The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 12: Abraham in Canaan
After Abraham returned from a victorious battle, he was
welcomed by Melchizedek, king of Salem, who brought forth
bread and wine for the refreshment of his army.
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Abraham returned to Canaan "very rich in cattle, in silver,
and in gold." Lot was still with him, and again they came
to Bethel, and pitched their tents by the altar which they had
before erected. They soon found that increased possessions brought
increased trouble. In the midst of hardships and trials they had
dwelt together in harmony, but in their prosperity there was
danger of strife between them. The pasturage was not sufficient
for the flocks and herds of both, and the frequent disputes among
the herdsmen were brought for settlement to their masters. It
was evident that they must separate. Abraham was Lot's senior
in years, and his superior in relation, in wealth, and in position;
yet he was the first to propose plans for preserving peace.
Although the whole land had been given him by God Himself, he
courteously waived this right.
"Let there be no strife," he said, "between me and thee, and
between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is
not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee,
from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the
right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the
Here the noble, unselfish spirit of Abraham was displayed.
How many under similar circumstances would, at all hazards,
cling to their individual rights and preferences! How many
households have thus been rent asunder! How many churches
have been divided, making the cause of truth a byword and a
reproach among the wicked! "Let there be no strife between me
and thee," said Abraham, "for we be brethren;" not only by
natural relationship, but as worshipers of the true God. The
children of God the world over are one family, and the same
spirit of love and conciliation should govern them. "Be kindly [p. 133]
affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor
preferring one another" (Romans 12:10), is the teaching of our
Saviour. The cultivation of a uniform courtesy, a willingness to
do to others as we would wish them to do to us, would annihilate
half the ills of life. The spirit of self-aggrandizement is the
spirit of Satan; but the heart in which the love of Christ is
cherished, will possess that charity which seeketh not her own. Such
will heed the divine injunction, "Look not every man on his
own things, but every man also on the things of others." Philippians 2:4.
Although Lot owed his prosperity to his connection with
Abraham, he manifested no gratitude to his benefactor. Courtesy
would have dictated that he yield the choice to Abraham, but instead
of this he selfishly endeavored to grasp all its advantages.
He "lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it
was well watered everywhere, . . . even as the garden of the
Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar." The
most fertile region in all Palestine was the Jordan Valley, reminding
the beholders of the lost Paradise and equaling the beauty and
productiveness of the Nile-enriched plains they had so lately left.
There were cities also, wealthy and beautiful, inviting to profitable
traffic in their crowded marts. Dazzled with visions of worldly
gain, Lot overlooked the moral and spiritual evils that would be
encountered there. The inhabitants of the plain were "sinners
before the Lord exceedingly;" but of this he was ignorant, or,
knowing, gave it but little weight. He "chose him all the plain
of Jordan," and "pitched his tent toward Sodom." How little
did he foresee the terrible results of that selfish choice!
After the separation from Lot, Abraham again received from
the Lord a promise of the whole country. Soon after this he removed
to Hebron, pitching his tent under the oaks of Mamre
and erecting beside it an altar to the Lord. In the free air of those
upland plains, with their olive groves and vineyards, their fields
of waving grain, and the wide pasture grounds of the encircling
hills, he dwelt, well content with his simple, patriarchal life, and
leaving to Lot the perilous luxury of the vale of Sodom.
Abraham was honored by the surrounding nations as a mighty
prince and a wise and able chief. He did not shut away his
influence from his neighbors. His life and character, in their
marked contrast with those of the worshipers of idols, exerted a [p. 134] telling influence in favor of the true faith. His allegiance to God
was unswerving, while his affability and benevolence inspired
confidence and friendship and his unaffected greatness commanded
respect and honor.
His religion was not held as a precious treasure to be jealously
guarded and enjoyed solely by the possessor. True religion cannot
be thus held, for such a spirit is contrary to the principles of
the gospel. While Christ is dwelling in the heart it is impossible
to conceal the light of His presence, or for that light to grow
dim. On the contrary, it will grow brighter and brighter as day
by day the mists of selfishness and sin that envelop the soul are
dispelled by the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness.
