. On this occasion, when the king rebuked Abraham for not saying she was his wife, and calling her his sister, he explained what he had been afraid of, and added this further, And yet indeed she is my sister by the father's side, but not by the mother's; Genesis 20:12 for she was Abraham's sister by his own father, and so near of kin. But her beauty was so great, that even at that advanced age she could be fallen in love with.
After these things a son was born to Abraham, according to God's promise, of Sarah, and was called Isaac, which means laughter. For his father had laughed when he was promised to him, in wondering delight, and his mother, when he was again promised by those three men, had laughed, doubting for joy; yet she was blamed by the angel because that laughter, although it was for joy, yet was not full of faith. Afterwards she was confirmed in faith by the same angel. From this, then, the boy got his name. For when Isaac was born and called by that name, Sarah showed that her laughter was not that of scornful reproach, but that of joyful praise; for she said,
God has made me to laugh, so that every one who hears will laugh with me. Genesis 21:6 Then in a little while the bond maid was cast out of the house with her son; and, according to the apostle, these two women signify the old and new covenants—Sarah representing that of the Jerusalem which is above, that is, the city of God. Galatians 4:24-26
Among other things, of which it would take too long time to mention the whole, Abraham was tempted about the offering up of his well-beloved son Isaac, to prove his pious obedience, and so make it known to the world, not to God. Now every temptation is not blame-worthy; it may even be praise-worthy, because it furnishes probation. And, for the most part, the human mind cannot attain to self-knowledge otherwise than by making trial of its powers through temptation, by some kind of experimental and not merely verbal self-interrogation; when, if it has acknowledged the gift of God, it is pious, and is consolidated by steadfast grace and not puffed up by vain boasting. Of course Abraham could never believe that God delighted in human sacrifices; yet when the divine commandment thundered, it was to be obeyed, not disputed. Yet Abraham is worthy of praise, because he all along believed that his son, on being offered up, would rise again; for God had said to him, when he was unwilling to fulfill his wife's pleasure by casting out the bond maid and her son,
In Isaac shall your seed be called. No doubt He then goes on to say,
And as for the son of this bond woman, I will make him a great nation, because he is your seed. Genesis 21:12-13 How then is it said
In Isaac shall your seed be called, when God calls Ishmael also his seed? The apostle, in explaining this, says,
In Isaac shall your seed be called, that is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Romans 9:7-8 In order, then, that the children of the promise may be the seed of Abraham, they are called in Isaac, that is, are gathered together in Christ by the call of grace. Therefore the father, holding fast from the first the promise which behooved to be fulfilled through this son whom God had ordered him to slay, did not doubt that he whom he once thought it hopeless he should ever receive would be restored to him when he had offered him up. It is in this way the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews is also to be understood and explained.
By faith, he says,
Abraham overcame, when tempted about Isaac: and he who had received the promise offered up his only son, to whom it was said, In Isaac shall your seed be called: thinking that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; therefore he has added,
from whence also he received him in a similitude. Hebrews 11:17-19 In whose similitude but His of whom the apostle says,
He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all? Romans 8:32 And on this account Isaac also himself carried to the place of sacrifice the wood on which he was to be offered up, just as the Lord Himself carried His own cross. Finally, since Isaac was not to be slain, after his father was forbidden to smite him, who was that ram by the offering of which that sacrifice was completed with typical blood? For when Abraham saw him, he was caught by the horns in a thicket. What, then, did he represent but Jesus, who, before He was offered up, was crowned with thorns by the Jews?
But let us rather hear the divine words spoken through the angel. For the Scripture says,
And Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife, that he might slay his son. And the Angel of the Lord called unto him from heaven, and said, Abraham. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do anything unto him: for now I know that you fear God, and have not spared your beloved son for my sake. Genesis 22:10-12 It is said,
Now I know, that is, Now I have made to be known; for God was not previously ignorant of this. Then, having offered up that ram instead of Isaac his son,
called the name of that place The Lord sees: as they say this day, In the mount the Lord has appeared. Genesis 22:14 As it is said,
Now I know, for Now I have made to be known, so here,
The Lord sees, for The Lord has appeared, that is, made Himself to be seen.
