(41) What is the meaning of, “Abraham fell on his face?” (#Ge 17:3). The present expression is the interpretation of what has already been promised; for God had said, “Keep thyself free from stain,” but there is not other cause of a man leading a life which is disapproved but the outward sense, because that is the origin and source of the passions; on which account he rightly and properly falls on his face, that is to say, the offences caused by the outward senses fall to the bottom, showing that the man is now devoted to all good works. This is enough to say in the first place, But in the second place we must say that he was so struck by the manifest appearance of the living God that he was scarcely able to behold him through fear, but fell to the ground and offered adoration, being overwhelmed with awe at the appearance which presented itself to him. In the third place, he fell to the ground on account of the revelation thus made to him, at the form of his appearance by the living God who exists alone, whom he knew and regarded as truth opposed to created nature; since the one exists in unvarying constancy and the other vacillates and falls into its proper place, that is to say, to the earth.
(42) What is the meaning of, “And God conversed with him, saying, And I, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations?” (#Ge 17:4). Since he had previously used the expression, “treaty,” he now proceeds to say, do not seek that treaty in letters, since I myself, in accordance with what has been said before, am myself the genuine and true covenant. For after he has shown himself and said, “I,” he makes an addition, saying, “Behold, my covenant,” which is nothing but I myself; for I am myself my covenant, according to which my treaty and agreement are made and agreed to, and according to which again all things are properly distributed and arranged. Now the form of this prototypal treating is put together from the ideas and incorporeal measures and forms in accordance with which this world was made. Is it not therefore a climax to the benefits which the Father bestowed on the wise man, to raise him up and conduct him not only from earth to heaven, nor only from heaven to the incorporeal world appreciable only by the intellect, but also to draw him up from this world to himself, showing himself to him, not as he is in himself, for that is not possible but as far as the visual organs of the beholder who beholds virtue herself as appreciable by the intellect are able to attain to. And it is on this account that he says, “Be no more a son but a father; and the father, not of one individual but of a multitude; and of a multitude, not according to a part, but of all nations;” therefore of the revealed promises two admit of a literal interpretation, but the third of one which is rather spiritual. One of those which admit of a literal interpretation is to be construed in this way: in truth thou shalt be the father of nations, and shalt beget nations, that is to say, each individual among thy sons shall be the founder of a nation. But the second is of this kind; like a father you shall be clothed with power over, and authority to rule, many nations; for a lover of God is necessarily and at once also a lover of men; so that he will diligently devote his attention, not only to his relations but also to all mankind, and especially to those who are able to go through the discipline of strict attention, and who are of a disposition the reverse of anything cruel or hard, but of one which easily submits to virtue, and willingly gives obedience to right reason. But the third we may explain under this allegory: the multitude of nations spoken of indicates as it were the multifarious inclination of the will in each of our minds, both those inclinations which it is accustomed to form with reference to itself, and also those others which it admits by the agency of the senses, as they enter clandestinely through the intervention of the imagination, and if the mind possesses the supreme authority over all these, it, like a common father, turns them to better objects, cherishing their infant opinions, as it were, with milk, exhorting those which are older and more mature, though still imperfect, to improvement, and honouring with commendation those which perform their duty aright; and again, putting a bridle, by means of discipline and reproof, on those which rebel and act rashly; since, wishing to imitate the Deity, it receives a twofold influx from the virtues of that same being, one from his beneficent attributes and another from his avenging might, as if from two sources; therefore the docile receive his kindness, and towards the rebellious he uses reproof; so that some are led to improvement by praise and others by chastisement: in truth, he who is eminent for virtue is able to be of great, and extensive, and just service to all, according to his power.