The people of God are His representatives upon the earth,
and He intends that they shall be lights in the moral darkness of
this world. Scattered all over the country, in the towns, cities,
and villages, they are God's witnesses, the channels through
which He will communicate to an unbelieving world the knowledge
of His will and the wonders of His grace. It is His plan that
all who are partakers of the great salvation shall be missionaries
for Him. The piety of the Christian constitutes the standard by
which worldlings judge the gospel. Trials patiently borne, blessings
gratefully received, meekness, kindness, mercy, and love,
habitually exhibited, are the lights that shine forth in the character
before the world, revealing the contrast with the darkness
that comes of the selfishness of the natural heart.
Rich in faith, noble in generosity, unfaltering in obedience,
and humble in the simplicity of his pilgrim life, Abraham was
also wise in diplomacy and brave and skillful in war. Notwithstanding
he was known as the teacher of a new religion, three
royal brothers, rulers of the Amorite plains in which he dwelt,
manifested their friendship by inviting him to enter into an alliance
with them for greater security; for the country was filled
with violence and oppression. An occasion soon arose for him to
avail himself of this alliance.
Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, had invaded Canaan fourteen
years before, and made it tributary to him. Several of the princes
now revolted, and the Elamite king, with four allies, again
marched into the country to reduce them to submission. Five
kings of Canaan joined their forces and met the invaders in the
vale of Siddim, but only to be completely overthrown. A large [p. 135] part of the army was cut to pieces, and those who escaped fled
for safety to the mountains. The victors plundered the cities of
the plain and departed with rich spoil and many captives, among
whom were Lot and his family.
Abraham, dwelling in peace in the oak groves at Mamre,
learned from one of the fugitives the story of the battle and the
calamity that had befallen his nephew. He had cherished no unkind
memory of Lot's ingratitude. All his affection for him was
awakened, and he determined that he should be rescued. Seeking,
first of all, divine counsel, Abraham prepared for war. From his
own encampment he summoned three hundred and eighteen
trained servants, men trained in the fear of God, in the service
of their master, and in the practice of arms. His confederates,
Mamre, Eschol, and Aner, joined him with their bands, and together
they started in pursuit of the invaders. The Elamites and
their allies had encamped at Dan, on the northern border of
Canaan. Flushed with victory, and having no fear of an assault
from their vanquished foes, they had given themselves up to revealing.
The patriarch divided his force so as to approach from different.
directions, and came upon the encampment by night. His
attack, so vigorous and unexpected, resulted in speedy victory.
The king of Elam was slain and his panic-stricken forces were
utterly routed. Lot and his family, with all the prisoners and
their goods, were recovered, and a rich booty fell into the hands
of the victors. To Abraham, under God, the triumph was due.
The worshiper of Jehovah had not only rendered a great service
to the country, but had proved himself a man of valor. It was
seen that righteousness is not cowardice, and that Abraham's
religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending
the oppressed. His heroic act gave him a widespread influence
among the surrounding tribes. On his return, the king
of Sodom came out with his retinue to honor the conqueror. He
bade him take the goods, begging only that the prisoners should
be restored. By the usage of war, the spoils belonged to the
conquerors; but Abraham had undertaken this expedition with no
purpose of gain, and he refused to take advantage of the unfortunate,
only stipulating that his confederates should receive the
portion to which they entitled.
Few, if subjected to such a test, would have shown themselves
as noble as did Abraham. Few would have resisted the temptation [p. 136] to secure so rich a booty. His example is a rebuke to self-seeking,
mercenary spirits. Abraham regarded the claims of justice and
humanity. His conduct illustrates the inspired maxim, "Thou
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Leviticus 19:18, "I have lifted
up my hand," he said, "unto the Lord, the most high God, the
possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread
even to a shoe latchet, and that I will not take anything that is
thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich." He
would give them no occasion to think that he had engaged in
warfare for the sake of gain, or to attribute his prosperity to their
gifts or favor. God had promised to bless Abraham, and to Him
the glory should be ascribed.
