Monday, April 22, 2013

Man or Hyena?

God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Ancient Hebrew family history otherwise known as Genesis 22:1-3

Marcella Gibbon again, your roving reporter, off on a desperate quest to find the son of legendary Tereh!  Perhaps you remember—you faithful ones who have read me for so long—that I interviewed Tereh oh so many years ago (I dare not even mention the number, for a proper lady never reveals such things—of course, who would ever call ME proper!).  And Tereh has passed on, not long ago, to his moon god, where, I am sure, many delights awaited him!  At that time, Tereh presented us with a mystery—the disappearance of his long-lost son, Avram, who took with him his wife, Sarai and Tereh’s grandson, Lot.  Avram left over a religious squabble with his father, and he was not to be heard from again.  Where did he go?  How did he survive?  Did he finally settle down?  Has he many children to further his father’s inheritance?  These questions were shrouded in mystery, unknown to any but the gods….

            Until now!  Through many years of perseverance, your faithful, unstoppable reporter, Marcella Gibbon, has discovered the whereabouts of Avram and his clan.  It took years of research, many bribes, much travel, and, frankly, a lucky break.  My sister’s brother-in-law’s cousin happened to be on a trade route from Egypt coming back to Babylon, and he heard of a group of communities in distant Southern Canaan that were recently destroyed in a freak firestorm.  As he was speaking of the devastation—whole cities charred to the ground, populations fried as a burnt sacrifice no matter how they cried out to the gods—he also mentioned that lost in this whole disaster was Lot, Tereh’s grandson! 

            Knowing that this tale might be years after the fact, your intrepid reporter immediately followed the scent of true news.  Should Lot be found, or lost, in a specific area, could Avram be far from that place?  They were two peas in a pod, two pearls in a shell, two twins joined at the hip… in any case, they were close.  So your reporter, Marcella Gibbon, immediately traveled to Southern Canaan in search of the lost son of Tereh, despite caravan dust and camel sores!

            Someday I will tell you of the adventures I had, but I am sure that you are ready to read the interview with Avram, now called Avraham, son of Tereh.   

            I found him in Southern Canaan, just as I suspected, near Salem, a backward town of negligible hospitality (how any community could survive without spiced fermented camel’s milk steamed over boiling water is beyond me!).  But I found, much to my surprise, that though Avram did not live in a city, nor in a country villa, guarded by a hundred slaves, but, rather in tents, living the life of a nomad, a barbarian!  But do not think that his hospitality is barbaric!  He offered me finely woven pillows, dates, freshly baked bread and a stuffed sheep’s head for the mid-afternoon meal.  As I luxuriated in baskable comfort, I asked him many questions about his background and family.

            “Avram, I notice that you are not a poor man,” I led off with in gentle, even tones.

            “Avram,” he chortled, speaking in a quiet, yet charismatic way so different from the strong presence of his father, “it has been many years since anyone has called me that!”

            My razor-sharp reporter’s mind picked up on an important clue: “Is that so?  What do they call you now?”

            “Ah, they call me Avraham.  Although I suppose it is a divine mockery.”26

            “So are you?”

            “Am I what?”

            “A father of multitudes?  Is that not what ‘Avraham’ means?”

            “Quite, quite.  But I don’t really think so.”

            “Don’t think what?”

            “That I am a father of multitudes.  I have only one son.”27

            “Any daughters?”

            “Not a one.”

            “So how is it that you, a man of some means, live out in solitude?  And you have only one son?”

            “Well, Elohim determines all.  He determines where I live.  And he determines how many children I have.”

            “Surely you have made your own choice in these matters?”

            He turned and smiled mysteriously, but darkly, “Surely I did not.”

            “And how could you not?  Did the gods visit you and tell you not to live in the city?  To live as a nomad?”

            “As a matter of fact, He did.  He said that I was not to settle down in Canaan, but to be a wanderer in it’s midst.  Always a stranger, never at home.”28

            “These seem like strange instructions.”

            “Yes, I suppose they might to you.  But he said that this land was to be given as an inheritance to my children, and that I am not to possess them myself.  Thus, though I live in this land of Canaan, it is not to be mine, except through my generations.”29

            “So you are not to have any land on which to live?”

            “We travel around.  You see that we have no lack.”

            “This is true.  But don’t you ever want to have a ranch, not be dependent on the good graces of others?”

            “Of course I do.  But Elohim determines such matters.  Who am I to say?”

            “Yet Canaan will belong to you.”

            “Through my children, yes.”

            “Speaking of children, you say you have only one son?”

            “This is true.”

            “But why is this?  You could have as many children as you wanted!”

            “As I say, my descendants are in the hands of Elohim.”

            “Perhaps with one wife, but you could have as many as you wanted.”

            “Oh, I could never have any other wife than Sarah.”