And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham from heaven the second time, saying, By myself have I sworn, says the Lord; because you have done this thing, and have not spared your beloved son for my sake; that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and your seed shall possess by inheritance the cities of the adversaries: and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice. Genesis 22:15-18 In this manner is that promise concerning the calling of the nations in the seed of Abraham confirmed even by the oath of God, after that burnt-offering which typified Christ. For He had often promised, but never sworn. And what is the oath of God, the true and faithful, but a confirmation of the promise, and a certain reproof to the unbelieving?
After these things Sarah died, in the 127th year of her life, and the 137th of her husband for he was ten years older than she, as he himself says, when a son is promised to him by her:
Shall a son be born to me that am an hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? Genesis 17:17 Then Abraham bought a field, in which he buried his wife. And then, according to Stephen's account, he was settled in that land, entering then on actual possession of it—that is, after the death of his father, who is inferred to have died two years before.
Isaac married Rebecca, the grand-daughter of Nahor, his father's brother, when he was forty years old, that is, in the 140th year of his father's life, three years after his mother's death. Now when a servant was sent to Mesopotamia by his father to fetch her, and when Abraham said to that servant,
Put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the Lord of the earth, that you shall not take a wife unto my son Isaac of the daughters of the Canaanites, Genesis 24:2-3 what else was pointed out by this, but that the Lord, the God of heaven, and the Lord of the earth, was to come in the flesh which was to be derived from that thigh? Are these small tokens of the foretold truth which we see fulfilled in Christ?
What did Abraham mean by marrying Keturah after Sarah's death? Far be it from us to suspect him of incontinence, especially when he had reached such an age and such sanctity of faith. Or was he still seeking to beget children, though he held fast, with most approved faith, the promise of God that his children should be multiplied out of Isaac as the stars of heaven and the dust of the earth? And yet, if Hagar and Ishmael, as the apostle teaches us, signified the carnal people of the old covenant, why may not Keturah and her sons also signify the carnal people who think they belong to the new covenant? For both are called both the wives and the concubines of Abraham; but Sarah is never called a concubine (but only a wife). For when Hagar is given to Abraham, it is written.
And Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abraham had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. Genesis 16:3 And of Keturah, whom he took after Sarah's departure, we read,
Then again Abraham took a wife, whose name was Keturah. Genesis 25:1 Lo! Both are called wives, yet both are found to have been concubines; for the Scripture afterward says,
And Abraham gave his whole estate unto Isaac his son. But unto the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from his son Isaac, (while he yet lived,) eastward, unto the east country. Genesis 25:5-6 Therefore the sons of the concubines, that is, the heretics and the carnal Jews, have some gifts, but do not attain the promised kingdom;
For they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed, of whom it was said, In Isaac shall your seed be called. Romans 9:7-8 For I do not see why Keturah, who was married after the wife's death, should be called a concubine, except on account of this mystery. But if any one is unwilling to put such meanings on these things, he need not calumniate Abraham. For what if even this was provided against the heretics who were to be the opponents of second marriages, so that it might be shown that it was no sin in the case of the father of many nations himself, when, after his wife's death, he married again? And Abraham died when he was 175 years old, so that he left his son Isaac seventy-five years old, having begotten him when 100 years old.