Another who came out to welcome the victorious patriarch
was Melchizedek, king of Salem, who brought forth bread and
wine for the refreshment of his army. As "priest of the most high
God," he pronounced a blessing upon Abraham, and gave thanks
to the Lord, who had wrought so great a deliverance by his servant.
And Abraham "gave him tithes of all."
Abraham gladly returned to his tents and his flocks, but his
mind was disturbed by harassing thoughts. He had been a man
of peace, so far as possible shunning enmity and strife; and with
horror he recalled the scene of carnage he had witnessed. But the
nations whose forces he had defeated would doubtless renew the
invasion of Canaan, and make him the special object of their
vengeance. Becoming thus involved in national quarrels, the
peaceful quiet of his life would be broken. Furthermore, he had
not entered upon the possession of Canaan, nor could he now
hope for an heir, to whom the promise might be fulfilled.
In a vision of the night the divine Voice was again heard.
"Fear not, Abram," were the words of the Prince of princes; "I
am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." But his mind
was so oppressed by forebodings that he could not now grasp
the promise with unquestioning confidence as heretofore. He
prayed for some tangible evidence that it would be fulfilled. And
how was the covenant promise to be realized, while the gift of a
son was withheld? "What wilt thou give me," he said, "seeing I
go childless?" "And, lo, one born in my house is mine heir." He
proposed to make his trusty servant Eliezer his son by adoption,
and the inheritor of his possessions. But he was assured that a [p. 137] child of his own was to be his heir. Then he was led outside his
tent, and told to look up to the unnumbered stars glittering in
the heavens; and as he did so, the words were spoken, "So shall
thy seed be." "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto
him for righteousness. "Romans 4:3.
Still the patriarch begged for some visible token as a
confirmation of his faith and as an evidence to after-generations that
God's gracious purposes toward them would be accomplished.
The Lord condescended to enter into a covenant with His
servant, employing such forms as were customary among men for
the ratification of a solemn engagement. By divine direction,
Abraham sacrificed a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, each three
years old, dividing the bodies and laying the pieces a little distance
apart. To these he added a turtledove and a young pigeon,
which, however, were not divided. This being done, he reverently
passed between the parts of the sacrifice, making a solemn
vow to God of perpetual obedience. Watchful and steadfast, he
remained beside the carcasses till the going down of the sun, to
guard them from being defiled or devoured by birds of prey.
About sunset he sank into a deep sleep; and, "lo, a horror of great
darkness fell upon him." And the voice of God was heard, bidding
him not to expect immediate possession of the Promised
Land, and pointing forward to the sufferings of his posterity before
their establishment in Canaan. The plan of redemption was
here opened to him, in the death of Christ, the great sacrifice,
and His coming in glory. Abraham saw also the earth restored to
its Eden beauty, to be given him for an everlasting possession, as
the final and complete fulfillment of the promise.
As a pledge of this covenant of God with men, a smoking
furnace and a burning lamp, symbols of the divine presence,
passed between the severed victims, totally consuming them. And
again a voice was heard by Abraham, confirming the gift of the
land of Canaan to his descendants, "from the river of Egypt unto
the great river, the river Euphrates."
When Abraham had been nearly twenty-five years in Canaan,
the Lord appeared unto him, and said, "I am the Almighty God;
walk before Me, and be thou perfect." In awe, the patriarch fell
upon his face, and the message continued: "Behold, My covenant
is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations." In [p. 138] token of the fulfillment of this covenant, his name, heretofore
called Abram, was changed to Abraham, which signifies, "father
of a great multitude." Sarai's name became Sarah—"princess;"
for, said the divine Voice, "she shall be a mother of nations; kings
of people shall be of her."