            “Sarah?  I thought her name was Sarai?”

            “Elohim changed it.”30

            “I see.  But back to your children.  Even if you had only one wife, you could still adopt as many sons as you needed.”

            “Yes, this is true.  I even offered this to Elohim, but he refused.”31

            This constant talk of his god was beginning to irritate your reporter, faithful readers.  Could he truly be so devoted that every subject that is brought up revolves around this “Elohim”?  “You could also have concubines, and Sarah could adopt such children as her own.”

            A look of discomfort crossed his face, “Yes, we did that.”32

            Ah ha!  Now we’re getting somewhere!  “So you do have more than one son?  Or is that how you came by your only son?”

            The look of discomfort was slowly churning his face into agony, “Well, Elohim had me send him away. Once Sarah had our own son.”33

            Your reporter was aghast and appalled, “Send away!  Your firstborn son!  Isn’t that illegal?  Certainly it is immoral!  Would a god truly command such a practice?  Wouldn’t he have you raise both sons?”

            “I hate to speak of it.  It is very painful, as you can imagine.  Elohim wanted only one son to be the blessed one, the one to receive the blessing that I had so many years ago.  And although Ishmael was born first, he was the son of Hagar, not my wife Sarah.  Sarah never liked Ishmael.  And Ishmael was beginning to insist upon the rights of the firstborn… Sarah insisted that I send him and his mother away.  I… couldn’t.  I shouldn’t.  I knew that then, as well as now.  To send them away, into what?  How could they be kept safe?  A boy and his mother… but Elohim insisted.  He said that he would protect them.  I do know that long ago, when Ishmael’s mother ran away while pregnant, a messenger of Elohim appeared before her and assisted her.  Elohim has kept every promise he has ever made.34  I trusted him to do this as well.  So… I sent them away.”

            “To where?”

            “To the hands of Elohim.  I know not where they traveled. But I am sure that they were, and are,  blessed by Elohim.”35

            These words disgusted your reporter, and she had to excuse herself for the evening.   Such irresponsibility!  Such blind faith!  Avraham was so focused on the wishes of his demanding god, that he ignored the realities of life!  He sent his firstborn son into the wilderness, probably to starvation or slaughter by a horrible animal!   And his avoidance of even basic responsibility for his own actions!  Is he truly a man or a hyena hiding behind the shadow of his god?  Your reporter was to find out all too soon!

            The next morning, your reporter was following her usual ritual to arise in the very early morning, before sunrise, to be prepared to worship the Sun as it first peeked its loving head over the mountains of this very strange land.  But as she began the purification ceremony, your observant reporter spied another, in the distance, moving in the dark.  At first Your Eyes in Canaan thought it was just a servant beginning work early, but the movements were odd, not the usual motions of daily labor.  An animal was being packed, with quite a few provisions for a multi-day journey.  But why make such preparations in the dark?  And before anyone was awake?  The answers to such questions eluded your reporter, and so she sneaked in to observe more closely.

            As she peered closer, she saw a figure stooped over a bundle of wood, lifting it manfully and carefully on the back of his animal.  As recognition set in, however, your reporter was forced to exclaim, uncontrollably, “Avraham!”

            Your reporter fears that she might have unintentionally visited our subject with a coronary.  He jumped up, then fell to the ground.  “Oh my,” he breathed, once he was inhaling again.

            “Forgive me, dear, are you all right?”

            “Oh… yes… I’ll be just … fine.”  He bent to stand up, but found himself flailing.  Your compassionate reporter gave him an arm, and faced him closely.  Observant though your reporter is, she had never noted before the deep lines in Avraham’s face, the weathered skin and aged hands.  It was as if in the night, Avraham had aged twenty—nay, forty—years.  Perhaps his confidence on the night before gave him a aura of youth, even exhilaration.  But after his rest, he seemed so frail, so unable to face the storms of life.  Yes, he was working, and his strength was magnificent, but he trembled as if too weak to stand.

            “Is everything all right?”

            “Why shouldn’t it be?” he said as he avoided the question.

            “Well, you seem so…  you seem to be having a hard time, here. Is there a problem?”

            “No, no problem.  I—“  Then he faltered, and quickly turned away.  Was that a tear in his eye?  Has the great rock of faith come against a difficulty he could not blithely lay at the feet of his god?  “I must go…”

            “But Avraham, where?  Where are you going?”

            “I must leave.  With my son.” He became wistful.  “My only son.  Isaac.  Whom I love.  I—I will be back.”

            Blind her eyes may be at times, but a divine spark struck your reporter, and it all became clear now.  The bundle of wood.  Provisions for days.  A secret journey.  And a god who demands unreasonable sacrifices.  “Avraham, no!”

            He looked at me, with knowing eyes.  “I must.  Elohim requires it of me.” 

            “Your only son!”