Let us now see how the times of the city of God run on from this point among Abraham's descendants. In the time from the first year of Isaac's life to the seventieth, when his sons were born, the only memorable thing is, that when he prayed God that his wife, who was barren, might bear, and the Lord granted what he sought, and she conceived, the twins leapt while still enclosed in her womb. And when she was troubled by this struggle, and inquired of the Lord, she received this answer:
Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall overcome the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger. Genesis 25:23 The Apostle Paul would have us understand this as a great instance of grace; Romans 9:10-13 for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, the younger is chosen without any good desert and the elder is rejected, when beyond doubt, as regards original sin, both were alike, and as regards actual sin, neither had any. But the plan of the work on hand does not permit me to speak more fully of this matter now, and I have said much about it in other works. Only that saying,
The elder shall serve the younger, is understood by our writers, almost without exception, to mean that the elder people, the Jews, shall serve the younger people, the Christians. And truly, although this might seem to be fulfilled in the Idumean nation, which was born of the elder (who had two names, being called both Esau and Edom, whence the name Idumeans), because it was afterwards to be overcome by the people which sprang from the younger, that is, by the Israelites, and was to become subject to them; yet it is more suitable to believe that, when it was said,
The one people shall overcome the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger, that prophecy meant some greater thing; and what is that except what is evidently fulfilled in the Jews and Christians?
Isaac also received such an oracle as his father had often received. Of this oracle it is thus written:
And there was a famine over the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; but dwell in the land which I shall tell you of. And abide in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you: unto you and unto your seed I will give all this land; and I will establish mine oath, which I swore unto Abraham your father: and I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto your seed all this land: and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because that Abraham your father obeyed my voice, and kept my precepts, my commandments, my righteousness, and my laws. Genesis 26:1-5 This patriarch neither had another wife, nor any concubine, but was content with the twin-children begotten by one act of generation. He also was afraid, when he lived among strangers, of being brought into danger owing to the beauty of his wife, and did like his father in calling her his sister, and not telling that she was his wife; for she was his near blood-relation by the father's and mother's side. She also remained untouched by the strangers, when it was known she was his wife. Yet we ought not to prefer him to his father because he knew no woman besides his one wife. For beyond doubt the merits of his father's faith and obedience were greater, inasmuch as God says it is for his sake He does Isaac good:
In your seed, He says,
shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because that Abraham your father obeyed my voice, and kept my precepts, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. And again in another oracle He says,
I am the God of Abraham your father: fear not, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your seed for my servant Abraham's sake. Genesis 26:24 So that we must understand how chastely Abraham acted, because imprudent men, who seek some support for their own wickedness in the Holy Scriptures, think he acted through lust. We may also learn this, not to compare men by single good things, but to consider everything in each; for it may happen that one man has something in his life and character in which he excels another, and it may be far more excellent than that in which the other excels him. And thus, according to sound and true judgment, while continence is preferable to marriage, yet a believing married man is better than a continent unbeliever; for the unbeliever is not only less praiseworthy, but is even highly detestable. We must conclude, then, that both are good; yet so as to hold that the married man who is most faithful and most obedient is certainly better than the continent man whose faith and obedience are less. But if equal in other things, who would hesitate to prefer the continent man to the married?
Isaac's two sons, Esau and Jacob, grew up together. The primacy of the elder was transferred to the younger by a bargain and agreement between them, when the elder immoderately lusted after the lentiles the younger had prepared for food, and for that price sold his birthright to him, confirming it with an oath. We learn from this that a person is to be blamed, not for the kind of food he eats, but for immoderate greed. Isaac grew old, and old age deprived him of his eyesight. He wished to bless the elder son, and instead of the elder, who was hairy, unwittingly blessed the younger, who put himself under his father's hands, having covered himself with kid-skins, as if bearing the sins of others. Lest we should think this guile of Jacob's was fraudulent guile, instead of seeking in it the mystery of a great thing, the Scripture has predicted in the words just before,
Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a simple man, dwelling at home. Genesis 25:27 Some of our writers have interpreted this,
without guile. But whether the Greek ἄλαστος means
without guile, or
simple, or rather
without reigning, in the receiving of that blessing what is the guile of the man without guile? What is the guile of the simple, what the fiction of the man who does not lie, but a profound mystery of the truth? But what is the blessing itself?