At this time the rite of circumcision was given to Abraham as
"a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being
uncircumcised." Romans 4:11. It was to be observed by the patriarch
and his descendants as a token that they were devoted to
the service of God and thus separated from idolaters, and that
God accepted them as His peculiar treasure. By this rite they
were pledged to fulfill, on their part, the conditions of the covenant
made with Abraham. They were not to contact marriages
with the heathen; for by so doing they would lose their reverence
for God and His holy law; they would be tempted to engage
in the sinful practices of other nations, and would be seduced
God conferred great honor upon Abraham. Angels of heaven
walked and talked with him as friend with friend. When judgments
were about to be visited upon Sodom, the fact was not
hidden from him, and he became an intercessor with God for
sinners. His interview with the angels presents also a beautiful
example of hospitality.
In the hot summer noontide the patriarch was sitting in his
tent door, looking out over the quiet landscape, when he saw in
the distance three travelers approaching. Before reaching his
tent, the strangers halted, as if consulting as to their course.
Without waiting for them to solicit favors, Abraham rose quickly,
and as they were apparently turning in another direction, he
hastened after them, and with the utmost courtesy urged them
to honor him by tarrying for refreshment. With his own hands
he brought water that they might wash the dust of travel from
their feet. He himself selected their food, and while they were
at rest under the cooling shade, an entertainment was made
ready, and he stood respectfully beside them while they partook
of his hospitality. This act of courtesy God regarded of sufficient
importance to record in His word; and a thousand years later it
was referred to by an inspired apostle: "Be not forgetful to entertain
strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
Abraham had seen in his guests only three tired wayfarers, [p. 139] little thinking that among them was One whom he might worship
without sin. But the true character of the heavenly messengers
was now revealed. Though they were on their way as ministers
of wrath, yet to Abraham, the man of faith, they spoke first of
blessings. Though God is strict to mark iniquity and to punish
transgression, He takes no delight in vengeance. The work of
destruction is a "strange work" to Him who is infinite in love.
"The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." Psalm
25:14. Abraham had honored God, and the Lord honored him,
taking him into His counsels, and revealing to him His purposes.
"Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" said the
Lord. "The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because
their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether
they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come
unto me; and if not, I will know." God knew well the measure
of Sodom's guilt; but He expressed Himself after the manner of
men, that the justice of His dealings might be understood. Before
bringing judgment upon the transgressors He would go Himself,
to institute an examination of their course; if they had not
passed the limits of divine mercy, He would still grant them
space for repentance.
Two of the heavenly messengers departed, leaving Abraham
alone with Him whom he now knew to be the Son of God. And
the man of faith pleaded for the inhabitants of Sodom. Once he
had saved them by his sword, now he endeavored to save them
by prayer. Lot and his household were still dwellers there; and
the unselfish love that prompted Abraham to their rescue from
the Elamites, now sought to save them, if it were God's will, from
the storm of divine judgment.
With deep reverence and humility he urged his plea: "I have
taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and
ashes." There was no self-confidence, no boasting of his own
righteousness. He did not claim favor on the ground of his obedience,
or of the sacrifices he had made in doing God's will. Himself
a sinner, he pleaded in the sinner's behalf. Such a spirit all
who approach God should possess. Yet Abraham manifested the
confidence of a child pleading with a loved father. He came
close to the heavenly Messenger, and fervently urged his petition.
Though Lot had become a dweller in Sodom, he did not partake
in the iniquity of its inhabitants. Abraham thought that in that
populous city there must be other worshipers of the true God. [p. 140] And in view of this he pleaded, "That be far from Thee, to do
after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: . . .
that be far from Thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do
right?" Abraham asked not once merely, but many times. Waxing
bolder as his requests were granted, he continued until he
gained the assurance that if even ten righteous persons could be
found in it, the city would be spared.
Love for perishing souls inspired Abraham's prayer. While
he loathed the sins of that corrupt city, he desired that the sinners
might be saved. His deep interest for Sodom shows the anxiety
that we should feel for the impenitent. We should cherish hatred
of sin, but pity and love for the sinner. All around us are souls
going down to ruin as hopeless, as terrible, as that which befell
Sodom. Every day the probation of some is closing. Every hour
some are passing beyond the reach of mercy. And where are the
voices of warning and entreaty to bid the sinner flee from this
fearful doom? Where are the hands stretched out to draw him
back from death? Where are those who with humility and
persevering faith are pleading with God for him?