            “I know.  He came to me in the night.  He spoke so lovingly, so compassionately, knowing that what he was telling me was the most difficult thing I had ever heard in my life.  He called me and I obediently said, ‘Here I am.’  And he asked me to do this deed.  This horrible deed.  But he could not mean it.  He couldn’t…”  Tears flowed freely now down the old man’s face.

            “Just disobey.  Perhaps it is a test.  A test to see if you would do that which your god would never want you to do.  Just tell him no.  He will understand.  Didn’t he give you your son? How could he ask you to throw him away?”

            Avraham’s eyes cleared and he looked up.  He stood straighter.  “Yes.  He gave me my son.  Every promise he ever gave me rests upon Isaac.  My son.  My only son.  He reminded me of that, you know.  ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love.’  He reminded me that Isaac is the only one.”  Avraham’s eyes focused on me, now, “Did I tell you that Elohim promised that I would have so many children that they could not be counted?  As the stars in the sky, as the sand on the shore….   Did I tell you that my descendants would own this whole land—from Sinai to the river Euphrates?  This is what Elohim promised.  This is what he said.  And he has never broken a single one of his promises…”  Avraham became stronger and began packing his animal again.

             “But Avraham, if this is to be so, Isaac—he is the only one through whom these promises could be met!  He is the only one!”

             “Yes.  You are absolutely right.  He IS the only one.  That is the point.”

            Your reporter, though brilliant, at times misses the understanding of the great philosophers.  “So you can’t sacrifice him.  If you do, all hope is lost!”

            At this point, Avraham shocked your reporter to no end.  Avraham did not cower to the unassailable logic of your reporter.  He did not shrink away in fear.  Rather, he laughed.  Laughed so loud that your reporter was surprised that others did not awake in the rising twilight.  “You do not know my Elohim.  Not at all.  It was on his promise of inheritance and generations uncountable that I came to this land—not even knowing where I am going!  It was on Elohim’s promise that I wandered around this putrid country, living off of my wits, when I could have built a city and taken ease.  It was on Elohim’s promise that I rejected all other means of gaining children, even sending away my firstborn, Ishmael, in the distant hopes that another son would be born.  And Issac is the son. He is the fulfillment of all of Elohim’s promise.  Elohim will not take him from me.  Isaac will not be lost.  I don’t care what Elohim said last night.  Isaac is my son for all time.”

            “So you will refuse?”

            Avraham laughed again, “Of course not!  To disobey Elohim at this point is to reject all of the promises he offered me.  Remember this, Marcella, above all you must trust.  Yes, it may seem crazy.  But Isaac is not mine, but Elohim’s.  Elohim gave him to me, and he will do as he pleases with him.  But Elohim promised me Isaac.  And he will not take him away.  I will do as Elohim says.  And it know I must be mad.  But I will give away, even the salvation Elohim has given me, if he so demands it.  You must trust, and all will be well!”

            So off he went, to gather up his son, to go on his journey, and to kill all of his hopes, the mad fool. 

            Your reporter apologizes to her faithful readers.  Life is not just about celebrity balls, births and juicy divorces.  At times your reporter digs and sweats, only to carry to her readers a story of true tragedy.  Thus must be done this day.  Your reporter left that morning, not wanting to look on the sorrow, the funeral, the unending grief.  She has had enough grief in her life.  But know this: for Babylon, the only thing needed to know about Avraham is that he is a foolish servant of Elohim.  If you pray for him, pray for greater wisdom, and a more realistic dream.

26. Abram means “father of many.” Abraham means “father of nations”.  See Genesis 17: 5-6. Abraham truly did become a father of many nations.  Isaac was the father of the Hebrews, as is well known.  Ishmael became the father of the Arabs.  Later in his life, Abraham was the father of a number of other sons, one of whom became the father of the Midianites.  Also, Esau, one of the sons of Isaac became the father of the Edomites.  Not only did Abraham become the physical father of these nations, but he became the spiritual father of all Jews, Christians and Muslims—the majority of the world today.  As to the difference between “Abraham” and “Avraham”, the “b” in Hebrew is often pronounced as a “v”.
Ishmael was Abraham’s first son, but Abraham doesn’t actually know if he is even alive.  Certainly Isaac is the only son Abraham was caring for and living with at the time.

27. Genesis 13:14-18.

28. Genesis 15:13-21.

29. Genesis 17:15-16.

30. Genesis 15:2-4; 17:17-21.

31. Genesis 16.

32. Genesis 21:8-15.

33. Genesis 16:6-14.

34. Which is exactly what happened to Ishmael and his mother, Hagar.  At first, she thought they would die, but they survived and they became a great nation within a single generation.  Now the Ishmaelites have become the Arabic peoples from Iraq all the way across North Africa. Genesis 21:11-20; Genesis 37:25-28.

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