See, he says,
the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord has blessed: therefore God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitfulness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine: let nations serve you, and princes adore you: and be lord of your brethren, and let your father's sons adore you: cursed be he that curses you, and blessed be he that blesses you. Genesis 27:27-29 The blessing of Jacob is therefore a proclamation of Christ to all nations. It is this which has come to pass, and is now being fulfilled. Isaac is the law and the prophecy: even by the mouth of the Jews Christ is blessed by prophecy as by one who knows not, because it is itself not understood. The world like a field is filled with the odor of Christ's name: His is the blessing of the dew of heaven, that is, of the showers of divine words; and of the fruitfulness of the earth, that is, of the gathering together of the peoples: His is the plenty of grain and wine, that is, the multitude that gathers bread and wine in the sacrament of His body and blood. Him the nations serve, Him princes adore. He is the Lord of His brethren, because His people rules over the Jews. Him His Father's sons adore, that is, the sons of Abraham according to faith; for He Himself is the son of Abraham according to the flesh. He is cursed that curses Him, and he that blesses Him is blessed. Christ, I say, who is ours is blessed, that is, truly spoken of out of the mouths of the Jews, when, although erring, they yet sing the law and the prophets, and think they are blessing another for whom they erringly hope. So, when the elder son claims the promised blessing, Isaac is greatly afraid, and wonders when he knows that he has blessed one instead of the other, and demands who he is; yet he does not complain that he has been deceived, yea, when the great mystery is revealed to him, in his secret heart he at once eschews anger, and confirms the blessing.
Who then, he says,
has hunted me venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before you came, and have blessed him, and he shall be blessed? Genesis 27:33 Who would not rather have expected the curse of an angry man here, if these things had been done in an earthly manner, and not by inspiration from above? O things done, yet done prophetically; on the earth, yet celestially; by men, yet divinely! If everything that is fertile of so great mysteries should be examined carefully, many volumes would be filled; but the moderate compass fixed for this work compels us to hasten to other things.
Jacob was sent by his parents to Mesopotamia that he might take a wife there. These were his father's words on sending him:
You shall not take a wife of the daughters of the Canaanites. Arise, fly to Mesopotamia, to the house of Bethuel, your mother's father, and take you a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother. And my God bless you, and increase you, and multiply you; and you shall be an assembly of peoples; and give to you the blessing of Abraham your father, and to your seed after you; that you may inherit the land wherein you dwell, which God gave unto Abraham. Genesis 28:1-4 Now we understand here that the seed of Jacob is separated from Isaac's other seed which came through Esau. For when it is said,
In Isaac shall your seed be called, Genesis 21:12 by this seed is meant solely the city of God; so that from it is separated Abraham's other seed, which was in the son of the bond woman, and which was to be in the sons of Keturah. But until now it had been uncertain regarding Isaac's twin-sons whether that blessing belonged to both or only to one of them; and if to one, which of them it was. This is now declared when Jacob is prophetically blessed by his father, and it is said to him,
And you shall be an assembly of peoples, and God give to you the blessing of Abraham your father.
When Jacob was going to Mesopotamia, he received in a dream an oracle, of which it is thus written:
And Jacob went out from the well of the oath, and went to Haran. And he came to a place, and slept there, for the sun was set; and he took of the stones of the place, and put them at his head, and slept in that place, and dreamed. And behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God ascended and descended by it. And the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; fear not: the land whereon you sleep, to you will I give it, and to your seed; and your seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and it shall be spread abroad to the sea, and to Africa, and to the north, and to the east: and all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your seed. And, behold, I am with you, to keep you in all your way wherever you go, and I will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done all which I have spoken to you of. And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob arose, and took the stone that he had put under his head there, and set it up for a memorial, and poured oil upon the top of it. And Jacob called the name of that place the house of God. Genesis 28:10-19 This is prophetic. For Jacob did not pour oil on the stone in an idolatrous way, as if making it a god; neither did he adore that stone, or sacrifice to it. But since the name of Christ comes from the chrism or anointing, something pertaining to the great mystery was certainly represented in this. And the Saviour Himself is understood to bring this latter to remembrance in the gospel, when He says of Nathanael,
Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! John 1:47, 51 because Israel who saw this vision is no other than Jacob. And in the same place He says,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Jacob went on to Mesopotamia to take a wife from thence. And the divine Scripture points out how, without unlawfully desiring any of them, he came to have four women, of whom he begot twelve sons and one daughter; for he had come to take only one. But when one was falsely given him in place of the other, he did not send her away after unwittingly using her in the night, lest he should seem to have put her to shame; but as at that time, in order to multiply posterity, no law forbade a plurality of wives, he took her also to whom alone he had promised marriage. As she was barren, she gave her handmaid to her husband that she might have children by her; and her elder sister did the same thing in imitation of her, although she had borne, because she desired to multiply progeny. We do not read that Jacob sought any but one, or that he used many, except for the purpose of begetting offspring, saving conjugal rights; and he would not have done this, had not his wives, who had legitimate power over their own husband's body, urged him to do it. So he begot twelve sons and one daughter by four women. Then he entered into Egypt by his son Joseph, who was sold by his brethren for envy, and carried there, and who was there exalted.
