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Read the collected works of Louis Ginzberg.
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Legends of the Jews

by Louis Ginzberg


Volume I: Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Volume II: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Volume III: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Volume IV: Title | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |
Volume I

V. ABRAHAM--THE WICKED GENERATIONS--THE BIRTH OF ABRAHAM--THE BABE PROCLAIMS GOD--ABRAHAM'S FIRST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC--THE PREACHER OF THE TRUE FAITH--IN THE FIERY FURNACE--ABRAHAM EMIGRATES TO HARAN--THE STAR IN THE EAST--THE TRUE BELIEVER--THE ICONOCLAST--ABRAHAM IN CANAAN--HIS SOJOURN IN EGYPT--THE FIRST PHARAOH--THE WAR OF THE KINGS--THE COVENANT OF THE PIECES--THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL--THE VISIT OF THE ANGELS--THE CITIES OF SIN--ABRAHAM PLEADS FOR THE SINNERS--THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SINFUL CITIES--AMONG THE PHILISTINES--THE BIRTH OF ISAAC--ISHMAEL CAST OFF--THE TWO WIVES OF ISHMAEL--THE COVENANT WITH ABIMELECH--SATAN ACCUSES ABRAHAM--THE JOURNEY TO MORIAH--THE AKEDAH--THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF SARAH--ELIEZER'S MISSION--THE WOOING OF REBEKAH--THE LAST YEARS OF ABRAHAM--A HERALD OF DEATH--ABRAHAM VIEWS EARTH AND HEAVEN--THE PATRON OF HEBRON

ABRAHAM

IN THE FIERY FURNACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Volume I: Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Volume II: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Volume III: Title | Preface | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Volume IV: Title | Contents | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |


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