The spirit of Abraham was the spirit of Christ. The Son of
God is Himself the great Intercessor in the sinner's behalf. He
who has paid the price for its redemption knows the worth of the
human soul. With an antagonism to evil such as can exist only
in a nature spotlessly pure, Christ manifested toward the sinner a
love which infinite goodness alone could conceive. In the agonies
of the crucifixion, Himself burdened with the awful weight of
the sins of the whole world, He prayed for His revilers and
murderers, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they
do." Luke 23:34.
Of Abraham it is written that "he was called the friend of
God," "the father of all them that believe." James 2:23; Romans
4:11. The testimony of God concerning this faithful patriarch is,
"Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments,
My statutes, and My laws." And again, "I know him, that
he will command his children and his household after him, and
they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment;
that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath
spoken of him." It was a high honor to which Abraham was
called, that of being the father of the people who for centuries
were the guardians and preservers of the truth of God for the [p. 141] world—of that people through whom all the nations of the earth
should be blessed in the advent of the promised Messiah. But
He who called the patriarch judged him worthy. It is God that
speaks. He who understands the thoughts afar off, and places the
right estimate upon men, says, "I know him." There would be
on the part of Abraham no betraying of the truth for selfish
purposes. He would keep the law and deal justly and righteously.
And he would not only fear the Lord himself, but would cultivate
religion in his home. He would instruct his family in righteousness.
The law of God would be the rule in his household.
Abraham's household comprised more than a thousand souls.
Those who were led by his teachings to worship the one God,
found a home in his encampment; and here, as in a school, they
received such instruction as would prepare them to be representatives
of the true faith. Thus a great responsibility rested upon him.
He was training heads of families, and his methods of government
would be carried out in the households over which they
In early times the father was the ruler and priest of his own
family, and he exercised authority over his children, even after
they had families of their own. His descendants were taught to
look up to him as their head, in both religious and secular matters.
This patriarchal system of government Abraham endeavored
to perpetuate, as it tended to preserve the knowledge of
God. It was necessary to bind the members of the household
together, in order to build up a barrier against the idolatry that
had become so widespread and so deep-seated. Abraham sought
by every means in his power to guard the inmates of his encampment
against mingling with the heathen and witnessing their
idolatrous practices, for he knew that familiarity with evil would
insensibly corrupt the principles. The greatest care was exercised
to shut out every form of false religion and to impress the mind
with the majesty and glory of the living God as the true object
It was a wise arrangement, which God Himself had made, to
cut off His people, so far as possible, from connection with the
heathen, making them a people dwelling alone, and not reckoned
among the nations. He had separated Abraham from his idolatrous
kindred, that the patriarch might train and educate his
family apart from the seductive influences which would have surrounded [p. 142] them in Mesopotamia, and that the true faith might be
preserved in its purity by his descendants from generation to
Abraham's affection for his children and his household led
him to guard their religious faith, to impart to them a knowledge
of the divine statutes, as the most precious legacy he could
transmit to them, and through them to the world. All were taught
that they were under the rule of the God of heaven. There was
to be no oppression on the part of parents and no disobedience
on the part of children. God's law had appointed to each his
duties, and only in obedience to it could any secure happiness or
His own example, the silent influence of his daily life, was a
constant lesson. The unswerving integrity, the benevolence and
unselfish courtesy, which had won the admiration of kings, were
displayed in the home. There was a fragrance about the life, a
nobility and loveliness of character, which revealed to all that he
was connected with Heaven. He did not neglect the soul of the
humblest servant. In his household there was not one law for the
master and another for the servant; a royal way for the rich and
another for the poor. All were treated with justice and compassion,
as inheritors with him of the grace of life.
"He will command his . . . household." There would be no
sinful neglect to restrain the evil propensities of his children, no
weak, unwise, indulgent favoritism; no yielding of his conviction
of duty to the claims of mistaken affection. Abraham would not
only give right instruction, but he would maintain the authority
of just and righteous laws.