As I said a little ago, Jacob was also called Israel, the name which was most prevalent among the people descended from him. Now this name was given him by the angel who wrestled with him on the way back from Mesopotamia, and who was most evidently a type of Christ. For when Jacob overcame him, doubtless with his own consent, that the mystery might be represented, it signified Christ's passion, in which the Jews are seen overcoming Him. And yet he besought a blessing from the very angel he had overcome; and so the imposition of this name was the blessing. For Israel means seeing God, which will at last be the reward of all the saints. The angel also touched him on the breadth of the thigh when he was overcoming him, and in that way made him lame. So that Jacob was at one and the same time blessed and lame: blessed in those among that people who believed in Christ, and lame in the unbelieving. For the breadth of the thigh is the multitude of the family. For there are many of that race of whom it was prophetically said beforehand,
And they have halted in their paths.
Seventy-five men are reported to have entered Egypt along with Jacob, counting him with his children. In this number only two women are mentioned, one a daughter, the other a grand-daughter. But when the thing is carefully considered, it does not appear that Jacob's offspring was so numerous on the day or year when he entered Egypt. There are also included among them the great-grandchildren of Joseph, who could not possibly be born already. For Jacob was then 130 years old, and his son Joseph thirty-nine and as it is plain that he took a wife when he was thirty or more, how could he in nine years have great-grandchildren by the children whom he had by that wife? Now since, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, could not even have children, for Jacob found them boys under nine years old when he entered Egypt, in what way are not only their sons but their grandsons reckoned among those seventy-five who then entered Egypt with Jacob? For there is reckoned there Machir the son of Manasseh, grandson of Joseph, and Machir's son, that is, Gilead, grandson of Manasseh, great-grandson of Joseph; there, too, is he whom Ephraim, Joseph's other son, begot, that is, Shuthelah, grandson of Joseph, and Shuthelah's son Ezer, grandson of Ephraim, and great-grand-son of Joseph, who could not possibly be in existence when Jacob came into Egypt, and there found his grandsons, the sons of Joseph, their grandsires, still boys under nine years of age. But doubtless, when the Scripture mentions Jacob's entrance into Egypt with seventy-five souls, it does not mean one day, or one year, but that whole time as long as Joseph lived, who was the cause of his entrance. For the same Scripture speaks thus of Joseph:
And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his brethren, and all his father's house: and Joseph lived 110 years, and saw Ephraim's children of the third generation. Genesis 50:22-23 That is, his great-grandson, the third from Ephraim; for the third generation means son, grandson, great-grandson. Then it is added,
The children also of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born upon Joseph's knees. Genesis 50:23 And this is that grandson of Manasseh, and great-grandson of Joseph. But the plural number is employed according to scriptural usage; for the one daughter of Jacob is spoken of as daughters, just as in the usage of the Latin tongue liberi is used in the plural for children even when there is only one. Now, when Joseph's own happiness is proclaimed, because he could see his great-grandchildren, it is by no means to be thought they already existed in the thirty-ninth year of their great-grandsire Joseph, when his father Jacob came to him in Egypt. But those who diligently look into these things will the less easily be mistaken, because it is written, Genesis 46:8 For this means that the seventy-five are reckoned along with him, not that they were all with him when he entered Egypt; for, as I have said, the whole period during which Joseph, who occasioned his entrance, lived, is held to be the time of that entrance.
If, on account of the Christian people in whom the city of God sojourns in the earth, we look for the flesh of Christ in the seed of Abraham, setting aside the sons of the concubines, we have Isaac; if in the seed of Isaac, setting aside Esau, who is also Edom, we have Jacob, who also is Israel; if in the seed of Israel himself, setting aside the rest, we have Judah, because Christ sprang of the tribe of Judah. Let us hear, then, how Israel, when dying in Egypt, in blessing his sons, prophetically blessed Judah. He says:
Judah, your brethren shall praise you: your hands shall be on the back of your enemies; your father's children shall adore you. Judah is a lion's cub: from the sprouting, my son, you are gone up: lying down, you have slept as a lion, and as a lion's cub; who shall awake him? A prince shall not be lacking out of Judah, and a leader from his thighs, until the things come that are laid up for him; and He shall be the expectation of the nations. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's foal to the choice vine; he shall wash his robe in wine, and his clothes in the blood of the grape: his eyes are red with wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk. Genesis 49:8-12 I have expounded these words in disputing against Faustus the Manichæan; and I think it is enough to make the truth of this prophecy shine, to remark that the death of Christ is predicted by the word about his lying down, and not the necessity, but the voluntary character of His death, in the title of lion. That power He Himself proclaims in the gospel, saying,
I have the power of laying down my life, and I have the power of taking it again. No man takes it from me; but I lay it down of myself, and take it again. John 10:18 So the lion roared, so He fulfilled what He said. For to this power what is added about the resurrection refers,
Who shall awake him? This means that no man but Himself has raised Him, who also said of His own body,
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. John 2:19 And the very nature of His death, that is, the height of the cross, is understood by the single words
You are gone up. The evangelist explains what is added,
Lying down, you have slept, when he says,
He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost. John 19:30 Or at least His burial is to be understood, in which He lay down sleeping, and whence no man raised Him, as the prophets did some, and as He Himself did others; but He Himself rose up as if from sleep. As for His robe which He washes in wine, that is, cleanses from sin in His own blood, of which blood those who are baptized know the mystery, so that he adds,
And his clothes in the blood of the grape, what is it but the Church?
And his eyes are red with wine, [these are] His spiritual people drunken with His cup, of which the psalm sings,
And your cup that makes drunken, how excellent it is!
And his teeth are whiter than milk, Genesis 49:12 — that is, the nutritive words which, according to the apostle, the babes drink, being as yet unfit for solid food. And it is He in whom the promises of Judah were laid up, so that until they come, princes, that is, the kings of Israel, shall never be lacking out of Judah.
And He is the expectation of the nations. This is too plain to need exposition.
Now, as Isaac's two sons, Esau and Jacob, furnished a type of the two people, the Jews and the Christians (although as pertains to carnal descent it was not the Jews but the Idumeans who came of the seed of Esau, nor the Christian nations but rather the Jews who came of Jacob's; for the type holds only as regards the saying,
The elder shall serve the younger Genesis 25:23), so the same thing happened in Joseph's two sons; for the elder was a type of the Jews, and the younger of the Christians. For when Jacob was blessing them, and laid his right hand on the younger, who was at his left, and his left hand on the elder, who was at his right, this seemed wrong to their father, and he admonished his father by trying to correct his mistake and show him which was the elder. But he would not change his hands, but said,
I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be exalted; but his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. Genesis 48:19 And these two promises show the same thing. For that one is to become
a people; this one
a multitude of nations. And what can be more evident than that these two promises comprehend the people of Israel, and the whole world of Abraham's seed, the one according to the flesh, the other according to faith?