How few there are in our day who follow this example! On
the part of too many parents there is a blind and selfish sentimentalism,
miscalled love, which is manifested in leaving children,
with their unformed judgment and undisciplined passions,
to the control of their own will. This is the veriest cruelty to the
youth and a great wrong to the world. Parental indulgence causes
disorder in families and in society. It confirms in the young the
desire to follow inclination, instead of submitting to the divine
requirements. Thus they grow up with a heart averse to doing
God's will, and they transmit their irreligious, insubordinate spirit
to their children and children's children. Like Abraham, parents
should command their households after them. Let obedience to [p. 143] parental authority be taught and enforced as the first step in
obedience to the authority of God.
The light esteem in which the law of God is held, even by
religious leaders, has been productive of great evil. The teaching
which has become so widespread, that the divine statutes are no
longer binding upon men, is the same as idolatry in its effect
upon the morals of the people. Those who seek to lessen the
claims of God's holy law are striking directly at the foundation
of the government of families and nations. Religious parents,
failing to walk in His statutes, do not command their household
to keep the way of the Lord. The law of God is not made the
rule of life. The children, as they make homes of their own, feel
under no obligation to teach their children what they themselves
have never been taught. And this is why there are so many godless
families; this is why depravity is so deep and widespread.
Not until parents themselves walk in the law of the Lord
with perfect hearts will they be prepared to command their children
after them. A reformation in this respect is needed—a reformation
which shall be deep and broad. Parents need to reform;
ministers need to reform; they need God in their households. If
they would see a different state of things, they must bring His
word into their families and must make it their counselor. They
must teach their children that it is the voice of God addressed to
them, and is to be implicitly obeyed. They should patiently instruct
their children, kindly and untiringly teach them how to
live in order to please God. The children of such a household are
prepared to meet the sophistries of infidelity. They have accepted
the Bible as the basis of their faith, and they have a foundation
that cannot be swept away by the incoming tide of skepticism.
In too many households prayer is neglected. Parents feel that
they have no time for morning and evening worship. They cannot
spare a few moments to be spent in thanksgiving to God for
His abundant mercies—for the blessed sunshine and the showers
of rain, which cause vegetation to flourish, and for the guardianship
of holy angels. They have no time to offer prayer for divine
help and guidance and for the abiding presence of Jesus in the
household. They go forth to labor as the ox or the horse goes,
without one thought of God or heaven. They have souls so precious
that rather than permit them to be hopelessly lost, the Son
of God gave His life to ransom them; but they have little more [p. 144] appreciation of His great goodness than have the beasts that
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Like the patriarchs of old, those who profess to love God
should erect an altar to the Lord wherever they pitch their tent.
If ever there was a time when every house should be a house of
prayer, it is now. Fathers and mothers should often lift up their
hearts to God in humble supplication for themselves and their
children. Let the father, as priest of the household, lay upon the
altar of God the morning and evening sacrifice, while the wife
and children unite in prayer and praise. In such a household Jesus
will love to tarry.
From every Christian home a holy light should shine forth.
Love should be revealed in action. It should flow out in all home
intercourse, showing itself in thoughtful kindness, in gentle,
unselfish courtesy. There are homes where this principle is carried
out—homes where God is worshiped and truest love reigns. From
these homes morning and evening prayer ascends to God as sweet
incense, and His mercies and blessings descend upon the suppliants
like the morning dew.
A well-ordered Christian household is a powerful argument
in favor of the reality of the Christian religion—an argument that
the infidel cannot gainsay. All can see that there is an influence
at work in the family that affects the children, and that the God
of Abraham is with them. If the homes of professed Christians
had a right religious mold, they would exert a mighty influence
for good. They would indeed be the "light of the world." The
God of heaven speaks to every faithful parent in the words
addressed to Abraham: "I know him, that he will command his
children and his household after him, and they shall keep the
way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord
may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him."
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