Jacob being dead, and Joseph also, during the remaining 144 years until they went out of the land of Egypt, that nation increased to an incredible degree, even although wasted by so great persecutions, that at one time the male children were murdered at their birth, because the wondering Egyptians were terrified at the too great increase of that people. Then Moses, being stealthily kept from the murderers of the infants, was brought to the royal house, God preparing to do great things by him, and was nursed and adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh (that was the name of all the kings of Egypt), and became so great a man that he— yea, rather God, who had promised this to Abraham, by him— drew that nation, so wonderfully multiplied, out of the yoke of hardest and most grievous servitude it had borne there. At first, indeed, he fled thence (we are told he fled into the land of Midian), because, in defending an Israelite, he had slain an Egyptian, and was afraid. Afterward, being divinely commissioned in the power of the Spirit of God, he overcame the magi of Pharaoh who resisted him. Then, when the Egyptians would not let God's people go, ten memorable plagues were brought by Him upon them—the water turned into blood, the frogs and lice, the flies, the death of the cattle, the boils, the hail, the locusts, the darkness, the death of the first-born. At last the Egyptians were destroyed in the Red Sea while pursuing the Israelites, whom they had let go when at length they were broken by so many great plagues. The divided sea made a way for the Israelites who were departing, but, returning on itself, it overwhelmed their pursuers with its waves. Then for forty years the people of God went through the desert, under the leadership of Moses, when the tabernacle of testimony was dedicated, in which God was worshipped by sacrifices prophetic of things to come, and that was after the law had been very terribly given in the mount, for its divinity was most plainly attested by wonderful signs and voices. This took place soon after the exodus from Egypt, when the people had entered the desert, on the fiftieth day after the passover was celebrated by the offering up of a lamb, which is so completely a type of Christ, foretelling that through His sacrificial passion He should go from this world to the Father (for pascha in, the Hebrew tongue means transit), that when the new covenant was revealed, after Christ our passover was offered up, the Holy Spirit came from heaven on the fiftieth day; and He is called in the gospel the Finger of God, because He recalls to our remembrance the things done before by way of types, and because the tables of that law are said to have been written by the finger of God.
On the death of Moses, Joshua the son of Nun ruled the people, and led them into the land of promise, and divided it among them. By these two wonderful leaders wars were also carried on most prosperously and wonderfully, God calling to witness that they had got these victories not so much on account of the merit of the Hebrew people as on account of the sins of the nations they subdued. After these leaders there were judges, when the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel. And it was to prefigure this that it was not Moses, who received the law for the people on Mount Sinai, that led the people into the land of promise, but Joshua, whose name also was changed at God's command, so that he was called Jesus. But in the times of the judges prosperity alternated with adversity in war, according as the sins of the people and the mercy of God were displayed.
We come next to the times of the kings. The first who reigned was Saul; and when he was rejected and laid low in battle, and his offspring rejected so that no kings should arise out of it, David succeeded to the kingdom, whose son Christ is chiefly called. He was made a kind of starting-point and beginning of the advanced youth of God's people, who had passed a kind of age of puberty from Abraham to this David. And it is not in vain that the evangelist Matthew records the generations in such a way as to sum up this first period from Abraham to David in fourteen generations. For from the age of puberty man begins to be capable of generation; therefore he starts the list of generations from Abraham, who also was made the father of many nations when he got his name changed. So that previously this family of God's people was in its childhood, from Noah to Abraham; and for that reason the first language was then learned, that is, the Hebrew. For man begins to speak in childhood, the age succeeding infancy, which is so termed because then he cannot speak. And that first age is quite drowned in oblivion, just as the first age of the human race was blotted out by the flood; for who is there that can remember his infancy? Wherefore in this progress of the city of God, as the previous book contained that first age, so this one ought to contain the second and third ages, in which third age, as was shown by the heifer of three years old, the she-goat of three years old, and the ram of three years old, the yoke of the law was imposed, and there appeared abundance of sins, and the beginning of the earthly kingdom arose, in which there were not lacking spiritual men, of whom the turtledove and pigeon represented the mystery.
Source. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120116.htm>.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.